Simon Keyes is the Director at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace which is located at the site where last week’s G20 protestors set up their climate camp, in Bishopsgate, City of London. Here are his thoughts on the whole episode as viewed from the St Ethelburga’s Centre.
City folk returned to their desks this morning to find almost every physical trace of yesterday’s Climate Camp erased. Even the chalk slogans on the road had been scrubbed off. Our banner “We’re all in this together” looks a little forlorn and it’s probably a planning irregularity now. I am tempted to leave it for a day or two to prompt people to reflect on what happened yesterday
I observed the protest throughout the day. I saw very little trouble. Early on the Police won the approval of the crowd for the efficient way they isolated and dispersed an incongruous group of young men in black masks. Hundreds of cameras recorded the Police’s every move and I didn’t envy them being so exposed doing such tricky work.
For the rest of the day, the protest seemed to me to be unfailingly good-humoured. The music and dancing, the creativity of the slogans, and the bold splashes of colour brought smiles to onlookers’ faces. I could see office workers at their windows clearly enjoying the spectacle. The speed with which make-shift kitchens and even a latrine appeared was impressive. For several hours the protesters managed to create a friendly, festival atmosphere. Opposite St Ethelburga’s the main attraction seemed to be a group of people meditating. My over-riding impression was that the organisers had thought hard about how to get their point across in an effective and nonviolent way. I understand a lot of consensus decision-making was going on.
But late last night it was a different story. I emerged from St Ethelburga’s at 10.15 to find the police presence massively increased. Most were now dressed in black combat gear with helmets, riot shields and batons. Many had balaclava face coverings. A fleet of armoured cars blocked the junction outside Gibson Hall, blue lights flashing, and there seemed to be horses behind them. A helicopter hovered low, shining a powerful searchlight, its noise adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere of menace. It was obvious someone had decided not to allow the Camp to remain for its stated 24 hour period.
The protesters were quieter than earlier and seemed intent on ignoring the police. I saw no disorder or drunkenness and there were still moments when dancing and singing broke out. Earlier I had watched whilst three young women dancing on a police van were removed. There was laughter and applause but no hostile reaction. I listened to a storyteller entertaining a group sitting on the road.
A Guardian journalist standing next to me told me the police were waiting for the media to leave and would then evict the camp. He said the demonstrators had been confined in a “kettle” (to allow the temperature to rise) and no-one had been allowed to leave for several hours. After watching for a few a few minutes, I was grabbed by the elbow and brusquely led away by an excitable young police woman “This is a sterile area and you must not be here”. I pointed to our banner. You will be hurt, she said. I could see no violence “There will be” she replied.
I can see that people climbed over our gate last night, which isn’t easy given the spikes and paint we installed on police advice. I asked the police about this and was told that this may have happened when people were trying “to get out of the way”. Of what?
Perhaps there’s a clue in the reported 88 police arrests, mostly after 7.00pm I understand. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that considerable force was used against the protestors in the unreported early hours of this morning.
Naturally there are contested histories. A police officer tells me a number of “undesirable interlopers” joined the protestors around 9.00pm and this led to an “edict” around 11.00 to remove the camp. A protester who was present says the police closed in at 7.00pm using riot shields and thereafter refused to allow people to leave (and presumably enter) the camp.
Throughout the day orange-jacketed “legal observers” kept notes on what happened, and it will be helpful for them to publish details of what they saw. There are some media reports such as Sky’s Catherine Jacobs.
London’s Mayor, Boris Johnston said on Tuesday “I would urge those planning to demonstrate to honour the great, democratic tradition of peaceful, constructive protest, without the need to resort to violent or illegal activity.”
I imagine that the Climate Camp protestors feel they took this responsibility seriously, so why did it end like this?