Britain's young had helped stop a coup, now they wanted more
“In London, some 80,000 protesters occupied a main square. Others gathered in Birmingham, Liverpool and Nottingham. The protesters are angry with the government's economic policies and the country's high unemployment. Police had ordered those camped out in London to leave by Sunday. But, as the ban came into effect at midnight, the crowds started cheering and police did not move in. The protest began six days ago in London's Lombard Street as a spontaneous sit-in by young Brits frustrated at 45% youth unemployment. The crowd camping out in the square overnight grew and the protest has spread to other cities across the country. According to the BBC, a total of some 200,000 protesters has gathered across the UK, including Sheffield, Bristol, Glasgow and Leicester.”
- UK protesters defy ban with anti-government rallies, CNN News Bulletin
The counter-coup in 2009, the general strike, and countless protests over the last few weeks. The tension on the streets of Britain had been growing for months. Britain’s youth especially were feeling abandoned by the political class. Despite the fact youth unemployment was well over 40%, young people saw the SDP and Alternative, parties overwhelmingly supported by the young, pushing through austerity policies and cutting back on the state. This wasn’t the first time Britain’s youth had been abandoned by the political establishment, during 2009 it was overwhelmingly students that faced down the military and Civil Assistance rioters on Britain's streets.
In May 2011, the tension would snap, over 180,000 people, overwhelmingly young, took to the streets of London, and other cities up and down the country. In London the protesters would occupy Lombard Street, famed for its connection to the banking industry launching a peaceful sit-in bringing the whole street to a halt. The police responded poorly, charging the protesters and in the scuffle bins were set alight and shop windows were broken. By the end of the day over 40 people had been injured, including seven police officers, and 140 people were in prison. Despite this the protests remained on Lombard Street, pitching tents and singing songs.
The Lombard Street protesters and others partaking in direct action in other cities became known as the “Outrage Movement”. Inspired by other youth protests like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street movements. Predominantly organised through new forms of social media such as Twitter, organisers were able to summon huge crowds at a moments notice, with very little time for police to react. The police would clear protesters from one street, only for a new camp to materialise the next borough over. Protests and nighttime camp outs occurred in 42 towns and cities, from Birmingham to Swindon. Many of these camps would last for weeks, organising themselves into mini-communities with cleaning, banner making and even live music. Such was the extent of support for the Outrage Movement that some small business would deliver food to the camping protesters.
Some called it the Second British Revolution
“A youth-led rebellion is spreading across Europe as a new generation of protesters takes possession of squares in cities around the UK. Protests are also planned in Italy, where the tag #italianrevolution is a trend on Twitter. Plans have been announced for a piazza occupation in Florenceon Thursday night. In London demonstrators have refused to budge from the central Trafalgar Square despite a police charge on Tuesday night. Now they have occupied a quarter of the square, covering it with tarpaulins and tents, setting up kitchens and tapping at laptops. Similar scenes were being played out in Birmingham, where protesters held a Argentinian-style pan-bashing protest. "Everyone is here for their own reasons," said Louis Paterson, 20, an anthropology student who was handing out flyers in Victoria Square.”
- UK rallies against cuts and corruption spread, Elizabeth Flock, Washington Post (2011)
Several of the protesters would wear stamps on their lapels. This was a homage to the General Strike of 2003, originally organised by Britain’s postal workers, folks supportive of the strike would wear stamps in a show of solidarity. #BritishRevolution would trend on Twitter. Britain had already seen a regime collapse eight years earlier, could it happen again? International press would flock to London as the Outrage Movement proved to be one of the largest direct action organisations in recent memory. Der Spiegel noted the young Brits organising the protests as the “Facebook Generation”, in opposition to the top-down organising of the traditional left. Whilst the Hill-Norton Government had been brought down by the organising of union barons and communist party bosses, the Johnson administration faced much more dangerous disorganised protests.
As the occupations wore on, London increasingly struggled to operate. Chancellor Alan Sugar ended up having to sleep one night in the Treasury after Outragers chained themselves around the building, refusing to let anyone leave. Armed Forces Day was cancelled out of concerns for the security of the Queen. Clashes between police and protests continued to escalate as police tactics to remove protesters became increasingly violent. One clash in Trafalgar Square was particularly nasty, with nearly 80 people being hospitalised as the police used dogs and water cannons. The heavy-handed approach of Met Commissioner Stephen House, a veteran of the Scottish Conflict, led some MPs to demand his resignation.
Outrage managed to shut down the Commons for a day
In response to the Battle of Trafalgar, Outrage called for a blockade of the House of Commons. Several thousand protests would surround the Palace of Westminster, as well as other estate buildings such as Portcullis House and the Norman Shaw Buildings. Riot police were deployed to escort MPs into the Commons. Some MPs were jostled and egged as they made their way into the Commons, with Industry Secretary Ed Balls being punched on the nose and knocked to the ground. Johnson had to make the journey to Parliament via police helicopter out of fear for his safety and over 100 MPs missed the Parliamentary session due to the protests. In the Commons Johnson slammed the Outrage protesters as conducting an “attack on democracy” by preventing MPs from going about their business.
Whilst the violence in Westminster had been a black-spot on the mostly peaceful events of the Outrage Movement, they certainly showed a new way of doing politics. In camps outside banks and government departments, protesters organised people’s assemblies. In the overwhelmingly differential and hierarchical culture of British society, these young people organising themselves using mutual aid and social media was completely revolutionary. In every major British City there was an Outrage Movement. One photo went viral on social media showing three old ladies in Tunbridge Wells sipping gin and “occupying” the high-street outside their local Barclays - viva la revolution.
“A group of fourteen police trod along a street in the centre of London, on a tense day marked by the peaceful protests of the Outrage Movement. The video of the fourteen police officers, and a 17 year old woman was filmed by a witness who followed the police and captured the events on a mobile telephone. The footage, three minutes long, shows the determined advance of the police officers to the area where the protesters are amassed. A young woman confronted the police, asking, 'What’s happening?', to which one officer responded with a direct punch to her face. The woman began to shout, and while another protester tried to pull her away, the police hit her various times with their truncheons. The police then turned on another young man who was taking photos from a few metres away.”
- Graphic Video Of Police Brutality Angers Protesters In London, NPR News Report (2011)
The boys in blue weren't holding back