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Bonfire night with Anonymous in Cardiff

Anonymous | 07.11.2013 15:35 | Public sector cuts | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | Wales

Co-inciding with the Bonfire Night protest in London, and numerous demos and actions against austerity elsewhere, a protest called by Anonymous took to the streets of Cardiff on Tuesday night, ending in attempts to occupy the Senedd (Welsh assembly building).

People started gathering in the park near City Hall: about 150 people, mostly wearing the usual Guy Fawkes masks, though a few were unmasked or had other types of masks. Placard slogans included:

System Corrupt: Abort Y/N?

Until it collapses, fight the corrupt system

Actions not words: spoil your vote

I am wearing this mask because I'm revolting!

As we left the park, we saw an effigy of a politician had been hung from a sign. Another - a David Cameron - was being carried in a coffin. Police presence was fairly low-key: the only visible ones were a couple of PLOs in the main body of the demo and a handful more cops near the back.

As we came through the main shopping district, the crowd spread out in the relatively deserted plastic consumer boulevardes, and this, combined with the lack of visible cops, evoked a sense of possibility. However (perhaps unsurprisingly) the banks and chainstores went untouched. Chants included "We are the 99%" and "Whose streets? Our streets!" but generally there was surprisingly little noise-making; perhaps we need more catchy, revolutionary, non-single-issue songs and chants.

As we reached the steps and balcony of Queens' Arcade, someone suggested a surreal photo opportunity, imagining this consumerist altar covered in masked Anons. Some climbed the steps, others milled below. David Cameron and his coffin were ritually thrown from the balcony and kicked about a bit, much to the disappointment of some who had hoped to see him on a bonfire.

Moving on we soon came to roads with far less passers-by. For the most part we stayed on the pavements rather than taking the roads, which some people were disappointed by. Several times people at the front had to be encouraged to slow down to keep the group together, and people were asked to let wheelchair users set the pace. Apart from the occasional reminder this seemed to work well.

As we came to quieter streets on the way to Cardiff Bay, parts of the crowd did turn and go onto the road itself, joined by more and more people until we had completely taken the road. Police looked a bit bemused at this. It helped that the driver immediately behind us was supportive and not in a rush!

Finally we reached our destination: the Senedd (Welsh Assembly building). Surprisingly we could see there was at least one entrance still operating, on the other side of a narrow bridge guarded by only 2 cops and 1 security guard. There was some talk of pushing inside but there was a lot of hesitancy from the crowd and those few who felt up for it didn't find each other. If it had happened right then we probably could have made it.

Large numbers of people drifted away; by now there were only 40-70 people remaining. People posed for photos with banners and chanted a bit more. An open mic session included speeches encouraging people to form affinity groups and make changes in their everyday lives. One person questioned the general reluctance to push past police into the building, and things suddenly got a bit more eventful.

A small number of people started trying to push through the police cordon on the narrow bridge, but by now there were at least 10 cops guarding it, and due to the narrow space it was clear we wouldn't get through. Others clustered round supportively but were still reluctant to join in the pushing; a lot of the crowd were fairly young and (presumably) inexperienced.

Meanwhile a few cops rushed off in a panic saying something about a back entrance; perhaps some people had gone for a wander. Another small group was trying to get past a couple of cops guarding another nearby door, which everyone had assumed was locked but turned out to be open! At this point somebody - again assuming they would be locked - pressed the button on one of the nearby lifts. As if by magic the doors glided open...

A couple of people rushed in, more of the crowd went towards them, but a cop got there first and threw both people in the lift out with hurried violence. While people were reacting to that with cries of outrage, and the police tried to block the doorway to the lift, someone pressed the button to the OTHER lift right next door, and the same pattern repeated; a couple of people rushed into the vestibule, and were dragged out violently.

We had now exhausted our immediate options for possible entrances. The cops were spread very thinly trying to guard all of them, but they soon arranged for a member of staff to come and lock the lifts, and with only small numbers of protesters still around (and only a fraction of them willing/able to try and get inside) it was clear that we weren't going to get any further this time. A short while later the remaining crowd left as one group.