While one group of Rhythms of Resistance
London, brought their percussive protest and samba spirit to the STWC’s march to
Hyde Park, another band of RoRer’s attempted to go to USAF Fairford. However
events didn’t turn out as expected and people ended up reclaiming the streets of
London’s Westend, if not the base
On the morning of Saturday, March
22nd, some of Rhythms of Resistance met just after 9am at Euston station.
Together we boarded coaches to Fairford with people from DAAWN, Disobedience,
anti-war Quakers and a variety of other human beings concerned about the Weapons
of Mass Destruction that the forces of Empire are currently unleashing from USAF
Fairford to blow human beings in Iraq to smithereens.
Security on the
base had certainly escalated with the bombing of Iraq. So it seemed unlikely the
events of the last mass weapons inspection would be repeated. Then hundreds of
people had pulled down sections of fence, breached the front gates and briefly
entered the base in attempt to see what our taxes are spent protecting. In the
event, the security services had reinforced the fence with razor wires; heavies
and dog patrols making it seem as bad as getting into Glastonbury.
this time thousands not hundreds were coming. So it was certainly seemed worth
the trip to Gloucestershire to keep up the pressure. The three coaches of about
150 people duly set off and trip passed without event, until after we left the
M4 and picked up a couple police motorcycles. They directed the coaches to the
picture postcard village of Leachlade, about 10 miles or so from Fairford, where
a reception committee of literally hundreds of cops awaited us by the village
green. They were tooled up, in padded uniforms (most without visible numbers)
and were sweating in spring sunshine as they hung around filming each other, the
coaches, and the ducks in the village pond. They even had one of those huge
mobile holding-cell lorry things, parked up by the green.
got on our coach asked our driver to get off. He asked people if we were from
Brighton or London, and then when he got no reply, said he’d only be delaying us
for a few minutes while he checked some details. The police questioned the
drivers and then after half dozen of cops boarded the bus they announced that
they were going to take us off, two by two, and search us for items that could
be used to commit acts of violence – what like B52 quipped one protestor. So
they searched and filmed each person on all three coaches and then searched the
coaches themselves, all of which took the best part of two hours.
confiscated people’s hats and scarves, some cardboard shields, and tore off the
hoods of the white paper weapons inspector suits that had been passed around the
coaches earlier. They detained two people from the coaches, One for possession
of a cardboard shield and the other for suspected incitement to criminal damage.
Both of were released later that evening. When a few people, who’d been
processed, tried to board a local bus to Fairford, they got pulled off by the
police. The cops then loaded people back on the coaches and announced that as
they had suspicion that someone might intend to commit acts of violence, we were
going to escorted back to the London area
At the motorway, the coaches
picked up an escort of three riot vans, two cars and several motorcycles. They
blocked the slip roads to the motorway as the buses passed, so that we were the
only traffic on the road, creating a huge tailback of traffic behind us on the
southbound M4. Some people rang 999 to report we were being kidnapped – but got
told by a police operator that we were merely being escorted. Our driver was
prevented by police vehicles from pulling into services, so it felt like
kidnapping to us. Friends texted us to say that there were10 riot vans waiting
for us at Euston.
But then a miracle happened. As we came off the motor
way at Shepherds Bush, a small green car, probably distracted by the flashing
blue lights, cut us up and clipped the front of our coach. The coach driver
stopped, opened the doors and everyone jumped off. The other coaches and riot
vans also stopped and their occupants spilled out. The cops sort of tried to
follow people down the busy high street, but they’d obviously had not been given
orders for dealing with this situation and people soon gave them the slip.
The samba posse regrouped at Marble Arch and then headed down to the
blockade of Oxford St, where we found a small group of sambistas, tabla, jembe
and other percussionists inspiring the crowd of several hundred people. The
atmosphere was magic and it was just so brilliant to be able to collectively
express our opposition to War after the earlier attempts by the forces of
Babylon to thwart us. People joined in with a chorus of ‘Don’t Fight Their Wars,
Don’t Bomb Iraq’ to the rhythm of the three, two clave.
increasing heavy police presence, the vibe was both peaceful and festive. It may
seem strange that, given the carnage of war, people should be behaving in a
festive way. But, to come together to assert the life affirming experiences of
love, joy and solidarity in the face of the terror and destruction that our
rulers are inflicting on our world is an empowering act. It felt easy to talk to
people we didn’t know and to see them - not as strangers – but just people we
hadn’t met before. Young, old, gay, straight, muslim, christian, atheist,
socialist, anarchist, black, white, asian – we were, as the Zapitistas say,
expressing one No!, but with many Yes’s. Through our collective acts of
disobedience, we were reclaiming our streets and overcoming the alienation that
isolates and separates us as individuals in our everyday lives.
course the powers that be could not let this situation continue unchallenged.
The cops switched into riot gear and started to move in. People could have
stayed to be manhandled by the state’s thugs – but that was not our choice- so
the crowd moved off to a samba rhythm, taking a turn down an unguarded side
street towards the American embassy. They moved rapidly with police running
along beside the crowd, trying to get ahead to blockade the turns to Grovesnor
Eventually people ended up moving down Park Lane, still trying to
feel their way towards the embassy. The crowd doubled back on itself and found a
street that was only lightly manned by cops – but the cops lashed out attacking
anyone who crossed their line, though the crowd offered no violence. People
backed off and crossed the pedestrian barriers to the main road of Park Lane.
Here the police surround the 250 or so strong crowd, so people sat down to
listen and share music, songs, chants and spontaneous speeches. The cops seemed
to have become somewhat unnerved events and were decidedly edgy, pushing
onlookers around – including reportedly a leading Labour anti-war MP and editor
of a liberal corporate paper, who had happened by outside the police blockade.
In order to lift the oppressive vibe one woman started a call and response thing
with crowd – calling out words like LOVE - JOY – PEACE- HAPPINESS. She tried to
get the cops to join in and one responded to her call of LOVE – with a cry of
After a while, a cop with a loud speaker announced that he was
the officer in charge, and we were an unlawful assembly. People would be allowed
to leave singly -but the crowd must now leave the area and disperse or risk
arrest. People filtered out slowly – many still singing, exchanging smile, hugs
and contacts with each other.
Happy to know, that despite the repression
of those who claim to enforce laws but who act against justice- despite the
terrible destruction militarism and capitalism is inflicting on the peoples and
our planet –we had demonstrated - we can find a new world in our hearts through
shared disobedience and resistance.
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