On Saturday I went down to London, collected Pedals, and rode it solo to Tothill Street just off Parliament Square where I had arranged to meet DJ Eon. The plan was to join a march to the US Embassy organised by Justice for Omar Deghayes, protesting the illegal detention of UK residents in Guantanamo Bay. When I arrived there were probably about 50 people there, mostly Muslims, some of them busy inflating hundreds of orange helium balloons.
A woman approached me and asked about the sound system - I said it was a collectively owned mobile community PA system and that I had brought it along to support the event. I was taken aback when she said that Omar is a strict Muslim and does not approve of music, so there had been a decision not to "allow" any music on the march - it would have been nice if they had mentioned that on the website when they advertised the event. Another protester overheard the woman and started going on about Sufi music, and the woman was saying that Sufis are not Muslims blah blah. As an atheist I was not there to get embroiled in sectarian religious debate so I went to chat to a couple of friends from the G8 Bike Ride who had just arrived.
The arrival of a sound system seemed to rattle the organisers. It was a police approved march and conditions were obviously in force. They said that they were not allowed to use any amplification within the exclusion zone around Parliament, which is strange. Although the draconian SOCPA legislation makes it an offence to use a loudspeaker in the exclusion zone without permission there is no reason that an official event should be denied the right to do so (though it is of course at the whim of the Metropolitan Police). Anyway, this was all sounding far too authoritarian for my liking - the event was clearly being stage managed and they didn't want any hippies spoiling the show.
So there I am in London on a lovely sunny day with sound system, DJ, and a couple of other people up for a ride - what can we do? A plan quickly took shape. Split from the demo, play some tunes, ride round Parliament Square a couple of times to show what we think of SOCPA, and then head over to Hyde Park. As we cranked up the system, another woman came running over in an agitated state, waving her arms and shouting "No Music" - for fsck's sake, we're leaving alright!
As we rode through town DJ Eon was making making announcements, letting people know about the protest, talking about torture flight's and secret CIA prisons etc. The police have been monitoring our progress and intercept us in Hyde Park, asking what we are up to. Just out for a ride officer, enjoying the sunshine. By now we are just playing music, but agree to turn down the level to get the cops off our backs.
Pedals had a problem with a broken wire causing the tweeters to cut out, and while I was trying to bodge it together a Canadian guy came up and asked to run some lyrics by us. It sounded good so we asked him if he wanted to get on the mike. Eon put on an instrumental track and we were treated to some live hip-hop in the park. You can check out his website - Who the fuck is Bah?
After that we headed up to the US Embassy to see the tail end of the march arrive and parked pedals in the middle of Grosvenor Square. I don't really know why people bother organising weekend protests there. Standing outside a faceless monolith under the glare of the Imperial Eagle is not exactly fun, and it is not like there are any staff there to see or hear your message. We hung out for a bit playing some reggae before calling it a day.
Final stop was in Soho where I stayed with pedals on a street corner cranking out some more reggae while Eon went to buy video tapes for a shoot he was doing later. I got a few people asking me about Pedals, someone even asked if we wanted to be in a film! So I had an excellent day despite things not going quite to plan, and it seems like the Guantanamo demo went well too (there looked to be about 300 people at the Embassy).
www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010