Photo – I’ve always thought the best perspective on a Presidential Convoy was from Under a Pile of Cops!
…and that’s the last I think I’ll ever see of…..
by Ciaron – Catholic Worker/Plowshares, Back in Dublin – safe and sound!
Ok, the day ended with about 5 PSNI riot cops stacked on top of me playing twister with a variety of my limbs and a obstructed glimpse of what seemed like an enormous disco ball leading the convoy of security vehicles and the Bush limo down Castlereagh Rd. back to Airforce One.
A lefty speaker outside of Stormont sneered that the Bush tour was “merely symbolic”. Look mate the entire fuckin Presidency has been symbolic. This was not a 24/7 hands on “sure can guy do” Presidency. This was not Clinton who loved to press the flesh every which way or Daddy Bush well groomed in the CIA and who chose and groomed his son’s advisors. This was George W on the last lap. The secular left, with illusions of being oh so scientific, continually misunderstand the significance of symbol and symbolism….but don’t get me started that’s another story.
I hit Belfast the day before Bush and the word was coming through from others that folks had hit the streets in London. My intention was to form a christian anarchist affinity group, at least a faith based one, to get us through the day with the emperor in Belfast. The idea would be avoid the usual lefty wrestling over who is leading the movement and remain self active and mobile and see what opportunities arose to confront the emperor.
I hooked up with Mark Chapman – no not the guy who shot John Lennon he’s still sitting in Attica – my Mark Chapman was living in Liverpool during that unfortunate incident, which wasn’t a great address at the time to go with his name. I had orginally met Mark in London in the ’90’s he was involved with MIl Rai ad others in ARROW (Active Resistance to the Roots of War). He is sound, softly spoken, understated and courageous – a local to the north. Mark also has a motorbike so that kept us mobile. We also put the word out to Jon from North Belfast a post evangelical christian anarchist goth punk and Rebecca from L’Arche who was unfortunately sick.
We whipped up a couple of placards Sunday night
“The Emperor Has No Clothes, Bush has No Clue, Resist the War!”
“and “Raytheon Out of Derry, U.S. Military Out of Shannon, George Bush Out of Control!”
Monday morning we packed Mark’s “Justice Not Vengeance” banner and set off early to the city centre. We set up outside the Tesco and I started street speaking, Mark realised he had a dental appointment and pissed off, Jon arrived. We encouraged interested passers by to head to the City Hall for 12.30 where one of the socialist groups and a union were hosting an anti-Bush rally.
At 12.30 we headed there. It was a beautiful day and city workers were availing of the lunch break to make a statement against Bush, fair play to them! I was heartened to see a crew of young anarchist punks a sight that has all but disappeared from the streets of Dublin the last couple of years. The absence of a politicised youth subculture is like a canary karking it in the mine shaft…it’s a sign your culture has totally gone shopping and is dying.
Photos from Belfast City Hall Demo
All of a sudden a contingent of young Shinners marched up in a disciplined fashion in white t-shirts (Now some of my best friends are Shinners, my Daddy is basically a Shinner and I like my dad!)…but it seemed a little awkward ( I don’t know maybe it’s always awkward with Shinners and the rest of the left in) but how can you be hosting AND protesting Bush on the same day? But then again SDLP youth were there and the Greens, so go figure it was a beautiful day, the weather was great but the acoustics from the speaker’s platform were shite. So I thought, I’ll just go to the fringe of the crowd and start another platform as, trust me, no one could hear a thing from the main stage.
So off I went into street speaking mode. I really think anti-war rallies should be run like this….a period of everyone who wants to – speaking on a soapbox about the war and how to stop it and then conclude with a central platform with a couple of key notes and some music. But the left are deeply ritualistic and trad that you would have Buckleys ever getting this idea up.
Anyways I don’t know if it is Eamonn MCCann speaking style (he’d be loud enough unplugged) or the techies but the volume finally went up on the platform and so I shut up. Meanwhile some dudes had managed to fly an Iraqi flag form the top of City Hall…master stroke, really got the crowd going.
Apparently the SP were organising a manifestation out at Stormont where Bush was due. But Mark was keen on going to Market St. PSNI station and demanding the police arrest George Bush as a war criminal. Now after spending 30 years in and out of police stations and 2 years in out of jail, I have an ethical opposition to calling the cops on anyone…maybe even George W. If he was willing to place himself under voluntary house arrest at the Crawford Ranch in Texas I’d be happy enough. And as I pointed out earlier I don’t seem him as that significant in engineering the crimes he has put his name to. I also,as a rule, don’t like going voluntarily into police stations. But you know when you’re in an affinity group, or a community, you have to go along to get along or you end up on your lonesome with the other guy saying how come we only play the games you want to play etc. So we rounded up a posse of Quakers & such and headed down to Market St. police station.
I decided to play the silent guy in the background as Mark and the others did the talking. It seemed as though they had dome this before, they was pretty good at it. Listening in, it seemed like a reasonable request that this PSNI cop should immediately go up to Stormont and bust Bush. But the detective wasn’t going to leave his plexiglass comfort zone…his best response line was
“I don’t think there is any difficulty establishing where the man you are concerned about resides, if local authorities wish to take it up!”
So off to Stormont it was. Mark and the posse went for coffee and I was on foot with a lousy sense of direction and playing catch up. Did you know it’s illegal to hail a cab in a 3 mile radius of Belfast city centre neither did I, but I finally got one. There was a good crew at the gates of Stormont..maybe 80, I dunno my maths is about as good as my spelling. It was a good cross section of socialists, the anarcho punks, libertarian hippy types, school kids, young and old and then this guy turned up who really stole the show for a while…check him out
The SP did a good job of chairing it and they had speaking equipment that worked this time. They even asked me to speak. I rarely get asked to speak at lefty events in Australia, England or Ireland ..not sure if the lefties think I’m too f’kin crazy or too f’kin good to have speak..jury still out on that one! This has led to a life of spontaneous street speaking and nodules on my voicebox.. Anyway fair play, a pluralist relatively open platform. We were there for quite a while – but if there was a criticism we packed up too early. I’m not sure if this was because the media had packed up or the younger generation of activists get to anxty about the crowd not being permanently entertained. Retrospect is 20/20 vision but we should have stayed until he left as Bush eventually drove out of those gates.
Photo from Stormont Anti- Bush Rally
Mark and I were back on the bike and we were under the misunderstanding the SWP and Dublin bus had headed to the school where Bush was going to gig at 4pm. We drove up Castlereagh Rd. hill into an increasing density of cops. The side street into the school was blocked by cops. We reversed and tried another side street, dead end, as we tried to re-enter Castlreagh Rd. we were stopped by a policewoman and told the road was closed for the Presidential convoy coming soon.
We decided to park the bike and consider our options. And then we suffered some artistic differences. Mark was keen to unfurl a banner “Justice Not Vengeance” (I think?). I remembered we had been given small replica coffins at the city demo. I took them out and scrawled Casey Sheehan on one and Rose Gentle on another.
I had met Casey’s mother Cindy Sheehan in both Dublin and my hometown Brisbane. She had pretty much single handedly put the anti-war movement back on the radar by going down to Bush’s Crawford Ranch and refusing to move until she met with him. His refusal to meet her was deeply symbolic of his attitude to the cannon fodder he has sent to kill and be killed in Iraq. Casey Sheehan passed through Shannon Airport to his death in Baghdad.
Rose Gentle had stayed with us at the Catholic Worker in Dublin. Her son, Gordon, was recruited by the British military at the dole office in Glasgow. He was sent to his death in Iraq. Long after Bush has retired to his Texas Ranch and Blair is reaping the big bucks on the international lecture circuits young soldiers like Casey and Gordon will be dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought it might be a good idea and symbolism to slide these “coffins” under Bush’s limo.
The cops had spotted Mark’s unfurled banner and called for backup. A PSNI landrover pulled up and a bunch of Robocop looking guys spilled out of the back. Two approached Mark and one me. He asked me my name, I refused to give it. He then detained me under section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
I said “Are you sure you’re not using the Terrorism Act to silence nonviolent anti-war dissent here?”
He said he wasn’t, I was unconvinced.
Just at the moment a Quaker, Anne, arrived on the scene cheerfully greeting me “Hi Ciaron!”
The cop without breaking stride “Do you spell that with a “C” or a “K”?
My sense that he was trying to keep me busy and blocked until the impending convoy sped by. I just stepped over my bag and held my ground.
When I saw the first vehicle with a strobe like siren, I dropped to my right and flung the replica coffin across the road.
Then there were two cops on me. From a weird angle I saw the Presidential limo speed by.
Once we all got up he searched and returned my bag and gave me a receipt for me being detained under the terrorism act.
I had recently seen the film “Brazil” now I had a sense I was in it.
We began walking up the road, down the side street toward the school, we were stopped by cops half way up the road. The first bunch seemed happy enough for Mark and Ann to unfurl the banner and stand in silent witness. Then a more senior officer arrived and demanded the banner be folded and started frog marching a young German Quaker down the hill. I began to mosey off in that direction. Thinking I might be able to do an action down on the main road. Mark was putting up some worthy resistance to his civil liberties being crushed and was arrested. The cops weren’t going to let us stand at the side of the road and began frog marching me and the two others accross the road. As I reached the other side I attempted to fling the replica coffin back on the road where Bush would pass. These new cops got pretty excited and a whole bunch of them landed on me and went into restraint holds. I tried speaking to them calmly, reassuring them it was a wooden replica wooden coffin not an IED.
From the bottom of the human pile I told them who Casey Sheehan had been and about meeting his mother and of all the other folks American, British and Iraq who had lost loved ones in Bush’s war. I saw a glimpse off the Presidential convoy pass. They got off me, detained me, eventually released me and that’s the last I think I’ll ever see of George W Bush. He never came to Europe before he was President and I can’t see him coming again.