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European Social Forum 2004


I had been preparing for the ESF for some time but in a stroke of bad luck I came down with a cold just before the start. I struggled through the weekend anyway but didn't make it in to work today so I might as well spend some time writing up a report.

The cold first struck on Thursday but I wrapped up warm and headed down to London with my bicycle and enough tat to stay till Sunday. Although most of the stuff I planned to do was not part of the Official ESF I had offered to help on the Campaign against Climate Change stall in Alexandra Palace so I needed to register. I got to Conway Hall just in time and after handing over 20 quid was given a pink plastic wristband and a free 3 day travel card. I needed all the rest I could get so I cycled to Liverpool Street and jumped on a train to Hackney where I crashed out on my sister's sofa.

It was raining in the morning so I donned waterproofs and set off for the Strand where I briefly joined a support demo outside the Court of Appeal for peace activists who had been illegally detained by the police - see Fairford Coach Action. It was still raining, and feeling rather feeble I left the demo to wait in the NFT cafe for the first of two Critical Mass rides which had been planned for Friday. The start had been advertised for 12:00 under Waterloo Bridge but the police arrived about half an hour early and I watched them standing around in the rain while I sipped my coffee in comfort:-) This Mass was part of the London Rising Tide Carnival Tour of G8 Climate Criminals and had an underwater theme with lots of nice costumes (including a penguin holding a sign which said "I'm a pissed off penguin - where are my icecaps?"). Unlike the regular monthly rides we were accompanied by a samba band on foot and Joe Letts' bio-diesel powered 1966 Routemaster London to Baghdad bus, both of which presented difficulties. We lost the samba band early on and they ended up crossing a different bridge. Due to technical problems we had no mobile sound system either so for the first part of the ride we were without music. At the first stop just off the Strand I left and rode down to the river where I found the samba band walking along the embankment with a police escort and lead them back to the demo. I was rewarded for showing initiative by having my photograph taken (again) by a police "Forward Intelligence Team". Our next stop was Canada House on the corner of Trafalgar Square where a Latvian Krishna showed up with a bicycle trailer full of lovely food. It had stopped raining and things were looking up. I ended up talking philosophy with the Krishna and got left behind when the Mass set off for Oxford Street but I found it again later at the final destination outside the BP sponsored National Portrait Gallery. Some of us then retired to the cafe in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields church for a cuppa and chat.

By the time we left the cafe the second Critical Mass was almost due to start so a couple of us headed back down to Waterloo Bridge. This time no police at all showed up and we came up with a vague plan to cycle up to the Camden Centre which was another ESF related venue. We eventually headed off with a couple of dozen bikes including one with a trailer sound system playing some nice reggae. Although I would have been content to occupy a single lane the Mass wanted to occupy the whole road which meant that a queue of irate car and taxi drivers quickly built up behind us leading to some fairly confrontational situations. Turning up Whitehall from Parliament Square there was a particularly heated incident and a police car stopped to see what was going on but the police made no attempt to stop us or assign us an escort. The most serious problem we had was when someone invited a group of about 6 youths on bikes to join the ride. They followed for a while and then attacked a young CM'er, punching him in the face and stealing his bike (and leaving behind a much crappier one). I had thought they looked a bit dodgy but didn't realise what a bunch of tossers they were. Anyway, we pushed on and reached the Camden Centre without any other major problems. At this point I wanted to head up to a party in Tufnell Park and as no one else seemed to be up for it I carried on on my own.

On my way the rain started to come down quite heavily and I was very glad to have brought waterproofs. The Peace Not War party I was looking for was supposed to be in a squatted church but I only had vague directions and it was not until I spotted Joe's bus looking for a place to park up that I really knew I was on the right track. The squat was amazing, with a stage in a huge hall, cafe, chill out areas etc. At one point there were probably a couple of hundred people there with many of them (me included) dancing away to live sets from Carpet Face, The Rub and others. I ended up staying the night in the church but due to noise and lack of blanket I hardly slept. On Saturday morning I got up and left the squat with the intention of going down to Oxford Street where there was all sorts of entertainment planned, but by the time I reached Kings Cross, with my cold worse than ever and the rain still coming down, I decided to give up and go home to recuperate.

On my way home I stopped at Alexandra Palace to check out some of the official ESF stuff and found myself in a huge bustling marketplace of ideologies with an outrageous number of people accosting me and trying to sell me newspapers. I visited a number of stalls including that of the Dissent! Network of Resistance Against the G8 where I bought a copy of We Are Everywhere (the irresistible rise of global capitalism).

On Sunday morning, after a nice long sleep, I headed back down to Alexandra Palace (this time without the bicycle) where I helped take down the CCC stall and pack it out to Phil's van - in which I then hitched a ride down to Euston to get to Russell Square for the Stop the War Coalition march. The "theme" was "Time To Go - Bush Out - Troops Out" and it was being supported by Paul Bigley, brother of executed British hostage Ken Bigley. For the first part of the march I walked with Tony's Soap Box which had linked up with a rolling speaker stack for extra power. When Carpet Face had finished a long stint on the mic the speaker stack unplugged and moved ahead as an independent system while the soapbox played suitable music for some Katak style dancing (katak.jpeg) by two women in lovely traditional costumes. Later I moved up to join the detached sound system which was being pushed along on a trolley accompanied by people dressed as bananas (bananas.jpeg). It turns out they were representing Banana Link, supporting small Caribbean banana producers. The police FIT guys were busy snapping away and I always like to snap back (forward.jpeg) but I also managed to get a photograph of the elusive Backward Intelligence Team (backward.jpeg). Trafalgar Square filled up nicely with up to 100,000 people taking part (police estimate 20,000) but the rain came down again and only the hard core stayed to listen to Asian Dub Foundation.

I was going to head back home but after some spicy noodle soup I felt just about well enough to pop in to the Lincoln Lounge on York Way, where Peace Not War were having another party. It was quiet when I arrived and I sat sipping a double whiskey for medicinal purposes. I wasn't going to stay long but I recognised a woman from the Tufnell Park squat and ended up helping her out by standing on the door to collect donations and pretty soon the place was packed. There were some fine DJs and the small dance floor was heaving but I had finally had enough and decided it was time to call it a night. Ian Gregory 2010