On Saturday 7 July, as supporters in London were marching in the World Pride event for Bradley Manning and continuing the daily vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy for Julian Assange, here in Wrexham we had a community picnic in the middle of town and took the opportunity to draw attention to Brad and Julian’s situations with our banners. This move drew strongly contrasting responses: thoughtful support from the people and attempts to silence us from the authorities.
Sharing space, sharing food
The picnic had been called by Yum Yum, a project that’s working on creating a safe, welcoming space in Wrexham for all to share and where no one will be turned away through inability to pay. The space chosen for the picnic was the green behind the Guildhall council offices and where a largely unused bandstand provides a meeting point and shelter for local young people. The dozen or so who were around when we arrived engaged with us as we put up the banners and as more folk turned up with contributions of food.
Support from young and old
The teenagers we spoke with may not have been aware at the outset that Bradley Manning had lived in Wales when he was their age, but they knew all about WikiLeaks and they certainly knew that they were being lied to by their government on many fronts. Some were extremely well informed about the wars being fought in their names and which they have no doubt been invited to join by local army recruiters. The military target children in places like Wrexham where there are few jobs, where prospects for youngsters leaving school without qualifications (or even with qualifications) are bleak and where the army, sold with a glossy cover like it’s a sightseeing tour with a salary, can seem a good option.
During the afternoon, we had more conversations both with young people on the green and with passers-by young and old, shocked to hear what the US is doing to a young man with principles who dared to speak the truth about the wars and what it wishes to do to another who has been left with no choice but to seek asylum in the London Embassy of a south American country in fear of his life.
Back with the teenagers, we handed out Bradley Manning stickers and the lively discussion continued until a G4S operative in an ‘Incident Response’ vehicle pulled up and created a diversion.
Interference from the authorities
It must have been blindingly obvious to whoever was monitoring the ubiquitous CCTV cameras in Wrexham on Saturday that a group of people sat down on the grass and in the bandstand with food laid out and kids running round weren’t posing any sort of threat and certainly weren’t an ‘incident’ that required cop-style response. Nevertheless, someone was duly dispatched to the scene in a vehicle decorated so much like a police car, right down to the insignia on the door, that I thought it was one.
He parked up right behind the ‘End the Wars’ banner, which deserved a picture. As I raised the camera he wound down the tinted glass window and shouted at me to stop taking his photo. I couldn’t see him at all with the window up and things weren’t much clearer with it down, but as we discussed whether he had the right to stop me taking a picture of his car, it transpired that he wasn’t a police officer after all, but was employed by G4S (read all about them here and here) in a contract with the council, whose logo I later noticed incorporated into the sheriff-style badge on the car door.
The conversation moved away from photos and onto the banners, the security guy saying that we had to take them down as they were on council property and permission to have a demonstration had not been obtained.
“We don’t need permission to demonstrate but it’s not a demonstration. It’s a picnic.”
The youngsters had all gathered round to watch by this point and a couple of picnickers came over to support me. We made it clear we weren’t intending to move ourselves or our banners from land that belongs to the people. After a further conversation with one of our number who set about explaining the Yum Yum project to him, he drove off. Two cops who passed by a few minutes later didn’t even stop to talk and we got on with sharing our food (and our thoughts about Brad and Julian) in peace.