The High Court, Parliament Square and the Tube…

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Genny reports from vigil at the Royal Courts of Justice: Thursday

After possibly the wettest bike ride ever, I arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice just as the rain started to ease a little. Susan and I found a sheltered step to stand on to the side of the Court building, close enough to passers-by for them to see our placards and to step over to collect a flyer and postcard if they were interested. In spite of the persistent rain, people did stop and take the flyers; some asked for more information or shared their thoughts on Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Some even said they would try to come back next week to show solidarity for Assange during the extradition hearing.

When the rain finally let up for five minutes, we unpacked our big banner and stood with that for a while against the railings. A huge banner has the advantage of being easily read by passing motorists, tourists on sightseeing tours and so on. The rain started again, so we hooked the banner onto the wrought iron ornamentation on the fence and ran for shelter back on the step. I guess it took nearly an hour for court security to notice that the banner was staying up all on its own, at which point we were told to remove it forthwith. By that time it was nearly 2 o’clock. We took down and folded up the dripping banner, stayed a few minutes longer and then ended our vigil. We’ll be there again today, noon until 2pm, and hoping for better weather, although it’s just started raining as I write.

From the Strand, I headed down to Embankment, got soaked again on my way to Parliament Square but by the time I arrived, the rain had not only stopped – the sun was coming out too. (This is an English post and in England everyone talks about the weather all the time, but it was really exceptionally wet on this occasion). Leaving a few leaflets and postcards on Maria’s Peacestrike stall, I put the soaking wet banner up on a spare bit of harris fencing right opposite the gate to the Houses of Parliament, hung the placard back round my neck and headed over the road to stand about and give literature to anyone who reached out for it. The place was packed, mostly with tourists; there was plenty of indifference and some curiosity, but more than a few people who read the placard, stopped, looked surprised and then came over to, variously, ask when the court hearing was, say how glad they were someone was doing something about the issue, express their concern about the plights of Manning and Assange, even to say “Thank you for being here.”

A Radio One journo came over to ask my opinion of the News of the Screws hacking scandal. I declined to be interviewed on tape but we had a long conversation about the role of the media in influencing public opinion (she began by suggesting that it was public opinion influencing the media!), about Manning and Assange, WikiLeaks and freedom of information.

I continued standing there and flyering until a cop eventually came over and tried to tell me I was only allowed to do this sort of thing across the road by the camp unless I had gone to the police and asked for permission first. Oh yeah? He was keeping it deliberately vague and it took several repeated questions until he gave the authority for this statement as ‘SOCPA’. As soon as he realised I knew something about the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, he launched into a speel about how the law was an ass and everyone knew SOCPA was a useless and unworkable Act. ‘Why are the cops still trying to use it, then?’ It was clear he had no intention of arresting or reporting me under SOCPA and I was clear I wasn’t going to move. The conversation attracted the interest of passers-by, the cop helpfully answering requests for directions and posing for photos with tourists and I gave out loads more leaflets until about 5pm, when I went to retrieve my sun-dried banner, to catch up with Maria and with Babs. I’d inadvertently put it up right between the two camps and the encounter with both simultaneously nearly turned nasty. Least said about that the better.

With everything now dry bar my feet, I cycled back out of town, stopping to flyer commuters for half an hour at Angel Tube station on the way. I eventually got back to Harringay, hung my socks and shoes up to dry ready for me to do it all again tomorrow, which it now is. Better get up and get on with it!

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