On Tuesday morning, September 13th, as I was taking the sun at the open flap of my tent in the Peace Camp opposite the Houses of Parliament in London’s Westminster Square, a young man came along with a tray selling slices of fruit and ginger cake that he had made. He gave me a piece. Very nice. He also had some leaflets about the Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI), the world’s largest arms fair which is held in London every two years, opening that day at the Excel Centre in London Docklands. There was a smallish protest meeting in a park nearby in front of Parliament so I went to it. There I was given a shopping basket full plastic bombs, gas cannisters and bullets, and queued up with other protesters to have them weighed at a mock-up cashdesk, a parody of the Arms Fair itself where repressive regimes including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Israel were buying and selling for real at the Excel Centre. I refused to pay. A protest march to the Excel Centre was announced for the next day, but I decided to walk there then and join the protest going on outside. It was twittered that trains going to the venue were being delayed by activists, but the cost would have been proscriptive on my budget anyway. London bus and rail fares are way higher than any other European city.
I stopped for lunch at the Tower of London where I dined on a whole fish and some chips, a whole hot dog with just a bite out of it, and five strawberries found on a scour of the rubbish bins in the busy touristy square outside (Freegan’s Luck!) and then went on my way. However I soon found that the area had changed a lot compared to the 1992 street map I was consulting and after walking through the hideously long fume-filled Rotherhithe tunnel (only used by approximately 20 pedestrians a day), and learning that London Docklands was still nearly an hour’s walk away, I decided to visit a friend in nearby Deptford instead. After a bath it was getting dark and I was ready to get back a bus back to my little tent in Westminster. My friend told me to inform her of the bus fare into town, but when the bendy bus arrived at the stop most people got on in the middle door and sat down without paying, so I followed suit.
On Wednesday morning I heard on the radio that it was the second day of the Trade Union Congress conference at its London headquarters Hall not too far away, so I decided to go and hand out flyers for the 2012 World Strike to people as they came out of the meeting. A few other groups were also distributing leaflets and pamphlets outside, mostly ignored by the exiting fat cat-looking delegates. One plump woman with the latest hairstyle and handbag stopped and glared at me through her glasses when I called after her: “Learn what the people think!” However, I liked some of the fighting talk against the government that had been going on inside.
GMB leader Paul Kenny declared: “Bad laws have to be broken. Civil disobedience in protest at erosion of civil liberties and freedoms has a place in our history.” And Len McCluskey, general secretary of Britain’s biggest union Unite said: “We will give politicians the biggest campaign of civil disobedience their tiny minds have ever seen.”
Returning to my tent in the early evening with a takeaway cup of tea to sup, while passing the large rotund Westminster Methodist City Hall I noticed a large banner hanging down outside proclaiming that the World Nuclear Association was holding its 36th Annual Symposium, their theme being: “The Future of Nuclear Power: Now It’s Down to Us.” I nearly spilled my tea, I was so shocked. Perusing the scheduled list of topics, which included ‘Fukushima – why the overreaction?’ I determined to be outside the hall in the morning to join the picket/protest as guests arrived for the first lecture at 9am. Surely there would be one?
Next morning when I arrived at the hall at 8.45, I found no protestors outside, but delegates and guests, many of a Korean appearance, entering the building and going up the grand stairs to the reception area. I followed them. At the desk I explained that I was a journalist and would like to sit in on the introductory lecture. After a coming and going of assistants to see if it were possible I was told that it was impossible as press places had already been filled. I thanked them and went outside. Taking a position on the other side of the narrow road opposite the front entrance, I began my harangue. Luckily I’d written down a few phrases to chant, and I blared them at the top of my voice so they echoed around the area and right into the building. This was no time for a politely held up banner. I repeated each slogan about 5 times each in succession.
“NO, NO, NUCLEAR, NO!” “PROFITEERS OF PERIL!” “SHAME ON THE METHODIST CHURCH!” “SAFE ALTERNATIVE ENERGY!”
While I was shouting a couple of security officials, a man and a woman came out and approached me. They asked how long I would be. I told them I would stop when Big Ben struck nine, the scheduled start of the first lecture, and so I did, but was glad to see that my words did not go unnoticed by those attending the meeting, some of whom stepped out of black-windowed limousines.
“CHEAPSKATES!” was the last line I threw at them.
After I had treated myself to some yoghurt and honey in my tent (my voice was a little hoarse) I set off to walk to Camden Town on an errand. Halfway up Whitehall, just near the entrance to Downing Street, I came upon one of the bendy buses that I had used to get from Deptford the night before. It was stopped at the side of the road and passengers were being interviewed by policemen and women, about 8 in number. I stopped and enquired what was going on.
When asked what business it was of mine, I told them I was a journalist. When I was unable to produce a press card I was told to mind my own business and not to interfere, especially by a plain-clothes cop in a black T shirt and rucksack who had been posing as a passenger on the bus.
As they took down the details of passengers who hadn’t paid the fares, I watched horrified as they handcuffed a Chinese man and woman, his hands behind his back, hers in front. “The van should be here soon,” one policeman reassured them. The woman sank to her knees.
When I got to Trafalgar Square I found that the living statues and performers that usually populate the large area in front of the National Gallery were not there. The place seemed empty without them. I saw a black guy I recognized as a regular busker and a white girl sitting on the flagstones next to some hoops.
I asked why no-one was doing anything. The girl pointed to a black uniformed policeman standing in the middle of the area. She said that he had arrived and announced that all performers must have a permit to do their acts or they would be arrested. “I’ve been doing my hulahoop thing for a couple of years here,” said the girl. “I’m trying to pay off a huge university fee. This will not help at all.”
We went and talked to the policeman. He admitted that performers without permits had been using the space for over twenty years, and he was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do about it. He said he was only acting on orders. The girl was considering beginning her act and seeing what would happen when I left them.
Today was the last day of the World Nuclear Association’s conference. It was a sunny morning and I thought, what the hell, I’ll go and give it to them again. I went to the Methodist Central Hall, only a couple of minutes walk from my tent in Westminster Square and started my ranting. The male security official came out and asked when I would stop. I told him at nine and he went away. I went through my litany again, but added a few more barbed but not personal comments about those participating in the conference as they entered the hall. I got rather carried away and didn’t here the clock. The official came out and told me that it was two minutes after nine.
I went away completely forgetting to let rip with the chant that I had composed with coffee that morning:
“FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU SHEEMAH!”
MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted through his website of collage pictures at http://CARNIVAL_OF_CHAOS.TRIPOD.COM