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Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the Palace - we are not amused


George Bush arrived in London on Tuesday and I just had to be there so I left work early and jumped on the train with my bicycle. I arrived at Kings Cross at around 17:00 and had time for a quick drink in Sahara Nights where they were doing sound checks for the RAWPeace night. I had a brief chat with one of the organisers and he gave me a bunch of flyers to take on the CCC "Burning Planet" march which was my next appointment. I arrived at the assembly point to find a growing crowd, a good atmosphere and loads of cameras. As well as the familiar globe in the greenhouse there was a giant illuminated globe and loads of lovely lanterns which people had made - nice work. Rhythms of Resistance started up a beat and the procession set off with I guess a couple of hundred protesters. The route was to pass the ExxonMobil offices and then on to the US Embassy but I peeled off early to cycle down to Peckham. On the way I decided to stop and meet Brian Haw who has been maintaining a permanent 24 hour peace vigil opposite the Houses of Parliament since June 2001. When I told him about the sort of actions I have taken part in he was very critical and I was taken aback by his anger. For example he objected to Critical Mass people cycling around Parliament Square, saying that they should come and join his vigil instead. I stayed a while to hear him out, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to learn something from his extraordinary experience and, if nothing else, at least give him an opportunity to vent some of his obvious frustration. Brian is often alone there all night and vulnerable to attacks by drunken yobs so if anyone can spare any time to get down to Parliament Square and give him some support that would be great.

After a good night's sleep on a sofa in Peckham I woke up in time to cycle up the Old Kent Road and arrive at Waterloo Bridge for the 10:00 Critical Mass. About 40 of set off to see what we could do and after a while found ourselves at Parliament Square which we circled a couple of times (sorry Brian!) before riot vans moved in behind to stop us doing a third circuit. At that point we decided to try Whitehall, which appeared to be open to traffic. About half way up a load of cops ran out into the road to stop us and for a moment it looked like it might all be over but they "kindly" allowed us to turn round and cycle back the way we came. The number of police in the area was absolutely ridiculous so we had to keep moving. After a while I broke off from the Mass and did a bit of scouting around on my own. Back to Parliament Square once more but no sign of all the kids who were planning to walk out of their classes. I suspect schools were leaned on to make sure gates were locked. By now Whitehall had been closed to all traffic including bicycles but I was allowed to get off and push. Half way up I bumped into George Galloway giving an interview and there was a small area obviously set aside for people to stand and perhaps catch a glimpse of Bush arriving for lunch at the Banqueting Hall. I hurried on up to Trafalgar Square and wandered around suggesting that people with banners etc head back down Whitehall to greet the man. The Women's Peace Picnic was getting under way and there was plenty of stuff happening but I had to get over to Victoria Station to see about the Resist Bush Tea Party protest.

I got there an hour or so early to assess the situation and things looked reasonably promising. The idea was that people assemble at 15:00 and make their way in a group to Buckingham Palace, what could be easier? But as more people arrived the police came out in force and began to hem us in until eventually someone urged the crowd to make a break through one of the remaining gaps. I was about 100m away with some Critical Mass people at the time and we ended up going off in the opposite direction. We got to the Palace without incident but I still don't know exactly what happened to the main group. Outside the Palace there were quite a lot of protesters behind crowd control barriers who cheered when we ignored police and cycled into the "sterile zone" in front of the palace gates. We then headed off down The Mall towards a police formation that were attempting to hold back a crowd heading our way. Suddenly the cops had been outflanked and people surged towards us so we joined them and returned to settle down outside the Palace. I tied my "Keep Space for Peace" banner to a fence and wandered around chatting to people including a few Americans who were happy to be part of such a lively demonstration against their hated president. There were also a lot of people who had come for the Resist Bush Tea Party but had made their own way rather than assembling at Victoria Station.

Someone had told me that the samba band was trapped in Trafalgar Square with several hundred other people but somehow they got free and when we heard them approaching down Birdcage Walk a big cheer went up. The main action was near Buckingham Gate where the crowd was lit up by lights from about a dozen camera crews. I stayed near the end of the Mall where I sat on the wall for a while singing with some Quaker women before eventually leaving at about 19:00 to get something to eat. Then I realised how tired I was and decided to call it a day. It is very difficult to estimate the total number of people protesting because actions were happening simultaneously in various places. I would guess there were a few thousand, but never more than about 1000 in any one place. That was OK though because I knew that the main march the following day would draw far larger numbers. Ian Gregory 2010