activism daily life

And so we sat down (Stokes Croft Riots)

I was at the protest-turned-riot-to-chaos in Stokes Croft last night with two friends. We managed to be the last three sitting in the middle of the road,  in our attempt to regain some semblance of a peaceful protest. (The two of them both happen to be wonderful writers.) @Smasherkins has written a good, clear account of the evening at Thoughts Uncensored (which I’m hacking into excerpts: read her full story!)
Music was playing, people were dancing and chatting to the police, and there was even a clown! The atmosphere was good, but the tension was palpable. Although I was enjoying the music and chatting to various strangers who had come down for the same reasons I had, I couldn’t shake a niggling feeling that some people were just waiting for things to kick off […] Things carried on in this vein, people standing half in the street, drinking and chanting. I think it got a bit rowdier the more alcohol was consumed, but by no means were things getting out of hand. At 12:30 I got some worrying news; although nothing had changed, police were changing into riot gear in the street behind Tesco. My stomach sank. The crowd were drunk already and still angry from last week. All it needed was the slightest bit of antagonising before things blew up. […]
Both the masked men and the riot police were staring at us in perplexedly, but we just smiled and waved and asked them to join us. It was a great feeling, there were blockades all around us and a helicopter straight above but we just carried on sitting on the road in broken glass and singing. It wasn’t a large group, there were only about twenty of us at most, but I do honestly believe we were making a difference, however slight. Suddenly the police line in front of us parted, and a riot van came towards us, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Most people scrambled to get up; I’ll admit the thought crossed my mind but my friends and I stayed put. Police vans are quite intimidating when you’re sitting about half a metre in front of one. I’m not saying I’m particularly brave, or trying to paint some sort of fanciful, romantic portrait of myself and my friends, but the stand we had set out to make was very important to us. We truly believed (and still believe) that peaceful, non-threatening civil disobedience is the only way forward.
From @RobMitchell89 who blogs at Leftwards, and impressive and quick analysis of last night – why he and I, with @Smasherkins and others, sat down in the street between the police and the “rioters”. These are excerpts. Read his full post. NOW ON BRISTOL INDYMEDIA AS WELL!
What these people either hadn’t seen, or had conveniently forgot, was thirty of us sat down blocking the way of an oncoming police charge an hour earlier. What they certainly hadn’t witnessed was a guy in his twenties with a scarf covering his face coming up to me and my friend and telling us that if we weren’t prepared for a fight then we should get out of the area as soon as possible. He even gave us directions, which was nice of him. So this is the immediate reason why we sat down and got people to join us: we were peaceful. To be honest (and if anyone who came out last night denies this, they’re lying), yes, we knew it would probably kick off. But we weren’t there to throw bottles or attack police, we were there to make a point, peacefully. I for one wasn’t going to be forced to vacate a public space, either by the police or by a group of antagonistic so-called ‘anarchists’. And when everyone stood up to follow the riot vans, and thereby the riot, we didn’t feel like giving the police the satisfaction and stayed where we were. Hence thirty became three. That’s reason number one for why we were sat there, which led inevitably to the question, “Yes, but what are you peacefully protesting about?” Fair enough. This is where it got a bit difficult. I must admit we probably came across a bit like those idiots who turn up to protests for a laugh, with no idea what they’re meant to be protesting against. Loathe as I am to quote an Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion once noted that where there are two Jews there are three opinions. In our case, where there were three liberal socialists there were at least six.
As @RobMitchell89 so eloquently explains, while we had various personal opinions and interpretations, there were at least three why the three of us – and, I am sure, many others present last night – were present.
1) Police brutality. This is what the demonstration was really about. 2) The Tesco issue: think globally, act locally. On the one hand, we simply don’t want a Tesco Express on Cheltenham Road. We’re angry that the groundswell of local opinion against it, and the eighteen months of arduous legal battles by the No Tesco campaign, have been summarily and illegally dismissed by Bristol City Council. On the other hand, we detest what Tesco does nationally and globally. 3) “Whose streets? Our streets! … it is a substantial point, especially at the recent demonstrations in Stokes Croft. It’s not anti-police per se, it’s a statement about what we want our communities to look like as opposed to the direction they’re being forced to move in. We want real choice, not the slavery capital likes to call ‘consumer choice’. We want real freedoms, not the concessions designed to pacify us by our [un]representative government. We want to reclaim the streets. Our streets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *