J18 (1999)

This  appeared in Adbusters




What a day, a day to lift the spirits after weeks of being stuck between a rock and a hard place and terrible arguments with old comrades over what has been happening in Kosovo. At last, a chance not to be the passive spectator, and know that all over the world there will be actions against global capitalism and its inhumanity.


The sun shining and hot. In the morning I hear on the radio reports, mainly on the traffic news, of imaginitive actions, Tower Bridge closed by a low-slung banner hung by abseilers. The radio talks of abseiling policemen trying to get it down. In the meanwhile, by coincidence our underfunded underground train system is breaking down all over the place of its own accord. In the meanwhile cyclists out in force are closing off streets around Blackfriars and then the Bank of England while elsewhere a ring of people surround the Treasury. This is co-ordinated decentralisation and the cops don’t know how to deal with it, used to all those easy years of leftist marches to Trafalgar Square, controlled by them marching either side of it, always at a pace that makes your feet hurt. The traffic news of the various radio stations around town are working overtime. Lloyds Bank is occupied for a while, so is Natwest and Peat Marwick.


From 12 o’clock is to be a Carnival of Resistance aka a Carnival of the Dispossessed, and I feel a sense of continuity which adds to my happiness because it is continuity in the right direction. On election day 1970 some 500-1000 of us did the first march I knew of that went through the City of London. The Festival of the Oppressed it was called with drummers to the fore.

This time the Carnival kicks off in Liverpool St station and the drums are loud and thrilling on the marble type floor of the huge concourse designed for the discomfort of travellers and just waiting all these years for a rave. A good choice too, hard for them to close the Main Line Station, even if they are about to close the tube. Here is and we snake out with the drums to a dead plaza with a McDonalds and a brazen office block of the Thatcher era. The drum beat is thrilling, mountaineers climb up the office block to do a cheeky dance on the parapet, wild cheering of the Naked Protest while the officers of the office stand looking out of the window, they the passive spectators of what is normally their undisputed territory.


I want to meet up with my pal back in the station which coincides with another partial move back in there. She just makes, one of the very last out of the London Underground before they close it. I’m reading the great spoof of the Evening Standard paper and called Evading Standards that are being given out. One of many sharp headlines reads “The Final Act of Enclosure”. The drummers keep up the momentum. Someone gives us Green masks, this is the Gift Economy, the selfless and anonymous work that is making all this happen.The mask has a practical suggestion inside- “On the signal follow your colour…Let the Carnival Begin. In the station there are also   Red and Gold Masks. We see later that there have been other colours. Inside the mask too is printed a web site address and a keen understanding of the mask:-

“These in authority fear the mask for their power partly resides in identifying, stamping, cataloguing: in knowing who YOU are…The wearing of a mask symbolizes the rejection of the cult of personality so crucial to consumer capitalism…While the elite gangs of state and capital become evermore faceless their fear of the faces of everyday resistance grows. The search for the resisters intensifies with endless CCTV cameras unmasking the streets with new devices that can pick out and identify a single face in the growing   crowd.”


So, we are with the Greens and at the word set off away from the main crowd, a thousand of us. No leaders but messages are passed and there is a mood of trust, the very production of the mask and the paper speaking of the intelligence and nous of those who have worked to make this happen. This is a Magical Mystery Tour to be enjoyed. With whistles and drums, inviting those in the offices to come out on the street we cross Bishopsgate and down Middlesex Street. The cops are hardly anywhere to be seen. Some in the masks are dressed in suits. Meanwhile those in the offices and banks have been told to dress down. More identity confusion. The suits that are in suits look strangely sheepish. The move it transpires is for Aldgate East Station. The few cops there let us stream through. The word is for a Westbound District Line train. Not the first train. We wait for the second. Full of blank faced passengers it does not stop, nor the one after. For a moment the trust is shakey. Feels like a trap down in the tube but the word is to make it out of the other exit. Back out on the street we start back Westwards back into the heart of the city. Complete takeover of the street, traffic halted. London sightseeing buses full of tourists who wave. Some angry guy wants to smash our faces in but ‘there are too many of you’. Precisely. Up around Fenchurch Street. Security guys stood in Bank doorways. So many faces at the windows.

And then that great feeling, suddenly we are all re-united, masks of all colours, in a street by Cannon Street, Dowgate Hill, right in the belly of the beast by the LIFFE building where billions of dollars are sent whizzing round the globe from computer screens on a 24 hour basis. More anonymous geniuses have been at work. In the street running down by the side of the building, cobbled, running down to the Thames, a whole area has been blocked off by our side and best of all in the heat a hydrant let off and turned into a forty foot waterfall as the drums beat out in these alien buildings. It’s fucking mental. Dancing and singing in the rain. Which is also cover for the bricking up of some LIFFE entrances and the smashing of others. We blocked up the drains of Dowgate Hill to flood it and took a rest with some other joyous faces down on a tiny bit of beach on the Thames. The Thames that has been so enclosed by private capital as it continues its colonisation down river through East London. Sit there in the sun and smoke a spliff. We work our way along the river and back up on to Cannon Street proper and another site of wonder. More anonymous geniuses have been at work.

The LIFE building is in large part a multi storeyed bridge across Cannon Street. Right along is strung up a huge banner: THE EARTH: A COMMON TREASURY FOR ALL.

This is Precise Protest. Where it matters. Other geniuses the musicians, have used an underground car park as a base to ferry in an out speakers, decks, computers even. Down Cannon Street beat the drums. More banners are raised up using the CCTV cameras to tie their ropes to. The musicians have taken a bit of precinct further back. A veteran of the Stop the City of 1983 is so happy. They said protest and resistance politics is finished, he said, but then we were 5000, now it is 15, 20 thousand maybe. He said he was sure that we had succeeded in stopping the non-stop flow of money because there was at this time supposed to be a change of shift in this 24 hour process and that we had prevented the shift change from happening. Only a piss in the ocean as far as they were concerned, he said, but it can be done again. We could see the wiseguys that man this non-stop flow of money stuck up there on its highest walkway and laughed at them, one suit, his uptight visible from a hundred yards. Someone gave me a leaflet saying their would be later action in Leicester Square to try and close down the UCI cinema. Why so? Because they are planning to build a cinema complex and what had been a swathe of Crystal Palace’s parkland.


There were no speeches, none of the usual Bolshevik sect newspapers, no leaders or superstars but everywhere was visible a precise attack on what the Midnight Notes comrades in the USA have called the New Enclosures, the river, the city itself, public spaces. That headline in The Evading Standards newspaper the Final Act of Enclosure referred to the Biotech companies and GM food, the monopolization by patent of seeds, the impact it will have in India where there is mass mobilization against this form of enclosure. We were not then, ‘a mindless mob’, but rather an international day against finance fetish and the global enclosures for profit underway.


We too a break a couple of streets away to get a drink and returned to find a new mood. News of a young woman being run over by a police van and some of the fearless youth who had stormed into the LIFFE building itself. Now the cops showed themselves, they were hot, they had been given he runaround, had never dealt with the fast-moving fearlessness of the generation who are the children of us middle-aged ‘anti-capitalists’, as the media had begun to say, that a kind of victory in itself. They had the new telescope batons, the shields, the all-in-one helmets and they were on the charge. Young guys in suits brought out flare canisters out of suitcases to join the bottles flying in the face of the police charge. Adrenalin was up and running. A luxury Mercedes showroom was trashed, another bank attacked as the police charge was held off.


Me, I’m too old for this, don’t have the nerves or the stamina but am loath to say that somehow this violence fired up by police attacks ruined the carnival as the Lord Mayor of London was saying a couple of hours later. My mouth opened and closed in astonishment as he said that the anti-capitalist had their point of view and though the city might disagree with this (OH yes) they respected the views of others (oh yes) but that this mindless violence was a disgrace.


Now the words on the mask are prophetic, the police say today (the 19th) that they will be studying hundreds of hours of CCTV footage to add to the 14 people arrested. They are not going to admit it but I suspect that J18 cost them a lot of money especially if LIFFE did have to suspend the international currency roundabout, and 14 arrests is little to show for it. At the very least some offices were closed, staff sent home and security expenses upped. Some 3 months ago sitting in a café I picked up the Daily Mirror and read how keen the cops were to infiltrate Reclaim the Streets and other Groups organising J18 in London. They being a not Bolshevik type organisation they have obviously found this hard to do and are well pissed-off. They will be holding all sorts of debriefing sessions and consequent planning to secure their enclosures. J18 in London showed a generation of young people capable of responding to their response.



To see what happened internationally-the real bravery of 10,000 in Nigeria for example doing their own political carnival in Port Harcourt , also in the USA, Germany etc

See the web site


and if it’s still up and running