Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Streets of fire (II)



  (I)



  This second installment is solely about «Ten days that shook the world», the London anarchist conference in 1994.



  I returned to London on Tuesday, October 18, doing so specifically for the conference, meeting up with some of the old gang well in advance, in order to prepare ourselves as much as possible for the numerous events. I had nothing to do with the organizing or stuff, though some of the gang did. We had more or less avoided taking sides in the controversy leading up to the conference, a controversy leading up to the sad fact that some UK-based anarchist groups stayed away and even boycotted it.

  Let me state categorically that the boycott wasn’t visible, at least not to the outsider. Thousands of anarchists from all over the world descended on London and its beyond numerous events. The conference was a success, in our eyes, just measured by the fact that it took place. Did everything go smoothly? Not at all. But how anyone can expect such a massive undertaking to go smoothly is beyond me. The anarchy, the constant great Chaos surrounding us made us enjoy it even more.



  The official program started Thursday the twentieth, but the natives had been restless the entire month leading up to the main events. On the ninth there was a major protest in Hyde Park, very well attended by both protesters and the police. The uniforms utilized their shields and clubs eagerly. On Wednesday nineteenth, people gathered outside the parliament to protest against the Criminal Justice Bill being «debated» inside, one more oppressive bill in a long, long row. I have written extensively about what happened. Suffice to say, it was probably the most brutal exercise of police power I had experienced to that point. I stopped counting the sounds of broken bones and skulls and just ran, fled the fastest I was able. I got separated from my friends quickly, but hooked up with others, and stayed in an unknown apartment the rest of the evening and night, shaking in fear and rage. In spite of the horror and terror, there was an uplifted mood between us. We felt the fire burn within, and exchanged names and even addresses when we parted the next morning.

  Establishment media and its handle of this are, as always «worth» mentioning, of course. It sided with the police, and blamed the protesters for the violence, even though there had been no violence before the police attacked. This is, in case you’re wondering quite common. I’ve never experienced, not once that protesters have attacked the police. We aren’t stupid. No one not insane attacks dozens, often hundreds of people dressed in «riot gear», at least light body armor and with shields and clubs in their hands. The police are trained bullies, thugs. Protesters only strike back, defend themselves when they have no other choice.

  I went home, in the hope of getting some sleep. Events were taking place all over London every day, now, but we had decided to be a little picky. The next event we had chosen was at seven o’clock in the evening.

  Yes, we were going back for more. The atrocious event the previous day had only fueled our fire, like similar events have always done.

  We went to Conway Hall in the evening, a place with a long and proud tradition as a radical venue. I noticed, as I always notice the inscription on the post close to the ceiling: «to thine own self be true». It clearly had a special significance to almost everyone present.

  It was a great, beautifully disorganized meeting. That resulted in some waiting, but I’ve always seen waiting as natural. There was no queue or anything, which I’ve always seen as unnatural. We certainly didn’t get bored. Even if nothing happened on the stage, we always found new people to talk to in the hall. Some people have complained that there were lots of drunk people there. We didn’t spot any. It was a pretty uneventful meeting, where I can’t really recall many details. I remember the organizers collecting money. The main organizers were in constant need of money, and the way I’ve heard it, they ran out of funding after a few days. It prompted yet another discussion concerning anarchists’ need for organizing… or not.

  As stated: the best thing about it was that it took place and was a networking venue without peer.

  No matter, the conference kept going throughout the ten days and beyond, having gained a life of its own, independent of the original organizers.

  The next day we visited the London Anarchist Book Fair, an amazing place filled with both art and creative and passionate, politically inclined people. The LABF is a longstanding tradition in London, but this was probably the one with the highest attendance both before and after. To say it was a beyond great experience doesn’t do it justice, not even approaching such. My only regret was that I didn’t have my own books published and available for such a venue at the time.

  On Sunday we took part in the levitating of the parliament. It didn’t actually levitate, but we did imagine that it shook a little. The police presence, high throughout October grew quite pronounced with each new day of protest. Their trouble was that they didn’t know where to go. The protests and protesters were all over Greater London. If they had a detailed list in advance (and they probably had) over activities, this list was long outdated by the time the conference began. Score one for disorganizing…

  On Monday we went to Brixton and the community houses and squatted buildings there. Not much happened, at least not in terms of loud protests and big clashes with the police, but we spoke to a lot of people, and some of us revisited old haunts. Brixton had been the site of extensive social unrest and police clashing with minorities in the eighties, and that hadn’t really changed.

  We took part in several workshops during the week and also organized our own, not far from our old squatted haunts. We focused our discussions on saying no to old, trite and not very useful solutions and embracing the new. We witnessed how people’s eyes opened, how they awoke from their long sleep.

  There were several more smaller and bigger confrontations with the police. They kept roughing up people, clearly having been ordered to step up their brutality and general bullying, to take it even a step beyond the usual level.

  We spent one afternoon and evening in an old squatted church in Kentish Town, a place without windows, where people lived in tents covering the ceremonial hall. There was a lot of awake and aware people there. Inspired discussions or rather conversations took place long into the night.

  We went to the international event on Thursday in Conway Hall. Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin was there as well, like he had been at several events earlier at the conference.

  After a great speech where he related the struggle of the black anarchist movement in the United States, during a round of questions and answers, where one man asked if he believed it would be possible to save America, he uttered the following memorable words:

  - I don’t want to save America. I want to destroy the shit!

  A Norwegian spoke about their fight against Norwegian membership in the EU, which created lots of laughter in the hall. Most of those present clearly agreed with me that against or in favor of a given land’s membership in the EU is a distraction, both then and now.

  Representatives for several countries were given time on the stage, telling the audience/participants about the local struggle. It was very interesting.



  The Anarchist Conference in London in 1994 didn’t shake the world, but it gave us many tools to work with, in order to do it later, to keep doing it for as long as we breathe.

  It’s amazing that no one I’ve spoken with about it, agrees about many things and events there, at least not the details on what went down. Everyone has their personal experience of it, and few describe the various events the same way. I guess there was so much happening that it was really difficult to recall everything correctly. I certainly don’t, in spite of my close to photographic memory.

  I will write more about it later, and have included much of it in my novels and poems and stories.



  We and many others spent the last few days of the conference in and around Dolly Watson’s place in Claremont Road. The entire street was supposed to be demolished and make way for the new M-11 link road. Dolly called us, all the squatters and activists «the grandchildren I never had». She was ninety-two and had lived there her entire life, and refused to leave. Squatters and activists had spent at least a year there, painting walls and making it homey within and without. It had become such a nice place to live, and we stayed, like so many others had done before us.

  We celebrated Samhain there, and held a quiet celebration every night, and almost everyone participated. We felt like time stood still, like it would never move on.

  They came for us all in early November, complete with bailiffs and riot gear. Dolly was carried out, and so were most of the others. It took countless uniformed thugs several days to complete the «job». We will never forget it and neither will they.



  This and other road protests made it both far more difficult and expensive to build roads, and many plans were shelved. It kept inspiring others to fight.



  Writing this is to relive it, and it feels amazing.




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