old anarcho | 23.03.2003 12:45
This is what I experienced. Arrived at George Square at noon, and moved off about 45 minutes later, joining the march of around 8-10,000 people. This march was kind of muted, without much chanting or excitement really, other than the section around the samba band. What was interesting, though, was the very heavy police presence. I don’t think I have ever seen so many fluorescent yellow jackets on the streets of Glasgow. Every side street contained riot vans.
So, we walked around the city, escorted by thousands of coppers, and arrived back at George Square. The plan to have a peaceful sit-down protest in the streets around the Square was rendered pointless by the police, who had blocked all entrances to the Square, effectively doing our job for us. About a hundred yellow jackets also helped ensure that no-one joined up for the Army in Glasgow that day, by forming a fluorescent blockade of the recruitment office in Queen Street, on the route of the march. (That office, by the way, was covered in blood red paint at last Thursday’s protest on the day war broke out, resulting in one man being arrested in an extremely aggressive way. Anyone know what happened to him?)
At a stage on the Square the usual suspects spoke, and as they droned on and on people started to drift away. Glasgow anarchist students and others tried to persuade the organisers to allow a representative of the school and university students, or of the many young Muslim brothers and sisters to speak about direct action, but they weren’t having it. Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party was also asked to make a call for action (the point of the day, remember) but he said that he could not do that.
As the speeches turned into an early election rally for the SSP (Scottish Parliamentary elections in May), more people began to leave, but the young folk started to gather at the south west corner of the Square for a bit of shouting. The Faslane peace camp people got talking to the students, and a few anarchists got talking to the young Asians, and it was decided to try and take the major road junction at Charing X, a few miles West and at the edge of a predominantly Asian populated area, which was held from 6:00pm til midnight last Thursday. I spoke with some Globalise Resistance and SSP folk, but they couldn’t see it happening, due to lack of numbers. This was a good point, as the majority of people were still standing listening to orders on how to vote.
But we were ready for the end of the speeches, and when that came the young Asians and students led the way through the police lines. Then something weird happened, and it was fucking brilliant. Instead of your usual marching in an ordered fashion, we just started to run like mad through the streets, and we beat the second line of cops to the next junction. The original line were now chasing us, which allowed everyone in the Square, alerted by our joyous yelling (it was fun!), to join in. What had started with a few hundred young people looking for direct action, had turned into thousands of people taking the streets in defiance of the cops and the protest organisers.
At the second junction (Glasgow city centre is a grid system of blocks – NYC was modelled on it), part of the march, apparently led by the older, more experienced GR/SWP and SSP types, peeled off to the south, towards the shops, but we had one thing in mind – hit Charing X and the M8 motorway. As it happened, this split - by design or accident, who cares? - turned out to be a great way to confuse the cops, who also had to split, running like mad to keep up with this seemingly chaotic situation. The groups met up again a few blocks later, and carried on West towards the motorway.
Mounted police were deployed, and at each junction on the route West, the cops tried to stop us, sometimes successfully, but we just carried on, changing direction, running down side streets, splitting into groups of a hundred here, a thousand there, then reforming again. I think there must have been about 3,000 in all, but it’s hard to tell.
I must point out that although there was running, there were cops chasing, playing catch-up, and there was chanting and shouting, and a lot of surprised shoppers, everyone was smiling and laughing. I think a lot of folk had felt let down by the day until we decided to leave the Square. There had been a feeling of – well, all we can do is voice our opinion over this war, since we’ve lost the battle to stop it. There was some anger there, but it was tempered by a feeling of impotence. But that all changed when we ran through the streets, away from the politicians and the speeches, taking our message of anger and our feelings of solidarity with each other and the people of Iraq with us through the city as we headed for our target.
So, we made it to the last block on Sauchiehall Street before Charing X, and were met with a heavy line of police on foot, on horseback, and a blockade of several riot vans. A large part of the crowd stopped to confront this line, but not in an aggressive way. Some of us headed back up the street and round the corner, but another three lines of police were approaching, forcing us back to Sauchiehall Street. Eventually the inevitable happened, and most of the people, about a couple of thousand, were blocked in. I saw this coming, and saw the possibility of being trapped in the street all night under a Section 60 notice, so I made my way round the block, down some alleys and found myself at Charing X, where, to my surprise, I found my mates with a couple of hundred others had somehow reached the junction and were sat in the road, surrounded by hundreds of coppers. Happily drumming and awaiting the arrest that they had planned for.
From my position behind the police lines I could see riot cops getting tooled up, but as far as I know they were not deployed. I was knackered by this point, and as there seemed there was nothing further to be done, I found a pub and “rested” for an hour or so. When I came back out I met a mate who said the cops had been open to negotiation, and let folk leave in groups after a couple of hours, and that most people were heading back to George Square for some more sitting in the roads. At this point, about 6:00pm, I think, I went home.
All in all, it was pretty strange day. The main lesson I took from it was that the mostly politically unaligned schoolkids, uni students and young Asians showed us old politicos how to do it. If they hadn’t taken the initiative, spontaneously, not only to break through the police lines but to then run like hell through the streets, we would never have reached Charing X. Okay, so giving the cops the run-around and blocking the junction for a few hours might only be symbolic, but it felt empowering, and for most of the people who actually initiated this, it was their first taste of what can be done if you put your mind to it, if you just go for it.