Monday, 22 March 2010

The intimidation of protest

I will qualify this piece by saying I wasn't there and I haven't spoken personally to anybody who was; but the demo against the EDL in Bolton, and the arrest of Weyman Bennett throws up a  couple of very important points to anyone involved in anti-fascist activity or in fact any sort  political protest.

Weyman Bennet has been charged with the dubious offence of  'conspiracy to commit violence disorder'. Like anyone who has experience of the SWP leadership, I can quite believe that he is guilty of offensive use of a microphone but I am pretty sure that neither he nor any of this UAF comrades  can really be considered as some sort of street-fighting general.

Only a week after The Observer's story about police infiltration of the YRE in the 1990's and reawakened memories of the Welling demonstrations, this latest news is a salutary reminder of  how protest is being currently demonised. In conjunction with the physical tactic of kettling and then cracking heads - used again in Bolton despite all the G20 backlash  - this amounts to a conscious police strategy of intimidating protest off the streets.

Events in Bolton - and memories of Welling - also underline the need for proper stewarding on these occasions . Not just wearing day-glo bibs and then selling papers or organising chanting, but physically protecting the safety of demonstration - from police or fascists.

That doesn't mean individual heroics but it can mean preventing police snatch squads entering the body of the demonstration or even making a defended withdrawal  and getting people safely to their transport home. A certain amount of commitment,  organisation, and dare I say it, discipline, is required. I wasn't there at Bolton but I have seen sufficient from UAF and before them the ANL to question whether these organisations understand this at all.   

None of which by the way is any reason not to support the campaign to defend Weyman Bennet ...

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