Some anonymous reflectons by one of the organisers of London May Day 2000, including some accounts of police surveillance and harassment.
Where did M2K come from?
May Day 2000 came from an idea a few of us had around June/July 1999. We knew there were people from different strands of, what I suppose can loosely be defined as, the libertarian left1 who were putting on diverse types of events. These ranged from the Anarchist Bookfair, to the Earth First! gatherings, to the Reclaim The Streets street parties, to Lefty football competitions, the Bradford 1998 conference, J18 and lots more.
In London at least, our "movement" was/is not very united. We often don't know of each other, or have no idea what each other is doing - let alone talking to each other and working together. Again there were/are exceptions like London Underground meetings, The Agitator and the Bradford 1998 conference. We thought we should try to get us working together and talking to each other. And we wanted an event that was not the either/or conference or demo type thing. So, after a couple of meetings where as many people and groups we knew of were invited, we put the idea forward at the 1999 Anarchist Bookfair. The idea was different groups and individuals, working together, put on as many different events as possible over four days of the May Day weekend under a loose title of "A Festival of Anarchist Ideas and Actions" - later renamed "A Festival of Anti-Capitalist Ideas and Actions".
So, did it work? Did we all come together in some lovely harmonious group or did we nearly kill each other? Did the four days of events achieve anything? Did it all fall apart? Did we bring down the state or did we collapse under the workload? What follows is just my view. Others may see things differently. Also, this is not all inclusive.
Firstly, May Day 2000 a four-day Festival of Anti-Capitalist Ideas and Actions DID happen and worked bloody well. Events happened on all four days: Critical Mass and the East End political walk on the Friday, the conference and football tournament on the Saturday, the conference on the Sunday and the Guerrilla Gardening on the Monday, as well as other events and loads of gigs. Some things did not materialise - the play and the four days of films spring to mind for me. Over 200,000 leaflets and 100,000 stickers were distributed. Loads of us worked with each other to pull off an amazing weekend of events - people who had never and may never have bothered working together without May Day 2000, did just that.
So, did we all work together well, and now live as one big happy family? Well maybe not the latter and at times not the former, but generally we managed to put our differences aside. Seeing a. room full of people from Class War, Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation, RTS, Earth First!, Haringey Solidarity Group, West London Anarchists and Radicals, London Animal Action, and all the others could have been the recipe lor a blood bath, but we discussed, argued and always came to agreement about the way forward.
But there were problems!
From where I was, there were problems. One of these was broadly between the organisers of the Monday action and the rest of us. Most events over May Day 2000 were organised by sub-groups of May Day 2000, and reported back to the monthly organising meetings. It seemed to me the Monday action was mainly planned and controlled by the weekly RTS meetings. There seemed very little coordination between the organisers of the Guerrilla Gardening and the other events. This lead to confrontations which could have been avoided. Also, with the Monday action being seen as organised by RTS, other groups/individuals did not really organise other events on this day (a couple did I know). The whole of Monday's activities were never really discussed outside of the weekly RTS events as far as I know. It seemed a number of groups and individuals were working together to organise all the events leading up to May Day 2000 and the event over the Friday to Sunday, whereas the Monday seemed to be organised solely by one group and its supporters. Perhaps this was all our faults; perhaps this is inevitable with illegal mass actions; perhaps I am wrong. However, this needs to be taken into account if we organise such events in the future, otherwise we could split "our movement" rather than bring it closer together.
In my view the openness problem can also be extended to the "Maybe" newspaper that was produced. Although a great idea, again this did not seem to be produced in a very open and accessible way. If it was to be the newspaper of and about the May Day 2000 weekend, there should have been access for anybody involved in May Day 2000 to participate and contribute. If it was just the contribution of one group working alone, this seems a shame and against what we were trying to do under the title of "May Day 2000". Then again maybe I am wrong – let’s open up the discussion!
Secondly, May Day 2000 was, for those initial 20 or so of us, always intended to be an event promoting class struggle politics and be organised along non-hierarchical lines by people who believed in non-hierarchical organisation. This was agreed at a number of the initial meetings. Perhaps we were not clear enough about this.
Perhaps others had other ideas. However, this (to me anyway) got watered down. How did this happen? With any event, where meetings and organising are open to anybody who wants to participate, ideas will change. For May Day 2000 many new people got involved (which was excellent) and some of the original people dropped out (which happens). However, I don’t think we focussed/chatted enough about what we meant by "class struggle politics”2 , as more people got involved. Further, I felt the e-mail discussion list was partly to blame. A good number of the e-mails on this list were from people who could best be described as not believing in a non-hierarchical form of organisation. Others could only be described as not supporting "class struggle" politics. As many of the organisers were snowed under putting the events on, we did not get the time, or have the inclination to answer loads of e-mails from people as diverse as members of the SWP, RCG, the Green Party, Labour Party and others. I also felt the whole discussion of violence/non-violence was skewed by the e-mail discussion list but I will mention that later.
One other aspect of May Day 2000 which struck me was the amount of low level, but very open, police intimidation. Groups like the Animal Liberation Front, Anti-Fascist Action and more recently RTS and EF! have had this for years - but in a slightly different way. Also, because our aim is to bring down capitalism then we should expect interest from those who benefit from capitalism (the cops, the media, big business, etc). This is one way the state works. The different with May Day, I feel, and this follows on from J18 and to a lesser extent similar actions before, was how open the police were in their surveillance and intimidation. There were at least two benefit gigs which the police made the owners of the venues cancel. These gigs were to raise funds for the weekend conference, which was a "legal" event for people to come together and discuss ideas. Likewise, the gigs were "legal", but this did not stop the police intimidating the venue owners into stopping them.
Police turned up at most of the fundraising events that were organised. Their intimidation ranged from a few cops hanging about outside the venue, to plain clothes cops in unmarked cars videoing everybody entering the venue, to cops entering the venues to make sure everything was OK, although what they describe as OK is anybody's guess. In their eyes, anybody going to ANY event mentioning May Day 2000 made them a threat and therefore it was acceptable to take any action they saw relevant. But it did not stop there. Obviously the e-mail discussion group was being monitored by the police, as were any websites.
There is probably a good chance that some of the organisers had their phones/e-mails tapped - we would expect nothing less, after all it's a good job creation scheme for the "thin blue line". However, when five people went out leafleting for the conference a few days before the event, they were slightly amused to find they had an escort of a police van, an unmarked police car, four cops (at least) and one copper videoing them for a good half an hour delivering leaflets through peoples doors. As this event was organised over the telephone, we have no idea how the police found out!!!
However, this was surpassed by the football competition and picnic organised on the Saturday. Obviously the police thought the idea was to start an armed revolution in the park, although the football boots, food, kids etc should have given them the idea we ACTUALLY were going to play footie and socialise. They turned up with up to 10 cops’ vans and proceeded to film EVERYBODY at the picnic and then video EVERY match that was played. Perhaps we can get the video of the matches and show it at next years’ May Day.
But the award for the most over the top policing must go to the "Radical tour of the East End" on Friday night. Some 100 participants had a police escort of up to 10 police vans, plus police bikes and the obligatory video cops filming everybody. Cops stopped traffic as people ambled round the East End looking at radical landmarks from our history.
The conference had loads of police around it for the whole two days, and they were filming everybody they could get their cameras on, including some who weren't even at the conference. The police were not too happy though when they were told they could NOT come into the conference to have a look around - fucking cheeky bastards!
Then to cap it all we had the small unobtrusive state presence on Monday - which is common knowledge by now. It seemed that if ANY aspect of May Day 2000 appealed to you, you were fair game for the cops' videos. They seemed to think they had a God given right to gather surveillance on anybody at any event. It is happening more and more, because we are letting it happen every time. We need to work out tactics to change this. Balaclava anybody?
Obviously state harassment may get heavier as our ideas become more and more common. Anybody who thinks different, is to my mind anyway, living in cloud cuckoo land. What I found different with the police harassment over May Day was how open they were about it. This is partly because they know they can get away with it. The mainstream media had already softened the public up (we all read with amusement the stories) so that we were seen as a bunch of violent and naive no-hopers. Now the cops assume they could do whatever they wanted and sod our civil liberties (what are they then??). And they knew they would be able to get away with it. After all "violent anarchists hell bent on bringing down society don't have any rights do they, after all they just want anarchy. We can't have that. Give the cops more resources and bigger guns". You could nearly write the newspaper editorials or the police press statements now.
But, being serious, we need to think about this. Alright we can take the piss out of the cops as they video us handing out leaflets or on a demo. But we need to remember that they easily found out where we were leafleting. We need to remember that they will take an active interest in ANYTHING we do, no matter how "legal" or "peaceful" and ultimately they will use any means open to them to attack us and our ideas. This year it was filming and surveillance. Next year it might be kicking in our doors or arrests to stop/harass/hinder us. Then what. We shouldn't let this worry us, but at the same time we need to be careful. Maybe less idle chat over the web/e-mails/phone; being careful what you say in open meetings; who are you telling what to in the pub afterwards. As our ideas take hold obviously they will start by cracking down on "illegal" events, but soon after will come the attacks on "legal" or open events. We only need to look back a few years to see the police (backed up by the army) breaking up strikes and meetings. But it's a sign our ideas are getting through (if only slightly). It should make us more active not less. We need to keep up activities, but be careful. We need to stay open and accessible, but at the same time stay wary. Basically we need a huge mass movement - but until then we should watch our (and our friends') backs.
This leads me onto the last thing I wanted to spout on about. Violence and Non-Violence. I can hear the groans already, so I will keep it as brief as possible. Two things.
Firstly, the e-mail discussion group. Early on, a huge amount of e-mails were about violence and non-violence. Most were in favour of non-violence, and one e-mail then concluded that obviously we all disagreed with any use of violence and realised non-violence was the ONLY way. This is a WRONG assumption. Seeing that all the e-mails were being monitored by the police and how easy they are to trace, I am not surprised a number of participants did not want to give their views on this subject. Also a number of us might be fed up banging our heads against a brick wall time after time.
Secondly, I heard a number of people leading up to May Day 2000 and especially after the "violence" on the Monday coming out with comments like "if only it had been peaceful on Monday it would have been a great success" or "if there hadn't been violence on Monday the press would have given us great coverage" or "if you hug a copper they will love us all and the brainwashing of the state will fall from their eyes" (alright I didn't exactly hear the last one!). Let's get things straight. The media are there to sell papers, not to support us. They will print what they want and when they want it. They report on violent confrontations (and remember some see blocking a street as a violent confrontation) because it sells newspapers. Likewise they don't report on the thousands of peaceful protests held daily, or the information we put out by the ton, because they think it won't sell newspapers. Or more likely because our ideas repulse them and scare them. They put up with us, at times, because they can make a profit out of us - no more! Likewise the state and the police tolerate us at the moment. However, if we become a real threat (as I believe our ideas will), whether we are using non-violent means or at times supporting it by more physical means, they will attack us with all the means they have. They will use covert and overt tactics and they will use non-violent and violent means. Look back at any state that saw their power threatened. They keep all their options open - so should we.
Before and over May Day 2000 the media and the cops built up the stories of violence, not us. They were the ones who needed trouble - for their headline stories and their police budgets. Some protesters may have been prepared to "alter" certain buildings, or defend themselves physically, or even to initiate physical confrontation with the agents of the state (cops). Good. As I said before, we should keep all options open to us and use whatever ones we feel are best at the time. Let's not see only one way forward. Nor should we see forms of violence/physical confrontation as the ONLY option.
Further, violence is a very "catch all" phrase. Some of us differentiate between violence handed out by an armour wearing, baton wielding cop, to the use of force to defend ourselves, to so called violence against property of the rich and powerful. Lastly, just because somebody feels that, at some point during a revolution the state will not give up power peacefully and we might have to use force to relieve them of it or to defend ourselves, does not mean they want to kill every symbol of authority at every opportunity - although some might. As the song goes - "Which side are you on boys?"
We also need to question why some elements of any demonstration feel they need to side with the forces of the state against fellow protestors. Yes we may disagree on tactics, but in the end of the day we need to see what side we're on. Let's not by and sort this out when the cops are attacking us. If at the end of the day you feel you need to side with the state, that's your decision - but be open about it. Large numbers of us are not prepared to accept minor reforms handed down from "above". We want real change and yes that might involve..... well who knows!
OK, I’ll finish
May Day 2000 (and a number of other events, actions, and ideas) was one way to try and move a step closer to a more ideal society. It may have helped. It may not have. Different people will have different views on it. All I would say is we need to keep trying and looking for ways to change society for the better. May Day 2000 had its critics and problems. However, overall I feel it brought together a huge diverse group of people who managed to work together to make it a success. All the events over the whole weekend also brought together thousands of people from the UK and much further afield, to meet up and discuss and share ideas. Like this issue of "Reflections" we should remember past events and use them to help us in future ones.