I’m not in work today, so I thought I’d go and have a look at what’s going on down at the Bank of England today. Arriving at Liverpool Street slightly late, we caught up with the march shortly before it reached Threadneedle Street. Generally, the march is comprised of the usual suspects, people carrying banners saying things like “CONSUMERS SUCK” and “Climate Change is Bad”, seemingly with no sense of irony whatsoever. I don’t know if the climate change branch of the march was particularly full of eejits – when we went round the other side, there were some rather more sensible banners around.
I don’t know exactly how many of the other people there were there to protest themselves, and how many just to have a look at the action. Probably for quite a few it’s a bit of both. But in any case, I don’t think this counts as the Summer of Rage that has been predicted. Not just yet, anyway. It’s not exactly a million people marching against the Iraq war, is it?
The other thing I might as well comment on is the police presence. It’s massive. The streets leading into the protest are all crammed with police vans, many of them full of reserves of police awaiting the command to come piling in. Generally, whilst we were there the policing was pretty restrained, which has been borne out by what I’ve seen on the TV since I got back. What I would say, though, is that I’m not sure the police strategy of almost walling us in was a good idea. I think what they may well have achieved is to make a lot of people present feel a whole lot more involved and polarised than they intended to. Hanging around at the back of the crowd, so I could slip away if things got unpleasant, it was a bit unnerving to see a wall of police behind us.
There was a certain sense of “well, you’ve come down here, don’t complain to us if we treat you like the troublemakers at the front”. I realise it’s difficult to know how to police this kind of event, where the people in attendance are by no means homogenous, but I can’t help but feel that there must be a better way than this. Ultimately, lines are confrontational. If you start forming great big lines before you’ve even had a confrontation, it kind of sends a signal.
I’m now watching a small group of protesters smashing up the windows of a branch of RBS, and the reporter there commenting that the police aren’t really moving in, because doing so might involve turning a larger group of people angry, although how many of them might actually engage the police is unpredictable. Exactly. The risk you run in treating a crowd as a single entity is to reduce everyone to the lowest level of behaviour present.