Anarchists, Anonymous and ENA

Saturday was a bitty day for me. If I hadn’t been taking photographs I might have attended the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, although I wasn’t convinced it would be anything more than another talking shop with no real outcomes, and too many people defending the largely indefensible Labour Party. I don’t like photographing conferences, but I did go along and take a few pictures of the events around it, particularly at lunchtime when many of the few thousand attending came outside.

Some of the better known anarchist in the UK including Ian Bone at left

In fact there wasn’t a great deal happening. Anarchist blogger Ian Bone had called for a protest outside, but hadn’t managed to find more than a dozen or so people who could be bothered to come. Most of them spoke at a little rally, but they only arrived after most people had disappeared back into the conference sittings which were taking place inside Methodist Central Hall (MCH), and in a kind of tent outside and a hall around the corner to which any dissident voices – including Ken Loach – were exiled.

Two young men on a golfing pub crawl come to find out more
Occupy London people were also around, and visually rather more interesting than the anarchists, with Anonymous masks rather than cloth caps. There was a little vignette of farce when they net up with a couple of young men on a golfing pub crawl, but otherwise little to photograph.

Starting a quarter a mile down the road was a march by the English National Alliance, a small extreme right group – or ‘patriots’ as they prefer to call themselves. I’ve photographed their events before, and although I make clear I don’t share their views, I’ve tried to report them and the events clearly and accurately. I do so not just because of my ethical standards as a journalist, but because I think exposing their views and actions to the light makes clear to all what they stand for.

I walked up towards the meeting point and found a small group of photographers standing across the road looking at a few ENA protesters outside the pub. I asked if any of them had talked to the ENA, and no-one had, so I walked across the road towards them. I was warmly greeted and for the next ten minutes or so we talked and argued about what they felt was happening to our country and their feeling that they did not get a fair deal in the media. I doubt if they particularly liked what I wrote about the protest, but I think it was – as I assured them it would be – fair and accurate.

The left on the left and the right on the right – one in a brown jacket shouts and another gives a finger

There were only 11 of them – they had expected rather more, but eventually they decided not to wait and to carry out their march as planned. I think their decision to march directly in front of MCH where the People’s Assembly was being held was deliberately meant to provoke, and shouting – as some of them did – ‘No Surrender!’ seemed to be proof of that. A minute earlier, one of the younger protesters had boasted as we went along Tothill St that he wasn’t scared and that he could take on 25 of the ‘commies’. There were few people around outside the hall, mainly on several literature stall, and they heard the shouts and saw the ENA t-shirt worn by their leader and reacted, milling around and shouting ‘Racist Scum!’ and other similar insults, and shouting matches between the two groups ensued.

A woman on the ENA march points and shouts at a man who has called her a racist

I was surprised that the police had allowed them to turn down in front of MCH rather than continuing along the direct route. There were just not enough police present to keep the two groups apart, and I think it was an error of judgement to allow the ENA to proceed without further police reinforement – which did arrive after the trouble had started. But the situation would have been much easier to control had the ENA simply continued directly into Broad Sanctuary rather than confronting the leftists.

A woman police officer hold back an ENA protest while a leftist points and shouts at thim

There was quite a lot of pointing and one of the ENA giving the finger to the leftists and such like  but I didn’t see any  physical violence by any of the leftists, and the police pushed there way through them and kept pushing the ENA (and me) to keep them moving. The situation was pretty confused, but I did see one of the ENA trying to hit out at someone and being restrained by police. I was told one was arrested by police, though I don’t know for what offence and if he was charged. One of my photographer colleagues says she was hit by one of the ENA with his walking stick and came to ask me if I had got a picture of the assault, but I hadn’t seen it. My pictures show the left shouting but keeping back, and the police having to restrain some of the ENA, though mainly they were simply trying to keep them moving and get them away from the left.

It’s difficult to work and get decent pictures in situations like this, and I’m not too good at it. I was being pushed around, and was working at rather a low an ISO given the dull weather. At some point too, I got something on the camera filter which left a diffuse spot on the images – it wasn’t really visible in the viewfinder, but messes up many of the pictures. Possibly it was a finger mark when I was being pushed around. There was even a curious 10 seconds or so when everything I took was out of focus, despite using the 16-35mm on autofocus, and a camera setting which isn’t supposed to take a picture unless it has focussed.

The ENA leader was wearing an ENA t-shirt with the St George’s flag and carrying flowers for the Cenotaph

I wasn’t too happy with the pictures I had taken, although at times I’d been in the right place, I think at times I was too close, and hadn’t taken the time to look around and see what else was going on. I do tend to get too involved in keeping taking pictures when at times it would be better to stand back a little. But then you might miss the picture, and once quite a few other photographers had joined us at MCH, if you step back two other people step forward into the space you have vacated. I’d also decided most of the time to keep with the leader of the ENA, because he was the only one with distinctive clothing that would show in pictures – an ENA t-shirt with the St George’s flag – and because of the bunch of flowers he was carrying. But some of the younger ENA were probably more likely to get physically involved.

The police pushed the ENA past the first confrontation, but by now others were aware of what was happening, and a larger group came to meet them and shout at them in front of the QEII Conference Hall. Again police tried to keep the ENA moving, and finally managed to get them out onto Broad Sanctuary and to hold most of the left back, though a few followed them and continued to shout at them from a distance.

By the time the ENA march reached Whitehall it seemed to be down to seven or eight from the original eleven. There was a brief pause while the flowers were laid at the Cenotaph, then they continued to Downing St, where some were to go in to deliver a letter for the Prime Minister. Earlier outside the pub I’d been given a copy of that letter and was able to give a summary of its contents in my article.  It was very long and I felt rather confused and said so, and repeated most of what had already been said in their previous letter to David Cameron. I didn’t go into Downing St to photograph the letter being handed over because I was on my way to a final event for the day. But I don’t like Downing St. It’s a pain having to empty your pockets to go through the metal detector and to have your bag searched, and the opportunities for taking pictures are very limited. They had planned on a rally afterwards, but I think had decided there were not enough of them.

More pictures  at:
People’s Assembly
Action Not Talk?
Anonymous Occupy the Grass
ENA Meet Left Opposition


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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