Dear citizen reader,
It is with pride that I can confirm that the latest attack on the exposed flanks of government absurdity has been successful. As announced in the last blog a new phase has been entered into with the battle with the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), leading to a massive surge of citizens deployed.
SOCPA is the legislation - introduced to quieten down peace campaigner Brian Haw and his 5 year vigil outside Parliament - that requires us to get permission from the police if we wish to demonstrate in Parliament Square and it’s environs. As the police deem one person with a banner, badge or T Shirt (with, for example, a peace sign or indeed a Labour Party slogan) as a protest the law manages to criminalise people just for their mode of dress, it also stamps out spontaneous freedom of speech and gives the police a law that frankly they don’t need.
This absurd requirement to get permission to wear a T shirt has been met with an absurdist response, namely Mass Lone Demonstrations (MLD). The MLD’s take place on the third Wednesday of every month in Parliament Square. People demonstrate on individual issues, ranging from “troops out of Iraq” to “Abolish February”, thus forcing the police to issue written permissions for each individual protestor.
The 5th of April saw a group of protestors arrive at Charing Cross police station to hand in 1,186 individual requests to protest. I think it fair to say the police reaction was not one of immense pleasure.
As more applications to demonstrate were handed in over the following week the final number of requests sent to the police came to 2,486. Given that between August 2005 and December 2006 the police processed just over 1,300 requests it is also fair to say that we gave the police 2 years work in 2 weeks.
Saturday the 21st saw a beautiful spring day greet the 300 odd protestors (each having applied to demonstrate in 10-20 different places around the SOCPA
zone) as they gathered in Parliament Square. We made for an eclectic collective, comprised as we were of lawyers, punk rockers, students, artists, activists and the plain old disgruntled folk from Middle England. Some carried bundles of banners and placards, with wooden poles and cardboard protruding from them at odd angles. Some had hand held easy to wipe white boards, so as to write a new slogan at each protest.
One person had even brought a roll of wallpaper which had her 20 odd slogans written out and carefully ordered to be unrolled at the appropriate moment.
A multitude of banners pricked the air, demanding everything from an end to the war in Iraq to the immediate release of all Goodies episodes on DVD. Then after some cheers and shouts the protestors split up to head to their next demonstration.
The law says that the police must give permission for people to demonstrate within the area covered by the law (see previous article and map)which includes Downing Street. So for the first time since the gates went up in 1989 we were allowed to demonstrate in Downing St itself rather than being herded into the metal railings in Whitehall opposite. So in groups of twos and threes we were allowed into the hallowed grounds, having gone through various metal detectors and escorted by police. I had made a blue plaque, announcing that Tony Blair Lived here - Prime Minister and War criminal. My friend Tony happily waved his banner declaring “Shame on me for voting Labour”.
Another protestor held a banner declaring “My prime minister has been kidnapped by a cult.” Whilst his neighbours sign read “My prime minister is a cult.”
As each protestor has chosen a different route for their 20 odd protests the day had a weird feel of a situationalist art event. Groups of protestors mingled with tourists and sightseers before hauling high their demands and proclamations - Make tourists get permission to visit! So as I wandered with friends to the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs,(variously demanding the legalisation of Urban Fox hunting, the concreting over of the countryside and rural affairs for all!) we bumped into other protestors demanding the abolition of the countryside.
It was like 2,486 little gags taking place in Westminster and being able to wander in and out of some of them.
At one point while heading to Clive of India’s statue, I spot 2 chaps – one looking like George Bernard Shaw standing by the entrance of Churchill’s war cabinet rooms, holding their signs declaring “Churchill gassed the Kurds in 1920” and “Churchill wasn’t as nice as you might think” as people file in to visit. Foreigner guests and England football shirt wearing natives look on in curiosity occasionally querying “What’s all this about?” Before the protestors finish their 10 minute vigil and move on.
Finally the peripatetic hoard return to Parliament Square to finish the day. There was one incident with the police who decided to stop and search two women clowns, one wearing a colander on her head. I am not sure what threat the police believed they might pose as women clowns tend not to feature very much on Crime Watch. However, as we gathered to listen to the chimes of Big Ben announce 5.30pm, the end of our permission to demonstrate, conversations buzzed about how friendly the police had been. One officer I got chatting to went slightly beyond the call of duty declaring, “Frankly, I agree with you, we don’t need it [SOCPA]. We’ve got enough paperwork as it is ,why do we need more? I support what your doing.”
Here are some of SOCPA’s other finest moments:
Baroness Sue Miller has to get permission for various Lords to have a demonstration outside the House of Lords.
Mark Thomas has to get permission from the police to wear a red nose in Parliament Square on Red Nose Day, “as a precaution.” Just in case a police officer thought it was a demonstration and arrest him.
Maya Evans arrested and convicted for reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph, without permission.
Sian, a friend of mine, was threatened with arrest over a cake she had at a picnic, it had the word PEACE iced upon it.
Woman threatened with arrest for wearing a T shirt which had pictures of Brian Haw’s banners on it, calling for an end to war. According to the police wearing the T Shirt near Downing St was an unauthorised protest. When she pointed out that the T Shirt advertised the Mark Wallinger exhibition of Brian’s placards in Tate Britain the police kindly deemed her T shirt legal.