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On the ground at Parliament Square: democracy’s last stand

Oscar Beard | 18.05.2006 02:17 | SOCPA | Anti-militarism | Repression | Social Struggles | London | World

As Brian Haw’s demonstration faces it’s second week of opposing the High Court ruling, the police and political pressure, Oscar Beard finally gets time to recount the first week of the final stand of democracy.

It is Monday night, 15 May, in this foul year of our Lord 2006. Several beers are flowing despite the incredible lack of funding facing this freelance journalist. But some kind of brain juice is needed to aid hammering out this article on the sad and fearful times facing us all.

And Brian Haw is the final stand to all this government legislative madness, no matter how one considers him. As one independent doctor told me last week, “He’s a lunatic. But what scares me more is that wonderful lunatic is right.”

57-year-old Brian Haw is the last Mohican, the Patriot, the Last Man Standing - refusing to obey and go away, in the firing line of a continuous barrage of assaults by new government laws, backed up with yellow coat-clad and camera-wielding authority.

Indeed. So, after spending several days this week camped out in Parliament Square with Brian Haw and his growing entourage of supporters, it is time to get all this insanity down in print, with booze to lubricate the joints and hard Latin SKA to beat the brain into some kind of legible order.

May 2006 will go down in history as the last stand of Brian Haw. He has sat out there, camped on Parliament Square, in wind, torrential down pours and snow, opposite the UK palace of democracy, the Houses of Parliament, day and night for nearly five years. He has taken the crap and the beatings. No time off for good behaviour. He has slept under a plastic sheet on the pavement, after the authorities refused to let him erect a tent.

First he exposed and opposed the international sanctions that left irradiated Iraqi children with no food, water, or medicine to combat the horrific genetic effects incurred as a result of the 1991 Gulf War. The photographs of children with swollen heads, lips, hands and feet – the photos of children with no faces, no eyes, no brains – they said it all. All that needed to be said. Look what we have done. Look what our tax has funded. We did it. Our governments. And they never told us.

But as those planes crashed into the World Trade Centre buildings and the Pentagon - if you truly believe a passenger jet can be flown a metre from the ground in a high precision attack by a man with but a few weeks training – the angle of Brian Haw’s demonstration changed.

Not only sanctions now, but also the war on terror - re-branded this year by General Peter Pace, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, to The Long War. The war against Afghanistan, the war against Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, South and Central America, Asia, Africa, the impending wars on Iran and Syria – Brian stood to oppose it all, single-handedly if necessary.

Since then Brain Haw has tried everything to stay put, including running for a parliamentary seat in the 2005 UK national election. And the government has done everything to get rid of him. The last straw - not Jack Straw, the Mugabe hand-shaker - has been to enforce and enact the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA).

SOCPA came into power in August 2005, although there was some confusion as to exactly when it came in power. Was it the 1st or the 7th of August? Most protestors did not know. Nor did the police on the streets the day of those initial “freedom to protest” demonstrations. Nor did the press office at Scotland Yard. Still, it did not stop them arresting six people on the 1st, one of whom is still missing, never turned up in court. But he was there. Photographs showed him being arrested, film showed the same. Yet only five ended up in court. This is the case of the Parliament Square Mystery Man. Some believe he may have been an undercover whatever, the choice is endless these days. Me? I think he’s still rotting away in some back room cell in Charing Cross, forgotten, starving, eating dead mice and drinking his own urine.

A further six were arrested on 7 August. But still they came. To support Brian, to oppose SOCPA, to create new and inventive ways to keep Parliament Square occupied. Picnics, clown parades, cricket matches, bells ringing, dead naming. And for a while the arrests continued.

Brian Haw took the SOCPA legislation to the High Court in July 2005 and won. The government appealed the decision this year and the original ruling was overturned, the judge ordering Brian Haw to leave his permanent protest. All hell broke loose. Brian refused to move, people stormed out the court in protest, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, was called a Nazi.

Since then it seemed the days of Brian Haw’s highly visible demonstration was over.

I joined them on Monday evening, 9 May. The Parliament Square traffic-cam had gone down. Nothing unusual for a BBC web-cam, but the interesting thing was five other cameras went down that night. They displayed a basic grey screen saying “camera not operational”. The Parliament Square camera had a red screen with a little ZX Spectrum-style camera logo. It was the only one that was different.

Fearing the worst I packed my camera, sleeping bag and my last remaining can of lager, and headed straight into the Blair nest.
All was well when I got there. People were preparing to sleep. Two young lads from Manchester had joined the group. They were stranded the night in London with no where to go. All they had was some rumour that a strange text message would enlighten them into the venue of a Dirty Pretty Things secret gig the following evening.

As I sat and talked to them on the benches at the back of Parliament Square two Community Support Officers (CSO) slowly walked over.

“You’re not drinking are you, boys?” said the young white one.

Boys? I was nearly old enough to be his father.

“No sir, not us,” I smiled.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

I told him and showed my press card.

They moved on and began harassing an elderly homeless woman who was asleep on the next bench down. I switched on my camera as they poked at her and got her to move. Then the young white CSO officer saw me and slowly walked back.

“Why are you filming us?” he asked. “This has nothing to do with the demonstration.”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied. “She could have been a protestor.”
He began pushing at my camera, telling me to stop filming. He pulled out his notepad, the number one weapon of any CSO. I refused to stop filming because of this, stating if he was planning to arrest me then I would record it for evidence.

This went on for several minutes. He finally put his notepad away and I turned the camera off. Then his buddy appeared, an African CSO with no evidence a smile had appeared on his face since he was born.

“I want you to leave the area now,” he said.


“Yes. Leave now.”

“Under what law?”

He paused, thinking, then said: “Section 44. Terrorism Act.”

I laughed. He got mean. I put the camera back on. He called in backup.

It never came. The two CSOs hung around for a while, but when the blue lights never appeared they left looking bitter and despondent. No bonus for nabbing the journalist.

Later the rain came down heavy, soaking everyone and everything. I spent the night sat in a wet chair, in wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag, holding a wet camera and hiding under an umbrella.

People drove past, some at high speed. Where are the police when you really need them?

Horns were honked. People yelled abuse. Get a fucking job. Wake up you lazy bastards. Fuck off. Wanker. Others cheered.

Tuesday night followed even more peacefully. After an evening of films on immigration at the Indymedia show in Ladbroke Grove, and an endless amount of beer bought for me by several Spanish sorts, I staggered over to Parliament Square, stocking up internally on food on the way to soak up the alcohol. It worked. By the time I made it there, some time after midnight, I was virtually sober.

There was talk for a while on the day’s events, then everyone slept. One supporter and myself stayed wake for a while.

Around 3am Wednesday morning a bright shining silver Jaguar car pulled up near Alex the Russian. From the back of the car came a very well dressed young man.

He walked up to us and started asking about the demonstration. We explained. He nodded and looked closely at the photos of the DUM babies. That’s Depleted Uranium Munitions for those not up with the Brian lingo.

The man, nice suit, glazed eyes, asked what caused that. I explained. He frowned and looked to the floor.

“I’m working for them,” he said. “I work for the enemy.”

The protestor and I looked at each other. Empty heads.

The man explained he worked for the oil industry.

“We’re making money from all this,” he said, waving a hand over the placards.

He admitted his wage came from other people’s lives. He said he knew that. He understood that. Yet he still worked for them and took the monthly wage. Why?

The man left, heading back the way he came, up towards Whitehall. The protestor wandered off after him. I scoured the night-time scene outside parliament. It truly is a beautiful scene, no matter what incredible and awful scenes occurred inside its walls.
The protestor returned: “Look what the nice oil man donated to us,” he said, holding out a folded up £20 note. Protestor said he saw something fall from oil man’s pocket as he walked away.

“That’ll cover breakfast for everyone,” protestor said and started unfold the £20 note.

A puff of white powder exploded as the note unwrapped. The note fell open to reveal a substantial amount of white powder still clotted together in the neatly folded crease.

Protestor and journalist looked at each other.

Both mouths open.

We looked up Whitehall. The man was gone.

Holy shit were the only words said.

There was no thought or fear of Anthrax, or Ricin, or even Ebola. No. This was the oil man’s stash. We giggled for a while.

“Imagine his face when he gets home and goes for a line,” I said.

Then came the time. What to do with it. Throw it away. Keep it, just for souvenir purposes, of course. Or report it to the police.
The decision was aided by the rising paranoia. Stood outside parliament, in the highest profile demonstration in the country, holding a £20 note full of cocaine.

The camera was watching us. I tipped the note out of protestor’s hand and the powder flew into the cool night breeze. I rubbed my hand across the note and wiped off all the residue. We kept the note. Compensation. Nice breakfast for all.

I slept later that morning, the first time in Parliament Square. The previous night I did not sleep. The constant noise of traffic, occasional people honking horns, others shouting. You don’t really sleep in Parliament Square. You just wait.

When I woke on Wednesday morning the sun was up, the media was there and some council workers, subcontracted from a private company, were laying out railings all along the southern end of Parliament Square.

Blair was coming. The police presence tripled in as many minutes. Barriers went up. Armed police became highly visible. Brain Haw halted a foreign journalist in mid-sentence, took up a bell, began ringing it started yelling unclean, unclean, unclean. It was official, the UK and US were unclean. He held up a placard showing a horribly distorted baby’s face, another DUM baby, and yelled from the bottom of his heart.

Over the traffic you could hear him word for word. And everyone passing took it in. You could see it on their faces, even at a hundred metres. Parliament shook and rattled and almost crumbled on the spot.

And that is why Brian Haw is so dangerous. He’s right in their face. The government. The public. The tourists.

As one person said: “He can’t go. They can’t do that. He’s a part of London.”

After working some 14-hours on Saturday I camped down in a derelict car park in the early hours of Sunday morning, in order to get at least a couple of hours rest away from Parliament Square, the traffic, the abuse, the support and police pressure. I slept on an old duvet. But earlier in the evening a drunk woman from the Covent Garden Hotel puked all down one side.

When I arrived at Parliament Square people were already gathering. A large banner announced “Beep for Brian”. And they did. As the car, taxi, van, truck and bus drivers had done for the last week, in the day, morning and middle of the damn night.

Of course there was abuse too. But something had changed. Since the High Court ruling, in fact. The support had switched from minority to majority overnight. People with no political or social feelings suddenly backed Brian Haw.

Supporters gathered and held up images of Brian’s face over their own, causing the response from Mr Haw: “Isn’t one bad enough.”
Despite the SOCPA law banners were unfurled, held and raised. They said it all. Brian you’re the tops. Support Brian. You have the right to remain silent.

Images of babies horribly mutated by depleted uranium bombs were everywhere. Newly-born people with swollen stomach, heads, hands and feet.

“See what we’ve done to the babies, in other countries,” said Brian. “It’s horrible isn’t it.

“We’re talking about the most wicked thing of all you can do to human beings. Wiping out whole nations in such a cruel manner. It’s not just of a question of whether I want my house painted green and the council says it has to be blue or red, is it. It’s a bit bigger than that. It’s about this baby here, isn’t it,” Brian put his arm around the young girl sat next to him, “isn’t she lovely. And this baby could have looked like this baby,” he motioned with the banner of the DUM baby. “That’s what its about, isn’t it. Not right, is it. Our babies should be beautiful wherever they are born, shouldn’t they.

“Stop killing our kids," he said.

The gathering passed freely and peacefully. One staggering and highly visible issue was the distinct lack of police presence. Even the guards from inside the parliament gates were not to be seen. This, in itself, seemed like the final blow to the SOPCA demonstration ban. The police had given up.

Despite some 50 people openly defying the August 2005 legislation to ban demonstration, knock down banners, cart off bell ringers and general noise criminals, this time there was no halting them. Including Brian Haw.

As has been the case since the success of the governments High Court appeal on 8 May, no matter what previously thought of Brain Haw and his demonstration, more and more people are backing him. More importantly, more people understand the implications if he is finally removed forever.

If Brian goes then so does our right to speak out, to oppose, to refuse the word of the leading and ruling muck-spreaders. We lose our right to make up our own minds, to decide for ourselves. And once that is gone it will never return.

Brian Haw is the last assault to halt the rotten path, to which we are being led down, in ways that would make Orwell turn in his grave. Brian, whether he likes it or not, has become the last symbol of democracy in a democracy gone insane in its own self-righteousness.

Brian Haw is the last of the Mohicans, the Last Man Standing, Rebel With A Cause. A true man, a true Christian. A true human. One of a kind. One that is in all of us. One to remember for the rest of our lives. And past that. History in the making.

Oscar Beard
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  1. your right - pictures to prove it — schmoo
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