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With the success of Friday's Mayday Critical Mass bicycle protest, an exciting weekend of anti-capitalist ideas and action began. Following the succesful anti-terrorism bill photo shoot and inspiring two day conference, the capital braced itself for Mayday 2000. The main event, the Reclaim the Streets Guerrilla Gardening action, would run in parallel with national and international events inspired by last summer's 'Carnival against Capitalism' and the shutting down of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle.Mayday events in London kicked off at 10am with a 'Carnival Against Junk-food' outside a McDonalds outlet on the Strand - one of the capital's most prestigious streets. A protective line of police was formed outside the hamburger franchise with reinforcements nearby - the biggest police operation in London since the early 1970s allowed authorities to station officers at key corporate locations. Activists from various animal rights and anti-genetics campaigns joined forces with legendary French farmer Jose Bove and began handing out free vege-burgers. The action, which sought to provide an alternative to McDonalds' "factory farmed, genetically-modified" produce, appeared to be popular with both activists and the general public alike.
Despite the early morning arrest of two Reclaim The Streets (RTS) activists who had been driving a van of gardening equipment through central London, the 'Guerrilla Gardening' event went ahead as planned at around 12.30pm. As the Critical Mass arrived in Parliament Square from Hyde Park Corner, the 'transformation' of the square began with a 'permacultural makeover': Turf was 'liberated' and laid out on the surrounding roads transforming them into a temporary sea of green. Where the turf had been removed fertilizer was added and the planting of a community garden began. The ground was uncommonly waterlogged, which was later discovered to have been the result of the police flooding the area. If this was a tactic meant to disuade people from using the space, it backfired bacause the gardeners found it easier both to remove the turf and plant their seedlings, and even used it to their advantage creating a decorative pond.While people worked on the garden they were entertained by poetry and songs at various microphone stands. Some weaved scultptures, while in one corner the space was used as an art gallery.
Diverse groups of people working together from all age groups joined Reclaim The Streets (RTS) in this task, using only plastic trowels and bare hands - a far cry from the "pickaxes, shovels, and pitchforks" the mainstream media insisted it would be. The erection of several banners and a Maypole, in addition to the arrival of a flamboyant Samba band and their troupe of dancers, fuelled the celebratory atmosphere. The Gardening action remained peaceful throughout the day.As the gardening action continued, Public Access Terminals set up by the Independent Media Centre UK (IMC) provided participants with an opportunity to air their unedited views from a tent located on the north side of the green. Images and text were then webcast as part of the IMC's 'street media' project.
An IMC film crew, moving in the direction of Trafalgar Square, reported the massing of several thousand people in Whitehall and a multitude of journalists gathered outside Downing Street. Towards Trafalgar Square attention had focused on a McDonalds restaurant where a small number of people attacked the restaurant for about 10 minutes. The IMC noted that subsequent coverage of the McDonalds actions reported through mainstream media outlets failed to give air-time to the earlier non-confrontational action located in the Strand preferring to focus exclusively on the damage inflicted on the hamburger franchise in Whitehall. The premises of a neighbouring bureau de change was also damaged.Nearby Trafalgar Square was packed to capacity - a mixture of protestors, journalists and sightseers rubbed shoulders under the shadow of Nelson's Column. A significant proporation of the demonstrators was made up of left-leaning groups including the Socialist Worker's Party, groups of Maoists and members of the Kurdish Communist Party (for whom Mayday is a traditional and significant day of festivity dedicated to workers).
With the sun continuing to shine protestors meandered up and down Whitehall between the two locations, until police moved to split the crowd, pushing one half up towards Trafalgar Square.Without warning large numbers of riot police moved to close all exits from the still peaceful Parliament Square, trapping everyone within. They were backed up by lines of mounted riot police, who were further re-enforced by lines of police vans. No one was allowed to leave the square, be they corporate media or mothers with young children.
In Parliament Square negotiations between police and RTS began with the crowd now becoming noticeably apprehensive. People pleaded with the police guarding the key roads leading to Westminster Bridge, St James Park, Victoria Station and Millbank as police drafted in reinforcements including 'snatch squads'. In the face of a growing sense of confrontation the atmosphere tangibly changed. High-ranking officers present for the event refused to allow people to leave. Several officers expressed concern over the confusion clearly demonstrated by their own rank regarding the planned exit points and commented that this was not helping the situation.An IMC reporter was told by a police officer at Victoria street that he thought that not allowing people out was creating an impossible situation for all those trapped inside Parliament Square. A young woman from Hackney in East London was only able to leave with her friend after they showed police officers their bank cards for ID purposes and the contents of their handbags. Several people later complained that they had their names and addresses recorded and their pictures taken (without their legal rights being made clear). Police explained to an IMC reporter that they were only going to let people leave if they could prove they had not committed a crime.
With the numbers of riot police increasing around the edges of the square (now blocked off for well over one hour) many of the crowd began to get nervous about the intentions of the police. In the light of this a Public Assembly was held in the centre of the square to decide what the crowd should do. One of the PA systems, which earlier had been used for speeches and smaller discussions (as well as some acoustic music), was now used to discuss the situation. Throughout the discussions an RTS guerrilla gardener relayed the negotiating positions between the public assembly and the police. The assembly eventually decided to leave the square en masse together, and to leave immediately, after the police had proposed people could leave, but that they would have to wait for at least another half hour. With the samba band playing the crowd moved directly towards the police lines. After a short while with no movement the crowd made a push to get through the police line, but failed. While there was some pushing and shoving the crowd remained calm and defiant. Still dancing with the samba band they made another attempt to push through, and this time succeded with the police line dissolving as people began to pour down Millbank cheering and clapping.This contrasted sharply with the experience in Trafalgar Square where there was no such explicit collective initiative.
The crowd snaked out of the square up Millbank and over Vauxhall Bridge, with many activists citing the gardening as a great success. As the front of the crowd turned off over the bridge people were still pouring out into Millbank, forming a long procession. A short while later, the crowd became separated after crossing the bridge. Those left behind soon found their path blocked by police vans and had to wind their way through side streets in order to reach Kennington Park, where people had agreed to meet. The tail end of the group which had already gone ahead found itself surrounded by riot police as it approached the park. With tensions again rising there were skirmishes with police and it was only the arrival of the second group of people that allowed them to finally make it into the park.With a huge police presence that included over 40 vans and mounted riot police the last few hundred of the crowd from Parliament Square were pushed into the park. Inside people were relaxing and chatting after a long day's gardening. After some time a small number of people inside the park began throwing missiles at the police while others made an attempt to block the road again which had by now been returned to the motor car. The police began charging those outside of the park, until they sent around 50 mounted riot police into the park along with a large number of foot police. Those inside the park scattered including those throwing the missiles. The situation which had suddenly looked about to completely disintegrate was rescued by many of the people who began petting the horses and talking to the police - soon a football had been produced and a huge game was played out right next to the police lines with tension dissipating.
(Latest reports talked of the police then later encircling those still in the park using large numbers and photographing and searching everyone there - this report to be confirmed)In Trafalgar Square later that night the group of protestors who had been surrounded by riot police were only allowed to leave one by one after being searched and photographed.
Central London provided the venue for most of the day's action but events in surrounding areas were reported as successful.Much-hyped actions at Canary Wharf, the London Eye, and the billed "big surprise for the Millennium Dome" kept large numbers of police officers stationed at the key london landmarks - many activists noted with a wry smile that the big surprise for the dome was that nothing actually happened.
Further events included an action in East London where people organised an occupation of Hackney Marshes - where children gardened happily and organisers described the event as a 'success'.To contribute your report on the Mayday2000 weekend, please email email@example.com
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