This morning dozens of supporters gathered outside the hearing of Middlesex University student Alfie Meadows at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court. Alfie nearly died from a brain haemorrhage after being struck by police at the 9 December and now faces charges of violent disorder. Students and activists from across London turned out to show their solidarity, bringing a variety of campaign and trade union banners. All those who defend the right to protest are invited to turn out at 9am tomorrow (Friday) for the hearing of Bryan Simpson, a Strathclyde University student arrested for occupying Millbank on 10 November.
These hearings follow a major meeting where speech after eloquent speech made sense of a mad world in which police who hit protesters go free while those they injure are prosecuted. The charges against protesters divert the energy of the protest movement from fighting the cuts to fighting the charges. Those who fight to be heard are forced into silence by legal proceedings. As the cuts bite and the economy slows down, new levels of repression are meted out to those who protest at the loss of jobs and welfare and at threats to the health service and the possibility of education for all.
One of the biggest ovations was given to Merlin Emanuel, the nephew of the musician Smiley Culture, who died from a stab wound whilst being arrested in a police raid. Merlin had come from supporting Smiley Culture’s mother who is seriously ill. The light had gone out from her eyes, Merlin said. He had not been particularly political before Smiley’s death, he said, but now he could not remain silent and knew he had to fight injustice wherever he saw it, speaking out about the succession of deaths in police custody, all too often deaths of black men. Black activists, as another speaker pointed out, are seven times more likely to be arrested than the rest of the population.
Any one on the protests could have been arrested or injured, so it was no surprise to see many new faces at the meeting. As John McDonnell said, in a recession when people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened they can react with flight or fight. Instead of being frightened off protest we must make our slogan ‘we are not afraid’. Soon there will be just too many protesters to be charged, said Catherine, one of the 145 arrested Fortnum and Mason protesters: there were so many arrests that there were no cells to house them and the trial may have to select a symbolic twenty because the courts cannot cope. Marvellously, the police woman who arrested Catherine was volunteering because she was going to be made redundant and was hoping to get into the police force. Ironies multiply. The government provides military support for protest in Benghazi but, in Jody McIntyre’s eloquent words, puts pro-democracy activists on trial at Westminster Magistrate’s Court. To Jody, the definition of violent disorder – where three or more people threaten unlawful violence – perfectly fitted the behaviour of police on the days of the student protests.
The veteran campaigner Tony Benn saw today’s protesters as carrying on a noble tradition stretching from the Peasants’ revolt to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Suffragettes. All these campaigners were told that they would be reviled, frightened, charged and silenced. But if they went on and on and on in the end those in power would pretend they had been on our side all the time. Those who fight for our rights are heroes who fight for all. An assault on one is an assault on all for any of those who protested could have faced a baton strike or a criminal charge. We fight to protect all those who have been injured or charged and call on everyone who deplores the cuts to stand by protesters and fight for justice.