Democracy… or Vandalism?

Looks like it could be an interesting day in Parliament Square today. Having been encamped by the Houses of Parliament since May, peace protestors have been served with an eviction order – meaning they have to leave the site by 4pm today.

Rather than try to argue their democratic right to protest, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has cited vandalism as the reason that they have to go. The whole thing seems like a minefield as the now-legendary Brian Haw – who has been living there for nearly 10 years – has won a High Court case against his eviction after a High Court judge ruled that he was camping there legally… as long as Boris gave him permission.

Haw’s campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has become something of a cultural icon, with artist Mark Wallinger recreating the entirety of his protest camp at the Tate a couple of years ago, with hundreds of weather-beaten placards taking up the entire length of the huge Duveen galleries. It wasn’t a glib statement. As the notes for the exhibition stated:

On 23 May 2006, following the passing by Parliament of the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act’ prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, the majority of Haw’s protest was removed. Taken literally, the edge of this exclusion zone bisects Tate Britain. Wallinger has marked a line on the floor of the galleries throughout the building, positioning State Britain half inside and half outside the border.

Whether the recent additions to the protest camp have followed Haw’s model of protest or not remains to be seen. If they are vandalising the area, then clearly some action needs to be taken. But one might ask if shocking and awful damage to a capital city is precisely what these protestors are on about: the ill-planned bombing of Baghdad and the subsequent degeneration of Iraq into terrible violence deserves some resistance. They have committed to ‘imaginative non-violent resistance’ if they are forced to move on this afternoon. One just hopes that the forces who are sent in to carry out this task have a degree more planning and empathy than those who were sent to liberate Baghdad.