The last time that there was a demonstration outside Liverpool Town Hall, it was attacked by police. The lessons of that incident, particularly of building large numbers and standing together, clearly weren't learned. Last night, very similar events unfolded, and young protesters were the ones who suffered.
The demonstration clearly wasn't built for in any serious way. There was an event on Facebook, and it may have been mentioned at a meeting of all those who attend these sort of things anyway, but that was about it. Certainly, given how many such demos had gone before, and the generally reductive nature of such protest, there wasn't much to be hopeful for - either in turnout or in content.
At first, it appeared that some of us had been over-cynical about turnout. At 4.30pm, there were about 40 people gathered at the side of the town hall. Mostly older protesters, associated with the Socialist Party and the Trades Council. Younger people turning up initially gathered over the road, no doubt at least partly inspired by the already over-the-top police presence. There were four horses, and around twenty officers, including two evidence gatherers and two police liaisons.
Content, however, was as dismal as ever. I switched off as soon as Tony Mulhearn uttered the magic words "in the 80s," to the point where I couldn't even be arsed to scoff at his interminable nonsense about lobbying being effective and a way to make the council change tack. The Liverpool Socialist Singers doing renditions of classing trade union songs, but with liberal/leftist slogans about "bankers" and "Tories" replacing the traditional lyrics, was equally dire. Especially given that this idea of capitalism's follies boiling down to immorality or excess by "bad" groups was being stamped on songs previously about militant class war and armed struggle against fascists.
However, once this dirge had ended, almost the entirety of this group - Socialist Party, Trades Council, Socialist Singers, etc - disappeared. This left some anarchists, some Socialist Workers Party members, and all the really young members of Occupy. Not forgetting the aforementioned buttload of filth, obviously.
For a while, it looked as if the demonstration would just spiral into nothing. Protesters took a stroll around the town hall a couple of times, purely because it was amusing to watch the police panic and follow us every time as if something bed was about to happen. The evidence gatherers seemed to get the joke, but the rest just had expressions of either boredom or anger etched into their face.
A sign of what was to come was the behaviour of those on horseback. When we were stood by the windows to the council chamber, they moved their mounts between us and the railings, presumably to stop anybody hurting the poor things by climbing on them to have a look inside. When we moved up to the side door, resulting in all the police running to man the barricades around it, they rode in and forced the demonstrators back from anywhere near the pavement.
I stood to one side, leaning on a bin and mostly being bored, only to have a horse walk up to me and force me away from it. When, out of sheer devilment, I moved around to where it had previously been, the two horses moved to sandwich me. Clearly, we could only have been more dangerous had we come equipped with automatic weapons.
Everything kicked off when an ambulance stopped outside the town hall. Some of us crossed the road to see what was going on, and soon most of the demonstration followed and two young women started shouting and chanting.
A rather portly and disheveled Councillor appeared from the meeting to say that one of his colleagues had been taken ill and to quiet down "out of common respect." When one of the women responded by saying she didn't care about the health of a Councillor making cuts and started heckling about her having to use services she was trying to slash. Again, the Councillor demanded silence, earning the reply "I hope the bitch dies."
This was apparently all the excuse that the police needed, and a moment later two of them swooped in. They picked up the other young woman, who immediately started having a panic attack. As a group of us moved in to try and stop them taking her, more cops stormed over to ensure that the burly thugs could drag away a frightened teenager in order to quell their boredom.
I followed them, demanding answers, along with two other protesters. One filmed the scene, whilst the other explained that he was a medic and that she was clearly having a panic attack. The only response to questions of whether they knew what to do in this situation was us being told to stop shouting at the police. That was when we heard that, whilst we were away from the main group, another woman had been knocked down by a police horse. Her blog on the night is here.
As we got back, the horses were still stomping around despite what had happened, and there was a general sense of confusion amongst the protesters. A lad standing with the victim of the horse called another young woman over, and as she went to see what had happened four police officers pounced on her. She started screaming and ended up being picked up and carried, each arm and leg held by a different cop. Once again, all those objecting were shoved back, perhaps the only difference to last time being that nobody was punched in the face.
In sheer frustration once the cops had steamed away, I whacked the wooden pole of my flag against a lamp post and roared "fuck's sake." This brought a horse steaming over, its rider telling me to calm down. I yelled at him that I was letting off steam because his ilk had riled me up. When he said "we're here to protect you," I laughed in his face before storming off. Had I carried on arguing with him, I probably would've wound up in the back of a van myself.
Ultimately, the night ended on a sour note and everyone left deflated. There was a vigil at St Anne's Police station, and I'm glad to report that those arrested were released without charge. However, it serves as a stark reminder that the state is not on our side. If there is a chance for violence and summary arrests to demobilise and scare off demonstrators, they will take it.
The only response to this kind of behaviour is to make sure that our actions are built for mass involvement and complete solidarity. As the cold, dead hand of the left tries to guide a youth crying out for direct action towards lifeless lobbying and petitioning, it is inevitable that their frustration will come out in ways that don't have an effect on the class enemy but do leave them open to arrest or attack by the police. And the architects of that frustration will by then have abandoned them to their fate. Clearly, this will get us nowhere.
Perhaps we have to pick our battles. The anti-workfare action was successful because the vast majority in attendance were on the same level, and stood together. We have to learn from that, and learn who we can trust to stand in solidarity with us no matter what. Otherwise people will continue to get hurt whilst the old, and often aged, left convinces itself that it is affecting change.