Our guest blogger is Erica Sagrans, a writer who has spent the last six weeks in the UK. You can follow her on Twitter at @EricaS.
Following Saturday’s huge protests against government spending cuts in London, the mainstream media has latched on to a story of “anarchist rioters,” rather than place the emphasis on the large majority of overwhelmingly peaceful protesters. The demonstration attracted a diverse crowd of teachers, nurses, firefighters, parents with children, and students who marched, blew whistles, and gathered for speeches in London’s Hyde Park. But to read the next day’s papers, those in the streets were masked thugs hell-bent on violence.
While the US and international media largely ignored the demonstration, England’s right-wing newspapers had a field day. The Telegraph reported that “police fought mobs of masked thugs who pelted officers with ammonia and fireworks loaded with coins.” “RITZKRIEG,” screamed the front of the Daily Mail, with a cover article on how “extremists brought violent chaos to Central London,” the author sympathizing with Ritz Hotel visitors whose tea reservations were canceled when the hotel restaurant briefly closed during the protests.
Many British papers ran similar photos of police covered in paint, protesters smashing windows and wielding sticks, and London set ablaze with bonfires. Even the Observer reported that the “day was marred by a violent minority of anarchists who went on the rampage, smashing windows and attacking property around Oxford Street.”
While there were windows smashed and paint thrown — the result of an anarchist black bloc or those who just wanted in on the action — the largest occupation, led by UK Uncut, was carried out in the group’s typical peaceful and approachable fashion. Hundreds associated with the push took over high-end department store Fortnum and Mason, citing their owners’ evasion of £10 million pounds in taxes each year.
New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny and others made it clear the group was careful not to damage the store: “The posh sweets, however, remain untouched, as do all the other luxury goodies in the store, as protesters share prepacked crisps and squash (juice) and decide that it’d be rude to smoke indoors,” writes Penny. Watch the video of protesters in Fortnum and Mason here (UK Uncut occupation begins around 1:10):
Meanwhile, Britain’s mainstream news ran only passing coverage of police violence toward protesters in Trafalgar Square on Saturday evening after the demonstration, where some were blocked from leaving and hit with batons.
For more information, read today’s Progress Report, “London Calling.”