Brighton May Day 2011
In 1896 the Chicago Police Department opened fire on protesters demanding an 8 hour working day, in what became known as the Haymarket Massacre. Since then, May Day has symbolically been a day for the majority to stand up against the tyranny and exploitation of capitalism.
Fast forward to 30th April 2011, and the first May Day of a newly invigorated UK protest movement under the coalition government (which is, let’s face it, a Tory government). Brighton saw one of the biggest mobilisations of 2011, assembling at the West Pier, a location announced only half an hour in advance. As a few hundred demonstrators gradually arrived, comprised of a wide selection of anarchists, liberals, UK Uncut types, environmental activists and even a Critical Mass bloc, it seemed like a relaxed party atmosphere with a light police presence.
A look down any of the side streets revealed the police’s true intentions however, with vans of police with riot gear, horses and cameras waiting with baited breath for their opportunity to do what they do best.
Our target was appropriately decided by the roll of a dice, landing on Hove Town Hall, and so we set off along the seafront, still lightly flanked by fluorescent fascists. It was mere seconds before the policing became more heavy handed. As we turned up Middle Street, the numbers of police increased until we found ourselves in a moving kettle, coming to a complete stop on Ship Street. It was here that the first arrests of the day were made, with police picking off protesters on flimsy pretences as a result of last month’s March for the Alternative demo in London.
Tensions inevitably began to rise in the heat, with a number of police clearly spoiling for a fight (CR3 in particular at this point). Despite ample provocation, we defiantly kept our cool, standing our ground and demanding our right to protest with good grace and humour.
After an hour we were on the move again, chanting, singing and dancing to the many 12v soundsystems along for the day, before landing once again in a kettle at the top of East Street. This was beginning to get tiresome. It was at this point that our very own Pop-Punk Steve arrived, characteristically late, saving the day with his bag of supplies: beer and samosas. Eventually we were released en masse into the Pavilion Gardens to a standing ovation from the many people enjoying a sunny Saturday there. More used to being told to “get a job”, I was taken aback by this reception, and quite humbled to see this level of support. Making use of the Pavilion Gardens’ many exits, and determined not to be kettled again, we started moving faster, heading through the North Laines, past Tesco (manned by a nervous looking security guard) and looping round Victoria Gardens. By this point we had upped the pace to a flat out run, with the pigs struggling to keep up.
Shortly after this I realised a lifestyle of late nights and heavy drinking was not conducive to these unexpected bursts of energy, and we ducked away into a side street to compose ourselves and enjoy a beer. It was at this point that we received confirmation that the suspicious looking bald men I had spotted that morning were in fact EDL. Not one of miss the opportunity to see exactly what the master race is supposed to look like, we headed towards The Royal Standard on Queens Road where they were doing their best to uphold whatever British values it is they hold so dear. Truly, they were such an imposing presence that we walked right through them without actually noticing. That showed us.
By this point, the main march had dispersed into a number of smaller factions, and we set off on our way to find the action. In doing so, we came across our old friend CR3, who was arresting someone for daring to utter the word “fuck”. Also there was local Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (who continues to confuse me by not being entirely morally bankrupt), and according to sources, a few minutes later had de-arrested the dastardly, foul-mouthed menace to society.
Regrouping at the Clock Tower, it was clear the police had considered their work done. Twenty of them had bravely defended Boots from absolutely no threat whatsoever and capitalism was free to exploit another day. Except we weren’t quite ready to go home and shut up just yet.
We headed along Western Road in 2s and 3s towards UK Uncut’s target du’jour, TopShop. Loosely assembling nearby, and in the face of hired heavies we decided to keep the police on their toes by bolting across the road to blockade Vodafone opposite.
Personally, I was a little unimpressed by how this went. The few customers still wanting to enter the store were allowed through without any attempt to explain why we were there, and a tactical dispersal once the police arrived was decided against. Having lured the police across the road we then returned to TopShop for more of the same chants and songs demanding they pay their tax. I felt uneasy about this; responsible capitalism is still capitalism. On the other hand, UK Uncut’s demands are achievable in the short term, and provide an accessible entry into protest with clear objectives.
Anyway, I digress, because this is where things started to go pear-shaped.
After a particularly forceful arrest, we surged towards the police, demanding to know what their grounds for arrest were. Turns out it was tactical, we’d been well and truly played and once again found ourselves kettled. Accepting our fate, we gave the police a round of applause dripping in sarcasm and sat ourselves down.
With the majority of our fellow protesters gone and no legal observers in sight it was check mate, and with the controversial use of Section 50 (PACE), we had no choice but to submit to being removed one by one, searched and hand over our names and addresses.
Unbeknownst to us at the time however, the police had sealed hundreds of shoppers inside Churchill Square. Their justification was that the twenty of us, who were being illegally detained at the time, were actually several hundred rioters intent on tearing them limb from limb, and that we were right outside. The police, clearly enjoying their Bank Holiday weekend overtime pay managed to throw a bit of propaganda into the mix too.
So there we have it. A positive day out, marred only by violence and oppressive behaviour from agents of the state. We might have been briefly outmanoeuvred on the day, but this is about more than one day out of 365. Enough is enough, we are the majority and we’re up for a long battle.