Tag Archives: Counter Olympics Network

The Counter Olympics Network relay

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A short film by activists from Save Leyton Marsh with the last 400 metres and the speeches, from last month’s anti-Olympic relay, featuring lots of nice footage of the torch (Julian Cheyne explains its history)

The Counter Olympics Network demonstration

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July 28

They were handing out Olympic-themed packets of Krave cereal at Mile End tube station (a product so well-enriched with sugar that it is known as “Crack4Children”). The first steward to arrive had settled with other anti-corporate veterans in a branded coffee house beneath the Green bridge, and was waiting for our briefing to begin. “You’ve never seen so many police vans in your life,” she told me. But the vans, it turned out, were all driving the other way.

In the weeks building up to the demonstration, I’ve met more different police officers than I have in the previous two decades put together: from the PC in charge of the traffic cones (“we will be laying the cones at two meter intervals. They will be made from orange plastic…”) to the working-class mum (who on finishing her escort of our five-mile anti-Olympic torch relay insisted on posing with us for photographs, “we’ve even got Critical Mass on the New Scotland Yard wall…”). I’ve met more senior officers who’ve been promoted rapidly for their role in the policing of dissenters (i.e. us) and I’ve encountered – more than once – the mute tension that culminated in Friday’s police riot.

On Saturday, the police waited at the edges. The vans were behind, they were in front, they were kept moving, they were kept out of sight.

In their absence, the demonstration was happy; relaxed, self-aware, conscious of the gap between what we want to do and the numbers we have on our side, but relieved, and capable of more.

The route followed from Mile End Park to Wennington Green. There was a lengthy pause outside the missile site at Bow Quarter.

And the crowd intervened successfully to prevent the one attempted arrest: a demonstrator equipped with nail-scissors who was foolish enough to try to clip a piece of the white ribbon which the police were using to mark off our route.

The main target of the chants was Our Tory Olympian:

Seb Coe, Get Out, we know what you’re all about! Missiles, job losses, Olympics for the bosses!

Hey Ho, Sebastian Coe Get your missiles out of Bow

In Wennington Green, the speeches began with Brian Richardson, East End resident and my fellow Haldaner, who was followed by Ruth Turner of War on Want, and Chris Nineham of Stop the Olympic Missiles.

The march has made the BBC and even the Daily Mail.

“It wasn’t the largest demo I’ve ever been on, but it was lively, vocal and angry”, Gareth Edwards of Inside Left writes, “And it felt important.” I’m not sure about the anger, but I agree with him about the march’s importance.

A friend who travelled widely in post-Stalinist Russia, hoping to encourage its citizens to rebel, once confided to me his greatest surprise on exploring its cities. Expecting to be constantly surrounded by images extolling the people to believe in the virtues of the Soviet system; he found in fact a near absence of visual propaganda. Not having a plethora consumer goods to advertise, rather only one product (the state), there were of course posters glorifying the regime – but they were occasional. Traveling through Moscow or Leningrad you could walk for an hour or more without seeing anything endorsing the regime.

The organisers of the London Olympics have drawn from this story the lesson that saturation advertising is the surest way to maintain support; whether it is the posters in the railway stations insisting that the Olympics could not take place without corporate backing and listing the corporate sponsors (but not naming the main funder, whose backing outweighs that of all the other funders together by ten to on; the tax-paying working-class), or the MacDonalds ads colonising the transport links to the Olympics, or the interminable television and radio coverage forcing even loyal listeners away from the BBC.

This was the victory of yesterday’s anti-Olympic demonstration: for the 5-600 people present it broke through the isolation imposed on the Olympic disbelievers and reminded each of us that we are not alone.

UPDATE: there’s a lovely short film here which gives a sense of the scale of the demo, as well as the views of the participants.

Rotten Borough Heather Bonfield: unelected consultant tries to ban anti-Olympic protest demonstration

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By the time this post goes up, the big Counter Olympics Network will hopefully have left Mile End park and will be ambling peacefully in the direction of Wennington Green (via Bow Road, Fairfields Road, Roman Road, etc).

The organisers do have the permission of the police and Transport for London for their route. It is simply not clear whether we have been able to get the agreement of Tower Hamlets council for speeches after the demonstration, despite the fact that every demo in Britain in the last 20 years has ended with speeches of one sort or their another. Rather the council’s good idea has been that demonstrators should get to Wennington Green, enter it, and then “disperse” (whatever that means).

What makes this more troubling is that the demonstrators are told by the local councillor (Bill Turner) and by the local MP (Rushanara Ali) that we have their support. Indeed the Mayor, the senior elected person with responsibility for the council has so distanced himself from his own officers, as to convey a message to the organisers, via councillor Rania Khan, that the event should go ahead as planned.

For those interested in this story, as a case-study of how local democracy does – or doesn’t work – here are the key dates:

On 11 June 2012, CON  first wrote to Heather Bonfield the interim head of Culture at Tower Hamlets informing her of our intention to hold an event starting at Mile End Park marching through roads controlled by your authority and ending at Victoria Park.  She wrote back on 22 June as follows:

“Thank you for your email.  My apologies for not coming back to you
sooner. I have to advise you that the Council does not grant you
permission to use either park and if you make a formal application –
which we require – it will not be approved.”

“During the Olympic period our major parks, especially Victoria Park,
will be extremely busy and we will not permit any additional use.”

“We have advised the Police that we are refusing your request.” (emphasis added)

Officers of the council were present at a meeting with CON, the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London on 9 July where this matter was revisited. Michael Rowan, Head of Tower Hamlets Parks, was asked whether it remained the council’s position that it would not allow an event ending at Victoria Park, and answered that the council had changed its position and would allow an event provided that it ended at Wennington Green rather than Victoria Park.

On 10 July Michael Rowan again informed CON that speeches and other events would be allowed provided only that there was no indication from the police that they would be unsafe. He wrote: “The one issue that concerns us here is the use of Wennington Green for speeches etc as when I approached the meeting I had assumed it was to be used as a dispersal site. I have asked my colleague who is sending the paperwork to comment on the health and safety implications of use of that particular site with the number of people potentially surging forward to see or hear what is going on. So long as the police are content that there is no health and safety issue then that is fine” (emphasis added).

There was then a lengthy to-and-fro about the details of the event, with CON being asked to send an event plan, which we did, and there were various email and phone exchanges in which there was no suggestion that the council was against the event.

Then, quite out of the blue, on 17 and 20 July, Michael Rowan emailed CON, copying in Ms Bonfield (the original decision-maker of 22 June, but who had then been on leave and played no part in any public exchanges between 22 June and 17 July) to say that they would not allow anyone from CON to enter Wennington Green save for the sole purpose of dispersal.

On 23 July, CON threatened Tower Hamlets with Judicial Review, with the result that at 5pm on 25 July, Tower Hamlets wrote to us backing down, but sending us a list of conditions for the event, none of which had been put to us before, including a prohibition on “marquees” but not on “gazebos” (and what exactly is the difference?), and a ban on sound traveling outside the park (given the limited strength of our amplifiers that will present no difficulty), and a newly dreamed-of rule that there should be no more than 1 hour of speeches and no other activities (ie an absolute ban on a speech delivered in the form of a poem, or as a sketch).

We responded, accepting some but not all of their conditions, at 10am on Friday, and have heard nothing since.

The best explanation for the council’s official hostility to the event appears to be that Heather Bonfield has objected to the event and on her return from leave brow-beat more junior council officers into accepting her decision – despite the support it had from every publicly elected politician with any relationship to the area. There was less hostility in early July, when she was away. On her return, she was able to foist her decision onto her more junior colleagues.

Heather Bonfield, the author of the charming correspondence I quoted above, is not even an employee of Tower Hamlets council, but is a self-employed consultant trading under the originally-titled name “Heather Bonfield Consultancy Limited”.

As to how much she is paid: according to her own company records at Companies House, in 2006-7, the turnover of her business was around £75,000; but the documents she has filed at Companies House in 2011 and 2012 are not so gauche as to reveal her present income.

Express journalist and long-time watcher of the council, Ted Jeory, reports she is is being paid £800 per day, and around £200,000 p/a altogether. But, given the paucity of the information she has filed, I cannot confirm that. What I do note is that if Jeory is right that means she is trousering more than her own Chief Executive, who is paid on a salary scale from £165,000 to “just”  £194,000 per year.

There is something troubling about the idea that someone who is not even employed by Tower Hamlets has the authority to countermand the elected councillor, the elected MP and the elected Mayor.

Without speculating at all as to the politics or ethics of this arrangement: the demonstration – and the speeches – go ahead.

Solidarity with detained Critical Mass cyclists

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Very brief accounts are starting to come out of yesterday’s Critical Mass, which after years of being left along by the police was brutally attacked last night. Here is one eye-witness:

“On the other side of the bridge a couple of police vans had blocked the road again. Suddenly, van after van came screeching down the road. The vans kept on coming. My friend heard a policeman say to his radio ‘this is game over’. We turned and fled. I have never seen so many police in my life. I have never cycled so fast in my life. It was terrifying. It was a mini-police state in that corner of east London. I’m still grappling with what happened, it seems so surreal.”

The above video appears to show a male police officer, wholly out of control, being resisted (to some extent) by a woman police officer as he attempts to pepper-spray a wheelchair user.

What’s not in doubt is that 20 cyclists were held overnight in a bus, without being charged, interviewed, or released; and are still detained.

All of this makes today’s demonstration more important than ever.

A Home Games but for whom?

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With the start of London 2012 upon us author of a new book on the Olympics Mark Perryman questions who will, and won’t, get the tickets

Just one click away and the Olympic tickets are mine. I’ve plumped for the Bronze Medal men’s hockey match, which leaves me treacherously hoping Team GB will be battling it out for third place rather than going for Gold. And an early round of the water polo too. The latter quite an Olympian bargain, £20 each for two adults and our three year old has a pay-your-age ticket, just £3 for him.

So what could there possibly be to complain about? Plenty. Take Wednesday afternoon’s opening game of the Olympic Women’s football tournament, GB vs New Zealand , played in a half-empty Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.  Its an example of the spectacular mismanagement of the Olympic programme to virtually ensure this is a Games for the few not the many. Never mind Team GB playing in Wales where almost every football fan will be used to shouting for Wales, never England and not often GB either. These divisions run deep in our fan culture and a smart new Union Jack kit is not going to transform this overnight. Both the women’s and men’s football teams are effectively England plus a handful of other home nation’s useful additions to the squad.

So the location wasn’t ideal. But what about the kick off time? Why on earth choose 4pm, effectively meaning anyone going has to take if not a whole day off work at least the afternoon. Adding to the cost and the inconvenience. And the price. For well-paid LOCOG executives £20 may seem reasonable for the lowest priced ticket, but its not so cheap for a branch of football that has little or no record of attracting the kind of crowd to fill the Millennium, 75,000. For goodness sake the men’s Welsh team have struggled to fill it on more than one occasion.

Its a fairly reliable law of marketing, halve the price, double the crowd. An evening or weekend kick off, £10 a ticket and perhaps facing the reality of the squad selection, in an English football stadium and Wednesday afternoon might well have been a capacity crowd, giving tens of thousands more the chance to be part of the 2012 Olympics.

In 2005 the North West of England successfully hosted the Women’s European Football Championship. Blackpool, Blackburn, Warrington and Manchester all hosted games. The Olympic football tournaments, men and women’s, are both effectively mini World Cups with group stages and knock out rounds.  The challenge is to sell tickets not just for the Team GB games, which generally have been popular, but the other countries’ games too, which haven’t. It is that combination that more than anything would turn the Olympics into a festival of sporting internationalism rather than just a matter of how many Golds Team GB can win. Basing the football tournaments each in a region, with their own opening and closing ceremony, free-to-watch warm up games, all of this could have helped contributed to the sense of the Olympics being a National Event rather than something happening in London that these Games still project.

And my Hockey tickets? This is a 16-team tournament all played in the one, 15,000 capacity, stadium within the Olympic Park. This means a squeezed programme involving matches kicking off at 08.30 in the morning. The Water Polo tournament is also all squeezed into the single Olympic Park pool meaning some games don’t finish until 22.45. Crazy, and all the consequence of the Olympic model of centralisation. As with the football tournaments these group and knock out stage contests could have been hosted in a city or region, providing many more early evening and weekend games, the local host  putting on their own opening and medal ceremonies. An Olympics that in large part belonged to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Cardiff and Swansea, The North-West, North-East, Yorkshire, East and West Midlands. With a vast increase in the number of tickets and massive reduction in prices too, wouldn’t this be a better model for the Olympics

Before, the kind of programming madness LOCOG has committed might have been justified by the TV schedules, to reduce the risk of clashes. But not any more, with the famous red button I’ve lost count of how many Olympic Channels the BBC are promising , 24 I think was the latest figure. So the bulk of the programme could surely have been shifted to weekday evening and weekends to maximise accessibility. A Games for the many to go and watch. Instead except for the lucky few, amongst whom I  now number myself, it will be a case of watching a ‘home’ Games from the sofa and via the remote.

Of course this is a different model for the Olympics, but a year ago 22 million applied for tickets. The demand was obviously there.  A relatively small country with still the basis of a half-decent transport infrastructure could have facilitated the idea that what makes a ‘home’ games so special is providing a format to maximise the numbers taking part.

As the Games begin  for those who like me love their sport it will be a feast. But this is no reason not to imagine how much better they could have been, after all for most of us we won’t see their like on these shores again in our lifetimes. What a waste.

Mark Perryman is the author of the newly published book Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us And How They Can Be, just £8 (£6 kindle edition) from www.orbooks.com

July 27: cycling to the Olympics

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“Kaspar Freundlich invites cyclist, skaters, sound systems et al to celebrate
the London 2012 Olympics with a Slow Motion Event starting from Parliament
Square at 8.15 am on July 27 after listening to the Special Big Ben 42 Special Chimes at 8am, and planned to arrive at the Olympic park by 8.12pm ( 20.12 ) in time for the start of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Such activities as using Olympic Lanes or occupying Mile End Park or other
locations overnight in preparation for the 12.00 Demonstration starting from
Mile End Park on Saturday 28th July are up for discussion, as are all other
suggestions”

[Editor’s note: this message has been widely circulated around activist networks; I believe the “am” and “pm” times are intended to be accurate]

July 28 demonstration; stewards still sought

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There are just two days to go now till the Counter Olympics Network demonstration. There will be a march from Mile End park (assembly time 12 noon) to Wennington Green (at the North end of Mile End park, near Victoria park). At the end, there will be speeches and Counter Olympic events.

CON is still seeking stewards, as there have been difficulties negotiating the event with the authorities, primarily the local authority, and at the time of writing it is still not clear whether the authority will give us permission to hold our post-demo events.

There will be a stewards debrief on Saturday July 28 at 11am.

Write to me at davidkrenton[at]gmail.com if you’re interested in being a steward and I will send you full details of where to meet up.