One day, and in the early spring

When dissent had spread an angry wing,

The crowd stopped and invited me,

To join their tragic comedy.

 

I met Hope, she bore a flag,

Words scrawled upon a cotton rag,

By Whitehall she marched in a pair,

With the gnarled form of old Despair.

 

I saw a canvas Trojan horse,

It cantered through the march’s course,

And ended in a blazing fire,

At the Oxford Circus funeral pyre.

 

I watched Cable, on TV

He wore a coat of treachery,

On strings he danced uneasily,

To a tune of Tory puppetry.

 

The front bench stood, and on they cheered,

Looked at the protest, laughed and jeered,

Standing tall, Tyranny looked on,

He looked a lot like Cameron.

 

We saw a riot in Oxford Street,

A ballroom Masque of Anarchy,

Chaos unleashed a raging blitz

On the windows of the Hotel Ritz.

 

Greed kneeled, afraid but unaware,

Behind a till in Santander,

Illusion shattered as it passed,

Set to the sound of breaking glass.

 

I saw Oppression standing there,

Waiting behind Trafalgar Square,

Batons and shields bedecked its flanks,

Fresh from guarding public banks.

 

We ran the gauntlet, lost the race,

They struck Innocence in the face,

Handcuffed him to ignominy,

In the shadow of Nelson’s Victory.

 

Fury burnt in Regent Street,

I heard the sound of pounding feet,

Of laboured breaths and worn-out shoes,

Of Lies upon the evening news.

 

I strode through London, door by door,

The city reeked of civil war,

The foremost ranks had broke and fled,
They feared darkening days ahead,

But even when those batons rain down on you,
Still we are many, they are few.

Trafalgar Square: A Report

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon

By Mark Bergfeld, NUS NEC and Education Activist Network

This Saturday over half a million people took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstration since the invasion of Iraq. Trade unionists and community activists from around the country rallied together. The supermarket of the super-rich, Fortnum and Mason, was occupied and shut-down along with many outlets owned by tax-dodger and government cuts advisor Philip Green. Several general secretaries called for strike action.
 
A BBC news report described it as a “post-Tahrir Square event” – a population rising up against a government nobody voted for, united in rage and inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. And at the end of the day, hundreds and then several thousands of people came to occupy Trafalgar Square in the spirit of the Cairo uprising.
 
Our banner was “we demand regime change” and the atmosphere was peaceful and positive with fireworks, dancing and campfires after a hard day’s march. For one night at least, Trafalgar Square, symbol of the British state, was instead in the hands of the people. Unfortunately this carnival atmosphere was soured by the violent and reprehensible actions of a few hundred police.
 
Without warning a team of officers ran into the square to drag one of the protestors away. Others ran to his aid, and were quickly met by dozens of police charging in and making full use of their truncheons. Within the space of a few minutes, a column of several hundred officers in full riot gear stormed Trafalgar and turned it into a battleground.
 
When organisers of the occupation contacted the police and asked who was in charge, they were told simply to “take their pick” from the uniformed thugs running amok in the square. The police had attacked without provocation and then refused to engage in a dialogue.
 
Collective punishment
 

Trafalgar Square on Saturday in the early evening

Sections of the media are now full of lurid stories decrying the “violence” of an “extremist minority” of protestors. This misses out some of the worst violence being inflicted in our society by the parties in government (which are themselves infiltrated by sinister networks of Eton graduates and hooligan organisations such as the Bullingdon Club).
 
Cuts to the NHS kill, as more people are excluded from access to decent healthcare. Raising the pension age kills, as more people have to work until they literally drop. Thousands die in work-related accidents every year, and cuts to the Health and Safety Executive will kill thousands more. The tiny minority that is devastating jobs, services, welfare and pensions are already guilty of tremendous violence.
 
But violence did occur on the protests yesterday, and with the exception of some minor property damage it came almost exclusively from the side of the police. On the student protests of November and December thousands were repeatedly kettled, beaten and charged by mounted officers. Jody McIntyre was twice dragged from his wheelchair, Tahmeena Bax was knocked unconscious and Alfie Meadows was almost killed by a severe brain haemorrhage.
 
We are still collecting details of the violence this weekend, but we do know that almost 150 people were arrested, detained and charged for attending the entirely peaceful occupation of Fortnum and Mason. This strategy of mass arrests, kettles and violent charges is one of collective punishment, which aims to criminalise the right to protest at the time when we most need to exercise it.
 
The policing of recent protests has exposed the hypocrisy of the government’s show of concerned for the right to protest in Middle Eastern countries. When the spirit of the Egyptian and Tunisian protests came to Britain it was put down by police – or, in the words of one popular tweet “Forces loyal to Cameron violently attacked rebels in Trafalgar Square.”
 
If you witnessed acts of police brutality on Saturday, please contact the Defend the Right to Protest campaign. 
 info@defendtherighttoprotest.org or http://defendtherighttoprotest.org/

Rap against Lansley

Posted: March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

This article first appeared on Guardian.co.uk  Author: Priyamvada Gopal

This Saturday, one iconic square, Trafalgar, is to be turned into another, Tahrir – where Egyptians transfixed the world when, with collective determination, they overthrew a powerful regime. British protesters’ call to transform Trafalgar acknowledges that the struggles in the Middle East and those gathering momentum in Britain share a profound connection.

Both are movements of the disempowered many against the small groups of wealthy elites who run our world, often in charmed collusion. In rebellious Wisconsin, those protesting Governor Scott Walker’s attempted crushing of unions also carried placards exhorting themselves to “Walk Like an Egyptian”.

Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies. President Barack Obama claims that the Arab world can be inspired by a globalising nation like Brazil working in partnership with the US. For Time magazine, the Middle Eastern protests manifest “the modernising imperative” (code for “westernisation”). More than decent employment, public services or fair wages, “what the protesters want”, it avers, “is to be treated as citizens not subjects”. The cheerleading historian of western supremacy, Niall Ferguson, understands, however, that far more is going on in the Middle East than becoming westernised, warning Americans to look to their own revolution and not those in the Arab world for inspiration.

Those calling on protesters in the west to look east actually have it right. The extraordinary levels of social and economic vulnerability impacting ordinary people from the American midwest to the Middle East have shared origins in the global concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands. It is time to dispense with the myth that only western capitalism can teach the world to be free and to turn instead to those people who are drawing on the anti-colonial struggles in their national histories to fight for dignity and justice. If imperialism once played itself out across racial and geographical lines, it is now a global economic system which affects us all, albeit in different ways by exploiting labour, expropriating and privatising resources, concentrating profits and institutionalising inequality. Muammar Gaddafi can scream for Libyan unity against the imperialist west but he fools few Libyans. Their history of incomplete decolonisation teaches them that one does not get rid of foreign colonisers only to be crushed, as Gandhi put it, under the heel of native princes.

It is simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because “they” are fighting “blood-soaked” despots while “we”, after all, live in liberal democracies. Without obscuring real political differences, let us reflect on some overlaps between the open despotism of Arab regimes and our politicians’ behaviour. While our defanged democracies provide ballot boxes, elected representatives feel free to ignore mass demonstrations and work against the general wellbeing, deploying lies and hysteria where necessary (from WMDs to “we are broke”). As Truthout’s Richard Lichtman argues, “managed” democracies can avoid the appearance of suppression while substantively “terminating democracy”. It is perfectly possible to crush collective demands, push millions into unemployment and deprive people of fair wages and benefits while adhering to democratic letter if not spirit.

Both capitalist democracies and dictatorships use political means to concentrate wealth, power and privilege. In Britain and the US, the right to fight corporate power collectively – and effectively – through unions is under ongoing attack. In Britain, the state uses demonisation, brute force and disproportionate punishment to contain mass demonstrations and talks of making some peaceful means illegal. In the US, Democratic legislators resisting anti-union measures, which were then forced through anyway, were threatened with arrest. Britain has seen policies destroying public services hastily enacted without a clear mandate while civil liberties are constantly eroded and inequalities expand. If Gaddafi screams “imperialism” when things get sticky, our politicians find it convenient to denounce “multiculturalism”. What unites the interdependent ruling elites of Britain and Bahrain is the priority they give to the entitlement of the few at the expense of the many, often embodied by dodgy business deals.

That all young Arabs only want free elections is untrue. Theirs is a generation seeking to redeem the full promise of freedom from colonialism, which was never only about getting rid of western rule or, as The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier condescendingly puts it, foreign “victimisation”. The Arab revolutions draw on a fundamentally anti-colonial vision, which is also about breaking with existing models of power and privilege. Or, as Greg Grandin says of Latin American revolutions, “for a society to be democratic it also has to be just”.

To turn Trafalgar into Tahrir, sharing this vision and taking ownership of our societies, we must now join forces with Arab rebels against the increasing absolutism of corporate power and privilege, wherever it manifests. This not about the “us” of the west versus the “them” of the Middle East, but that more fundamental clash between the barbarism of economic plutocracy and the civilisation of social justice.

Why Trafalgar? #21

Posted: March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Jody McIntyre is a journalist for The Independent and a founding member of the Equality Movement

December 17th; Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself alight in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.  January 25th; tens of thousands of demonstrators descend on Tahrir Square, Egypt.  February 14th; the people rise up in Manama, Bahrain.  Tomorrow, on March 26th, hundreds of thousands are expected to march in London, to demonstrate against the government.  Activists have called for the people to occupy Trafalgar Square for twenty-four hours.  Some think it should be longer.  On March 27th, the government, aided by US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, plan to conduct a nation-wide Census of people’s personal details, including the names, ages and genders of any overnight guests.  Unfortunately for them, it seems that no-one will be at home.

The ConDemn government have no mandate to take the actions they are; yes, we had an election, but no political party won.  The logic of “let’s put our votes together so we have enough for a majority” is fundamentally flawed.  Sometimes, you wonder how long it will be until all three of the major political parties are conjoined in a “coalition”.

 The sheer arrogance of the current government would be something to laugh at, if it wasn’t causing suffering to so many people.  As thousands of people lose their jobs, our education is split into two tiers for poor and rich, and local services are cut across the board, our government spend their money on bombing people in Libya.  That is not to say that we, or at least Shell and BP, will not make huge financial profits from the war; it is to say that we oppose killing people.

 On the home front, the police continue in their role of carrying out the government’s dirty work.  At a packed out meeting of the Justice for Smiley Culture Campaign in Brixton Town Hall, with over 1000 people in attendance, it was stated that in the last ten years, one person per week has died whilst in police custody.  How many police officers have been convicted for those deaths?  Zero.  If an uprising is to occur in England, it will be communities like that of Brixton which will provide the spark.

 Our young people must be prepared to protect and defend themselves on Saturday.  We do not want to see a repeat of the aftermath of the Gaza demonstrations in London during Operation Cast Lead, when scores of youth, overwhelmingly Muslim, were arrested from their homes in dawn raids and handed down lengthy sentences, as a deterrent from attending future demonstrations.

The struggle we are facing is a long and arduous journey, but it has to begin somewhere.  What better place than here, what better time than now.

Why Trafalgar? #20

Posted: March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

Owen Holland is a student at Cambridge University

Trafalgar Square is a space consecrated to the celebration of imperialism. As Rodney Mace eloquently put it in his short cultural history Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire (1976), “the Square in its design is an impenitent and rather vulgar commemorative edifice to both men and events which had, by force of arms, extended the hegemony of British capital over large areas of the globe.”[1] British imperialism is not quite as hegemonic nowadays as it was in the nineteenth century, being more of an adjunct to the US-led, contemporary imperial formation known as NATO. The bas-reliefs at the foot of the Nelson Memorial, which commemorate Nelson’s victories at St. Vincent (1797), the Nile (1798), Copenhagen (1801) and Trafalgar (1805), depict images of an outmoded and superseded form of imperial warfare. As NATO continues to bomb Libya, in an attempt to rehabilitate the concept of humanitarian intervention, Nelson’s victory over the French navy at Aboukir seems like a distant memory at a time when the British and French governments – along with their NATO allies – are united in launching devastating attacks further west along the North African coastline.

In his utopian romance, News from Nowhere, written in 1890 and serialised in Commonweal, the newspaper of the Socialist League, William Morris offers a speculative re-visualisation of Trafalgar Square. The space is re-imagined as a “large open space” lined with “tall old pear-trees” and “apricot trees, in the midst of which was a pretty gay little structure of wood, painted and gilded, that looked like a refreshment stall”.[2] The telos of capital accumulation which is concretised at the apogee of the vertical, phallic column is effaced in Morris’s utopian imagination in order to make way for an orchard – a use of space which is inextricably bound up with seasonal patterns of change and renewal as well as, in this instance, generous provision guaranteed by fruitful abundance.

Morris’s desire to transform Trafalgar Square was, in part, a result of his architectural distaste for the “tall ugly houses”, the “ugly church”, the “nondescript ugly cupolaed building” and the “good many singularly ugly bronze images (one on top of a tall column)” (CW: 16, 41) which still fill up the spot to this day. St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, the National Gallery and the Nelson Memorial are the particular targets which Morris had in mind. But Morris’s utopian transfiguration of Trafalgar Square as an orchard is also an anti-imperialist gesture which radically challenges the symbolic and ideological use of public space to which the Square is currently given over.

The Riots in London on Sunday, Nov. 13, Defence of Trafalgar Square, Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, November 19, 1887, pg. 605, Issue 2535.jpeg

It is a space which has been a site of ideological contestation for some time. On November 13th 1887, for example, Trafalgar Square played host to a scene of violent confrontation between police and Free Speech demonstrators who were protesting against Irish Coercion laws and the imprisonment of William O’Brien. John Burns and the socialist MP for N.W. Lanark, R.B. Cunninghame Graham were both arrested and beaten, as were many other demonstrators. The day, which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, brought together groups including the Metropolitan Radical Association, the Law and Liberty League, Irish nationalists and socialist organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. In advance of the demonstration, Sir Charles Warren, the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, issued a proclamation banning the right to assembly in an attempt to prohibit the march from taking place. When the demonstrators refused to cancel the event, Warren resorted to tactics of forcible repression, calling in the Life Guards and signing up hundreds of volunteer ‘special constables’ – young, ‘respectable’, bourgeois men who relished the chance to meet out some violent treatment to workers with legal sanction. The mainstream Illustrated London News produced images of the ‘riot’, diffusing the political content of the event to make it available as a spectacle for bourgeois consumption (see image 1, attached).[3]

The memory of the Paris communards’ demolition of the Vendôme Column – another monument to imperial hubris, albeit in a different national context – haunted the bourgeois cultural imaginary in this period. In 1871, the very same Illustrated London News had supplied arresting images of the pulling down of the Column (see image 2, attached).[4] After the suppression of the Commune, the column was re-installed between 1873 and 1875: “[t]he old Roman Bonaparte was restored on the top of the column where he may still be seen today.”[5] Anti-imperialists have never quite achieved the same symbolic victory in Trafalgar Square as did the communards in Paris, although it is well worth listening to a song by the Irish folk band, the Dubliners, entitled ‘Dublin/Nelson’s Farewell’ which celebrates the skilful removal by a group of Republicans of the statue of Nelson from the top of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in 1966 – on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. There’s also a decent rendition commemorating the event entitled ‘Up Went Nelson’, set to the tune of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, a.k.a ‘John Brown’s Body’, a.ka. ‘Solidarity Forever’.


[1] Rodney Mace, Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976), p.7.

[2] The Collected Works of William Morris, 24 vols (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914)  vol. 16, p. 41.

[3] ‘The Riots in London on Sunday, Nov. 13, Defence of Trafalgar Square’, Illustrated London News Saturday, November 19, 1887.

[4] ‘The Place Vendome Column’, Illustrated London News, Saturday, May 27, 1871.

[5] Albert Boime, Hollow Icons: The Politics of Sculpture in Nineteenth-Century France (London, 1987), p.9.