police solidarity blockade of shell petrol station

27.1.12

in many years of independent reporting, i've often seen situations where police have caused larger disruption than a handfull of protestors, closing roads, sometimes closing down businesses, and sometimes massively amplifying the power of the protestors alone (not that that's their intention). however, this evening was, i think, the first time that they so completely did the job of the activists for them, that the campaigners could sit in a nice warm pub and toast the met, instead of standing around in the cold themselves.

the protest this evening was called by the climate-conscious shell-bashing 'london rising tide' group, in co-ordination with the legendary activist samba band 'rhythms of resistance'.

each january, the band commemorate the life of activist, val jones, a woman who helped put the rossport county mayo struggles on the political map, and who, as a designer, produced many brilliant huge banners for the movement. she was sadly struck down with motor neurone disease and passed away two years ago. in memory of val, the commemoration takes the form of a shell garage blockade each year.

so, tonight, the call-out was for a blockade at the shell station in old street, the scene of previous blockades. around twenty people turned up to the meeting point, armed with drums, banners, and leaflets. well, actually someone forgot the leaflets, but as it turned out they weren't needed.

the usual time-line for these events is that the activists turn up at the garage, the band plays on the forecourt, the large banners are used to close the entrance to the site, and leaflets are handed out to staff, to motorists, and to passers-by. the staff then close the shop and call the police, who turn up after about half an hour. the police warn people that they might be committing aggravated trespass, and then they forcefully facilitate the continuation of the action on the pavement, so that the garage opens for business once more.

however, tonight, something was very different. even before the demo began, the garage went dark, bollards blocking its entrance, and small groups of police lurked on street corners nearby.

so the activists were confused. what to do? was there any point attempting a blockade of a garage that was already closed for business? previous estimates from blockades show that garages lose several thousands of pounds of business when they close, and this is of course part of the point of the protests. also, someone had forgotten the leaflets, so although there was a suggestion of moving to a different target, there was the concern the protest wouldn't be so effective without this element.

every now and then, someone went out to check the site, and the garage remained totally closed for business, all lights off, staff locked in their shop, and nonchalant street-corner policing. so, another drink, a bit of food, plans afoot for future actions, and as the cold wind built up, and the wet drizzle came down, the occasional check that the police were continuing to carry out the activists' mission.

an hour passed, another one, a third. wow, this was better than any previous small-scale blockade. there was fond reminiscing of the upper street blockade a few years ago, val and the band present, on a saturday. this had closed the upper street shell garage for five or six hours, and ended with loads of TSG arriving , a couple of arrests, and a lot of details taken. but it was a much larger scale event with lots of prior planning. tonight was always meant to be a small, token, and commemorative action.

after three hours, the police scaled down and appeared to leave, but the garage stayed closed for a futher two hours, until finally near 11pm it opened for business once more.

this has to have been the most successful blockade without a single activist present. maybe they should contact the guiness book of records. we have the photos, the eye-witness reports.

various theories emerged as to why this happened tonight, but none of us really know, so in the meantime, the met should be heartened that a glass or two was raised to them for their sterling work this evening in costing shell five hours-worth of business at a normally very busy london garage, and thanks to them that a couple of dozen activists stayed warm, safe and conspiratorial. 

all involved hope that the met join in with even more solidarity for the big blockade on the 8th february (occupyoil).