The controversial police tactic know as 'kettling' evolved as a response to a protest movement called 'Reclaim The Streets' (RTS). During the later part of the 90's, Reclaim The Streets repeatedly outwitted and embarrassed the police with audacious 'street parties' attended by thousands or tens of thousands. During a protests known as J18 (Carnival Against Capital), the City of London Police lost all control while protesters stormed the trading floor of futures exchange in the heart of Londons financial district and banks were attacked.
City of London police were heavily criticised for failing to protect their corporate masters and the MET police took advantage. In subsequent years similar protests (such as the annual May Day celebrations of resistance) were brutally repressed but police still didn't really have the control they desired so they developed the tactic of tight police cordons.
This 'containment' or 'kettling' became the tactic of choice rather than the cops previous favoured tactic of violent dispersal using mounted police and baton charges. If you were taking part in a state sanctioned marshalled A to B march along an agreed route with no hope of confronting and challenging anything then you'd probably not find yourself kettled. However if you dared take part in something that actually threatened the status-quo then you'd find yourself trapped by cops for hours while the cops filmed you and only finally released after they had unlawfully forced you to give them your details.
Everything evolves and so did protests. In 2006 the Camp For Climate Action emerged and began to develop new models of mass action which mixed and matched elements from affinity group style direct actions of groups such a EarthFirst!, along with attempts at the mass participation of Reclaim the Streets style events. The threat of these mass actions alone were enough to shut down Drax poer station in 2006, Kingsnorth power station in 2008 and the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ in 2010. While police used kettling at the 2007 camp at Heathrow and the 2009 G20 action, they failed to prevent protesters achieving their goal.
Policing of the 2008 camp resulted in massive criticism in the way it had been policed. The cops lost judicial reviews and admitted that they had unlawfully detained and searched thousands attending. Parliamentary reports also criticised the policing of protest generally.
The crunch point however was the killing of Ian Tommlinson during kettling at the G20 protests and the later violent clearing of climate camp protesters outside the climate exchange at Bishopsgate. The police found themselves unable to defend there actions after being caught in their lies in the face of so much photographic and video evidence.
Something had to change and it did. Throughout most of the following two year, police in London have reluctantly changed their approach to policing protests. The 2009 climate camp at Blackheath was barely policed at all and neither was the 'Life is to short to be controlled' protest which marched unaccompanied blocking roads in central London. The Forward Intelligence Team (oxymoron FIT) were also mostly absent after their constant filming and databasing of people at protests was labeled an unlawful invasion of privacy.
Of course the cops weren't happy to leave things be, especially as their budgets started to be slashed. So when they prepared for the first mass student march, although they knew the NUS were expecting 8,000 then 16,000 people, the cops strategically committed just 250 people. They choose to ignore intelligence about Millbank picked up online and on the day when 50,000 massed in London, they only brought in another 250 cops after Millbank had been invaded.
Predictable, the new government was outraged and the mass media played their traditional role. The cops had achieved their aim and the softly softly (stick to the law) approach to policing of protest went out the window. Like some gangster protection racket, the cops were now in position to threaten the government - "if you don't want a repeat of Millbank" your won't interfere with our police methods or mess with our budgets".
On Novemeber 24th, the cops flexed their muscles on the nations youth, testing the waters of media and public approval. The collective punishment and internment (Kettling) experienced on the day is nothing new and already subject to legal challenge. The police justified their actions on the grounds of the trashing of the ancient sacrificial bait van (with it's protective grills removed) which they left unprotected in the already blocked in march. Such a tactic is also nothing new (for example Euston November 30th 1999) but of course the media and public fall for it every time.
So now they say everything has changed, protest as we know it is over, kettling is here to stay. Well actually nothing has changed, it's just back to business as usual with the cops performing their role as brutal henchmen protecting the interests of the rich and powerful while the people of this country are fucked over. The cops may not be our enemies but they are our enemies friends and stand in our way.
The cops and the ConDem government are rolling back the clock but we have to continue to move forward. Protest does not stand still, it must constantly evolve and invent in order to survive and advance. Cops have the weapons, armour, vans, tasers, gas, and guns but we have imagination, courage, determination and everything to gain.
Typical marches in this country are a throwback to military shows of strength but sanitised and without threat. Without threat, they mean nothing, no matter how many people take to the streets - just look at the millions who marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Effecting change requires force. That doesn't necessarily mean violence, it means making change happen not merely asking for it. Our democracy is a mockery, a massive hoax designed to give the illusion of democracy while the rich and powerful get on with fleecing us and using us as slaves. However we can beat them and we have many times. Some people say that protest achieves nothing, but that is demonstrably not true. Direct action has stopped roads being built and genetically modified crops being grown commercially in this country. It's stopped people being deported into certain torture and prevent the sale of bombers to brutal military regimes.
We can pull off effective protest despite the cops, their spy and their kettles. But to do so we have to be clever and able to organise effectively within our own groups. We must be prepared, have a plan, make quick decisions, think outside the box, refuse to be divided, act in solidarity and always spring surprises.
We can win. We must win.
resist rebel revolt