It seems odd to be thinking of Christmas in July, though I’m sure some of the shops are getting their Xmas displays ready – and certainly ‘Back to School’ displays have already appeared in some although for most children today is the first day of their Summer Holidays.
But although this was a Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees, its unfortunately true that little has changed for many of them, still stuck in camps at European borders, including our own small cities of shame at Calais. Its all the more shameful as some of those stuck there are children with relatives in this country they almost certainly have a right to come here and join. But our government (and to be fair the previous coalition and, before that, Labour governments) have an obsession with migrant numbers which prevents them from acting in a humane manner.
One of the posters held by the relatively small group of protesters read ‘Canada 25k in one year, Britain 20k in five years. WHY?’ The short answer is that for many years the great majority of our press – owned by a handful of millionaires like Murdoch and the Barclay Brothers – has pursued a racist campaign against immigrants, and forced successive governments and oppositions to outbid each other in shifting to the right.
If we think about it, we know that we need immigration and have benefited from it. Vital services at all levels would collapse without it, from hospitals down to the many offices and public buildings that rely on migrant cleaners. One of the most stupid and cruel aspects of our treatment of refugees is that so many are locked away in detention centres, as if fleeing from danger and persecution was a crime. Even worse that the real motivation behind imprisonment seems to be to make it harder for those locked away to prove their right to asylum and thus make it more likely they will face forced deportation. And even if they are not locked up, they are denied the right to work, even though many have skills that would benefit society.
The protest was organised in defence of Syrian refugees and took place opposite Downing St to remind David Cameron of the need to meet his promises and to act as a decent human being. It was quite a gusty night, and it was difficult to light the candles and even harder to keep them alight, though eventually some windshields improvised from plastic cups helped.
The street lighting in Whitehall is surprisingly dim, and on the pavement a few yards from the roadway has little effect. For many of the pictures the main light source was the candles, and the protest began around dusk so there was enough ambient to make working at ISO3200 reasonably practicable. As it got darker I cursed that I’d forgotten to bring my hand-held LED light, which, though not very bright, would have made life much easier.
In the top picture I grasped the opportunity as a video light from someone else working there lit up just a part of the subject from one side; although video mounted lights generally produce very flat and boring images on video, here the light from well to the left of my camera spilling from where someone was being interviewed was doing a fine job for me.
Earlier in the day I’d been at a protest in Stratford, where I number of those present were wearing Santa hats. Free the Focus E15 Table came a week after Focus E15’s regular weekly street stall calling for housing for all and an end to social cleansing in Newham had been visited by police and Newham council officials who had ‘arrested’ the table they were using – an action that they later agreed was illegal and led to considerably on-line jollity. The event was celebrated with speeches, songs, posters and a very small table, see here on top of a rather larger one. This week police and council avoided the area.
I’d decided not to cover the annual Santacon crawl around London this year, mainly because more important things were happening, but there were still quite a few Santas in Trafalgar Square after I’d finished photographing the refugees, so I stopped for a few minutes to take a few pictures.
I’m not against people having a little fun from time to time, and Christmas is a good excuse – why the Christians borrowed Saturnalia for their own festival – to cast a little light into the gloomiest time of the year. And I do rather enjoy seeing a large pack of hundreds or thousands of red-clad figures taking over the streets of London. It would be good to see it encouraged by the authorities and for cars to be banned for Christmas.
Other Santas were out having fun for a more serious purpose – and were keen to tell me they had no connection with the drunken frivolity of Santacon. Just as well as they were riding BMX bikes, as this was a BMX club fund-raising charity run.
A few more pictures of Santacon and BMZX riders in Santas in London.