Much of what I wanted to say about the fallout from the mass arrests at Fortnum and Mason has already been said in the letter from SolFed to UK Uncut, but in the face of recriminations of the black bloc by many liberal supporters of UK Uncut I thought I would add a voice.
Learning curves are steep. Watching the footage released by the Green and Black Cross of the arrest it was interesting to note quite how many people from the UK Uncut group found themselves putting on hoods and masking up as they left the store: such a reaction is reasonable in the face of police who heavily monitor all those attending protests and particularly those engaging in direct action. Indeed, in the same footage protesters inside the shop ask if there is a police surveillance team outside. Of course this masking up was all a little late, and the attempt not to get noticed after spending a few hours in a shop whose ceiling has almost as many CCTV cameras as Holloway Road is a little futile, but perhaps lessons are beginning to be learnt.
Similarly, many UK Uncutters seemed astonished that the police would lie to them. Yet this is hardly a new occurrence. The police, as we know, consistently lie in order to coerce people and to gather data. That ranges from telling you that it’s in your interest to tell them everything you know in an interview after an arrest, to telling you that you have to give your name and date of birth if stopped and search, to telling you that you aren’t being kettled, to telling you that the undercover cop who infiltrated your movement for years doesn’t exist, to telling you that you won’t be arrested.
Many of the more politically liberal elements UK Uncut have made harsh attacks on other protesters . Apparently they feel that UK Uncut are being punished because of the tactics of Black Bloc, who in the words of Johann Hari are “twats”, “arseholes” and “idiots”. Thanks Johann. But be sure you know that those same twats, arseholes, and idiots are many of the people who will be helping you out over the coming months. As Hari and his ilk criticized from afar, many of us waited for you outside police stations to make sure you were ok, that you had some nicotine, decent food, legal support, and a way to get home, or organized a crash space for you. Others have offered trauma support for activists, while black bloc street-medics treated many who were injured on the day. We will continue to stand in solidarity with you, and support you with the ongoing activism, be it in court or on the streets.
I hope, though, that something is taken from the experience. To stay safe as an activist today, all you can do is mask up. Amongst the student movement at the end of last year, this was a major gain that was won. By the mass demonstration in Parliament Square on December 9, the majority of protesters had realized that wearing a mask keeps you safe and keeps others safe too. Many had also brought hard hats, that are so necessary when the police decide to “facilitate your right to protest” in the most brutal manner. After a series of kettles on a series of demonstrations, almost all knew that co-operating with or trusting the police was not going to work in their favour, and knew that allowing police to gather data was not a great idea either. It is my hope then, that instead of criticizing them actions of other protesters, supporters of UK Uncut will begin to understand why many black bloc activists do what they do. As some writers from the student movement put it, “Cover your face: today, we can do nothing as somebody or something as nobody”