Wednesday, December 15, 2010

London's Burning

So there was some pretty wild protesting going on while we were there and we managed to stay one step ahead of (or behind) them the whole day.

First, we're heading down to Westminster and see tons and tons of cops. They're lining the major streets, they're setting up barricades, they're stacking up shields, they're waiting on side streets and on horses in courtyards ...

So we tour the Abbey and come out and see the action's getting more intense. Some of the cops are acting casual, but others look a little wired. We head up the street to Trafalgar square, and can see that thousands of protesters are streaming by. We watch for a few moments through the thicket of police.

Everything seems well under control and we see that they're students protesting some pretty draconian measures that will triple what they pay for tuition (which not long ago was free).

I recall seeing on the news that there had been protests before on this issue and so didn't think it would be a big deal. We wait for a gap in the crowd and cross through to the other side. I head to the Portrait Gallery for a couple of hours and when I come out, the streets are clear, though there are news or police helicopters buzzing overhead.

From there I take a long walk. (Trying to stay up so my body will re-set to London time, which it did after 30 straight hours awake.) I cross over Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank and can hear them rallying up the river. And more helicopters.

I continue my walk, heading back to the North Bank and to Coventry Square, where a coffee shop TV is showing live footage of protesters and police fighting. Interesting, I think. So I continue my walk up Regent Street ...

Now I'm back at the hotel, where we turn on the news to see that Charles and Camilla's limo was attacked on that very same street just minutes to an hour after I passed through.

Another fascinating coincidence. So we leave the hotel to head to a nice dinner of Pakistani food just up the street and around the corner. Outside our hotel we see a couple of cops with fancy electronic gizmos -- boom microphone, camera, etc. And a couple of other cops are very aggressively questioning two kids up against a wall.

Neat. So we go to dinner. When we come back, the area is swarming with cops. We look over our shoulder at a crosswalk and there are two columns of police in full riot gear standing behind us. The policewoman at the head of one column cheerily says, "Don't mind us, we're just waiting to cross like you."

When we do cross, we see a huge line of police halfway down the block and wrapping around our hotel. Cops everywhere -- we estimate about 150.

We go upstairs and turn on the news. Apparently protesters had been fanning out across the city causing trouble. And at Marble Arch, while we were at dinner, they got into more scuffles with the police, lit some fires and broke some store windows.

Insane. I sympathize with the students. It sounds like they're getting shafted, big time. But there were a LOT of violent people among them. And in spite of this graffito I found spray painted on a wall near Parliament a couple of days later ...

... the broken out windows of the Treasury Building not 10 feet away told a different story:

It was a fascinating time to be in London, and the very real issues they were struggling with sure made the ones being debated back home (exactly how big a tax break do the millionaires get) seem pretty trivial.

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