With the next five years looking set to be defined by public spending cuts, curbs on our civil liberties and attacks on the most vulnerable in society, “Kathryn”, a seasoned activist, tells me about her 25 years on the frontline of protesting, from the poll tax, to fracking, via G8 summits and encounters with the police – in an honest and fascinating story, that will resonate with many of us today.
*Kathryn’s details have been changed to protect her identity.
PART TWO: The 31st G8 Summit, 2005.
The 31st G8 Summit was billed as the Summit where leaders would focus on two main areas of World concern; poverty in Africa and climate change. It was hailed by media and celebrities alike as the summit that would deliver on its promises; all led by the redoubtable duo of Bush and Blair. Based on these laudable proclamations a movement built with the slogan Make Poverty History. Lead by the Church it seemed to galvanise the country to attend an organised March in Edinburgh, although you would have thought after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq the Nation had had enough of marching but no, over 225,000 took to the streets of Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History March.
Although I was angered by what I saw of the demonising of Protestors who were if you like outside of the main stream demonstration, the hijacking of the protests by the Church and making it nice and middle class and the even more sickening sycophantic behaviour of Bob Geldof in his fawning over Blair I attended the Day with my youngest daughter then aged 13 years. The day was well organised with a low Police presence and some quite good, interesting speakers; there was no ‘trouble’ reported by the media and the day passed with a good humour.
In the run up to the march the media had shown ‘disturbing’ pictures of Protestors fighting with the Police, smashed roads and shops and general mayhem all emanating from the Protestors camp.
Another march had been organised for the 06 July leaving from the small village of Auchterarder to walk to Gleneagles Hotel and back; this did not have the backing of the Church but had been organised by more ‘left wing’ groups such as the SWP with George Galloway leading the speakers.
In the early hours of the 6th July myself and two friends left Halifax, on the way collecting a Trauma Councillor, the idea being that we would drop her off at the camp and then drive on up to Auchterarder for the march to Gleneagles.
Everything went fine until we reached camp. We dropped the Councillor off but were told by people at the camp that all public transport to Auchterarder had been cancelled and all roads to the village closed in an attempt to stop the march. We decided that as we had driven all that way we would carry on. Two randoms at the camp also wanted to go so we agreed to take them as we had space in the car.
So once more we set off. On leaving Edinburgh and reaching the motorway/duel carriage way (I can’t remember think it was a motorway) we were stopped by the Police, there were road blocks on both sides of the highway, who asked us where we going. We told them we were going to Auchterarder and they informed us that the road was blocked and we couldn’t go. How Kevin (the driver) did it I don’t know but he persuaded them to let us through explaining we had been driving through the night etc. It was probably the eeriest journey of my life. Both sides of the motorway were empty, we were virtually the only car on the road, I just don’t remember seeing another vehicle. On our side of the road there were just so many people walking in the field on the hard shoulder all trying to get to the demo. It was awful to see they had literally miles and miles to walk with no hope of getting there but were still trying.
When we reached the end of the Motorway we were once again stopped by a road block. We were told this time not only that we weren’t wanted in Auchterarder by resident but also that due to Protesters throwing concrete blocks on to the road in it was impassable and that the best thing we could do was turn round and go home. Again we declined insisting we would carry on and try.
We went miles out of our way down country lanes trying to avoid the road blocks on the main route into the village. Eventually we made it to be met by yes, yet another road block, however we parked the car and walked the last 10 minutes to the park.
Nothing the Police said could have been further from truth, all the residents houses lining the route to the park had people hanging out of top floor windows cheering and clapping everyone who had made it through.
When we arrived at the park, the meeting point for the march we were amazed to see that about 1,000 people had made it. We mingled a bit, I couldn’t believe I met two people I knew who had also made it. One, Josh, had been a great friend of my eldest Daughter and had been on many demonstrations with us in London for the Iraq War.
First the Police were going to let us march, then they weren’t, then the start time was moved and we were going to be allowed to set off, then we were stopped from setting off again but eventually George announced we would be leaving.
The two people I had gone with from Halifax were members of the SWP and so of course everyone else set off and we were last chatting at the back of the demo!!
As we walked through the streets once again the residents were cheering and clapping us, people left pubs and shops to cheer us on, not quite the reception we were led to believe we would get.
As we walked there was no massive police presence and it was all very calm and civilised, suddenly the march stopped and we just stood around talking, the chinooks were flying overhead now with American Soldiers pointing machine guns at us out of open doors, they were so low I swear you could see the whites of their eyes. I distinctly remember feeling really pissed off and shouting obscenities at them and sticking two fingers in the air; not very lady like behaviour I’m afraid.
There must have been about 50 or so of us standing around and we were getting a bit fed up but someone sat on a wall and started playing his guitar and singing so the atmosphere remained quite good. Then we heard that the fence had been breached and Protestors were running towards the hotel, we all cheered, but still we were standing around.
By this time I was getting really fed up with standing around chatting with the helicopters flying over us and the Police line to the rear of us I said to Paul let’s see what’s happening at the front I just want to get to the fence. We walked to the front of the group and I have never seen anything like it before or since. There was just row upon row of Riot Police standing with full gear including riot shields all wielding batons; it was reminiscent when I look back of a scene from Billy Elliot. In front of the Police lines were a row of horses; when you stand next to them they are huge! I just looked and said oh well perhaps not then, we weren’t going anywhere!!
A while later one of the organisers came to us and said they had been instructed by the Police to turn us round to walk back the way we had come. Of course we didn’t want to but in the end had to face the reality of the situation; that of no choice!
We eventually got by to the park meeting point which by that time was full of battered and bruised Protestors. I was talking to one who had been at the fence and he told me at the Police had pulled the fence down. You can see from some of the photos there is no way those Protesters had pulled that fence down.
It was also in the Park I spoke to an Independent Journalist / Filmmaker who told me he had filmed the Police in Edinburgh during a standoff between Protesters and Police staging and filming a fight, it had taken place behind Police lines and I can’t remember but I think he said he been stood on the top of a bus shelter.
The media coverage was just a fabrication of lies and demonising all aspects of the demonstrations apart from the Make Poverty History March. Once again the media created a moral panic with Protesters as folk devils who were there just to cause violence.