Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Counter Olympics Network Demonstration

Missiles on top of your home
Yesterday I met a man who lives below surface-to-air missiles. Quite literally below. He lives on the top floor of a block of flats in Bow, London. The government in their infinite wisdom have stationed these missiles on top of residential buildings to deter terrorists from attacking the Olympics – and, no doubt, to make Londoners feel safe and secure. The guy explained how two military bods carrying automatic weapons had woken him up by knocking at his door. They informed him that the hardware was in place and, should it be used, his roof would cave in. They didn’t see fit to say what would happen if he was inside. I also met a man who had seen his house compulsory purchased and subsequently bulldozed to make way for an Olympic training venue. I met another person who had spent an hour running from police who had already knocked him from his bike and taken the banner he was carrying. His crime? To stray too close to the Olympic stadium on the night of the opening ceremony.

These were some of the 500 people who dared to attend the Counter Olympics Network Whose Games? Whose City? No to the Corporate Olympics demonstration in London yesterday. It wasn’t the largest demo I’ve ever been on, but it was lively, vocal and angry. And it felt important. At points it seems as though the whole country has fallen into line in seeing the Olympics as beyond criticism. The fact that anybody dared stick their head above the parapet in opposition is impressive. Somebody had to say that it’s a huge amount of money to spend on a sporting event at a time of recession. Somebody had to point out the hypocrisy and greed of the corporate sponsors. Somebody had to say that we don’t want to see our communities militarised. We made those points, and then some.

The demonstration was a wonderful cross-section of London society. Black and white, young and old, and a host of families gave the event a real community feel. At the head of the protest were a number of disabled comrades, keen to highlight the role played by the Olympic sponsor ATOS. John McDonnell MP spoke at the closing rally; Brian Richardson was the best speaker by a mile.

Thankfully the protest passed without the kind of heavy-handed police response witnessed the night before. The monthly Critical Mass bike ride ended near the Olympic stadium, which triggered the kind of assault from the old bill normally reserved for students or innocent bystanders. Kettling was followed by violence, all under the watchful eyes of uber-surveillance. At one point an officer attempted to pepper spray a guy in a wheelchair, and was only prevented from doing so by a colleague who thought that this might be going just a little bit too far. I know that the police read this blog (as this post demonstrates) so I’d just like to ask… Do you think that pepper-spraying the disabled is right or wrong? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Maybe the police were on their best behaviour because the eyes of the world were upon them. The demonstration may have drawn little (if any) coverage from the UK media, but there were news crews from a whole host of countries. I was interviewed by Dutch, Spanish and Iranian (!) TV, and that was nothing compared to the demands made of the event organisers. It would appear that the further you are from the Olympics, the clearer you can see them.

At the end of the rally, a number of activists involved in the No Sochi 2014 campaign spoke. They will be the next to feel the effects of the Olympics when the Winter Games make their way to Russia in two years time. The Olympic protest torch is passed on. I wish them well.

ps. On a personal note… A huge thanks to all those people who worked so tirelessly to put the demonstration together. In particular, thanks to David for his hospitality and the karaoke. Thanks to Jim for the chat – it’s always nice to meet a lefty with a good (i.e. my) sense of humour. And thanks to the female comrade whose name I never got but who bought me a can of fizzy sugar when all the chanting had left me spaced out!