Yesterday saw the planned eviction of a travellers site on Glenfrome Road, Eastville. When I say planned I mean in so much as police, bailiffs and a crane were organised to remove people and vans from land that West & Wales Utilities say they want to use.
So what provisions where planned for these people, including children? Councillors for Eastville, Labour’s Marley Bennett and the Green’s Lorraine Francis*, both failed to do anything or say anything. Well then Green Party leader Paula O’Rouke? Nothing.
So then surely Helen Godwin must have stuck up for families, homes and children? She must have had a plan in place to ensure provision for these vulnerable people now homeless on a wet and windy day. Nothing. No alternative site lined up. No hot meals ready for those evicted forcibly. No care from this Labour Party politician. Not present at the scene, nothing. Not a word.
What from the mayor who’s well versed in issues concerning oppressed minorities and equality?
The violence which surrounded the ‘Kill the Bill’ protest on Sunday 21 March catapulted Bristol into national headlines. The predictable outrage and condemnation by politicians and business leaders was magnified by gruesome statements (now unmasked as lies) coming from Avon & Somerset Police of officers with ‘punctured lungs’ and ‘compound fractures’. Meanwhile, the reason for the demonstration, a Tory Bill to repress protests, and the numbers of protestors injured by police in full public order kit, armed with shields, clubs and pepper spray was usefully obscured
After the initial ‘outrage’ news items, journalists began focusing on feature articles which attempted to contextualise the ‘Bridewell riot’. One well-read article ‘A city of protest: Bristol’s history of resistance’ on the BBC website began with the questionable premise that the city was somehow historically exceptional. It claimed that “The city’s counter-culture identity reaches back through the centuries”. This somewhat ludicrous claim was followed by some of the worst historical analysis we have seen for a while. Claiming dubious validity by referencing Mayor Marvin Rees’s controversial History Commission, the article continued by quoting a University of Bristol academic who was “investigating the city’s heritage of protest”. They stated:
There is a long history of protest in Bristol and a radical self-identify is more prevalent here, but why Bristol and not other cities is a difficult point. Bristol has always been a city of protest with an alternative identity that pushes back on those mainstream or established narratives. Protest is very richly woven into the city’s history and I think the people of Bristol today are influenced by that narrative of protest.
Apart from not making much sense (radical self-identify?), failing to explain what period they were referring to and vaguely talking about ‘narratives’ they also claimed that Bristol had “always been a city of protest with an alternative identity”. This begged some questions. What is this so-called alternative identity that Bristol has had for centuries? And isn’t protest woven into the fabric of many cities? Ok…give them a break you might say…let them get into some detail. They did and it got worse.
Centres of protest like Stokes Croft or St Paul’s are a stone’s throw away from more affluent areas like Clifton, where you also have a high student population where people are very interested in a different way of living.
This statement tells us more about the bubble where this academic hangs out than making much sense. Bristol’s centuries long ‘alternative identity’ is reduced temporally and spatially to the last 15 years and to Stokes Croft (which most Bristolians regard as a street rather than an area) with the added bonus of ‘edgy’ St Pauls. A different way of living? Bristol University? Yes, maybe a route to top jobs and wealth for public school and middle-class kids, but hardly a hotbed of counterculture.
Rounding off their contribution, the ‘expert on protest’ jumped to the late eighteenth century claiming “the Bristol Bridge riots in 1793 as the first notable clash with the establishment in the city”. Writing off almost all the 1700s in Bristol suggests social peace in the supposed ‘deferent century’. In reality, as most local historians know, Bristol was riddled with confrontations between crowds and the ‘establishment’ in the ‘riotous century’. From ‘moral economy’ food riots led by women who reduced prices by force, to turnpike riots and wage riots led by the Kingswood colliers and East Bristol Weavers, ‘collective bargaining by riot’ was a fairly normal method of direct action in a deeply undemocratic society.
At this point the article began to really lose its way, Exposing more about the current politics of the BBC and some of the contributing historians than teaching us any coherent history. The following timeline was offered as a guideline to the exceptionalism of protests in Bristol:
(BBC) Timeline of protests in Bristol
1793: The Bristol Bridge riots
1831: Queens Square Reform riots
1963: The Bristol bus boycotts
1980: St Paul’s riots
2011: Stokes Croft Tesco protests and riots
2019: Extinction Rebellion protests
February 2020: Greta Thunberg climate change rally
June 2020: Black Lives Matter protests
As anyone knows who has looked at the history of protest in any city, anywhere in the world, deciding what to include and exclude in a timeline is very difficult as there is so much protest, in so many different forms. Even if we concentrated on one form, say riots, the list would fill several pages and that would be unfinished. Looking at the above timeline, there are huge glaring gaps and massive omissions. So nothing happened over the 132 years between the 1831 ‘reform riots’ and the Bristol Bus boycotts of the 1960s? Really? The number of struggles connected to protest wiped out by the timeline in this period alone is truly remarkable: labour history, women’s history, enfranchisement, education, housing, healthcare, socialism, poor laws, anti-fascism, LGBT history, unemployed marches, communists, soldiers strikes, anti-war demonstrations, prisons etc etc.
As for riots, clearly only those that ‘count’ are to be counted. If the one-day event in St Pauls in April 1980 is alright, why not the two nights of rioting in Southmead that followed immediately after? Or the three nights of rioting in Hartcliffe in 1992 in response to the killing of two residents by police? Or perhaps the Sidney Cooke paedophile riot at Broadbury Road police station in 1998 led by local women? And the Poll tax riots of 1990? If the so-called Tesco’s riot of 2011 gets a tick, why not the massive wave of rioting and looting that occurred a few months later in August 2011 across England?
Is the history of protest being sanitised on the basis of social class and to some extent ethnicity? When St Pauls rioted in 1980 it is justified, when Hartcliffe did, it must be condemned, ignored or belittled. After all, what have working class people got to get angry about? This stinks of liberal politicos and academics with a social-democratic narrative trying to control the historical agenda of what is acceptable protest and what isn’t. This becomes clearer later in the article when we are informed:
Protests like the Bristol Bus Boycott were organised with clear aims and strategies which minimises demonstrations turning into something different.
I guess the ‘something different’ was a reference to the Bridewell ‘riot’ on the previous Sunday. A pattern is beginning to emerge, sensible, peaceful, organised, Bus Boycott campaign good….Anti-police bill demonstration bad. This assumes, of course, that peaceful protest works? Does anyone remember the massive CND demonstrations of the 1970s and 80s when millions marched legally, sensibly and peacefully to try and stop the introduction of first-strike nuclear weapons and the potential for mass destruction? Failure. Or the Stop the War marches of 2003 when millions marched legally, sensibly and peacefully to stop the invasion of Iraq? Failure. Compare that with hundreds of thousands breaking the law by refusing to pay the Poll Tax, storming city councils and famously rioting in London in 1990 which finished off the ‘Community Charge’ and led to the fall of the Thatcher cabal of right-wing nutters. Or thousands of miners going on strike, shutting power stations down and physically confronting the police in the 1970s which brought the anti-Union Tory government down. Or the Black Lives Matter protestors solving a century-long festering sore by pulling down the Colston statue after years of failed petitioning and peaceful protests.
If you think the historical debate is irrelevant to the protests around the Police Bill then fair enough. However, Bristol’s elected Mayor disagrees with you. In a Facebook video addressed to the city the day after the first protest at Bridewell Marvin Rees stated:
I absolutely condemn the violence we saw in Bristol last night. It was a display of selfish, self-indulgent, self-centred violence by a group of people who were looking for any opportunity to enter into physical confrontation….We have a history of politically significant protest, like Chartists and Suffragettes protesting for emancipation, trade unions striking and campaigning for jobs and rights at work. This was not that. Last night’s action was politically illiterate and increases the likelihood of the policing bill passing. The riot is not worthy of being mentioned alongside the very legitimate debate about the bill…..We won’t allow these people to hijack our city’s story.
Despite the obvious fact that the violence outside Bridewell meant that the ‘legitimate debate’ about the ‘Policing Bill’, which had been hardly publicised, was suddenly all over the media and forced politicians to start commenting on it, there were some more worrying signs in Rees’s statement. Odd as it seems, Rees appears to have appointed himself judge of what is ‘acceptable’ protest both now and in the past, and guardian of the ‘city’s story’ (whatever that is). Several commentators have noticed this Orwellian turn from the present to the past (and we suppose to mapping out the future) and the contradictions inherent in his statement. My advice is if you are going to set yourself up as the judge of ‘acceptable protest’ then at least read some history.
If the Suffragettes are ‘good’ then is Rees suggesting that mass campaigns of criminal damage, arson and bombing are the way forward for the Anti-Policing Bill protesters? If the Chartists are ‘good’ then would planning for an armed Republican insurrection and forming your own organised and armed force to deal with the Police on demonstrations be useful strategy and tactics for the protestors? If Trade Unions are good then would Rees support mass strikes over Bristol City Council redundancies due to austerity measures?…. Like fuck he would. It looks to me like Rees has either swallowed a sanitised, social-democratic historical narrative or that he really doesn’t know what he is talking about.
There may be an explanation to Rees’ turn to the historical and that is his flagship committee. The ‘We are Bristol (University)’ History Commission set up in the wake of the pulling down of the statue of Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June last year. Perhaps this has spurred him to learn about some ‘radical history’. The irony, of course, is that it was a ‘bad protest’ that forced the Mayor to take the issue of the city’s contested history seriously after years of ignoring it. Will the ‘We are Bristol (University)’ History Commission try to become the arbiter of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protest history whilst itself being the product of what it would call a ‘bad’ protest?
For many of us who spent years challenging the sanitisation of the history of Edward Colston by City elites the move by Rees and his ‘academics in tow’ to now sanitise and ring-fence the history of protest in Bristol when faced by a real and vital protest movement is both ironic and dumb, but also boringly predictable.
Green party Mayoral candidate re-writing history! See his tweet – some hilarious comments
The Bristol 24/7 article demonstrates how desperate the bosses, state & middle class are to de-escalate the situation so we’re all peaceful –
– quote “Teams of officers with riot gear were poised well out of the way…”. Yeah like 75m away hiding in the NCP carpark next to Bridewell (with spotters on the roof), also 6 vanloads nearby in Deep St.
I first came across Steve Norman in late 2004. Ian Bone, then editor of The Bristolian, called one evening: “You’ve got to meet Steve Norman and Andy Richardson. Top geezers! They’re running a campaign directly with the elderly and learning disabled to save their daycare centres, which are being shut down by the council.
“The protests are crazy. You’ve never seen anything like it. Steve was quoting Martin McGuiness’s ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’ to me. They’re doing a protest next month outside the Council House. Make sure you get there.”
So that’s how I found myself outside Bristol’s Council House on a crisp January morning in 2005 at some protest to save something I didn’t know much about. Although that was about to change because Bone was right, I’d never seen anything quite like this before.
A protest over council cuts in those days would usually consist of eight – maybe ten – well-meaning socialists brandishing a few crappy placards and a fake petition for the public to sign. Maybe they’d be accompanied by someone flogging a badly written newspaper listing the crimes of the Labour government alongside an urgent plea to join their marginal socialist sect.
This protest consisted of about 20 elderly and learning disabled people accompanied by Andy and – as the public ringmaster-in-chief with a megaphone in hand – Steve. However, the genius of this protest didn’t lie with Steve’s quickfire Bristolian epithets aimed at various social service bosses and out-of-touch Labour councillors but with the 20-odd extremely vulnerable elderly and disabled people who were very, very slowly trooping across the pelican crossing on Park Street directly outside the Council House.
When a protestor finally made it to the other side, they would press the button to cross again and wait for the ‘green man’ pedestrian light. Meanwhile, the other nineteen would continue their ramshackle progress across Park Street. By the time they all finally reached one side, the green man appeared, allowing them to troop across the road all over again!
Few cars were going anywhere that morning. Traffic chaos engulfed the heart of the city directly outside its notional seat of power and there was fuck all anybody could do about it! Motorists might be fuming but they were hardly going to get out of their cars and start threatening a load of vulnerable adults, some with zimmer frames, others in wheelchairs.
The police arrived, mildly (and not very realistically) threatening arrests. Only to be told by Steve they would require full risk assessments and specialist lifting equipment before they attempted to remove anyone in a wheelchair into a police vehicle. The police seemed to accept this logic and drifted away to do something more useful or, maybe, they were trying to find their equalities policy and a disabled access police van with a wheelchair lift? (Steve knew perfectly well that the Avon & Somerset Police had no such vehicle in service. Police were therefore unable to arrest or legally remove wheelchair using protestors).
Meanwhile, the target of the protests, Bristol’s councillors and senior council officers remained hiding behind closed doors. Not one of them daring to venture the few metres outside to meet with their own vulnerable service users on a chilly January morning. Stephen McNamara, the council’s legal boss and town clerk, then at the height of his high camp wig-wearing “Look-at-me-I’m-a-very-important-man-I-am” phase, was even stationed in the lobby of the Council House to personally prevent any of his vulnerable adult service users accessing the toilets!
The protest broke up after a couple of hours when council transport arrived to return the service users to Lockleaze Day Centre for their lunch. Steve and Andy invited me to come to a ‘Campaign to Save Daycare in Bristol’ meeting.
These meetings happened most Thursday evenings in a back room at the – now – sadly demolished Wedlocks pub at Ashton Gate. From this disorganised ragbag of vulnerable service users, carers, political activists and anyone else who showed up – sort of led by Steve and Andy often with their heads in their hands – a ‘spring offensive’ of actions was devised and launched.
This offensive kicked off on the 1 March at the annual budget meeting of Bristol City Council. A meeting flooded with the elderly, disabled and their carers. So many attended that wheelchairs lined the length of chamber and a victory came early when it was announced that Labour’s piss weak and wimpy council leader, Peter Hammond, had thrown a sickie and his long-suffering deputy, Helen Holland, would be standing in for him. Lib Dem Councillor Simon Cook, that year’s Lord Mayor, provided further amusement prior to the meeting when he agreed to depart from tradition and let the public speak at a budget meeting “as long as you don’t mention Hitler”.
Helen managed to mumble through almost five minutes of her boss Hammond’s odious justification for cuts to the city’s most vulnerable at the height of an economic boom for the rich when the council chamber descended into chaos and the budget meeting – as planned by the council – ground to a halt. Kicked off by a single carer interrupting her speech and loudly accusing Helen “of trying to fucking kill me” in 2003, the Hitler speech was soon rolled out by another protestor as councillors, the Lord Mayor and town clerk, McNamara, resplendent on his throne in his absurd judges wig, were aggressively heckled into silence.
A full blown retreat by councillors from the chamber soon followed when Steve and Andy handcuffed themselves to a rail in the public gallery and McNamara was confronted with the reality that he had lost all control of his own council meeting and had no means of restoring order. He had no clue how to remove the handcuffs from Steve and Andy and couldn’t use his security to throw out any other protestors. Even he understood manhandling any vulnerable adults he was legally responsible for protecting out of his building might end badly.
The people had seized the council chamber and the Lord Mayor, councillors and highly-paid administrators from the UK’s eighth largest city were cowering from vulnerable adults in a back room unable to set a legal budget for the city. Mission accomplished.
Many of the “spring offensive” actions have now taken on a near mythical status. Not least, the Friday afternoon of March 18 2005 when twelve service users occupied their own day centre in Lockleaze after some of them handcuffed themselves to rails and refused to leave at the end of the day. Steve, Andy and friends remained outside all night, supporting the occupiers – and thwarting the plans of council staff, who had to remain on site to “protect” service users, to starve out the occupiers – by pushing fish and chip takeaways through an open second floor window on long sticks.
The occupation created a huge amount of high profile coverage from the press, TV and radio. While the council’s daft PR man, Simon Caplan, invited open ridicule and more publicity when he helpfully explained, from the front page of the local newspaper, that the protest “served no useful purpose”. Except introducing the daycare campaign to new audiences across the city through headline coverage on every available local news platform!With the wind in their sails, the campaign moved on to even more logistically complex protests. Within hours of the announcement by Tony Blair of the 2005 General Election on April 5, Steve and a number of protestors with major mobility problems had occupied the Labour Party’s first floor South West HQ on Portland Square with an ITV News camera crew in tow!
On May 3 2005, just days before the election, Steve and protestors targeted hundreds of bank holiday customers at @Bristol. Many of these punters were less-than-impressed that the learning disabled and the frail elderly were having to take the streets to campaign to keep their own services. Bristol’s Labour boss for social services, Robin Moss, however, insisted to reporters that the daycare protests were “political stunts”. Although the real political stunt arrived just a few days later when Moss was unceremoniously dumped out of his Easton council ward by the Lib Dems while his party was similarly dumped out of power in Bristol, again, by the Lib Dems.
Steve, Andy and the protestors weren’t done yet and continued putting pressure on the new Lib Dem administration that had promised a review of daycare services during the election. On June 6 2015, the group appeared on College Green directly outside the Council House for the day with a series of 10ft-high placards directly naming seven council officers under a large headline: “Bristol social services’ list of uncaring professionals”.
This produced an aggressive response from town clerk and part time Council House toilet attendant, Stephen McNamara. “If necessary,” the wannabe tough guy thundered from the pages of the Evening Post, “the council will take legal action through the courts to prevent any such activity. The council will not tolerate its employees being harassed in this way.”
Steve loved these kind of threats from puffed up bureaucrats. “This campaign will not be bullied by city council legal mumbo jumbo and empty threats,” he replied in the same article. While he told the BBC, “I would love a legal action for the publicity”. That same day, Steve publicly forwarded his name and address to McNamara, inviting him to take immediate legal action. Steve was only too happy to see this – or any other – pompous old fool, who habitually made the law up to suit the interests of the powerful, in a proper court where the real law would apply.
When Steve, predictably, received no response from McNamara, he borrowed a flat-bed truck and on June 11 2005 spent the day humiliating the council by driving around the city centre, followed by a convoy of the press, parading his ten foot placards publicly shaming the same seven council employees all over again.
And the council’s response? Immediate legal action? Police? Arrests? Injunction? ASBO? Er, no, unconditional surrender and an invitation to Steve and the protestors to immediately attend talks with the Lib Dems to try and settle the dispute. Within weeks of these talks, the Lockleaze Day Centre was officially saved and the campaign drew to a close.
Steve went on to fight many more battles after this one. But the basic template of the ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’ altered little: use persistent and high profile PR-friendly direct action ignoring all police and legal threats from weak and desperate politicians until the useless fuckers surrender. And they always will.
THREE PEOPLE NOBODY’S EVER HEARD OF CONDEMN CONFECTED SHOCK IMAGE AS, ER, SHOCKING IN USELESS RIGHT WING RAG EVERYONE KNOWS IS FULL OF CRAP!
The Nazi Post has kindly published our hugely successful ‘Best Cut of All‘ front cover and poster so it can reach a wider audience. It’s published today under the excellent, if inaccurate, headline, “Anti-cuts campaigners condemn ‘disgusting’ image of Bristol mayor Marvin Rees”.
The article features a few random nobodies from West Bristol – that the Post apparently found on Facebook and rebranded as “ANTI-CUTS CAMPAIGNERS” – who helpfully consented to condemning our artwork in the local yellow press. This is presumably so we can all have a good laugh at the Post’s expense?
Meanwhile, actual, real, anti-cuts campaigners from Bristol’s local anti-cuts group, BADACA, didn’t, er, condemn anything at all! Do we have a new media phenomena? FAKE CAMPAIGNERS?
In case you care, the quote the from us that the Nazi Post won’t print said, “Could you tell Mike Norton he’s a cunt and we wouldn’t mind putting an axe through his Tory head?”
A word from the circulation department:
“We’ve had quite a good response from the street to this issue and only had one ‘negative’ – which was really more in the realm of worry about displaying the front cover rather than an objection to it per se. Even this hitch was overcome.
“Laughter or a shrug is the more common response.
“On the positive side we’ve already had two sell outs requiring re-stocks, and two places wanting our number in the anticipation of demand for more. A punter in one of the delivery venues shook our hand and said ‘I just love this paper – it’s straight from the heart with two fingers up to PR bullshit – I’ll show all my friends.”