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Denied Right to protest - Fairford coach, a personal account

Phatpat | 24.03.2003 10:36

A personal account by a Fairford coach detainee. I am a sambista From Rhythms of Resistance London, and these are my experiences of 22nd March 2003, the day we all officially became terrorists. (it's quite a long post ;-)

I was one of the people on one of the three detained coaches from London to Fairford yesterday, the 22nd March. This is my account of my experience.

As we arrived in the sleepy village of Letchley, not far from the airbase, we were pulled into a sliproad by police. The surrounding area was clogged with their vans. The coach was boarded, and the copper said ‘we don’t wish to detain you but…’ to cynical jeers. And we were right to be cynical as we were kept there for two hours, as the coaches and ourselves were searched. I was lucky enough to get a jolly and apparantly sympathetic w.p.c. who was not fazed in any way by my drumsticks, harnesses, spanner and various other apparantly dodgy parephenalia but others were not so lucky and had treasured personal possessions confiscated, for no apparent reason. Some people were spuriously nicked on the grounds that they may have done something naughty in the past. Shortly after we were ‘invited’ to reboard our vehicles, we were informed that we were not to be allowed access to Fairford, because the cops believed that on the basis of what they had seen in the coaches, there may be a breach of the peace. Furthermore, we were to be escorted back to the London area to ensure our compliance. So began one of my more surreal protest experiences.

The coach journey was a lesson in inspired thought. At first furoius at our incarceration, we settled down and began to display some initiative. Sighns indicating our predicament were fashioned from cardboard, gaffa tape, felt pens. One said ‘denied the right to protest at Fairford’, another, simply fashioned from masking tape directly onto the window, just said ‘help’. We had a ‘Priscilla, Queen of the desert’ moment, when we made a beautiful flag from a length of purple fabric, three drumsticks, some black gaffa tape for the lettering (no war) and breifly flew it out of the coaches sunroof.

Meanwhile, the many mobile phones were put into action, phoning journalists, solicitors and other activists, and keeping a link between all three coaches. Some inspired folk called 999 and reported themselves kidnapped, bemusedly reporting that once the cop on the line reolised what was going on, they were informed that we were merely being followed, and that we could stop off at services for a pee break if we wanted. This was palpable nonsense, as we were surrounded by motorcycle outriders and cop vans in all directions and as far as the eye could see. Bridges and sliproads all had a full compliment of police vans – every single one from Letchley to London. They don’t take as much care over transporting nuclear waste – I bet Blair himself dosent get so much police protection! The motorway was completely blocked, possibly to allow a smooth journey, and also so that other motorists could not see our banners.

Furthermore, when our coach showed any sighn of slowing, a riot van pulled close and harrassed the driver. I have to record that our driver was sympathetic, unflappable and a complete star throughout. I got the impression that the other two drivers were equally on our side.

As we neared London, we heared that there were riot vans waiting for us outside Euston station. Fed up with having to play the cops game, we decided to take action at the first oppurtunity. When the coach had to pause due to traffic in the Holland park ares, we all ran at and pushed open the doors of the coaches, and emptied out into the road. Easy! I became upset as there were swarms of coppers near the boot of the coach as we emerged, meaning I couldn’t retreive the bands bass Surdo, but moments later the cops had gone, and I was able to rescue this precious instrument. Phew! People scattered which was good in some ways, bad for those of us left behind walking towards Marble arch. I strapped the drum on and began to play, but we were (unsurprisingly) being so roughly handled by cops that in our small nombers we couldn’t achieve much. At one point we were attacked near a bush shelter, and those waiting for buses were visibly horrified. I started yelling ‘were being attacked for no reason’ and the cops backed off a bit.

We decided it would be safer to get on buses, and one bus was also boarded by police persuing some protestors – I don’t know what happened to them. The bus I got on had another star bus driver who said that we should point out our friends along the way so he could stop and pick them up, which he did, nowhere near any bus stops and free of charge.

After a well deserved pee break, some of us decided to head up to Oxford Street, where we knew there was a sit down protest. As we got closer to the middle, I could hear drums pounding and my own heart pounded with joy as I donned the drum and rushed forward to greet them. A big cheer enveloped me, and I saw hand drummers, and various other percussionists including some other Rhythms of Resistance drummers from the Fairford coaches putting down some gorgeous beats. We played ecstatically for some time, then had a rest, encouraging everyone to sit down. The crowd was, in the words of that cliché, the most diverse spectrum of humanity you could wish to meet, all united with the cause of life against death, love and liberty against war and oppression.

After some more drumming, we were informed that a little bit further up the road, we could turn down a side street which would lead us to the American embassy. Without further ado, the band set about leading the peaceful, jubilant crowd. At one point I was right at the front, a rare treat for a Surdo player, camera flashlights popping in my eyes, adrenaline pumping through my body. We were the warriors of peace coming to lay seige to the warmongers.

It was surprisingly easy for a time, we got extremely close, but soon the cops pulled themselves together and we were headed off onto Park lane. Here we held another peaceful sit down. I commented to my neighbour that it all reminded me of what it must have been like in the American war protests of the 1960s, and he corrected me saying, ‘no, its just a sense of history you’re feeling’. It felt good, whatever it was.
Eventually, we were told by the cops, who had of course surrounded us, that we had one hour to disperse. Tired and acheing, I have to say I left cheerfully, walking up Park lane with new friends, including a band of Spanish teenagers with inexhaustable energy who were going to Parliament square. On the tube home, we encountered an entire muslim family, faces shining with excitement, exclaimed that we had to be listened to after today. I’m not so convinced, but I think a whole lot of people are getting politicised out there, after what they’ve experienced in the last few weeks.

What an extraordinary day. Peak and low experiences side by side.



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  1. hmmmmmmm — time traveller