As should no longer be a surprise to anyone, the G20 is due to start in a scant few hours here in London. As a resident that has seen the Tube bombings, the many scares and the frequent outbreaks of disorderly conduct, I feel I am uniquely placed to observe that which will unfold.
Let me begin by saying I am not afraid.
A great many residents though are very scared right now. In a city of ten million with tensions bubbling beneath the surface, a very diverse mix of ethnic and cultural differences and a high symbolic value, it only takes a small spark to ignite the streets. Add to that the volatile fuel that is the G20, mix with civic dissatisfaction, stir with political outrage and pour the whole slop onto an angry population that is going to have to pay for the next five decades just to earn back their own pensions, and you may understand the sort of situation we're looking at here.
To those who are undoubtedly thinking of joining the G20 protests and reading this article (and I hope you will take the advice to heart, even if I only reach a few of you):
1) Keep it civil. A great many people are angry. A good chunk of the world is angry right now, and you are provided with an outlet that may seem all too alluring. Don't give in to the goading, don't follow those that may be among the protesters with ulterior motives (and there will be many of those). If you are asked to disperse, disperse. Return later at a different point and make your voices heard again. It's better to leave one spot and assemble to chant again than to chant louder and be silenced for the rest of the day.
2) Policemen are doing their jobs. Yes, they are in an adversarial role, and they are the visible barrier between you and 'them', but remember these people have families, undoubtedly have their own mortgage to pay off, and are in the same boat as you are. A great many wish they could be anywhere else, but these men and women have sworn to keep the peace in the city, and that's what they intend to do. They have been doing a stellar job in London, and there is no need to vent frustration on them. They are mortal men and women, just like you and me. Don't push them, don't attack them, don't yell at them in frustration. If they tell you stand down, stand down. If they warn you of 'Section Five', take that as a cue to apologize sincerely for insulting them, and back away. They're not your enemy. Finally, if worst comes to worst and they seek to arrest you for any reason, do not resist. A crowd is a living entity, and if you focus its attention on the scene, things may turn ugly... for everyone involved. Be a civil protester and play by the rules of society, even if you disagree with them.
3) Personal property. Damaging anything is not a good way to show you are being serious, or to get your point across. The owner of whatever you have just demolished will be stuck with the damages (insurance will /not/ cover acts of civil disobedience or riots) and will be by far the worse off. This goes for corporate property as well. While it may seem tempting to cool your anger on the windows of a major bank, know that the people left picking up the pieces will not be those you are trying to target. Spare a thought for those will have to clean up the mess, the security personnel who will be working overtime to secure the building (and not getting paid for said overtime) and generally the disturbance you will cause to the place of work that many people rely on to put food on the table. Again, damaging anything will not make an impression on those you are trying to vent your anger on, because it won't even be mentioned to them. Not even a side note at the next briefing, they simply will not know or care.
4) 'City of London Corporation'. Be on the lookout for street signs bearing that symbol or name, and if you come across any know that you are in an area of London where your civil rights mean absolutely nothing. This is an area of the city (in)famously known as the 'Square Mile' governed by the Lord Mayor, not the actual Mayor, and which has its own laws, customs, charters and police force. These people do not play nice. Any riotous or otherwise disruptive behavior in that part of the city will be met by a private security and police force that does not have to answer to any judicial system. Do not go there, do not think of going there, and if you find yourself there get out immediately.
5) CCTV. London has the densest concentration of security cameras in the world. There is one for every seven citizens. They are rigged for ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) and AFR (Automatic Facial Recognition) and pictures taken by them are of such high quality that they themselves can carry an entire case in court. Quite simply put, if you break the law while protesting, you will be seen and identified. If you try to break down a camera, another camera will see you do it. There is no such thing as anonymity in this city, and a camera is watching you whenever you step outside. I personally get tracked by at least three cameras every day on my way to the Tube station, and those are just the ones I can see beginning to follow me. Big Brother /will/ be watching you.
None of the above should be taken as a reason not to get involved and exercise your civic rights of peaceful gathering. It is simply a quick guide as to what I deem to be important knowledge for anyone thinking of doing so in the next two or three days.
Mind you, this is an old city, and one that has seen many things. It will survive this storm, but in its proudest naval tradition, has started to batten down the hatches.
London braces for the Storm.