The Protest

Friday night

-“An analysis of the budget suggests that the second poorest 10 percent of society will be the hardest hit by the Chancellor’s measures, while the second richest decile are the only group to receive a handout from his budget”

-Bloody typical. Not even the smear campaign his opposition launched would have stopped him from playing Prince John.

-Well, don’t wait for Robin Hood either – he’s long dead.

Others nodded in agreement. You stood there listening. You could feel tension in the room building. A resignation almost.

-“Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the poorest 10 percent in society will be an average of £770 per year worse off under Osborne’s plans, while the richest 10 percent stand to lose just £223 per year.”

-What’s a coffee and a cake at Harrods these days?

A light, sad chuckle went across the room. Sarcasm is a good self-defence, when you feel your options narrowing, and hopelessness creeping in.

-This is not that unexpected – said Josef – They have been building up to this for decades. This should not come as a surprise. Most people with a job will take it in, and say thank you, all the while pointing fingers at the disabled, the immigrants, and the unemployed. Most don’t even understand these days that they are being played. It’s not 1% against 99, when 98% are asleep. We are the other 1 percent.

-It can’t be that bad, look around you; look at the worker cooperatives, housing cooperatives forming, foodbanks…

-Don’t get me started on foodbanks…

-Yes, OK, I admit, it’s not a permanent solution, but at least it comes from the people. It comes from us, we can influence it.

Zym would always see the positives. Perhaps too much. Maybe because he lived in a bubble he’d help create. Feeling secure living in a supportive community, sharing responsibility for the building he lived in, working in a small worker coop, serving fair trade, organic coffee out of a beautifully crafted cargo bike. He had to work very hard for it though, and had to endure humiliation from multinationals silently controlling where he could or couldn’t place the stand in his town.

-They aren’t ready for it. They are too comfortable. – Josef saw it how it was – It doesn’t matter that their Starbucks has GMO’s in it. They will still buy it. But there’s enough of us. Maybe if we stood up, REALLY stood up, then some of the 98% could awaken. At least in our area, at least before the BBC puts their spin on it.

Heads perked up. Mary took up on this thread of thought:

-One of their own, that American, who had that banned talk that you showed me said it. What did he say – that the pitchforks are coming.

-What do you mean?

-It’s obvious – Mary continued. She was always the one for radical solutions. She wouldn’t mind getting up at night to go and do things, which were not necessarily in line with the local authority plans. – If even one of their own billionaires is saying, that the middle classes are being squeezed. Or that the elites need to prepare for sharpened pitchforks, I think we have to give it to them.

Silence struck. You felt your heart jump to your throat. This was not what you expected when you saw an ad on a local group page on the internet. You have your life, your family to look after. You have your job, that doesn’t pay enough to live at the same standard as your neighbours. Your benefits will get cut. But you are resourceful, you can manage – you could take up a second evening job delivering pizza, or Chinese. Sure, you won’t see your little daughter that much, but at least you won’t go under. You will stay independent. It’s not THAT bad.

-Chelsea would be a good target – Mary continued – they don’t expect that. If we go there early enough, they won’t see it coming; we’ll have the advantage of surprise.

-What about cameras? Rob picked up.

-No one is monitoring these unless an alarm is triggered – Josef responded – and if we are fast enough, they will be reviewing them afterwards, long after we’re gone.

-OK, let’s meet tomorrow to put together what we need. Are you in? You don’t have to, but an extra pair of hands is always appreciated, even if you choose not to go out on D-day. – Sion looked straight at you.

Startled, you looked around the room. All faces were on you now. All your life you were taught to please. Your own opinion mattered to you only. At school you were told to sit and listen, at work, you were graded, watched and judged on all that you do wrongly. But even the praise didn’t matter, when your salary couldn’t provide enough for a life on the same level as your peers.

-Yes. I’ll be there.

-Great! – Josef’s smile beamed with excitement – bring anything that you can; boards, markers, as we need to make signs, a pitchfork if you have it…

The mood visibly lifted in the room. Everyone seemed to have regained their spirit. Finally, there was something that returned their sense of power. Perhaps just for that one moment, they felt that they could make change in this stale society. It wasn’t the French Revolution, but close. Perhaps it won’t be the Chancellor’s head that will roll; maybe it’s not the time for Prince John, maybe their Robin Hood hasn’t arrived yet. One was clear though: the pitchforks were coming.

The day before D-day

The next day the building was overflowing to the yard outside. Meeting minutes were sent out to all other contacts, with a call to action. What a colourful mob – you thought. Dreadlocks, bicycles, colourful paint. Some children, and a dog? Is this appropriate? Your friends at work would ask: “Is this legal?” You smirked, knowing that saying that something is illegal is not an argument against it. It’s an appeal to authority. Laws are arbitrary – made by whoever has political power at any given time.

The area where the group met is an old brownfield site. There used to be a booming paper and print industry here, back in the day. Before the owners laid everyone off to invest in manufacturing in the Far East, where the labour was cheaper. Why pay overtime at time and a half, when they could have people working for them for less than £100 per month, 60 plus hours per week before any overtime. Neither would anyone miss a worker, should they die on the job. Health and safety is such a drag on productivity these days. Over there, when an accident happens, the worst that would be for their bottom line is a paltry pay off to the family, and a bribe for local authorities to keep the human rights non-profits from finding out.

The site has been in complete disrepair until this group of activists took it over, patched up the building, cleaned up the driveways, put plants everywhere, and painted beautiful murals. The local council had been putting a blind eye on it, mainly as they had no idea or money to do anything with it. It looked good on their political brochures – that they were letting community flourish. It was about to change. A foreign investor had eyed the location for development, which was in the same area as some of the most expensive properties in London. The short term plan was to use it for a hip “underground” clubbing venue for the rich, young Londoners. In the long term, it would become a gated apartment site. The flats would sell as hot cakes. Snapped up by hedge funds from all over, they would serve purely to hold money. The full time concierge would be greeting no one, as the owners would be in Japan, or Canada, China, Russia. “The housing market in London is booming”, as the front pages of international business magazines hailed. “It’s time to invest”. The local council would force the developer to include a percentage of flats for social housing. The lucky few who get them would have their own access door at the back, as far away from the front entrance with the concierge as possible. Any open space with a roof overhead would have spikes put on the ground to prevent the human pigeons from fouling the expensive finish with their presence.

All that didn’t matter now. You were busy painting the signs. You were always fond of your drawing. It was one of the many talents you let go to waste, because you had to get a real job. You were happy in that moment.

4 AM

The air was crisp. There was a slight mist hanging, almost ready to cover the street, the cars, and pavement. You could see it in the street lights. It was still before dawn on this early April morning.

You stood at the agreed location. Sion came with you.

-Are you nervous?

-A little. I’ve never done anything like this before. Kind of exciting.

-Yes, it is. We’ve never done it at this scale at once. We may get the police sent on us.

-That’s what worries me.

-You don’t have to do this you know. It’s early enough, you can still go.

-No. I’ve sat about complacent for too long. I’m just not sure what people at work might say.

-If they let you go, we’ll find a way to support you. We have enough connections within the worker cooperative community. It might only mean moving though, as we are spread a bit thin across the country.

-Thank you. Let’s hope that’s not necessary.

He smiled, and so did you.

Others started arriving shortly. By quarter past, the street was very busy, but still quiet. More than thirty people showed up. It was one of these posh, narrow London streets with strips of grass next to the road. This was the target.

The first pitchfork punched holes in the ground at 4.28. By 5 AM all sod was lifted and turned upside down. That’s efficient, for a bunch of anarchists, with no hierarchy, no chain of command to motivate them. The manicured lawn was gone. A wagon with manure and straw arrived. It blocked entry from one side. Another one blocked the other end. It was full of saplings donated by a local garden centre.

By 5.30 the permablitz was in full swing. All grass on that street was gone and replaced with lasagne style raised beds, covered in straw by 8.

Nick – the owner of a stunning set of dreadlocks – put down the pitchfork he was swinging for the previous two hours and picked up his guitar. The residents were slowly waking up to the fact that their surroundings had changed. A woman in her forties came out for her morning fitness run, in order to preserve her beauty. She questioned what was happening, and decided to help with planting of the organic spinach, she would normally buy for £6/kg. Now it was growing outside her door.

By 9 AM everything was planted, and the wagons unblocked the roads. You put the pitchfork on one of them, and walked away with Sion.

-How do you feel now?

-My heart is pounding still. I was expecting that someone would call the police.

-Well, they still may. But for now, instead of a manicured lawn, they have the beginnings of a colourful, productive, diverse food forest, right on their doorstep. How’s that for a propaganda garden? And your signs look stunning. Not only that, they are useful, as each tells them what to do with the produce, and where to put the kitchen waste, to make compost.

-Gandhi would be proud. A totally non-violent, productive protest.

You walked home. Positively beaming with joy.

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