Contrasting Events

From the Sikh protest against the death penalty I walked the short distance up Parliament St and Whitehall to where the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign were holding a protest against the bedroom tax and other tax and benefit changes that impact unfairly on the poor and disabled.

No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps was a relatively small protest over issues that affect many, and one in particular that seems to those affected to be a particularly vicious and vindictive attack on those at the bottom of our society. Homelessness and the housing problem isn’t caused by poor people who have a little space in their homes (something the better off in our society take for granted), but by policies that have failed to build social housing, have rocketed house prices and private rents, in part through vast subsidies to private landlords through ‘housing benefit’, by the increased growth in second home ownership and the buying up of houses and flats as investment properties, and by the many properties left empty as their value increases. It’s a problem that Tory, New Labour and Coalition governments at least since Thatcher have not just failed to tackle but have actually contributed to.

Most of those present were from Kilburn, where the Counihan family has waged a high profile campaign against its own unfair treatment by the local authority, the London Borough of Brent, and encouraged and inspired others to stand up for their rights. One of those, a young woman and her daughter who had managed to get Harrow council to fulfil their legal obligations to her spoke at the event, as did a number of others. But though the various addresses were interesting, it was had to find much of great visual interest, and my pictures were just a little ordinary.

As I was photographing this event, another began to start alongside. As so often in London I had something else to photograph that I’d not known about when I left home (they almost make up for the times when I go to advertised events to find nothing at all happening.) Students often write to me asking where there are lists of protests or how I found out what is happening in London, or asking me to send them a list of events they can photograph. There really are no overall lists, although there are a number of web sites worth looking at to find what is happening, but many groups remain curiously secretive about their activities.

Amateur photography magazines sometimes publish lists of events to photograph, but that has always seemed to me to be the wrong way round, as if there are certain aspects of life, certain events that are photogenic, and that if you want to be a photographer you go to these and take photographs.  As if the aim of photography is to photograph the photogenic. My advice is always for people to get interested and involved in things and then to photograph them. Photography, as I’ve so often said isn’t about making pictures.

The group appearing alongside was the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, one of the military groups which combined to overthrow the Iranian regime in 1965, but which then lost out to the Islamic regime and had to take refuge in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. After the US invasion they gave up their arms and were confined to their camp by US troops while they were allowed to become a leading part of the Iranian parliament in exile, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.

But in 2009, control of their camp was transferred to Iraq, and since then they have been moved and subjected to attacks, regarded as a terrorist group by both Iraq and Iran, although the EU removed them from its list of terrorists in 2009. The London protest was to get support from the UK government for the appeals they have made to the UN Secretary General and the US for the protection they are entitled to under the Geneva convention as recognised by the US in 2003.

The protest was quite a contrast to the open and somewhat chaotic freedom of the event I had just been photographing, which had little form and where everyone present was invited to make use of the megaphone – and ‘open mike’ event. Behind the protesters was a platform that was a shrine to the many PMOI members who had been killed in the attacks, with rows of their photographs, and the protest itself had the precision of a military exercise, carried out to the beat of a drum and under clear direction, with the protesters responding in remarkable precision to the call if their leader. I mean no disrespect – it was just a very different way to organise, and I tried to show this in my pictures, as I hope you can see in PMOI Protest Iraqi killings.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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