Reflections on MayDay 2K - Kirk

A pacifist and pro-police contribution to Reflections on Mayday which is reproduced for reference.

It was a 'riot' laugh! Rampaging through the city with my Eton-educated, pierced-up, masked-up anarcho-terrorist chums, I pissed on Churchill, spray-painted "anarky woz ere" on the Cenotaph, set fire to MacDonald's on Whitehall, and fought hand-to-hand with riot police beneath Nelson's Column (see The Sun, The Daily Mali, The London Evening Standard etc, ad nauseam).

For me, the day started at Hyde Park corner, where demonstrators gathered in the sunshine, some dressed in spectacular costume, some masked and in black. The gardening motif was apparent, with some carrying pot-plants and compost on their bikes or wheelbarrows, and some swathed in leaves like the Green Man of old English pagan lore. Feeling guilty at not having made an effort, I was cheered when a demonstrator gave me a fine pink "Guerrilla Gardening" flag to wave and lead the crowd. Comedians Mark Thomas and Rob Newman turned up on their bikes. The police photographers were already taking pictures. This being the first protest I had taken a camera to, I resolved to photograph every police photographer I saw. One recognised me. "You're always at these, aren't you?" he asked.

The samba band started drumming, banners were unfurled, the carnival dancing girls shook their booty, and, whooping and cheering, the crowd moved out to take the street. The police kept their distance, diverting traffic to avoid the protest. Progress was painfully slow, with the samba band inexplicably halting and holding ground several times.

Eventually, we reached Parliament Square, where our crowd merged with the other half of the protest. This was massive! I searched in vain for my brother in the crowd of thousands. The gardeners moved into action, planting veg and flowers in the grass square. I climbed a tree and watched the scene unfold. Huge banners were stretched across the square, reading "LET LONDON SPROUT" and "RESISTANCE IS FERTILE". A cheer went up as the statue of Churchill was defaced, with a turf mohican and a trickle of "blood" from the corner of his mouth.

By now, a sizeable area of the pavement had been carefully carpeted with turf.. Stencilled lettering on the pavement read "beneath the pavement, the garden". A maypole was erected, and a May Dance was enacted by skipping volunteers, weaving the coloured ribbons tight to the pole. On the other side of the square a fire-breather entertained. Realising that half of the crowd had moved up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, I followed. The Cenotaph had been defaced with spraypaint. Downing Street was sealed off -- a line of very serious-looking riot police standing guard behind the railings.

MacDonald's was being smashed and looted, the police having temporarily retired to don their riot gear. In the empty window-frame, a hooded medieval monk held aloft a golden crucifix -- a prophet of doom bearing witness to the End of the Big Mac. Media photographers angled for a shot, while a face-painted rioter attacked anyone carrying a professional-looking camera, seeking to protect the masked raiders from identification. It was an ugly scene. Trafalgar Square was ours, but the riot police were massing. There was still a party atmosphere. met up with friends, listened to music and waved my flag. Looking back towards Parliament Square, I saw that the protest had been cut in two on Whitehall, riot police having moved in to stop the shops being trashed. A couple of crazy Chinese guys entertained the crowd by flinging paint at each other until they were covered from head to toe.

Hiding in the middle of the crowd, agitators flung cans and bottles at the police lines. Some missiles fell short of their mark and hit other protestors. In response, police lines advanced a few feet at a time. All around Nelson’s Column, the square was daubed with anti-capitalist and anarchist graffiti. As the carnival mood turned dark and the police pressed in, I decided to leave. I was too late. The police had ringed the entire square, and were under orders to let no-one out. Around two thousand people were trapped on the square. Tensions were high. Some argued with the police, some joked with the police and some tried to force their way out, but to no avail. Over the next few hours, the police lines drew tighter and tighter until there was standing room only. Only then did the police let people go, a few at a time, to walk through an alley of police surveillance. Suspected troublemakers were singled out, searched and photographed.

Meanwhile, the police had used the same tactic to contain the protest on Parliament Square, but an enraged crowd broke through the lines and went on the rampage across Waterloo Bridge, smashing car windscreens as they went, until they were once more caught and corralled by the Met.

On reflection, I am angry that what was billed as a colourful, creative and positive peaceful action was overshadowed by violence and vandalism, and I read that Reclaim the Streets themselves share that view. From the moment MacDonald's was trashed, I knew that was all that would be reported in the papers and on TV. From what I saw, the police behaved well, and that's a lot more that can be said of some of the protestors. I will be avoiding future anti-capitalist demos, but I think that the movement needs to act to restrain its more violent and witless sympathisers.