Numbers By William Bowles

21 November 2003

Demo, London November 20 2003

Well, according to who you listen to, there were either 70,000 (the police), 100-110,000 (the media) and 200,000 (the demo) marching yesterday (20/11/03). My fix on it is closer to 200,000. I arrived at Malet Street in central London about 30 minutes after the march started (around 2:30) due to the police stopping all the buses from coming into town. I got to Trafalgar Square by the most circuitous route I’ve ever taken on a march in London at around 6:30-7:00. We wound round back streets, along sidewalks (what kind of demo walks on the sidewalk?)

Why do I think it was around 200,000? Well it took well over five hours for the entire march to arrive at the Square, a distance of no more than five miles and I’ve been on enough marches to be able to ascertain a rough estimate. It was certainly much bigger than I thought it would be, especially for a weekday and it’s indicative of the deep-felt feeling by a substantial section of the population that the invasion was wrong.

Some banners caught my eye including the following:

“Has daddy taken you to Bohemian Grove yet Dubya?” A reference to a certain conspiracy theory.

“We all live in a terrorist regime” (chanted to the Beatles’ song, “Yellow Submarine”)

“No thank you to the 2nd coming of the Hitler-Stalin Pact” that I thought had a particularly apt ring to it.

But it was when I caught up with a mobile rap show that the march got to be fun. “Bush-man, idiot fool” to a Dub beat, two guys, one on guitar with rythmn tracks on a mini-disc player plus amp and speakers mounted on a bicycle and trailer, rocked hundreds marchers along who hung with the posse for at least three hours (plus quite a bit of dagga). Definitely the high point of the march.

The march finished in Trafalgar Square with the toppling of a giant papier maché figure of Bush around 7:30 that was trampled underfoot by an enthusiastic crowd.

Do marches change anything? Well aside from charging one’s batteries by being part of a culture that belongs to you, probably not, but I don’t think that’s the point. The state most definitely notices, that’s why they constantly underplay the numbers.

And how much did the ‘police action’ cost? Estimates start at £10 million but if you consider it started on Monday and finishes today, then £10 million sounds decidedly conservative. With 1 in 5 cops in England and Wales drafted into London, the disruption nationwide can only be imagined. Every manhole cover in Central London was welded shut (no numbers on this I’m afraid).

Talking of numbers
When Bush visits Sedgefield today (21/11/03) Blah’s Parliamentary seat, it’ll cost £1 million for the security and in a town of only 5,000 people, that’ll be £8 per head out of the local taxes, no sneeze in a depressed former mining community. Ditto on the manhole covers and with streets sealed off, cars banned and the locals being stopped and in some instances, searched, US takeover was complete.

Numbers on Stop and Search
And whilst on the demo I got handed a leaflet that has some interesting statistics concerning the ‘Anti-terrorism laws’:

  • Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to conduct “anti-terrror stop and searches without suspicion or reasonable belief that any individual possesses items for terrorism.”
  • Refusing a search can land you in jail for up to six months and/or a fine of £5000.

The notorious Section 44 of the Act that allows the above “stop and search” procedures to be authorised can only be issued “by a high-ranking police officer” although the fact that it’s been enacted doesn’t mean the public knows as there’s no rule saying that the state has to inform us.

The authorisation is only for a maximum duration of 48 hours but if the Secretary of State confirms it, it can be extended for 28 days and automatically renewed every 28 days indefinitely.

London’s Metropolitan Police have had a continuous ‘rolling’ authorisation of the anti-terror law every day since February 2001, that is, every 28 days a Metropolitan police commander gave a new authorisation. So a law that’s meant to be temporary has operated as a permanent feature rather than as an emergency measure.

In the past three years at least 653 Section 44 authorisations have been issued. Welcome to the birthplace (and graveyard) of ‘democracy’.

Section 44 in Action
During the invasion of Iraq, the US flew hundreds of missions from RAF Fairford in Gloucestshire. Before and during the invasion peace protests increased around the airbase and the police conducted 2,132 ‘anti-terror’ searches in the vicinity. Protestors were subjected to multiple searches during one day. One woman was searched 11 times on a single day.

The police actions cost an estimated £6.9 million.

The current laws also allow people to be detained without charge or access to a lawyer for up to 48 hours.

And of course in the current climate of fear engendered by the ‘war on terror’ people are afraid to speak out against this draconian law in case they too get branded as a ‘terrorist’.

Want to do something about it?
Well citizens should get in touch with their MP.

If you get stopped and searched, Liberty has a Search Report form that you can fill in.

Write to the media.

Write to Lord Carlyle, the ‘independent reviewer’ of the anti-terrorism legislation, although don’t hold your breath as he doesn’t have a problem with them as the laws “were used extensively in 2001” and “no difficulties have been drawn to my attention in relation to to the exercise of these powers.” Well surprise-surprise.

Visit Liberty’s Website at http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk for more information.

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