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Friday, 4 June 2010

A Walk In The Park - Parliament Square Protests

Thursday 4th June 2010

I turn up to Parliament Square wearing my favourite navy blue Calvin Klein shirt tucked into brown GAP chinos and shoes of the purist white.
I start to take some photos and notice two Asian men milling around near the Nelson Mandela statue wearing the uniform of a mysterious security organisation.
A rent-a-van pulls up and some people start offloading a winch and two car engines. I ask the old man orchestrating the proceedings what is going on and he begins to tell me the engines are going to be used as feet for a ‘Goddess of Democracy’ structure they are erecting. He gets taken aside by a police officer whose colleague tells the mixed crew offloading that they have to get the equipment on the grass a.s.a.p. (the reason for this goes unquestioned.)
I take a look around the camp that lies at the heart of Westminster surrounded by busy roads. There are tents upturned and collapsed, bikes and various objects laying around creating a chaotic environment. There are peace flags and sloguns painted on many tents, however this does not seem like any place to be for people who appreciated peace. I can’t grasp the harmony here. I guess the peace they are advocating is something different, something we currently enjoy in this country; no wars.
I ask around for what exactly is going on and soon I am sitting with two English guys Dom and Joe, roughly my age, who previously lived in a squat in Berlin together. They have a lot to say (unlike the two girls sitting with them) and rapidly inform me of many things. They tell me that there are all sorts of people here with different views but the main thing they agree on is that the war in Afghanistan should stop and that our soldiers should be brought home. The camp even houses a few returned soldiers from the war who agree wholeheartedly with the protest. A man behind us from the Stop The War Coalition is giving a talk on legally withholding tax as opposition to the war.
Dom and Joe go on to explain that there is a lot more to it than a simple protest (subsequently this will be a long article). There have been people protesting and camping on this spot outside the Houses of Parliament for years (one of whom regards all the new influx of protestors as spies sent by MI6) but on May day 2010 a larger number decided to stay due partly to the recent sunshine. Since then there has been a growing sense of community amongst the protestors. Now meetings are held everyday at 7 to plan actions, discuss issues within the camp and arrange workshops. Joe adds “There is a lack of young people” which he feels is due to the fact that a lot of people see it as a camp full of old hippies, but this is a view he hopes will change. He says here you can learn a lot about all sorts of issues and it is important that the youth gets politicised.
We go on to talk about the most important current issue faced by ‘Democracy Village’; the court cases of The Greater London Authority v The Peoples Assembly on Parliament Square, concerning the Serious Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005 and various park byelaws in accordance to the European Convention on Human Rights. Depending on the outcome an injunction could be put in place to stop assemblies in Parliament Square without prior permission. As we chat about it somebody announces on a megaphone that the case has been adjourned until the 7th of June, good news for a community not at all wanting to leave on this day filled with sunshine.
The guy with the megaphone sits down beside me and introduces himself as Sam. He tells me he is not a hippie (he is dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans) and just does his own thing but it kind of lines up with what is going on here. I ask him how they get food to which he explains they intercept it when shops are about to throw away out of date stock, known as ‘skipping’ it reduces landfill waste, is free and does not help advance capitalism. He goes on to tell me how he wants to build a solar cooker, a washing machine powered by a bicycle and compost toilets (that directly feed a vegetable or herb garden). During his time in Spain he says he even saw a filter for human urine and the filtered water was being used for washing but he drank it and it tasted fine. He says they aren’t allowed all these luxuries here but that this site is linked with places and initiatives throughout London and the world “It looks disorganised but that’s not the case.”
A girl crouches next to us and says they want to arrange a party to celebrate but can’t do it here so are looking for a squat. Sam says he is here to fight for essential freedoms, express oppressed views and hump, then in a very tongue in cheek way says “but I only hump trees, not humans” and smirks whilst smoking a cigarette. For some time there has been no mention of the war in Afghanistan.
There are a lot of environmental activists and eco friendliness is generally another unifying ideology here. I think it has also been accepted by society as a whole to be environmentally responsible already and personally don’t think camping in the heart of London is the best advertisement for this cause. I am also unsure about the large “Capitalism Isn’t Working, Another World Is Possible” sign; I know of no better system at this present time. Surely highlighting how it is possible for companies to be socially responsible is better than showing the public negative statements that give no viable alternative.
Democracy Village is full of passionate people who feel strongly about a lot of the worlds issues, here they can be part of a community of people with the same mindsets. However the average citizen should not be underestimated, their mindset may be different but the values they hold are often the same and as worthy just less intensely held. With a court hearing on 7th June 2010 to decide the fate of this form of permanent protest here, will Democracy Village be a thing of the past? Leading to the only form of protest held here in the future to be pre-organised (and more focused?) but only if permitted by the Greater London Authority.
Although I may not appear to be on their side, It makes me happy to know there are people like these out there doing what they do, its not the life for me but if they are forced to move I will miss these people, they give a nice contrast to the inaccessible grand ornate buildings of the men and women in power.
The main strength I see of Democracy Village is to make people aware of issues outside of the newspaper and encouragement to others to become active politically.
I leave Parliament Square wearing my favourite navy blue Calvin Klein shirt tucked into brown GAP chinos and shoes specked with earthy tones.

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