What were you doing on Friday June 18th 1999? If you were protesting in the City of London then you took part in one of the most important global actions against capitalism that has ever been seen.
Events got off to an early start. At 7 a.m. protesters hung a huge banner off Tower bridge and were chased off by police. From then until midday autonomous groups from all over the country roamed the City causing trouble wherever they went Five hundred or more cyclists in a 'Critical Mass' caused traffic chaos. At 11 a.m. the Friends Provident building was barricaded and people locked on inside. Another group drenched in fake blood ran into Lloyds bank claiming to have been shot by arms dealers. Others locked themselves inside Nat. West. At the same time 60 people locked onto London bridge bringing traffic to a halt. Haringey Solidarity group hit Reeds employment agency as they are helping Labour implement the great 'New Deal'. Members of the Anarchist Federation and others targeted the offices of the TUC, highlighting the fact that trade unions help capitalism too Activists from the North East targeted several centres of international capital including the International Petroleum Exchange and then, after a tour of big banks, ended up at the home of Eddie George, the Bank of England. Georgewas an obvious one for North Easterners after his comments that job losses in the region were a 'price worth paying' for low inflation. What he said was only what everyone other capitalist knows: he was just honest or stupid enough to say it out loud.
The 'Reclaim the Streets' (RTS) was the main event of the day. People had been assembling in Liverpool Street station since noon. Some were distributing free copies of 'Evading Standards' which had been paid for by the compensation paid to protesters by the Met due to wrongful arrests at earlier demos. At 1 p.m. thousands of masks of four different colours were handed out to different sections of the crowd. Then the sections left by different exits. (The tube had been closed down so the plan for the 'Green group' to use that was altered.) The police tried to de-masks people, but generally failed. Three groups then headed towards the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street and the other towards Aldgate via Middlesex Street. Then the fun really began. A large group heading down London Wall was met by riot police, who retreated when the protesters started throwing things. Protesters emptied a riot van and a line of punks each carrying a police riot shield with a circled A painted on it were reported marching in an orderly fashion from the scene. Others discovered that police riot shields make very good material for little bonfires. Other police vans were graffitied and attacked. Most drove off, spraying CS gas as they went, but one backed over a woman trapping her underneath. This enraged the crowd further. The police even prevented an ambulance entering the street for the injured woman. Finally, 37 minutes later, she was taken to hospital. A man was run over elsewhere and the ambulance was similarly delayed by the police. Around the same time another group attacked MacDonald's in Canon Street, smashing the windows from the inside with chairs. A Merc showroom was trashed. Then it was the turn of the London Stock exchange. Handy metal barricades were used to put the windows in, and protesters ran in to cause further damage. People were all over the City by this point trashing posh cars and financial buildings.
Business as usual ?
The RTS itself was outside the Liffe building on Upper Thames Street (home of the London Futures Exchange). Soon the inevitable happened as a section of the crowd burst into the building smashing up the lobby, throwing smoke bombs and scrapping with traders and police. The building was closed down; it wasn't 'business as usual' that day After an hour or so the protesters were ejected. It took police almost another hour to shift them from outside the building: the crowd built barricades with stuff lying around and fended off the police with wheelie bins. Riot police then moved into side streets and began attacking protesters. As the crowd was pushed back along Upper Thames Street, the Dutch Rabobank had its huge windows smashed. Other financial buildings were broken into and files thrown out of windows or burnt. Elsewhere, Liverpool Street Macdonald's was trashed as was the wine bar 'Le Quai'. By 6 p.m. the main part of the crowd had been pushed over Southwark Bridge and held there. By 7 p.m. most had made it to Trafalgar Square where the festival carried on.
During the whole event, an alternative media in a City back street sent reports to the web. A team of DJs, VJs, webmasters and video activists created a global independent TV, radio and newswire station. Bike couriers brought in the latest digital footage which was uploaded with a commentary on an audio channel from protesters with mobile phones. There were ¼ million hits on the website. As well as in communicating the event, the Internet had been a vital tool in the organising of the carnival in the first place, and also allowed reports from other countries to be circulated around the globe quickly and easily. A lot of the press used and quoted the J18 website, which was very effective. (See below.)
The final days' tally was around £2 million worth of damage, not including the costs incurred by the disruption to trading etc. Right, everything will be insured, and the damage done was a drop in the ocean anyway, but this doesn't mean it was pointless. It was a very obvious display of anger at a system that fucks over the vast majority of people on this planet and it was completely justifiable. Without it the day would have been a waste of time: two lines in the Guardian and that would have been it A recent report on the City Police shows that they were totally out of their depth and that City slickers feel that the prestige of the City of London has been damaged.
A few lessons need to be learned, however.
(1) A lot of people had drunk a lot or taken class A drugs. It's not the best thing in the world to be having a bad trip when a riot copper is trying to stove your skull in. Alcohol slows your reflexes and thinking time.
(2) The police's job is made easier by the fact that so many people weren't masked up. MASK UP!!! There were 15 arrests on the day. Now 50 odd people have been nicked in the clean-up operation because they weren't wearing masks.
(3) If you decide to defend yourself against riot police attacks, remember that the odds are in their favour. They are extremely violent and are trained to be violent. They also have 'the law' on their side, are not drunk or under the influence of other drugs, and are extremely well protected and armed. No surprise then that out of the fifty needing hospital treatment only four were police
The 'totally violent' and the 'totally non-violent' both cause problems. Some idiots just attacked anyone/thing in the City, regardless. People that get a kick out of the violence for itself have got problems. 'Fluffies' can also be a problem. Some were at the Futures Exchange trying to stop people from putting metal barriers through the windows. One even got between a protester with a fence and the window and almost went through the window with the fence!!! The same kind of thing happened for example at Newbury where some 'protesters' tried to unmask others. These people are a fucking menace and are no better than the cops (in some ways they are even worse...) If they didn't like what was happening, then they should have left. (And those masked up don't force masks on others.)
On the up side, the media reporting was pretty good, considering. The fact that the event got so much coverage was good in itself. Even Nostradamus could have predicted that all the mainstream papers would go with the 'peaceful demo hijacked by violent extremists' line. The Sun, for example, shrilled: 'mobs of hate-filled anarchists' protested at '"morally incorrect" money-makers'. Yet the report did quote the J18 website about the need to stop 'the globalisation of misery under capitalism'. The bit about women taking their tops off in Trafalgar Square was probably for the benefit of their target readership. The fact that there were also actions in the USA and elsewhere was mentioned. (Sun 19/6/99) The Evening Standard was a little premature in its headline 'A Ragbag of Causes but no Real Anarchy', but it too quoted RTS saying that the demo was being held 'in recognition that the global capitalist system is at the very root of our social and ecological troubles' (Evening Standard 18/6/99) The Independent on Sunday gave the same story of the demo being hijacked by anarchists who attacked 'unprotected police' but still it was clear that they were 'protesting against capitalism, saying it is destroying the environment and forcing millions into poverty'. The Sunday Times almost got it right claiming the protest was 'against corporate greed' ... whilst the Guardian was way off: 'The demonstration began peacefully in the morning - largely with the aim of promoting the cause of cyclists...' (?!?)
As well as it being fairly clear what the demo was for, many reports either explicitly or implicitly admitted that the whole thing had been very well organised by anarchists. The FT lead on the day with the headline 'Organised Anarchists Attempt to Paralyse City' and gave some interesting detail on how anarchists in J18 organised in 'small cells of perhaps a dozen members' which are 'united by their hatred of corporations and financial institutions whose "profit chasing" they say, is destroying the environment and forcing millions into poverty'. Even the police themselves were prepared to admit that anarchists can be organised. Hart, Assistant Commissioner of the City of London police said that at Liverpool Street 'a very carefully organised crowd split into four parts ' (Independent on Sunday, 20/6/99) Bit of a change from the old 'anarchy = chaos and/or disorganisation' crap. Hart also complained that the organisers had conducted a 'cynical and deceitful' attempt to hide information about their true intentions from the police and that 'information on the Internet is sometimes put out as a distracter'. Another useful tactic. The 'bizarrely titled' Association of Autonomous Astronauts' got a couple of mentions as did the 'Biotic Baking Brigade'.
Of course, you got the stupid stories too. One that gets trotted out every time is the 'protesters paid to protest' one, as if we can't get people along to these things otherwise. The Sunday Times claimed that students from Nottingham University told traders at the Liffe building (it's not clear if this was meant to have happened before or after the place was trashed...) that they had been given £30, free transport and a packed lunch (!?!) to attend the Carnival. Of course, the desire was to discredit the event. The report ended with an attempt to disgust the 'middle England' readership, noting that the City would have to be disinfected as 'protesters urinated and defecated in doorways' (Sunday Times, 20/6/99)
Another very positive aspect was that similar things happened all over the world. Down under, with typical Aussie panache, Melbourne stock exchange was blockaded with wombats (!!!) and cream pies were thrown at politicians. The Aussie bank Westpac was also hit as was, surprise surprise, MacDonalds . In Sydney hundreds went on a 'scumbag tour' of multinationals. In Brazil a city centre block symbolising the 500 years of 'discovering' Brazil was defaced. In Canada there was an RTS in Toronto and the Stock Exchange was blockaded in Vancouver. Banks and multinationals were disrupted in Prague, the Czech capital. In Germany things were livened up by the presence of the intercontinental caravan of Indian farmers. They had planned to stand outside the venue of the G8 summit in Cologne and laugh at the world leaders. The police were having none of it, refusing to allow 250 of them into the City centre and attacking and arresting others. There was a street carnival in Tel Aviv, Israel. Night long autonomous zones were established in centres all over Italy. A 10,000 strong 'Carnival of the Oppressed' brought Nigeria's main oil port to a standstill. Police in Pakistan used tear gas and baton charges at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Gujurat. In Valencia, Spain, streets, banks and Llandro's, the most hated speculator in the region were closed down. In Barcelona a main road was blockaded and the protesters 'recreated a beach with swimming clothes and towels'. Seven days of action in the financial capital came to a head in Madrid with a RTS. Three hundred people in Zurich occupied a construction site being gentrified and held 'one of the best parties for years' whilst in Geneva anarchists 'washed' major banks. The stock exchange in Montevideo, Uruguay was also hit. In the bastion of global capitalism, Wall Street in New York, there was another RTS and 37 were nicked. There were other actions and police violence throughout the USA. On the west coast, the San Francisco stock exchange was also hit.
So why was the 'Carnival Against Capitalism' so important? Firstly, because it was the biggest riot in Britain since the Poll Tax riot of 1990. Yet this was significantly different to the Poll Tax. On June 18th people were there protesting against capitalism, not a tax which was hitting them in the pocket in the here-and now It showed that a lot of people campaigning on environmental, arms trade and a load of other issues are realising that all their struggles are linked by the way we produce and consume in capitalist society, and that if they really want to change anything then they have to get to the bottom of the problem and target the system of wealth and power that dominates and fucks people all over the globe. Actions happened all over the world. This, too, is a promising development. It shows that people globally are starting to wake up and link up. The more capitalism globalises, the more opposition to it globalises.. The whole event was an excellent example of how de-centralised, anarchist organising methods can totally fox the police. The use of the Internet in organising, communicating and publicising the event was also very encouraging. The potential of the Internet seems almost unbounded. And where were the other so-called revolutionaries, the Trots et al? Nowhere in sight: June 18th showed exactly how insignificant are these so-called revolutionaries, with their pathetic petitions and paper sales. Anarchist methods and anarchist aims are all that's left for the left. As a Sheffield activist said before the day: 'I don't see us bringing down global capitalism this week. But I think the action will be an important stage in the process'. Let's hope so ..
Read more reflections on J18.
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