the event of the month was undoubtedly the european social forum, held in london from 15-17 october. this brought together trade unionists, socialists, peace campaigners and greens from all over europe to demonstrate that "another europe is possible", but apparently left many complaining about how the event had been organised and manipulated. i choose not to attend the more serious sessions but to look at how this conference spilled over more creatively into the streets of london.
on the friday, critical mass were out on their bikes, together with rising tide and other environmental protestors. on a 'london underwater 2050 tour of the g8 climate criminals'. starting under waterloo bridge, they went on tour, visiting the london offices of several climate change villains, including petrol giants exxon mobil and bp and the canadian government, ending up outside the national portrait gallery, site of the annual bp-sponsored portrait award.
it was a generally good-natured event, with an international samba band. from the top of a tourist bus an american voice asked the bill what was on. as he floundered to reply, the woman i was talking to suggested "hey it's a fluffy takeover!"
most of the police were good-natured and cooperative throughout, but there were some ineffectual attempts to block the path of the demonstrators. by standing in the road the police blocked traffic, while the demonstrators simply walked around them.
worrying was the deliberate police use of photography as intimidation, with the police photographer going out of his way to confront demonstrators, aided by two other officers.
i worry because i think it is an attempt to attack civil liberties, but also because such behaviour makes all photographers suspect. i can only work effectively if i gain the trust and cooperation of those whose pictures i take. perhaps it helps that photography is one of the activities that also arouses suspicion and intimidation by the police.
as i walked away at the end of the demonstration, this team ran 50 yards
down the road and caught up with me, one calling"excuse me, sir"
and tapping on my shoulder. i turned to face him, and found myself looking
into the lens of the police photographer, who took my picture as his colleague
started to question me about who i was taking pictures for. it seemed clear
and deliberate harassment, intended to intimidate a photographer acting
entirely lawfully, photographing on the public highway.
saturday the samba band and others visited the temple of mammon. oxford street on a saturday must rank as about the most depressing place on earth, although ikea - where my wife and son spent the day buying furniture for his new flat - must be a close contender.
i couldn't stand a whole afternoon in shopping hell, so left to watch the rosary crusade of reparation procession leaving from westminster cathedral on its way to brompton oratory. "the future", i was assured, "is latin", and the event started with bishop fernando arêas rifan from brazil intoning "credo in unum deum" from the loadspeaker on a police van. the creed was continued by the congregation, led by several knights of malta and the traditional catholic family alliance.
later i joined the french cgt and british gmb unions who were demonstrating outside puma in carnaby street, about their use of sweated labour. it is an issue that has been highlighted in this country by 'no sweat' who were also there, along with what was by now my favourite samba band, an international group with strong contributions from sheffield and france.
by the time the band reached the top of carnaby street, the police were obviously getting restless. I heard one giving the opinion to a member of the public "they've been pissing about for six hours and it's time they went home". muscled officers in baggy black fighting gear were flexing muscles and grinning stupidly, obviously relishing the likely opportunity for a little action, as officers and demonstrators argued the toss.
eventually commonsense and law prevailed and the demonstrators were allowed
to keep moving along. on oxford st we headed towards the goal of the cgt,
the virgin megastore. there were actually a couple of tempting
cds on special offer, but i managed to leave empty-handed just before security,
on police advice, lowered the shutters as the demo arrived, making a very
brief stop for a cgt photo-opportunity.
after yesterday's harassment, i slipped across oxford street at this point, past the police vans that were holding up the traffic and behind a bus before disappearing rapidly down the underground. it saves hassle, and i wanted to get to a great nepalese meal near euston station.
network rail chose october weekends to isolate staines from the rest of the world with extensive engineering works and a replacement bus service. the first i travelled on got lost several times,taking the wrong route out of feltham (including a prohibited two point left turn from the station yard) and proved unable to find the station in hounslow. getting directions from other bus drivers and passengers, a mile further on he made a three point turn in the main road, only to come back and drive past the turning again. directed by a passenger he then tried some side roads hardly wide enough for the bus to edge its way through, only to arrive at a one way section leading away from our goal. we finally squeezed through another narrow side road to our goal.
next time the driver only got lost twice, missed feltham station completely, and had to make one u turn on a major road, but otherwise it was uneventful. i don't like to knock the railways, but a little organisation would help.
sunday was the climax event for the european social forum, with
a huge anti-war march to a rally in trafalgar square, and it was big. stop
the war as usual made trying to control the uncontrollable and mainly
succeeding in frustrating the media. demonstrators simply and entirely predictably
surged past the 'front of the march' they tried to establish. i don't know
how many there were, but the police estimate of 15-20,000 seems as usual
on the low side, although the organisers 75,000 may be equally too high.
the most reliable guess is an average.
people were still flooding up whitehall towards trafalgar square as I left, some two hours after the rally there was due to start. among the speakers i photographed were tony benn, george galloway and aleida guevara, the daughter of che.
although it was a generally well-behaved and good-natured event, there were a few minor incidents - the police reported nine arrests. i saw two incidents that were sparked by aggressive police behaviour in trying to photograph some of those present, as well as some violent attempts to break through the stewards and access the fenced off platform area in the square, by demonstrators who wanted to raise the problem of several arrests having been made but were not allowed by the stop the war stewards.
domination of the anti-war movement by stop the war and the swp
must take the blame for its lack of effectiveness. when a few lorry drivers
can force a government volte-face, it takes really effective dinosaur socialism
to prevent the views of a majority of the british people having any effect
earlier in the month i'd taken the brompton for a ride along the eastern
edge of london from rainham to harold wood, most of the time close to the
m25. its very rural most of the way, quite unlike staines which somehow
got left out of london.
the stop busharraf march was an interesting event, organised by hizb ut-tahrir britain, an independent islamic political party dedicated to re-establishing the islamic way of life under an islamic caliphate (khilifah.)
its attitude to control makes the swp seem liberal. the sexes were strictly sorted out, and the women kept some distance from the platform while the men crowded round, listening to men making speeches. then came strict instructions to line up ready for the march in groups of six across - it must be six. placards and banners were not to be picked up until the stewards allocated them.
eventually the march set off; first the main group of men and then the women. the marchers were handed a page of slogans, with the stewards' chant and the crowd response:
musharraf just carries out
the order of the US lout!
evil plots and evil plans
mush and bush have bloodied hands
musharraf will never learn
islam is all we yearn
musharraf will never learn
khilafah is all we yearn
i went on to a much smaller and quieter event, with victims of child sex abuse and their carers meeting in trafalgar square. it's the second year i've attended, and as before i was moved and occasionally angered by the stories these victims had to tell.
several had had their stories disbelieved by the authorities, and at least one well-known figures was named as an abuser that the police were refusing to bring to law.
one woman had just been walking through the square and came on the meeting by chance. she spoke from her heart about her abuse and the mental health problems it had led to.
children are taught to be scared of strangers, but the great majority of
abuse isn't be strangers, but occurs in the home with parents, relatives
and other trusted adults, mainly of course men.
sunday in hackney was a more cheeful event, although this year's mare de
gras had been postponed from last month following a stabbing. it was a colourful
parade, with lots of kids and adults having a great time.
the choose life march was rather quieter in the main, and i also felt far
less comfortable. this is one area where the muslims have a much more sensible
approach in my opinion. nature is profligate, full of false starts, and
life cannot sensibly be considered to begin at conception. this doesn't
mean we should take abortion lightly or allow scientists to play as they
like with human genetic material. the misuse of language in using slogans
such as 'choose life' disturbs me greatly, as an attempt to preempt rational
some of my work gets put into nice organised websites.
this isn't meant to be like that, but you can see some of the rest at
and you can read what I think about photography at