LONDON – Thousands of protesters from disparate walks of life danced and chanted in downtown London on Wednesday ahead of the G-20 meeting of world leaders. Some came dressed as “zombie” bankers, while others donned crazy wigs and platform shoes. Many just wore jeans and t-shirts. A few even wore suits.
Dozens got bloodied scuffling with police, and more than a few drank beer out of tall cans.
Smiling through the skull painted on his face, Lucien Windridge said he was protesting because he believed regular people should have more of a voice in the global financial system.
“If people don’t protest, if people don’t have a voice, it means that they are complicit with corruption,” the 50-year-old said at the start of one major protest in the heart of London’s ancient financial capital, The City.
“People must be able to express their anger at the system that has let them down,” he said, standing next to his wife, son and two daughters.
Windridge was diplomatic, but his daughter Aeyla was less so. What did the 12-year-old want? “The death of capitalism,” she said.
One commonality: a desire for change
Windridge was one of around 4,000 people who marched to the Bank of England, the country’s central bank. To judge from the largely handmade signs among the crowd of students, artists, office workers and even former bankers, their messages were as diverse as their appearance:
– “Stop trading with our futures”
– “Go vegan”
– “Free Palestine”
– “Put people first”
– “Banker wankers”
– “Consumers suck”
– “The ice sheets are melting”
– “No third runway”
But behind these disparate causes, there did seem to run a common thread – a deep-seeded desire, sometimes vague, sometimes quite specific, for real and tangible change.
For one group, enacting change involved violence. At one point, about 20 demonstrators dressed in black and covering their faces surged through the crowd and crashed headlong into a police cordon. Police dressed in fluorescent yellow jackets slammed some into the asphalt.
One young man who hid most of his face with a black scarf was among those clashing with police.
“Capitalism isn’t in crisis, capitalism is the crisis – money is immoral,” he said, declining to give his name.
Through it all, a police helicopter droned overhead as a hypnotic drumbeat set some people to dancing in one corner of the crowd and a brass band did the same in another.
This or the ‘Dukes’
Sebastian Cardelli, 37, who stood in front of the Bank of England’s imposing neoclassical façade, was a world away philosophically from the disguised figures dressed in black.
“I’m out of work. It was either come down here or watch ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’,” said the former banker, a Canadian, as he gazed over the crowd. He doubted that the leaders gathered at the G-20 would come up with anything useful or substantive.
“I don’t believe in a global regulator,” he said, an opinion that seemed to set him at odds with most of the many in the crowd.
Some were there for the sheer spectacle of it.
“I think we need to share the resources, power to the people and that,” said Tommy Langton, 40, who was innocuous except for the plastic toad he wore on his head. “I’m just a normal English person who likes a demonstration.”
He was a bit peeved because police had blocked the way out for all demonstrators, essentially trapping them without water, bathrooms or beer.
The police blockade created “more anger than necessary,” said Rachel MacLaughlin, 24, a London-based costume design student.
“People are in here with families, they’ve come along to see what happens, and it is not fair they aren’t letting us out,” she said, adding that she had a dentist appointment to get to.
While a small group of people carrying Soviet flags rested on the sidewalk, one man from Ghana was fatalistic about what might come out of the day’s demonstration.
“I hope the world will change for good, but you have to be realistic,” said the office worker. “Recessions have happened before, and it’s always people who are powerless who get hurt again and again and again.”