openDemocracyUK

Purple flashmob swoops, but the police have other ideas...

Guy Aitchison
26 May 2010

Our Take Back Parliament flashmob targetting the State Opening of Parliament was a spirited affair with a decent turnout for a Tuesday morning even if it didn't quite have the drama or impact of the earlier rallies. We'd chosen to position ourselves at the bottom of the steps leading up to Carlton Terrace and a large statue of the Duke of York so that we could make our protest heard as the Queen and her procession passed down the Mall. I was asked to preview the event for Channel 4 (apparently they have a blog with guest contributors) and you can read my post here even if the day itself didn't turn out entirely as planned.

In the end the police were determined to prevent us from getting to our destination which meant that our protest was split up into two groups. There were two officers per protester at times as well as a member of the Forward Intelligence Team taking close-up pictures of us. Perhaps it was the fact it was the Queen, but they seemed even more touchy than normal.

We carried a tongue in cheeck "Fair votes now, Ma'am!" banner, which I think she caught a glimpse of out of her carriage, and had planned to release 32 purple balloons as she passed to symbolise the 32 ultra-rotten boroughs that haven't changed hands since the time of her predecessor, Queen Victoria, but senior officers were determined that this shouldn't happen as it might "startle the horses". We pointed out that these were highly disciplined stallions, trained to stay cool under cannon fire, and that they're hardly likely to care about a few balloons being released twenty or so meters away but it made no difference.

There were a few live shots of our purple banners on BBC and Sky News but in the end the only "protest story" the media covered was Parliament Square and the disgraceful arrest of anti-war protester Brian Haw after his tent was searched by police with sniffer dogs as they descended on the Democracy Village peace protest. The Indy's front-page today does a wonderful job of pointing out the irony of the Queen announcing the restoration of civil liberties and the right to protest inside Parliament, whilst outside Haw is dragged away. (More worrying still is the campaign launched by the right-wing press and blogosphere to persuade Boris to remove the "eyesore" of the Parliament Square peace protest as soon as possible, including an extraordinary intervention by Iain Dale who took it upon himself to track down and contact the employers of one of the organisers of the protest who he assumed must be skiving from work.) 

After the Take Back Parliament protest we had a good debrief and discussion about the way ahead in the nearby Westminster Arms. It was good to see such a determined group of people of all ages keen to take forward the struggle for proportional voting. When we told them that we'd heard the Right is already mobilising for the AV referendum, with expensive PR agencies being lined up to take over the "anti-establishment" terrain for the "No" campaign, they were galvanised even further. The first of the Take Back Parliament Democracy Action Groups was born there and then as we each agreed to do what we could to take forward the campaign in our local area and across London with Andy May acting as the central co-ordinator. The hope is that this will be the first of many such groups and that the early momentum of the purple protests can be sustained and transformed into a nationwide grassroots democracy network. If you haven't signed up to be involved already, you can do so here.

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