Independent Media Center

Unlawful assemblies against War- Fairford and London's Westend Sunday 23 Mar 2003
author: a different drummer

While one group of Rhythms of Resistance London, brought their percussive protest and samba spirit to the STWC’s march to Hyde Park, another band of RoRer’s tried to go to USAF Fairford. However events didn’t turn out as expected and people ended up reclaiming the streets of London’s Westend, if not the base

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While one group of Rhythms of Resistance London, brought their percussive protest and samba spirit to the STWC’s march to Hyde Park, another band of RoRer’s attempted to go to USAF Fairford. However events didn’t turn out as expected and people ended up reclaiming the streets of London’s Westend, if not the base

On the morning of Saturday, March 22nd, some of Rhythms of Resistance met just after 9am at Euston station. Together we boarded coaches to Fairford with people from DAAWN, Disobedience, anti-war Quakers and a variety of other human beings concerned about the Weapons of Mass Destruction that the forces of Empire are currently unleashing from USAF Fairford to blow human beings in Iraq to smithereens.

Security on the base had certainly escalated with the bombing of Iraq. So it seemed unlikely the events of the last mass weapons inspection would be repeated. Then hundreds of people had pulled down sections of fence, breached the front gates and briefly entered the base in attempt to see what our taxes are spent protecting. In the event, the security services had reinforced the fence with razor wires; heavies and dog patrols making it seem as bad as getting into Glastonbury.

But this time thousands not hundreds were coming. So it was certainly seemed worth the trip to Gloucestershire to keep up the pressure. The three coaches of about 150 people duly set off and trip passed without event, until after we left the M4 and picked up a couple police motorcycles. They directed the coaches to the picture postcard village of Leachlade, about 10 miles or so from Fairford, where a reception committee of literally hundreds of cops awaited us by the village green. They were tooled up, in padded uniforms (most without visible numbers) and were sweating in spring sunshine as they hung around filming each other, the coaches, and the ducks in the village pond. They even had one of those huge mobile holding-cell lorry things, parked up by the green.

One officer got on our coach asked our driver to get off. He asked people if we were from Brighton or London, and then when he got no reply, said he’d only be delaying us for a few minutes while he checked some details. The police questioned the drivers and then after half dozen of cops boarded the bus they announced that they were going to take us off, two by two, and search us for items that could be used to commit acts of violence – what like B52 quipped one protestor. So they searched and filmed each person on all three coaches and then searched the coaches themselves, all of which took the best part of two hours.

They confiscated people’s hats and scarves, some cardboard shields, and tore off the hoods of the white paper weapons inspector suits that had been passed around the coaches earlier. They detained two people from the coaches, One for possession of a cardboard shield and the other for suspected incitement to criminal damage. Both of were released later that evening. When a few people, who’d been processed, tried to board a local bus to Fairford, they got pulled off by the police. The cops then loaded people back on the coaches and announced that as they had suspicion that someone might intend to commit acts of violence, we were going to escorted back to the London area

At the motorway, the coaches picked up an escort of three riot vans, two cars and several motorcycles. They blocked the slip roads to the motorway as the buses passed, so that we were the only traffic on the road, creating a huge tailback of traffic behind us on the southbound M4. Some people rang 999 to report we were being kidnapped – but got told by a police operator that we were merely being escorted. Our driver was prevented by police vehicles from pulling into services, so it felt like kidnapping to us. Friends texted us to say that there were10 riot vans waiting for us at Euston.

But then a miracle happened. As we came off the motor way at Shepherds Bush, a small green car, probably distracted by the flashing blue lights, cut us up and clipped the front of our coach. The coach driver stopped, opened the doors and everyone jumped off. The other coaches and riot vans also stopped and their occupants spilled out. The cops sort of tried to follow people down the busy high street, but they’d obviously had not been given orders for dealing with this situation and people soon gave them the slip.

The samba posse regrouped at Marble Arch and then headed down to the blockade of Oxford St, where we found a small group of sambistas, tabla, jembe and other percussionists inspiring the crowd of several hundred people. The atmosphere was magic and it was just so brilliant to be able to collectively express our opposition to War after the earlier attempts by the forces of Babylon to thwart us. People joined in with a chorus of ‘Don’t Fight Their Wars, Don’t Bomb Iraq’ to the rhythm of the three, two clave.

Despite an increasing heavy police presence, the vibe was both peaceful and festive. It may seem strange that, given the carnage of war, people should be behaving in a festive way. But, to come together to assert the life affirming experiences of love, joy and solidarity in the face of the terror and destruction that our rulers are inflicting on our world is an empowering act. It felt easy to talk to people we didn’t know and to see them - not as strangers – but just people we hadn’t met before. Young, old, gay, straight, muslim, christian, atheist, socialist, anarchist, black, white, asian – we were, as the Zapitistas say, expressing one No!, but with many Yes’s. Through our collective acts of disobedience, we were reclaiming our streets and overcoming the alienation that isolates and separates us as individuals in our everyday lives.

Of course the powers that be could not let this situation continue unchallenged. The cops switched into riot gear and started to move in. People could have stayed to be manhandled by the state’s thugs – but that was not our choice- so the crowd moved off to a samba rhythm, taking a turn down an unguarded side street towards the American embassy. They moved rapidly with police running along beside the crowd, trying to get ahead to blockade the turns to Grovesnor Sq.

Eventually people ended up moving down Park Lane, still trying to feel their way towards the embassy. The crowd doubled back on itself and found a street that was only lightly manned by cops – but the cops lashed out attacking anyone who crossed their line, though the crowd offered no violence. People backed off and crossed the pedestrian barriers to the main road of Park Lane. Here the police surround the 250 or so strong crowd, so people sat down to listen and share music, songs, chants and spontaneous speeches. The cops seemed to have become somewhat unnerved events and were decidedly edgy, pushing onlookers around – including reportedly a leading Labour anti-war MP and editor of a liberal corporate paper, who had happened by outside the police blockade. In order to lift the oppressive vibe one woman started a call and response thing with crowd – calling out words like LOVE - JOY – PEACE- HAPPINESS. She tried to get the cops to join in and one responded to her call of LOVE – with a cry of OVERTIME!

After a while, a cop with a loud speaker announced that he was the officer in charge, and we were an unlawful assembly. People would be allowed to leave singly -but the crowd must now leave the area and disperse or risk arrest. People filtered out slowly – many still singing, exchanging smile, hugs and contacts with each other.

Happy to know, that despite the repression of those who claim to enforce laws but who act against justice- despite the terrible destruction militarism and capitalism is inflicting on the peoples and our planet –we had demonstrated - we can find a new world in our hearts through shared disobedience and resistance.

Other tellings of this story can be found at: