International Congolese Day Demonstration
Downing St, London. Monday 30 June
A remarkably cheerful group of Congolese celebrated International Congolese
Day, the anniversary of independence from Belgium in 1960, with a lunchtime
demonstration opposite Downing St about the terrible situation in their the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Organised by International Congolese Rights, it drew attention to
the killings (6 million since 1966), rapes and other human rights abuses in
DRC and and also called for a stop to deportation of asylum seekers there.
The DRC is a police state with very limited freedom for dissent; opposition
politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others are at risk of
harassment, imprisonment, killing or simply disappearing, particularly if
they draw attention to government corruption.
Demonstrators called for Britain, Europe and America to freeze the bank accounts
of President Joseph Kabila and his cronies, and for Gordon Brown and the International
Criminal Court to take action against the corrupt Kabila regime.
It isn't clear exactly who the various militia that run most of the DRC are
- though neighbouring African governments such as Rwanda and Uganda, oil and
mineral companies and other organised criminals are said to be profiting from
their activities. The companies also profit greatly through 'sweetheart deals'
made with the Kabila government.
DRC is a country of vast mineral wealth - up for grabs, and the militia are
grabbing. Most important is coltan, an ore containing niobium and tantalum,
essential for mobile phones and other electronic devices - and 80% of known
world reserves are in DRC. Other important minerals include diamonds, copper,
cobalt and gold.
The DRC is capitalism taken to its extremes. A UN report in 2001 concluded
"Business has superseded security concerns. The only loser in this
huge business venture is the Congolese people."
Chagos Islanders Picket House of Lords Appeal
Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Monday 30 June
Around thirty Chagos islanders and supporters picketed today opposite the
Houses of Parliament from 9am to 2 pm, where the appeal by the British government
against the court decisions giving them the right to return to their homeland
was being heard by the House of Lords.
In 1966 the British government split the Chagos Islands away from Mauritius,
with the intention of setting up a US air base on the main island of Diego
Garcia. From 1967 on the British used a variety of methods and tricks to remove
the entire population of the Chagos archipelago. These included buying up
and closing down the copra plantations (cheap because they were now unprofitable)
which were the main work on the islands (though the islanders had a viable
subsistence economy without this), and eventually stopping supplies to the
island and forcing those remaining onto a ship that dumped them in Mauritius.
Some of the islanders were descendents of slaves who had come there over
150 years earlier when the island was under French rule, others had come later
from Mauritius, India, Madagascar and Mozambique after the island became British
when Napoleon was defeated. Around 8000 are still living in Mauritius, which
became independent in 1968, but many of those born on the Chagos islands still
have British passports, and some now live in this country.
The Chagossians (Ilois) have gone to the British courts and won the right
to return to return to 65 islands (not including Diego Garcia itself.) The
British government have refused to carry out these rulings and appealed. They
lost the appeal in the High Court in May 2007, and appealed again to the House
of Lords, which was expected to begin considering the case today.
Eco-Towns Scam - Parliament Lobby
Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Monday 30 June
Demonstrators from eight of the 15 sites shortlisted for eco-towns came to
demonstrate and lobby Parliament today, the last day of the government consultation
over the sites identified for the 10 developments. The protest groups came
from Curborough (Staffs), Elsenham (Essex), Ford (West Sussex), Hanley Grange
(Cambridgeshire), Marston Vale (Bedfordshire), Middle Quinton (Warwickshire),
Pennbury (Leicestershire) and Weston Otmoor (Oxfordshire.)
On College Green they were met by MPs from the constituencies affected, and
the Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, and later in the
day attended a public meeting in the Houses of Parliament.
Five eco-towns, zero-carbon brown-field housing developments using recycled
materials with local facilities such as shops, schools and leisure facilities
were an election pledge for George Brown, and at the Labour Party Conference
he doubled their number to at least on in each region and a total of 10.
These eco-towns would each have between 5-20,000 homes and would each act
as an exemplar in at least one area of environmental technology. Although
original government intentions were good, if possibly poorly thought out,
they soon deteriorated through the usual kowtowing to the construction industry.
In May, 15 locations were identified for possible eco-towns, and almost all
(if not all) fail to satisfy the original criteria set by the government.
As well as those represented at the rally there are: Bordon (Hampshire), Coltishall
(Norfolk), Imerys nr St Austell (Cornwall), Leeds City Region (Yorkshire),
Rossington (South Yorkshire) and Rushcliffe (Nottinghamshire.)
One key area that eco-towns are supposed to address is car use, aiming for
only 40% of journeys to be by private car (25% in an exemplar eco-town.) At
the moment around 10% of the adult population (including myself) choose not
to own a car. To increase this, eco-towns need either to integrate into an
existing conurbation with extensive public transport and facilities that can
easily be accessed by it, or to be self-sufficient centres providing virtually
everything their residents need - and with good transport links, including
mainline rail to a major city for the rest.
Eco-towns were also meant to be on brown-field sites, but again most of the
proposals are for land currently in agricultural use. Most are green field
sites in villages in the countyside and even where they are "brown-field",
such as former airfields or other military land, are now largely green open
space, often under cultivation.
Simply on the ground of car use, all or almost all the proposed sites fail.
Most are too small, too remote and without adequate transport links. Building
any of them would be guaranteed to result in an increase in private car use.
Most of the current proposals appear to be fairly typical commercial developments
trying to masquerade as eco-towns to get round planning restrictions.
The government needs to think again about what would constitute genuinely
green eco-development and search for new sites. Most suitable sites would
probably be in or on the edges of existing large towns and cities, linking
in to the existing public transport systems. The current concept of eco-towns
needs to learn from the post-war 'new towns' rather than repeating their mistakes
(and I lived and worked in one) and I'm certainly not alone in suggesting
that some rethinking is needed. Richard Rogers recently called it "one
of the biggest mistakes the government can make" and said "They
are in no way environmentally sustainable".
In fact Rogers has already at government request done the necessary thinking.
In 1998 the government invited him to chair the Urban Task Force,
and then seems to have ignored the report this published in 2005. As it recommended,
we need to create high-density developments around a high-frequency and efficient
public transport system.
If the government are short of ideas, I can identify one prime site ripe
for eco-development, a huge acreage (1200 hectares) around 12 miles to the
west of London. Most of its land area is currently underused, although there
are a few strips of concrete that would need to be dealt with. It already
has good road and motorway links, several underground stations and a currently
underused (and overpriced) rail link, and would be suitable for a sizeable
development, probably more homes than the proposed 10 eco-towns on a single
site. Its redevelopment would also be accompanied by a huge environmental
gain from cessation of current use. There seems little doubt that Heathrow
is the country's most suitable site for an eco-city development.
60 Years of Israel
Trafalgar Square, London. Sunday 29 June 2008
Celebrations in Trafalgar Square
Palestinians see it as 60 years of ethnic cleansing and a shrinking country
as Israel takes more and more Palestinian land.
There have been many things about Israel that I've admired over the years,
but equally I find their treatment of the Palestinians indefensible, whereas
some people seem to have an attitude that leaps to support Israel whatever
it does. Having seen what has happened in Northern Ireland and South Africa
the impossible does sometimes come about, and I hope it may in the Middle
As the parade came into Trafalgar Square it passed by a group of people with
the banner 'Remembrance - Zochrot'. This Israeli Jewish organisation was founded
in 2002 to educated Israeli Jews about the catastrophe (al-Nakba) for the
Palestinians of 1947-8, when over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed.
They held placards with the names of the villages and stood largely in silence
as the parade passed by. While I watched several people left the parade to
harangue them and wave Israeli flags in their faces.
It left a nasty taste as I went to photograph the people celebrating in Trafalgar
Square. Later I photographed another group protesting on the side of the square
pointing out that for Palestinians the sixty years had meant an increasing
loss of their land through both military actions and settlements, as well
as a loss in liberty. The police had kept them well apart from the celebrations,
across the road in a pen in font of South Africa House. When some pro-Palestine
demonstrators put their banner on the walls overlooking the square they were
rapidly surrounded by Jewish security guards, who then called the police.
They were then told they could protest with the other demonstrators across
the road - but if they continued to do so on this side would be arrested.
Given the circumstances, the police policy of separating the two groups seemed
Later a number of people with Israeli flags came across to argue with the
demonstrators, and those who were clearly trying to provoke them, particularly
by waving Israeli flags in their faces, were soon asked to move away by the
police. One man in a group asked to move saw a photographer taking his picture
and approached in a very threatening manner, shouting and pushing his finger
in front of his face, and I thought the photographer was about to be physically
assaulted and ran up to them to try and prevent this. The man at that point
began accusing the the photographer of being a paedophile on the ridiculous
basis that some of the other troublemakers in the group were his teenage sons.
I also took pictures of this man and the youths concerned, but went away
with the other photographer after a short conversation with the police who
politely requested we do so to allow them to sort things out.
Of course I met many nice people who were having a good day out, but it is
the others who stick in the mind. But I also hope that after 60 years the
state of Israel will soon be ready for peace and justice for the Palestinians.
Exhibitions & South Bank
London, Thursday 26 June, 2008
The only good kind of car in London
I came back to the West End via a number of photo exhibitions (I'll review
some on >Re:PHOTO in due course.)
First stop was Bethnal Green, where as well as seeing Tom Hunter's
work in the Museum of Childhood I also photographed some graffiti.
Then to Farringdon, to catch Don McPhee's show at the Guardian
Newsroom before it closed. Good, straightforward newspaper photography
which I enjoyed.
From there a bus took me over Waterloo Bridge to the National Theatre, where
there was an interesting display of the 'Pitman Painters', notably
Oliver Kilbourn, work that came from a WEA class started in Ashington
in the 1930s and continued until the rent on their shed got put up in the
1980s. Outside were giant photographs from high places in London, part of
a display for the London Architecture festival, but what interested me most
was the views from the terrace, particularly with the addition of a giant
sphere for the current Hayward show. The photos were also interesting in their
The underground took me to Leicester Square for the Photographers' Gallery,
with a show of work by some of the best students of the year, and then it
was time for a drink before making my way to Exit gallery for the
opening of 'A Looking Glass Eye'
in which several friends had work.
Olympic Site and Stratford Update
Stratford, London, Thursday 26 June, 2008
from the Greenway to the stadium site
As always the Greenway is looking very green at this time of year, with lush
vegetation and some colourful wild flowers. Beyond it work progresses on the
Olympic site, as well as other developments around the edge of the site.
On Warton House, it was disturbing to see that the Yardley's lavender girl
was covered by an ugly poster, hopefully just to protect it during building
Jubilee Debt Campaign London - Giant Paper Chain
Westminster, London, Thursday 26 June, 2008
Thomas talks to some of the Jubilee Debt Campaign activists
Last month in Birmingham, we celebrated
the 10th anniversary of the G8
human chain around the city centre there.
As a part of the celebration we signed paper links with 'Drop the
Debt' on them in English and Japanese to make up paper chains, and
these were used in the final demonstration outside.
In advance of the G8 meeting in Japan, the Jubilee Debt Campaign asked
for 20 London supporters to meet in Parliament Square, where the plan was
to form a giant white paper chain, several hundred metres long before taking
it to the Department for International Development to hand over to Development
Minister Gareth Thomas.
Unfortunately the protesters were not allowed to stretch out the chain in
Parliament Square, as although they had police permission for the demonstration,
nobody had thought to ask Westminster Council, and their 'heritage wardens'
called in the police to stop the event taking place.
I'd managed to miss the start of the event, and caught up with the group
as it was carrying the large plastic bags full of paper chains to the Department
for International Development in Palace St. There Development Minister Gareth
Thomas came out to talk to the group and took both a poster about the 10,060
signed links and also arranged for his staff to deal with the bags of links.
Empire Windrush - 60th Anniversary
Clapham Common, London. Sunday
Children listen to Four Kornerz and the Churchboyz
Sixty years ago today, on June 22, 1948, the SS Empire Windrush
docked at Tilbury, bringing 492 Caribbeans - many of who had served in the
British armed forces during the war from Jamaica to start a new life in England.
They paid £28 10s (£28.50) for the passage. (The ship, originally
a German cruise liner, then a troop ship, sank near Algiers in 1954.) They
were the first large group of settlers from the Empire to come to live in
the 'Mother Country'.
Many of them who were without relatives or funds were given temporary housing
in the Clapham South deep level shelter on the edge of Clapham Common, one
of eight deep-level air-raid shelters that had were built in 1940-42 for government
use. Clapham Common, along with five others was opened for use as a public
shelter in 1944.
The nearest labour exchange was a fairly short walk away in Coldharbour Lane,
Brixton, and this area soon became the home of the Caribbean community in
One of several events round the country to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary
was organised by Christian Aid, together with the Windrush Trust
and Churches Together in South London at the bandstand in the centre
of Clapham Common.
A small group, including the Bishop of Woolwich, had earlier gathered at
the shelter at Clapham South and walked from there to the event. After a short
introduction reminding us of the arrival of the Windrush and the great contribution
that Caribbean community has made to life in this country, the Bishop, representing
Churches Together in South London, opened the event with prayers.
We were then entertained by some powerful gospel music from Four Kornerz
and the Churchboyz, representing a very different and much livelier tradition
of worship that was brought from the Caribbean.
David Isherwood, Rector of Holy Trinity, Clapham, speaking for Churches
Together in Clapham, reminded us of the history of the area, with William
Wilberforce and the Clapham sect at Holy Trinity, Clapham making an important
landmark in the continuing fight against slavery with the Act that abolished
the British slave trade in 1807. (See the Clapham Commemoration Walk,
Brixton Commemoration and the Anglican ‘Walk of Witness’
in My London Diary)
Organiser Ken Fuller of Christian Aid gave some details about the
arrival of the Windrush. Mark Sturge, former director of African Caribbean
Evangelical Alliance, talked about the contribution black majority churches
had made in the UK. Black immigrants were faced with discrimination at almost
every turn, with notices “No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs”
and other insults. Many came from religious backgrounds and turned to the
churches, but also found there that they were seldom welcome. They became
the pioneers of black-led churches, which provided an important support, not
just religion, but also in education and other areas of life, helping them
to face up to and fight against discrimination.
Jacqueline Walker, who arrived in Britain as a young child a few years later
in 1959, gave us an insight into what arriving in the country felt like, with
readings from her book 'Pilgrim State'.
Other events in this celebration which I didn’t attend included a service
in Holy Trinity, Clapham in the morning and a documentary there after the
event in the park.
Orchid-Star Plays Parliament Square - People's Commons
Parliament Square, London. Sunday 22 June, 2008
South London-based world fusion band Orchid-Star came to play in
Parliament Square as a part of the regular protest there on Sunday afternoons
- why go to Glastonbury?
Unfortunately I didn't have time to stop and listen to them as I was on my
way to another event. So this time there are no more pictures.
No to US Missile Defence - Support Czech Hunger Strike
Downing St, Whitehall, London. Sunday 22 June, 2008
Pat Arrowsmith and Kate Hudson
Opposite Downing Street in Whitehall CND were holding a vigil and fast to
support Czech hunger strikers who - like 70% of the Czech people - oppose
the building of an American radar base near Prague - part of the US Missile
The Czech government still has to get the support of their parliament for
the base, and it comes before them in a few weeks time.
I arrived too late to hear the speeches but was able to photograph those
who were taking part in an all-day fast in support, including some well-known
40th Rathayatra Chariot Festival in London
Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Sunday 22 June, 2008
Jagannatha came on the back seat of a car
This was the 40th Rathayatra Chariots Festival in London, and over
the years it has grown to be a very large event, with more than a thousand
devotees pulling the three giant chariots through the streets from Hyde Park
to Trafalgar Square, chanting Hare Krishna and dancing. In the square the
festival continues with vegetarian feasting, displays and performances.
Rathayatra started at the Jagannatha temple in Puri, Orissa on the Indian
east coast, which was built around a thousand years ago, though the festival
may be older. It celebrates the time when Krishna grew up on earth and when
he became a great lord moved away from his childhood friends. These cowherds
visited him and tried to kidnap him and take him back to their village on
Three deities are worshipped in the temple at Puri, and each is carried on
a chariot. They are Krishna in the form of Jagannatha, his
half-sister Subhadra, and Balarama her brother.
Jagannath means 'Master of the Universe' and his name and the chariots
in the festival give us the word "juggernaut".
The chariot festival first came to the west to San Francisco in 1967, and
was brought to London by a small group of disciples from the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness (better known as the Hare Krishna)
two years later. An effigy of the founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is also carried on one of the chariots in
When the chariots had left Hyde Park I went to have a quick look at the displays
in Trafalgar Square before going on to other events.
Tent City - Stop Deporting Iraqis
Parliament Square. Sat 21 June, 2006
Things were calm and peaceful in Parliament Square -
but we are still fighting a war in Iraq
Voices UK organised a 24-hour 'Tent City' starting at noon on 21
June, Midsummer Day to protest against the deportation of refugees from Britain
to war-torn Iraq. They planned it as an illegal demonstration in Parliament
Square, at the centre of the SOCPA restricted zone.
On 17 June Voices UK receceived an e-mail from PC Roger Smith with
the subject line "Tent City Demonstration" which contained a surprising
"I would like to inform you that an application has been received
for this demonstration and it will be duly authorised"
Voices UK had of course made no such application. Someone has decided
to make an application on their behalf - and the most likely candidate appears
to be the police themselves. Perhaps after their widely publicised over-reaction
to the demonstration during the Bush visit they wish to avoid any trouble
So the 'Tent City' was legal under SOCPA, although still in breach of Westminster
City Council byelaws, and a couple of their heritage wardens came and gave
out letters to the protesters (and apparently PC Smith came with them.)
Iraq is still at war, with fighting between different factions as well as
with the occupying US and British forces. Even in the more settled areas of
the country - such as the largely Kurdish north - many will still be at risk
of their life if they return (Kurds demonstrated at the home office against
forced removal in April, after some were
flown back even though they came from areas where there is still fighting.)
Manor Gardening Society - New Allotments
Marsh Lane, Leyton. Sat 21 June, 2006
Sitting on their plot - but so much bare earth and stunted
It's interesting that arguably the most important story related to the London
2012 Olympics is nothing about athletes or even cost overruns, but about some
allotments. They presented the opportunity for the Olympics to show a real
committment to green ideas - and of course they blew it.
London in 1948 did really put the modern Olympics back on course, and it
did so on vision and a shoestring - and even ended up making a profit. 2012
will be different in every respect. A commitment to corporate profit at high
cost to the public purse appears to be the only vision on display, and a legacy
of debt and environmental disaster seem to be the most likely outcomes.
Manor Gardens is perhaps a portent of how things will turn out. The allotments
were moved - after a struggle - to take over common land at Leyton. At a high
cost - I think £1.8m - but an incredibly botched job.
Soil from the Olympic site was taken to Leyton for the allotments, but was
heat-treated to kill weeds. I felt a handful of it, and it didn't feel like
a good soil should, more a mineral than a good organic feel. Healthy soil
is full of life - and as well as killing weed the treatment has killed off
the microorganisms it needs, as well as larger creatures such as worms.
Worse still, the soil was badly laid, with the part of the site nearer the
road being heavily compacted by machinery, resulting in an almost total lack
of drainage. When it rains, it gets waterlogged - and there were still sticky
patches and puddles when I walked round.
So long as it is uncontaminated, soil will eventually recover, especially
if it is dug and manured and suitable crops are grown. Gardeners have made
remarkable progress already on some of the least-damaged plots at the far
end of the site, although the healthiest looking plants I saw were in grow-bags.
On many plots there were spindly, stunted plants that were going a sickly
yellow. I hope it is only a problem with drainage.
Some remedial work has been promised, breaking up the earth and improving
the drainage - and I hope it will help. But the problems could have been avoided
by finding a better source of top-soil and using contractors who knew what
they were doing.
Of course it doesn't look like the old Manor Gardens - more like some kind
of prison camp, but I was pleased to see again many of those from the old
site, making a good job of getting things growing again. One thing that hadn't
changed was the community spirit and the welcome - and the splendid salad
and other food.
It is of course only a temporary home - and by the time the gardeners have
made it ship-shape it will probably be time to shift again. The legacy plans
so far make it seem rather likely that they will once more be shafted. Allotments
don't make anyone big profits, nor do they carry huge votes.
Stop the Fascist BNP - LMHR/UAF
Tooley St - Trafalgar Square. Sat 21 June, 2006
Stop the BNP, No Racism in my Community
Saturday's Love Music Hate Racism/Unite Against Fascism "Stop the Fascist
BNP" march turned out to be something of a damp squib, although a fairly
colourful one as 2-3000 turned up to march from Tooley Street to Trafalgar
Of course a bigger march would have been better, would have presented a more
positive impression, but was perhaps just about large enough not to be pathetic.
The fight against racism is essentially a cultural one, and popular music
is an important place for stating views and forming ideas. So LMHR is I think
a vital movement.
Marches have been discredited by the failure of 'Stop the War' to capitalise
on the mass following it gained, and think beyond the march when getting millions
on the streets was disregarded. There was certainly a little of the same dead
hand visible in this event, which lacked the kind of joy and freedom that
I think is vital to attract the audience at which it was aimed.
It was a real shame there wasn't more music on the march - I only saw one
small marching band - and more happening at the start of theUAF event - with
the one band present being restricted to a single number. And I was frankly
appalled by the attitudes of the stewards towards photographers, almost as
if the event was trying to hide from publicity. I've had less hassle when
photographing the BNP.
I'd probably not have bothered to continue on to Trafalgar Square even if
I hadn't wanted to go elsewhere.
World Naked Bike Ride, London 2008
Hyde Park etc, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008
The Naked Bike Ride going over Westminster Bridge
I wasn't sure if I wanted to photograph Saturday's World Naked Bike Ride
in London again. But it is in sevral ways an interesting event, although as
in previous years while bodies are very much on display environmental messages
seemed at times to be rather well-hidden, leaving many of the public along
the route bemused.
The young women standing next to me at the start weren't commenting on the
state of the planet or the strangulating grip of car culture but that they
had never seen so many penises before, glorious in their diversity. We speculated
briefly on whether the ride showed a greater proportion of circumcsion than
among the general public and if so why that should be and other major issues.
Later I was in the middle of a group of young men who loudly expressed the
view that the whole event was "f**king out of order, innit" and
that it should not be allowed, but most of the people standing around me as
I photographed seemed startled but generally amused by the ride, even if few
realised what it was about.
According to the web site, it is a "peaceful, imaginative and fun protest
against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also
a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of
the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic."
I don't know how many cyclists took part - it seemed roughly the same size
as in previous years, and my guess would be a thousand or two. Cyclists take
up quite a bit of road space compared to marchers, so it is certainly more
impressive than a march with the same number of people, and of course the
bared flesh greatly adds to the impact.
Free Political Prisoners - Break the Chains
Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008
Kurds call for the release of their leader, Abdullah
Ocalan from a Turkish jail
Demonstrators outside South Africa House called for the release of political
prisoners held in prisons around the world, including the Miami Five, Cubans
held for disrupting the terrorist raids by right-wing Cuban exiles on Cuba,
Ocalan, held as a terrorist in Turkey, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, refugees
and asylum seekers locked in British dentention centres and others.
Hampton & Hampton Hill 30th Anniversary Parade
Hampton Hill, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008
The rabbit watches bemused as a gardener attempts to make a woman in a wheelbarrow
It was the 30th annual Hampton Hill & Hampton Carnival Parade, but it
turned out to be a rather small event.
Sikh Remembrance March and Freedom Rally
Hyde Park to Whitehall. Sunday 8 June, 2008
The march starts from Hyde Park
Sikhs gathered in London to remember the massacres of 1984 at Amritsar and
to call for the establishment of an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan.
I recognised a number of figures from previous years I've photographed the
event, and as usual I was warmly welcomed by many of those taking part (and
thanks to those who've e-mailed in previous years.)
There did seem to be rather fewer taking part than in previous years, perhaps
in part because there was to be no rally at the end of the March, with Trafalgar
Square being occupied by a rather boring Korean tourism advertising event.
Portugal Day in Kennington Park
Kennington Park, Kennington,London. Sun 8 June, 2005
The celebrations started with an open-air Catholic mass
Also known as Camões Day, Portugal's National Day marks the anniversary
of the death of its greatest poet and writer, Luís de Camões,
on 10 June, 1580. His great work, the Lusiads is an epic poem about the colonising
explorations that brought the country great wealth. Camões himself
was an adventurer who lost one eye fighting in the then Portuguese town on
the north African coast opposite Gibralter and is reputed to have saved the
Lusiad when he was shipwrecked off Vietnam by swimming ashore holding it one
hand clear of the water. The poem made him a symbol of the nation.
He died in the year tha Portugal became part of Spain. The date of his death
(the day of his birth around 1624 is not recorded) was celebrated as a national
day after Portugal regained independence in 1640.
Under the rule of the fascist Salazar, it became a day of celebration of
the fictional Portuguese 'race', but since then it has become a day to celebrate
Portuguese communities around the world.
In London, there is a large festival in Kennington Park, with entertainments
but mainly considerable eating and drinking. Stockwell, close the the park,
has the largest Portuguese community outside Portugal. I photographed the
open-air Catholic mass which started the day.
Lord Muruga in Thornton Heath
Thornton Road/London Road, Thornton Heath. Sun 8 June, 2005
The Lord Muruga is a Hindu God popular particularly with the Tamils of southeast
India (Tamil Nadu), Sri Lanka and Malaysia. On Sunday a hundred or two worshippers
from the Sivaskanthagiri Murugan Temple in Thornton Heath pulled a chariot
carrying the statue of the deity through the local streets.
The procession was led by musicians, and by women carrying pots of burning
embers on their heads and in their arms. As the chariot made its way along
the street, people brought offerings of good to be blessed, and these were
returned to them flaming.
Lord Muruga is the son of Agni, the fire god. He also carries a spear and
a staff with a picture of a cockerel, and rides on a peacock. He is noted
for the help that he gives for devotees who are in distress and the procession
in particular visits those who cannot come to the temple because of their
poor health or other disabilities.
Peace Strike - Parliament Square
Parliament Square, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008
Maria Gallastegui explains about the Peace Strike
I left the Adventist marchers at Parliament Square and went to see the peace
protesters there, and one of the regular Peace Strike events - which
take place every two weeks on Saturdays and on the third Wednesday of each
month, authorised under SOCPA.
The Peace Strike is a call for effective action by withdrawal of labour.
Marches didn't stop the war against Iraq, but had there been evidence that
large numbers were willing to strike - if only for short periods - it could
have been stopped. The Peace Strike aims to build actions not just in the
UK but globally which will demonstrate that people are willing to strike for
peace and the future of humanity. At the moment they see the possibility of
an attack on Iran as a major threat, with the US building up forces.
Quite a few people - many of them tourists - were sitting in Parliament Square
and hearing about the Peace Strike, and some were obviously interested as
Maria talked about it. We all enjoyed the playing and singing of
singer/songwriter Harry Loco who had come from Holland, and as well
as his own songs gave a fine performance of a Dylan number.
Adventist Youth March against Knives, Guns &
Trafalgar Square- Kennington Park, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008
Pathfinders - an Adventist youth group - wait for the march to start
The march organised by Seventh Day Adventist Church organisations in central
London on Saturday may help to make those who took part and their friends
realise the danger of carrying a knife, but the real problem is that those
who do so probably regard it as a necessary means of self-defence.
Where the other guy has a knife (or a gun) then, the argument goes, you need
one to defend yourself. And while people are getting away with carrying and
threatening to use weapons it is perhaps a hard case to answer, although we
know that meeting aggression with agression carries a high risk.
Communities need to police themselves more effectively and to cooperate with
the police when they cannot deal with situations without them. The problem
is one that needs both strong community organisations and sensitive policing.
I hope that Boris will be encouraging and putting resources into community
organisation in the inner city and not just stepping up policing.
Release the Cuban 5
Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008
The appeal court in Miami last week upheld the convictions of the five Cuban
men arrested in 1998 and charged with spying. The Cubans had come to Miami
to infiltrate right-wing exile Cuban groups who were launching illegal terrorist
actions against Cuba from Miami, and had done so with some success. A retrial
was ordered in 2005 because of the extreme prejudice which existed against
them in Miami where the trial was held, but that decision was later overturned.
The appeal court also upheld the life sentences against Gerardo Hernandez.
and that of 15 years against Rene Gonzalez, but referred Ramon Labanino, Antonio
Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez for resentencing in Miami.
The five men are considered as heroes in their native Cuba for their attempt
to prevent illegal attacks on the country, while the USA refuses to cooperate
with countries who want to take legal action against anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
Rock Against the Blockade took part in an international day of protest against
the appeal judgements by protesting at the US Embassy in London on Thursday
and were in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to raise awareness and collect signatures
for a petition.
Carnival Against the Arms Trade - EDO Brighton
Brighton, Sussex. June 4, 2008
Police start to baton rioters outside EDO - but fail to hold the line
I'd read a number of times about the campaign against arms manufactuer EDO
MBM in Brighton, but never attended any of the protests there over more than
four years, so I decided it was well beyond time for me to go to the Brighton
'Carnival Against the Arms Trade' organised by 'Smash EDO'.
Police including a camera team were waiting at Brighton Station as I arrived,
but there were few visible protesters for them to photograph. A few cyclists
gathered for a 'Critical Mass' ride, and I photographed them before and as
they set off just before noon, when I walked along to The Level to find the
other protesters. By the time the cyclists had arrived there were around 300
demonstrators present and more joined as the march made its way up Lewes Road.
There was a little carnival spirit, with people dressed up and many wearing
red as suggested, with red masks much in evidence. Two banners carried at
the front of the march by black-hooded anarchists read "Smash the
Arms Trade" and "Destroy the Arms Trade", while
another stated bluntly "Stop Killing People You F**king Tw*ts"
(my asterisks I'm afraid to say.) Rather more to my taste was the small placard
in which one young woman pleaded "Please Refrain From Bombing",
though perhaps my favourites were the two women urging "Boobs not
Bombs" and another with a large lace-fringed red heart, on one side
'"Blondes not Bombs" and on the other "Take the
toys off the boys". There was also a rather tall grotesque 'Death',
and a bicycle-powered tank, as well as many others who had taken considerable
trouble over banners, fancy-dress and face-paint. The whole event was powered
along by music, in particular from the street band 'Rhythms of Resistance',
the sine qua non of any successful street demonstration.
Fitwatch were also very much in evidence, popping up whenever the
police photographers lifted a camera to their eyes. Soon the police photographers
were on the run, making off as soon as they saw a camera pointing at them
being frustrated by Fitwatch - making it tricky to get any pictures
of them during the march.
At first the streets were pretty crowded, and reactions to the march seemed
mainly positive, with quite a few expressing support of the campaign to close
down the factory, which is the UK arm of fast-growing US multinational arms
company EDO Corp. According to web sources they are responsible for
fuses for Cruise missiles and other technologies used in the illegal US bombing
of Iraq and elsewhere, and their bomb-release mechanisms are used in F-16,
Hawk Hurricane and Tornado fighter jets. As well as to the US, their products
have been supplied to other countries noted for their human rights abuses
including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Israel and Turkey.
I stopped taking pictures for a while on the Lewes Road just past Brighton
University and did a careful headcount of the demonstration as it passed.
Although it is never possible to get an exact figure, at that point there
were roughly 600 people (exactly as claimed by the march organisers.) Not
all went up Home Farm Road, and others left as police attempted to stop the
Just after 2.30 I took a look at the fence and the gates at EDO and thought
that there was no way protesters could get past them with the number of police
present. I went and took a few pictures of the overall scene from a high viewpoint
(they show roughly 300 outside EDO, and there were quite a few more further
down the road) and then decided it probably wasn't worth hanging around, as
it looked like the situation had reached a stalemate, so I left. Later events
proved me extremely wrong!
I have no idea how the gates came open. We might think they would be securely
locked for an event like this, but some of those present say they just rattled
them and they came open. Had the police requested they be left unlocked, perhaps
for helath and saftery of some obscure operational reasons? Or was it incompetence
or simply poorly made gates or locks?
Much of the policing of the demonstration was also hard to understand. Police
used thin lines and barriers that might have stopped a Sunday School outing,
but not a determined demonstration of any size, holding reinforcements and
the riot police back.
The police's most important duty is to protect people - including demonstrators.
The car park outside the factory on Home Farm Rd was not a good place for
police to pitch a battle, with a vertical drop of perhaps 50ft to the railway
line below protected by only a low barrier to stop cars parking over the edge.
Some individual officers clearly realised this, and I was politely given some
entirely appropriate safety advice. Of course they also have a duty to protect
property and the rights of individuals, including that of peaceful protest.
EDO seemed well-fenced and relatively easy to defend and a protest outside
it should have raised no particular problems (though goin on to private property
to demonstrate might well be 'aggravated trespass.) So why did things go so
wrong? Was it just a lack of planning and forethought along with incompetence
at the scene or had a decision been taken at a high level to facilitate a
certain amount of disorder and damage?
Brian Haw - 7 Years
Parliament Square, London. Sunday 2 June, 2008
Brian Haw with visitors
Brian Haw started his protest in Parliament Square on 2 June, 2001. Seven
years later he is still there, despite an Act of Parliament intended to remove
him. Still there because the war is still going on, because children are still
Fight the Height, Walthamstow
Walthamstow High St, London. Sunday 1 June, 2008
The first two tomatoes hit the St Modwen tower.
On the blue fence surrounding the still undeveloped Arcade site at the top
of Walthamstow High Street, developers St Modwen proudly claim to
be "The UK's Leading Regeneration Specialist" but local residents
in Walthamstow clearly have a different opinion, and have come together as
'Fight the Height' to oppose
When demolition took place in 1999, the council announced their intention
to put the site to cultural use and benefit the community - a new leisure
centre, library and arts centre together with social housing. Instead the
proposals by St Modwen appear to be dominated by commercial interest and to
have little regard for local needs.
The site is as the east end of Walthamstow's famous street market, the longest
in Europe (more like 1.2km than the mile usually claimed), which began in
1885 and attracts shoppers from across London and tourists from around the
world as well as being a vital local resource. St Modwen's plans include a
large Primark supermarket, which would severely threaten the future
of the market and many of the shops along the high street.
Another ingredient is an 18 storey tower block, quite out of scale with
the surrounding area, with its terraces of two storey housing and small scale
developments. But you can fall out of bed and into Walthamstow Central
station, making the flats very marketable to workers in the City (4 trains
an hour to Liverpool Street in 17 minutes) or the West End, thanks to the
frequent Victoria Line service. Ten more tall blocks are also in council plans
for the next station on the line, Blackhorse Road.
Close to the site on Hoe St is the former Walthamstow Granada,
opened in 1930 as a "super-cinema" in high Art-Deco style. As well
as films, it hosted live performances (by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones,
Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and many more) and is now a Grade II listed building.
Carefully converted into a three-screen venue in the 1970s, it became part
of the Odeon chain and in 2000 was sold to EMD, finally
closing in 2003. A campaign was set
up to restore it as a cinema, but the proposed building of a Vue
multiplex on the Arcade site would end any chance of this happening.
You can keep in touch with the campaign and find out more about St Modwen
and the plans on the 'Fight the
Height' and 'Antiscrap' web
Fight the Height supporters were leafletting when I arrived on
Sunday morning for the demonstration which began at noon, with characters
representing the tower block, Vue cinema and Primark, along
with various placards and banners, attracting considerable interest, although
Sunday is the one day of the week that the market closes, so the High Street
was fairly empty except for the Farmers Market.
Around 12.30 the crowd of about a hundred people walked from Town Square
(a regenerated area that already seems to need some regeneration) across to
the Arcade site and the fun began. Market traders had donated several boxes
of very ripe tomatoes and kids and adults enjoyed the forceful gesture of
throwing these at 'Tower Block', 'Vue' and 'Primark' to robustly demonstrate
their opinion of the St Modwen proposals. It was a short but rather messy
protest - and one that made the TV London news in the evening.
St Modwen are also the developers for the contested Queens
Market scheme at Upton Park, which, if it goes ahead, will mean an end
of the thriving and ethnically diverse market there, again by building a supermarket
and a tower block. It looks very much like a "one-size fits up all"
approach to profit rather than regeneration.
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