Camden Town Hall: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

By Tim Hardy

Public gallery shot at Camden Town Hall

(The public gallery of Camden Town Hall during tonight’s meeting after police refused to let the public into the building.)

With the exception of Fox, who took the opportunity to spread lies about protesters attacking their reporters, the mainstream media was silent about a major news story breaking on Sunday night, the refusal to leave Wisconsin state Capitol building by hundreds of activists who decided they were ready to face arrest for an act of non-violent civil disobedience.

Students watching at the UCL Occupation took heart from the courage and undaunted spirit shown in the jerky mobile phone footage streamed over the internet of those who took to the first floor at Wisconsin and refused to leave when the deadline fell, staying to face arrest for what they believed in.

Over a million people worldwide watched these brave women and men standing up to another corrupt politician who is using the financial downturn caused by his rich friends as an excuse to deny workers their rights.

A decision was made this afternoon, to leave the UCL Occupation for the anti-cuts space and to mark the exit by joining hundreds of protesters at Mornington Crescent to march to Camden Town Council to plead with Labour to take a stand and refuse to impose coalition cuts.

As I marched with them, a union member tried to explain to me that the unions were the answer, they just needed to get more radical leadership.

“We’re not waiting for you,” I told him. “By all means join us but nobody is waiting for you to take the lead. Look at the student movement. Look at UK Uncut. Look at Sukey. We don’t need you although we don’t necessarily disagree with you. You’re welcome to march beside us when you’re finally ready.” Wisconsin has shown the power of unions but we have not seen it here yet.

Again and again across the UK, a pattern is being repeated of local government denying the public access to their town halls where decisions are being made that will devastate their lives. Tonight was no exception.

It was a public meeting but we were banned from coming in. However, by following a councillor who was too scared to brave the crowds, I found a back door and was able to sneak in and tweet reports from inside a hall in which the public was almost entirely excluded.

It was painful to witness Labour’s spineless failure to take a stand.

Again and again the cuts were referred to as a tsunami, as though they were a force of nature that could not be resisted not the result of a man-made system of systemic inequality.

The Cuts Are Out of Order

(Sign in anti-cuts space.)

The anti-cuts movement is a river of dissent into which many streams flow, enriching each other. We may flow alongside the unions on 26 March but we refuse to be contained within a movement of organised labour that too often seems as spineless as the party with which they are historically tied.

Like the ideas behind UK Uncut, this is something that is bigger than Britain. “We were recently invited to a Paris summit organised by edu-factory to unite resistance to the marketisation of education across Europe,” one member of the UCL Occupation explained to me today. “There were people from around the world, including representatives from Canada and Peru. It was agreed by all that March 24th, 25th and 26th would be days of action across the world to coincide with the march for the alternative in London.”

Today Royal Holloway served a legal warning on the occupiers of the anticuts space at 2 Gower Street / 11 Bedford Street warning them to leave the building by 7.30pm or legal action will be taken. Whether they move or stay is irrelevant.

The spirit of this movement does not depend on the accidents of geography. Just as the Really Free School remains the Really Free School wherever it finds itself – the wing of a former palace, the town house of a pointless celebrity, a run-down and empty pub – so too will the anti-cuts movement continue irrespective of how long this particular space stays open.

Just as the ability to stream footage from a single activists phone to millions shows how irrelevant a media more interested in entertaining than informing is becoming, so too does the willingness of citizens to face arrest for what they believe in highlight the moral cowardice of socialist politicians who refuse to take a stand.

Camden Town Hall tonight cannot be what democracy looks like. My faith for the future lies in the student movement, the anti-cuts movement and the spirit of Wisconsin.

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