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Diary

Walking to the side
A day of protest

May 23, 2004
iranian.com

11 May 2004
I was on the tube this morning and it was packed, there was an old man, shaped like a ball, with a beard and scruffy cap, arms crossed tight, asleep and obviously homeless. His head was small for his frame and he had no neck. It would have sunk into his chest were it not for his chin.

A pair of dusty old track pants was tugged over his brown woolly jumper and big belly. His black slip-ons looked like they had seen better days as, no doubt, he had too.

A skinny chap sat to one side of him. The other was left empty as freshly deodorised office workers avoided the seat. He seemed at times about to tumble sideways but jolted himself upright in time. His breathing was pronounced, as if each moment before the prod that would eventually wake him were being relished.

But when would it come? At the next stop? Perhaps he would make it up and down the Northern line all day.

So this, I thought to myself, is what becomes of Father Christmas in spring.

Saturday 22 May 2004
Riot vans had assembled in Whitehall outside Downing Street where Tony Blair lives. Palestine, being raped by the Israeli army miles away, was represented here by a few hundred; sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, English, Arab and angry. A few anti-Zionist Hassidim were there too. They had walked a good couple of hours from a north London suburb in observance of the Sabbath.

This was a welcome sight as police swooped on protestors who had laid a giant Palestine flag on the road to halt traffic. When you are few you have to make a noise, the very excuse gung-ho cops need to jab you in the ribs, with a shove and a kick.

A woman sat on Tarmac was manhandled only to spring back to her cross-legged position with the grace of a ballerina. Perhaps she too had been sickened by Israel's murder of Palestinian refugees this week. So much so that she was inspired to sit on her arse, only not in front of the telly.

A sharp advance eventually managed to occupy enough of one side of Whitehall to bottleneck passing vehicles. Police grunted and heave-hoed but you can't smash into a peaceful mob so early on in a demo.

The cop-count belied paranoia about security in a week when a condom filled with purple flour had been hurled at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

But Fathers 4 Justice, which organised the stunt, was surely the wrong cause. A condom slung at Blair from the public gallery does less for dads who are denied access to their children than a balloon of red paint would for the anti-war movement.

It was a fine shot, one which the PM's trusty lieutenants were not animated to take for him, least of all his rival Gordon Brown.

In contrast, protestors at the demo lined up to protect the odd one among them who would break the police cordon to raise a flag, and a cheer from the crowd, only to be bullied back into it by a burly cop.

It did not take long for police to lose their patience. The sun was out and Manchester United were playing Millwall for the FA Cup.

They waded into demonstrators violently and people struggled to sit down in defiance.

I was propelled to follow suit but a word from my mother, who was with me at the time, was enough to suspend this revolutionary impulse. To have persisted was no option, what if a cop struck my mum? I swallowed my pride and walked to the side, deserting our comrades.

But it did make me think, “Too bad Che Guevara's mother didn't go with him to Bolivia.”

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