Harrier and Jaguar: A Report on the Power of the Powerless
This time they were ready. An army of occupation with battle lines drawn, diagonally and in parallel, across Parliament Square. With clear lines of sight, the trap was set around the House of Commons, waiting for the enemy to arrive.
The Police knew they were coming. They could follow the progress of the movement of resistance as it made its way through the West End of London. Their advance was given away by TV and Police helicopters circling above in the clear blue winter sky.
I caught up with the march at Trafalgar Square. It looked as beautiful as it always does, but this time younger and more urban. Black and Asian working class youth with the soundtrack beat and boom and beat and boom and beat and boom. Alongside school children and college kids were university students and their teachers, and many other besides. This is a group that cannot be easily classified or contained.
The route down Whitehall was blocked. The march was funnelled through Admiralty Arch, around the back of the Treasury and up Bird Cage Walk. The movement of resistance knew they were walking into a trap, but still they kept walking, knowing at some point they would be taken prisoner, still they kept walking, with no weapons to defend themselves other than their sense of righteous indignation, they still kept walking, with lessons learned from the history of progressive struggle behind them, still they kept walking. On all sides surrounded by police officers in full riot gear, and dogs and horses, while with every step the trap was tightened.
I retreated as I felt the police pincer shutting tight. I lied to get through the police lines. ‘Where are you going?’ The police officer asked. ‘Victoria’ I said ‘To catch a train’. He let me through, deciding I was no threat to public safety. In the relative tranquillity of St James Park, I felt depressed and despondent. I had bottled it. Other people withdrew to avoid the snare, and stood around as bystanders, no longer participants in the movement of resistance, which kept on walking and walking.
Wandering about I found a gang of black youths, boys and girls, at the top of Whitehall, confronting the defensive police lines. For these marching youths the battle with ‘Babylon’ is an everyday event, not a one-off political protest. Most protestors eventually did what they were told to do and took another route. The youths had no fear of the police, they’ve been fighting for the last fifty years, in Notting Hill and Brixton and St Pauls and other places besides. They wanted to know why they couldn’t walk down WHITEhall. ‘Why won’t you let them through, officer?’, I asked. ‘To prevent a breach of the peace’, the officer replied, unconvinced by his own explanation. Behind his reply was a phalanx of robo-cops with full body-armour, riot helmets, and faces hidden by black balaclavas, intensifying their menacing stares.
I made my way back to Westminster Bridge via a roundabout route, avoiding police barricades that were set up all around. Reports were coming out that the students were taking a beating, and had been charged by police on horses. The group on the bridge was angry and defiant. They unfurled a flag, ‘How Dare You’, across the road.
The university coach was parked next to Vauxhall Bridge. I wanted to collect my thoughts before the journey home. I sat in the Duveen Galleries in the nearby Tate Britain. The gallery was hosting an exhibition, Harrier and Jaguar by Fiona Banner. The show had decommissioned jet fighters in unusual settings. The Harrier, known for its horizontal abilities, was hung upside down, pointing vertically to the floor from a hook in the ceiling, like a dead carcass. The Jaguar lay upside down on the ground, devoid of its aeronautic capacities, with its fighting power drained away. These were no longer killing machines, but defenceless bits of metal whose powerful invincibility had been stripped bare for all to see.
I arrived home in time to watch the coverage of the protest on the late night news. The police, to my surprise, were having to defend themselves. Not for beating up the students, but for allowing the movement of resistance to attack the Royal Rolls Royce Phanton V1. The picture on TV showed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with a terrified look on her face. For one brief moment we had a glimpse of excessive reality, stripped bare for all to see. This is what revolution looks like. What a victory this has been.
December 9th 2010
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