Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Meet the 1% Tour

This tour is something of a relative of The Occupy Tour in that both its theme and core audience were practically identical. The form, however, is different enough to make it worth covering as a separate tour.

It was a one-off event that took place on the 12th May 2012, a day that was marked in 350 cities, spread over many countries, with similar Occupy style events commemorating the start of the Spanish Indignados Movement. It was advertised in London with colourful posters, such as those above, and publicised through the network left behind by Occupy London, even though the tents had been cleared away by the police some months earlier.

I learnt about it over a cup of tea at Richmix when someone who was there that day kindly took the time to explain a bit more about it to me. This is, therefore, a historical record of a tour, though one that belongs in the recent memory rather than a historical tour such as Daniel Defoe's A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-26) which I am also currently reading, since he was also walking around Shoreditch and The City. 

This is the map that was produced for the event and which you can download HERE. It has been quite nicely produced and one aspect of it that I like is that it makes The City of London clearly visible, highlighting it in green. This should make a circumnavigation easier, which incidentally, is what Dafoe did in his tour, walking around the perimeter of built up London as it then stood, a city then creeping some distance outside of this boundary but not remotely like today's sprawling metropolis that spills out in all directions and has its contemporary circumnavigations, like Ian Sinclair's London Orbital, set upon the M25 ring road. This map highlights different addresses around The City but it does not prescribe a route that connects them. People coming on the 12th May were encouraged to print out a copy of this map and follow the Twitter feed that would, amongst other things, supply suggestions on where to go. The open-ended nature of the map is part of its design; the designers state, "Our map for Meet the 1% is an essential tool for finding your way around on Saturday, but we also see it as a resource to move beyond our own programme of events. We’re deliberately leaving plenty of opportunity for those who attend to determine their own course of action on a more autonomous basis. It doesn’t take much to make a statement. When “urban exploration” is classed as “extremist activity” — as the City of London police did last year — walking the streets you live in can itself become a political act."

The organisers did not know how many people to expect and thought it could be just a small gathering making a tour around The City but in the event some 500 + people turned up at St Pauls where the day began with speeches. These covered a range of topics as you can see in this video of the day, the first half of which was focussed around St Pauls before the tour headed off around other locations.

Many of the people on the tour were veterans of the camps and meetings that characterised the 4-month occupation of The City. It was, therefore, a bit of a get together for this network which had been scattered as a result of the evictions. I was told that the demise of the camps had come as a significant blow to many who had invested a great deal in Occupy, leaving homes, jobs and even partners to participate in it. With a Summer of flags looming, this was to be the last show of numbers of the protesters on London's streets. 

The tour did not have any clearly identifiable leaders. Different people had prepared self-contained actions at various points on the map such as describing the company's activities  over a megaphone or various other peaceful direct actions. The rationale here, I suppose, was that even if an organiser/activist were identified and arrested, the tour could still continue. The Anonymous mask was worn by some in line with this. This reminded me of The Critical Mass Tour which I recently covered, which also had a diffuse organisational structure to avoid individuals being singled out. It strikes me that there must have been an organising team all the same, as you cannot get 500+ people on the street without an effort, so they must have done a pretty good job at covering their tracks and working in cells. Unless of course they have been infiltrated by police spies, which is a distinct possibility, given the widespread practice of doing this against all manner of protest groups in the UK. In which case, the police did a good job at not blowing their spies' cover.

Naturally, the police were out to 'protect the peace' and whilst they were originally outnumbered, they came in increasing numbers as the day went on. They started to 'kettle' the marchers on Fetter Lane but relented after a while and let them continue. The marchers were aware of the likelihood of this and the route they followed avoided too many narrow streets as these spaces aid the police in forcibly containing the marchers. 

This is the reverse side of map which carries the key to the sites. The categories that are listed are: banks, hedge funds, financial services firms, stock exchanges, lobbyists, crisis profiteers and crisis profiteers - health. It was prepared with the assistance of Corporate Watch who are located over in Whitechapel. It struck me that while the Occupy Tour was somehow caught between being a political narrative tour and a political site-seeing tour, this Meet the 1% Tour was closer to being political sightseeing cum protest carnival. The narrative elements were less significant and the size of the crowd made the group an entity in itself, and one that seriously changed the nature of the space and consequently the face of the 1% they were intent upon meeting. Walking in such numbers, the police inevitably come out in response.

There was a lot of self-recording of the march and pictures posted online as well as some videos like this short one, set rather appropriately to London Calling by The Clash. When the tour came to Bank and The Royal Exchange a significant group stayed behind there while smaller splinter groups scattered around the city, visiting other points on the map. In this way it was very difficult for the police to contain everybody. The tour was therefore more of an invitation to make your own journey rather than to follow a prescribed path. Some took the initiative and started putting up Occupy sticker tape on buildings while others stayed behind at The Royal Exchange. It is here that the main clash with the police occurred following a contested issuance of 'section 14', a police order to disperse the crowd. This is caught on video here. Another instance of police surrounding the protesters/tourists and 'kettling' them took place and this dragged on for hours with snatch squads pulling people out but failing to charge them with any offence.  

As a memento of the day, I saw some of the tape used on May 12th now adorning my guest's laptop. It seems like this was a tour that was fondly remembered and seen as one event amongst many coming out of ongoing political activism based in London and connected to an international network that is as widely spread as the financial and political networks that its supporters oppose.

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