After a year filming the bizarre battles between Abu Hamza and the Fundamental Islamists and the world’s media in Finsbury Park I feel it’s about time to give up. I don't even know what I think any more. The whole thing is going nowhere, I've got media, terrorism and Islam spinning round and round in my head with no respite and no focus. At first I thought I was doing something really important, then it was just fun but now its got obsessive. Considering the subject matter it’s interesting that at no point has it been scary. At all.
Sometimes it’s been comical, I've been trying to find the funny side, but then something like the Madrid bombing happens which makes me question everything I am doing. Now alleged terrorists have been arrested in Britain. Maybe I shouldn't have given up smoking dope. How did I get here? In a life coloured with demonstrations, international trance parties and the London squat scene I was not the likeliest candidate to end up spending so many Fridays with Fundamental Islamists. Some of this story is in the wrong order, some names have been told me and forgotten but as far as I know this is a true story, most of which I have on film.
If George Bush hadn't declared war on Iraq I probably wouldn't have started filmmaking. In the long build up to the war I was stoned most of the time. As the war was looking more and more inevitable I knew I was likely to be laid out stoned glued to the TV as the media went into hyper drive. I decided to combat this by documenting as much as possible what I thought was important where I live, in London, and making sure I enjoyed it instead of being sucked under by powerlessness. A video activist friend of mine had texted me about a bunch of school kids trying to storm Downing Street on their own.
Vaguely in the back of my mind I thought to myself, Yeah, that'd be right. I bet when this eventually kicks off the only people who will seriously have a go at stopping it will be kids. A few days later there was a knock on my girlfriends door. Two researchers from the channel 5 breakfast T.V. show RI:SE TV told me that the program had just moved into the area and they were going round inviting their neighbors to the pub for a drink. That ended up with me on television, stoned out of my head at 6 am out in the cold on Queensway W2 with a big picture of Osama Bin Laden with flowers round him saying
" Bring the War to the floor use biodiesel!"
I think the irony of casting Bin Laden as an eco protester disappeared into most people’s cereal bowls. RI:SE at the time was most famous for having pitiful ratings, but I had a good time and got my first irrational taste for telly. " He's got tusks in his ears! " said Edith, the presenter as they transferred back to the studio. I had wanted to be a spin-doctor ever since I saw how Peter Mandelson had successfully spun the concept of New Labour through the media tool into the public consciousness. Could this be done the same way spinning a spiritually edifying solution for social change?
I marvelled how much money people like Sattchi and Sattchi made presenting a media image of a political ideal and wanted to commandeer some of that airtime to spin stuff into public consciousness for free. Was it all totally controlled by the powers that be? I was a bit bored with the " it's all a police state " attitude of underground media makers in the UK. Maybe their stuff didn't get on TV because it was crap. I intended to find out for myself, keep a totally open mind, and above all, to enjoy the process.
Vicky, A hippie friend of mine who lived in a bender a spit away from Glastonbury festival's stone circle had come up with the idea of a campaign called
Bio diesel Not Bombs!
We wanted to convince the world to turn away from petrol addiction and use vegetable oil to power their transport. Could you bankrupt George Bush like this if it caught on? I still don't have a clue but it sounded good at the time and apparently burning vegetable oil for fuel was CO2 efficient. (The plant absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide as it grows that you release when you burn it) We went to a Socialist Alliance meeting and posed the question to the panel of distinguished speakers.
The panel of distinguished speakers not knowing the answer completely ignored the question until Seth, a good friend of mine stood up (I think he's 6 foot 4) and reminded them in quite heated terms that a question had been asked. Someone acting as security told Seth to sit down. Seth asked him if he wanted to see some direct action. The guy moved away. I was prepared to leave it but it was quite funny seeing Seth take the whole room on.
" The time for sitting around talking is well past! " he shouted.
" Sit down!" they all shouted back.
The speakers sat and fidgeted nervously then carried on as if nothing had happened. This was my first experience of leftist political meetings. I agreed with everything being said but found sitting in a room listening to endless things I agreed with unfulfilling. Nothing changed. No bolt of lightning hit me. It surprised me how self-important and politician like these people were considering that they had no power whatsoever. I thought that without the drug of actual power these guys would at least be able to say
" I don't know. "
But it seemed they couldn't. It wasn't as if we were trying to hijack their little meeting, I genuinely wanted to know what they thought. At the huge rally in Hyde Park the picture turned into a placard. Out of two million I think I was the only one holding up a picture of Bin Laden. It was quite a head turner. I think the biodeisel reference was beyond most people a lot of who were offended by the picture. I remember trying to storm the stage to try and convince everyone that it was no good opposing war if you were going to continue putting George Bush's petrol in your car.
"Sell your petrol engined car buy a Diesel and use biodeisel!"
I thought I was a visionary who would convince the freethinking world to bankrupt George Bush from the petrol pump. All the stewards behind the stage thought I was crazy. They thought that what they were doing was very important. I've always been alive to the psychology of demonstrations but I'm not sure why I've always felt such intense hatred of stages and speechmakers.
I remember feeling that the only thing worse than George Bush and Tony Blair dragging us all to war was the fact that I probably could not avoid at some stage having to listen to the other George and Tony show. (Galloway and Benn) At least Blair and Bush were funny. I was worried that two million people listening to things they agreed with wasn't going to stop a war unless it turned into some sort of action.
There was a run-stop battle with riot police on Oxford st. and someone was arrested for trying to burn an American flag even though the thing wouldn't light. Vicky had come up from Glastonbury for the demo. Before she left, she whispered the password of the biodeiselnotbombs web address she had set up for our campaign. I promptly forgot it. I wasn't to know that would be the last time I would see Vicky alive. She died suddenly that summer of liver failure.
She was an archetypal British protester of the old school, living in a bender, more love and poetry than money, allied to no group or political party, taking on the system with hastily prepared art and flowers. When I first met her she was a tough lesbian who would make you feel guilty about being male over coffee at breakfast time. God knows what she would think of my now regular meetings with Fundamental Islamists.
Maybe the tactic of boring people into a war worked. Television and parliament quite successfully talked it all to death. I watched most of it. When War finally was agreed on the most notable thing to happen outside Parliament was a group of kids getting themselves on TV hitting Peter Mandelson with protest signs. I thought it pretty funny that although the stop the war movement put out a leaflet
"IF WAR BREAKS OUT"
encouraging everyone to stop the country the day the war started, no one over the age of 16 actually bothered to do this in London. Certainly not those who printed the leaflet anyway. I don't think the kids noticed though. They just got on with it. I arrived in Parliament square the next morning to find a small group of kids half my height in blazers lying in the street.
" Come on " said a policeman " Your not going to stop a war like this "
" Oh yes we are " came the answer.
I got the feeling London kids would be hardcore but I never imagined that they would have the resolve to fight for and hold parliament square two days running. On their own. It was classic non-violent direct action, so perfectly disorganized and self organized at the same time. The result of different groups of kids making separate plans in playgrounds and communicating through the Internet exploded in all directions onto the street. Without a camera myself, I looked for video activists to try and work with. Groups of friends headed off in all directions managing to split up the police. Swelled by numbers the kids shut down the square to traffic section by section. I bumped into some of those who I had seen the day before hitting Peter Mandelson. They were in the frontline again, sitting down on the north side of the square.
I tried to interview them about the Mandelson stunt but they were steam rollered by police. I couldn't believe how determined they were, Police eventually resorting to lifting them off the road using pressure points in the throat. As usual in post Thatcher Britain most of the police were O.K. I wouldn't blame those who weren't for the violence some kids reported as much as the jokers who had incited them to be there, only to let them down when it came to it. There was a word for that sort of behavior in my playground. There were no reclaim the streets style crusties there; there were no socialist workers there, no anarchists, hardly anyone over the age of 16.
I had been pretty cynical and jaded by protest over the years. I had become bored rigid by the violence and was glad it had more or less died out, at least in London. I was pleased London was not Genoa or Seattle or Prague. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of the most inspiring protest I have ever been on in my life, organized and executed without drugs, or political organization by London children.
With the ridiculously unseasonable sun shinning down on them, the exuberant action of kids washed away the empty words I had heard from the stage the previous weekend. It was as if the spirit of Gandhi mixed with the personality of Johnny Rotten had possessed every school kid in London. I felt sorry for the police and tried to keep everything good humored. I remember calling the RI:SE researchers begging them to get these kids on the show. Surely kids with something to say would be more interesting than endless bland celebrity wannabees, and who knows? Controversy might turn around their piss poor ratings!
Again I got the feeling that these people thought I was crazy. Luckily I met up with a few people there with cameras so we got a chance to film and interview the kids. I didn't sit down with the kids myself. I didn't think I would achieve anything by being arrested and it felt like it was their protest. Police were O.K. with me, and I understood it wasn't their war.
I was fascinated to find out what the kids, all of who must have been first time demonstrators could achieve and learn for themselves.
Most protests I have been on in the past I took acid or at least was drunk. It was great to be sober, with reality in the sunshine. Two million in Hyde Park listening to speeches did nothing to stop war. I wondered what two million sitting next to the kids in Parliament Square would have done? Maybe Blair was right and it was more complicated than being pro or anti war. For the kids it wasn't complicated. As bombs dropped on Baghdad, they woke up in the morning and set out to stop the country.
I found out later that kids from the small suburban village in which I grew up in Dorset did the same. This happened nationwide and worldwide and became for me the most important phenomena of this unfolding War. I asked a lot of them if they wanted the voting age lowered. As parliament debates lowering the voting age to 16, could this make a difference? or could MacDonald’s buy up all the votes in the playground with free happy meals?
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