>We will not be pushed around – a Fitwatch response to criticism of militant protest

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This post started as a response to a comment on this thread. Some of it may be stuff we have said in the past, and it is a personal response.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. Forward Intelligence Cops are not bastions of law and order, trying to keep the peace in difficult circumstances. They are nasty, insidious, vicious and smug. I may be generalising, but I’ve met a lot of them over the years, and not one has failed to meet these criteria. I think they may even get training in the most patronising way to say a person’s name. They are part of what Jacqui Smith described last year as “harassment style policing” – and this is an accurate picture of what they have been doing to activists for years.

However, whilst this is personal and nasty, it only happens to a handful of people. The bigger picture is even more concerning, especially their recent admissions of holding and building databases of people who attend protests, and their proactive targeting of journalists.

FIT are interested in everyone who attends a demonstration, regardless of whether they are wearing any face coverings. Footage we have from their cameras show equal amounts of attention being paid to people who are not wearing masks. A person should not end up on a database simply for attending a demonstration, and we must resist this.

Obviously, masks are extremely useful if you are planning to do anything illegal – even if they get you on camera, if you make no admissions, it is hard for them to prove identity. However, even if you don’t plan to do anything, you never know, you may feel differently when you’ve just witnessed your friend being beaten with a big stick. I read the following about the Gaza demo on this cop’s blog earlier – replace bottles etc., with batons, shields, etc., and I couldn’t agree more.

“If someone is going to attack me or my colleagues then I’ll fight back, no matter what side they are on. There is no difference between a bottle, scaffolding clip, battery or brick whether it’s thrown by someone who is pro/anti anything, it still fucking hurts and still does damage to property and people”.

This is a normal reaction. However, when it comes to protest, we are supposed to adopt some weird liberal pacifist bullshit that implies we are not allowed to defend ourselves because our attackers are wearing a uniform. This victim mentality ensures we will always be the abused .It’s fine for a cop to say he’ll fight for his colleagues on his blog, but I’m an extremist for advocating the same on this blog.

The same copper bleats about how the liberal press have distorted the facts – how the demonstrators started the confrontation, and the police were forced to react. I wasn’t at the demonstration so I can’t comment, but if previous demonstrations were anything to go on, then it would have been a, quite rightly, confrontational crowd.

However, there are other not so obvious elements to starting confrontation. One of the main reasons for confrontation is space. At the embassy, the pens for protesters were very small for the numbers (this was certainly the case the week before, and would have been worse last week). Forcing a large number of angry people into a confined space is never a good idea, and it should come as no surprise when those imprisoned break down the barriers and throw them back at their captors.

Protest is very tightly controlled in this country. You can protest, but only if you do what your told. If you don’t believe me, try leafleting outside your local fur shop, and see what happens. Cops have forgotten the limits of their powers and “don’t care about the law” as dear Bob Churchman put it last week. However, this is not always obvious to people who only see or attend major demonstrations. It is the people who attend the small demos who are photographed and harassed, assaulted and arrested, often for doing nothing more than handing out a few leaflets.

Policing of protest has changed in the last ten years. Ten years ago, it was very clear which protests were likely to lead to arrest. Now, it is much harder, and the most innocuous protest can be met with heavy handed policing and a trip to the cells. In fact, ask around, and it’s not just protest. The majority of people who have dealings with the police have found them disagreeable in some way, even if it’s been reporting crime.

However, this strategy is backfiring, and people are starting to get angry. Crowds are beginning to reclaim space and set the agenda for protests. Events such as the Smash Edo and Bush demos have started to show we will no longer tolerate oppressive policing, and the militancy at the Palestinian demonstrations has taken this further. Dissent needs an element of danger before it is threatening enough to change anything, After never ending years of shuffling around Whitehall and not changing anything, people are beginning to fight back.

Will this militancy change anything? Obviously, it didn’t force Israel out of Gaza. I’m not naive enough to believe there is anything we can do on street level in London which can do this. However, as a message of opposition and solidarity it was powerful – far more powerful than any of the protests against the Iraq war. If people had rioted after every Iraq demo, it is likely Blair would not have backed the war.

It is very easy to see violence at protests as perpetrated by “known troublemakers”, the “violent minority” or “rent-a-mob”. However this is a patronising oversimplification and is a very convenient way of dismissing caring, passionate people, especially as notoriously these people do not have a voice for fear of repercussions.

Political policing in this country is forcing people into militancy. Large protests have been ignored and smaller protests have been persecuted. Fitwatch is a small but important part of this resistance. It is part of the same response, the same refusal to be constantly pushed around.

2009 could be an interesting year…

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