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Manchester TUC/NUS Rally & Consequences 29th January 2011 – A second view


Creating a Situation – A View from the Front

Note that the views in this post are not necessarily the views of the Lincoln Occupation, they are entirely those of one member. The Occupation is much more diplomatic 😉

On 29th January 2011, a number of young people (estimates vary between 150-500), including several of the more passionately anti-authoritarian Lincoln students, created a situation in the centre of Manchester. Whilst Manchester is definitely not a city unused to situations, this one took the authorities, and the public by surprise. Most of the spectators gathered to watch (who may well have outnumbered the situation-creators) stood rapt, photographing with their phones, witnessing open-mouthed the people exercising their right to protest.. The unplanned march provoked numerous police interventions but the fluid nature of the movement left them wrong-footed, picking off stragglers until they finally trapped a reduced group at a crossroads. It forced the police to counter the protest with force far in excess of the threat actually posed. One of our number was amongst them, & it was with great regret that we left him behind. I feel I owe the other M a drink for his trouble, he may claim it at his convenience.

Despite the publicised 16 arrests, there was very little violence involved. Protesters banged on the windows & rattled the hastily closing shutters of UKUncut-targeted shops, leading to clashes with security, and a few were the unlucky victims of police TSU ambushes. The movement was not concerned with destruction or harm (despite reports of one or two irresponsible carriers), but with exploiting gaps, improvised resistance and, quite simply, giving the cops the runaround.

I very much hope that this sort of action becomes more common in our forthcoming protests. For me, the chase through the streets disperse-regroup dynamic was a thrill, a taxing but fulfilling adrenaline rush, knowing that despite doing nothing more illicit than running and shouting, the risk of arrest as one involved was ever present.

There was little news coverage of the event, a product partly of the movement’s spontaneity but mainly of the dominance of the Egyptian protest, a struggle we would do well to keep in mind. It gives a most acute perspective on our own position.

I believe the Trade Union movement, much as I respect the dedication of those active within it, must step up its game to have the effect it must in order to oppose the cuts in any meaningful way. Preaching to the converted in a park removed from the thousands of working people who were out in Manchester is not a strong strategy. I like to think we opened a few eyes. I wonder how many were anything other than utterly oblivious until we let them know something was happening. Many factors have limited the powers of the Unions, & now the grassroots need them more than ever. They must be willing to take chances, to say To Hell! with the Daily Mail and the Thatcherite stranglehold.

Symbolic of the position in which the Unions find themselves were the toilets at the rally. 20 portaloos.

Guarded by horses.

I do hope that the horses were laughing as they watched the humans queueing to piss as the crapped freely on the ground. I would encourage anyone with a photo of a horse crapping in front of the bogs to publish it, for it is a fine critique of the futility of English reserve, and should serve as a reminder to the Unions that they can, and must, do more than wait in line while the rest of Britain shits itself.

L refers to me describing the event as ‘the most liberating experience of my life.’ I have generally thought of myself as a fairly ‘liberated’ individual until now, but there is something utterly removed from past experience about being so close to the grip of authority which hammers home the knowledge that real freedom is not fear of an ‘other’ from which we must be protected; or to have ‘enough’ of a commodity which is only favoured by those who can never gain ‘enough’ of, or from, it; but that the one thing we have any real control over is ourselves. Our bodies and our minds cannot be free in this world of mediated truth and the acceptance of passivity as a more valid political stance than speaking out. Freedom is not just an external factor, sometimes we must create it for ourselves.

That said, I have one distinct regret. The police formed a line on Oxford Road, which the a splinter of the group bypassed via a side alley. As we emerged onto the main road, TSU vans flanked us. Myself, and a stranger stood very close, were barged by a cop, clearly upset at the possibility of us ‘getting away’. The other man was knocked to the ground, whilst the rozzer grabbed my shoulder. I twisted, freed myself, and ran. I do not know what became of the man I had unwillingly knocked over. Knowing from the reports that police were forceful and outnumbering, I fear I may have left him to a cruel fate. I confess, I did not look back until I was well clear. Should he & I ever meet again, he may be assured he shall not be paying for his own drinks that night.



From → Diary, M, Opinion

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