Day of) Action!

As I write these words, London is in flames. What started as a peaceful demonstration quickly turned into a rioting mob, who have swept through the city like a tornado, looting and destroying. Martial law has been declared, and heavily-armed helicopter gunships are circling overhead. I can hear the crackle of automatic gunfire in the distance, and when the breeze blows from the west, there's a smell disturbingly like singed flesh...

I am, of course, not being serious. Well, not yet, anyway -- but it is only 10 o'clock, so plenty of time yet. So far, the International Day of Action has been a bit of a disappointment: I missed the last really good riot (the Poll Tax one), 'cos I was in the Scala watching 'Mars Needs Women', and was thus looking forward to this one. I'd even bought a new film for my camera.

It seems the London kerfuffle - in contrast to the relaxed and unbothered approach elsewhere - can be traced back to a letter. This was sent out to 116 City businesses last month by Norman Russell, chief inspector in charge of community safety, warning of the imminent fall of civilization, leading some people to start visibly bricking it. My company's paranoia continued to grow over the past week, and at least one good thing came out of it: they announced a dress-down day. They were far from the only company to take this route, despite the risk that it'd make it easier for the protestors to blend in (after all, anarchists don't have suits, do they?), and the train this morning was crammed with casually dressed people...all carrying briefcases. Oops, bit of a giveaway that. Meanwhile, I was in combat jacket, boots, mirror shades and grim, revolutionary expression, which seemed to freak a few people out.

Matters were helped by the appearance of the 'Evading Standards' a spoof of the 'Evening Standard' newspaper, proclaiming 'Global Market Meltdown'. This was actually a very nice piece of work, parodying the front and back covers, right down to the crossword, wrapped around 24 pages of polemic. This was funded by the Metropolitan Police -- or, at least, the 20 grand in damages awarded after they mis-arrested protestors at a previous demo, which is a further nice piece of subversion...

6pm Well, that got a little bit interesting, didn't it? The sole thing I saw in the morning was some minor disruption to transport: around 300 cyclists riding very slowly through the streets. But this only affected drivers, so it was another case of two groups for whom I have little respect beating up on each other, and the other rumoured, more extreme activities (hurling of offal in McDonald's, taking a dump on ATMs), proven unfounded. However, by mid-afternoon, stations were being closed off, and it was apparent that things were kicking off. Because of the disruption, we got out early, and I opted to check out what was happening.

I have to say, the police barricades were the least effective I have ever seen. They'd block off one street, and totally ignore the next one along. It was thus easy to get into the heart of the action, around the LIFFE building, which had been the target of protestor's anger. Though what the news stories didn't say was that some of the traders there had been inciting things by spraying champagne from the building's balcony onto the protestors, and lobbing photocopied money on them -- lynching such twats from lamp posts would not be excessive, IMHO.

The mood was weird: 50% party, 50% ugly, with some people gathering bottles to hurl at the police, while others (including me!) just stood around. And that's the thing about protests: IT'S VERY DULL, though I can tell you, being baton-charged by the police does cause a definite surge of adrenalin. Traffic was totally dead, and it was kinda eerie, but not unpleasant, to walk down the middle of normally busy streets. After half-an-hour or so, I simply got bored - it was apparent that revolution would not be happening that nights - and drifted away, opting to head home and go down the pub instead.

So, more than expected, but not as much as hoped. I've no doubt the protestors will argue that they've succeeded in raising consciousness, but perhaps they should really thank Norman Russell for that. It certainly made a change from the normal Friday, and between getting to dress how I want, and leaving work early, I'm well up for the same again next Friday -- whether or not they destroy any transnational corporations...

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