pic courtesy of guido tallman
At first, it seemed like a small turnout at the demo called by Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance (LACA). The police were expecting decent numbers, and were there to contain a repeat of what happened a couple of weeks ago when the protesters forced the meeting to adjourn. This time we were going to be in the public gallery with a maximum of 40 people.
As I was queueing up for the search and pat down, the 150/200 strong march from Goldsmiths arrived. Speeches were held and all seemed to be going according to time-worn liberal traditions, until a masked protester appeared on the roof of the Town Hall with a banner saying: ‘Commons not Cuts’. They were letting people in 5 by 5 and sending them up in the lift. When it was our turn the security guard said:
‘Believe me, I want to be here as much as you.’
‘No, you don’t understand, we do want to be here.’
As we are waiting in the lobby to be sent up, the crowd charges the door shouting: ‘Let us in!’. The door opens and police tumble in backwards, dancing with protesters. About 20 of us are in. The police scramble to push us out or detain us. I jump in to de-arrest someone and get punched in the face. The security guards are out of control. There are several bloody faces. The glass at the front of the building cracks from the commotion outside. Someone sets of a smoke bomb. We try and board the lift, but the police and guards yank us out. We are trapped in the lobby. CID arrive – it is stalemate – no one is going in or out for the time being. A second smoke bomb is set off and the fire alarm starts. The guards get rid of this one as well. The people from the gallery are sent down and yanked out of the stairwell – they either end up in our group or ejected through the front. The officers draw their batons and tasers – their pupils are dilated. We start shouting: ‘Don’t do what you did to Ian Tomlinson!’ That stops them in their tracks. We call out the numbers of the most violent ones. One by one we get shoved down the stairs and out the back. I get thrown backwards and break my fall by dragging a couple of cops down.
Once outside a group leaves singing: ‘Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend. Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers.’ We make our way to the front, where riot police has arrived with shields, horses and dogs. About 10 vans have blocked the South Circular. ITV is there. There are more charges to the front door. I hear that the meeting has been adjourned. CID target one of the protesters and after attempt to stop them, manage to arrest him. The crowd slowly disperses. We hit the pub.
About an hour after the meeting was adjourned, the cuts vote took place behind closed doors (so much for democracy!). It was 36 for, 3 against, 11 abstentions. All Labour councillors voted in favour of the cuts, the Tory and Green councillors voted against, and the Lib Dems abstained. There is seamless progression from what happened outside Lewisham Town Hall to what happened inside. A council, whose members were elected to serve the people, totally betrayed them by acting on the orders of an unelected ConDem junta which has no legitimacy and even less, a mandate for the most vicious cuts we have seen this side of the 1930's. The people gathered outside to protest and assert their right of witness. The answer was riot shields, horses, dogs and brutuality to bring home the will of the bond markets to municipal politics.