After obviously watching too much Gok Wan on the telly, the Police seem have recently become overly fashion conscious. Every demo they are seen taking notes on what people are wearing, and even raiding protestors houses in their desperate search for style tips.
Don't let them steal your style!
Billed as a direct action to stop the flow of oil into London, the Crude Awakening was a multi-group action supported by not only the Space Hijackers, but also: Plane Stupid, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, Rising Tide, Climate Camp, Liberate Tate, Earth First and the UK Tar Sands network.
Joining in on an action with a variety of groups, most of whom are known for direct direct action (d-locking themselves to vehicles, climbing up tripods, supergluing themselves to gates, pouring oil all over foyers) we were faced with a bit of a dilemma. Traditionally our actions tend to be more mentally than physically impacting, so it was decided rather than trying to change our spots, we'd bring our strengths to the table.
The Laundry is a project that had been mulling around in our heads for a while, under various different shapes and guises. The police, with their kettling tactics and FIT team surveillance tend to treat all protestors like criminal cattle to be herded, shoved around, photographed, searched and numbered regardless of what they are protesting about or whether they have broken any laws. They keep notes on what people are wearing, who they are talking with, who they associate with, which meetings they attend etc, etc, etc. The right to anonymity in this day and age is seen as a crime, "if you're doing nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide". We at the Space Hijackers think this is a load of old bollocks.
So we spent a weekend down at Hijacker HQ putting together "The Laundry". A mobile activist launderette, offering exchangable clothes and privacy to get changed for anyone who may require it. Run by our charming Dot Cotton inspired laundry ladies, we would provide people at the crude awakening a chance to keep the fashion police on their toes!
After an early start at Hijacker HQ on the day, we met up with the 'building block' at Waterloo station at 10am. The day was being run as a secret, with information coming through via text to keep us, and obviously the police, in the dark until the last moment. The building block (one of three groups) comprised of around 150 people dressed in white overalls splashed in black oil and of course our five lovely Dot Cottons. Squealing at them in our best Monty Python voices about the state of the stains on their clothes, our group began to try and lessen the tension that was rising due to the increasing number of police who were beginning to surround the block in the station. The text came through and we followed the group down onto the underground, the day had just begun...
Circle Line Party veterans such as ourselves soon began to smell a rat when the train experienced more delays than you could shake a stick at. Surely the police wouldn't be messing with tube trains and delaying commuters purely to try and put a spanner in our works, would they? The communal decision was made to abandon train at Monument and we trudged through the city (carrying our launderette) before arriving at Tower Gateway our next stop. The police began to look super hesitant as the Crude Awakening blocks were swiftly led onto an Essex bound train and out of London... Panicked radio messages were overheard as they desperately tried to figure out our next move.
Packed into a stuffy train suddenly we were handed maps and more instructions "Todays target is the Coryton Oil Refinery near Stanford Le Hope, if you are reading this, then a group of all Female activist have already blockaded the road and will soon be needing back up". The next thing the train came alive as dozens and dozens of lock on tubes were handed through the carriages in 'goody bags' complete with paper suits and face masks.
Pulling in to Stanford-Le-Hope it became clear that only the 'building block' and the 'dirty money block' had made the train, the remaining 'body block' had encountered police delays and would have to catch us up. We swarmed out of the station and through the bemused looking town as residents lined the streets looking at the circus that had come to town. At the first major junction our two blocks split again and the police were forced to join in a game of cat and mouse as we trotted through the town and out onto the surrounding fields. As if by magic just behind a hedge we found a series of tarpaulin wrapped goodies, each containing several bamboo tripods, the perfect thing for blocking roads with. The chase went on...
Over the horizon we could soon see the Oil Refinery and by now several police riot vans which were speeding into place to try and guess our next move. It was, we must admit, quite amusing to see the rather out of shape police plodding along through the fields all red faced and out of breath. A tussle with police at a junction caused us to lose one of the tripods, however before long the block had made it to the road that had been shut down by the earlier action and up went the tripods, swiftly followed by a human barricade and several banners.
The Dot's leapt into action setting up our Launderette, having to tie it to a lamppost to prevent the rather strong wing from taking it away. Before long we were up and running and our lovely ladies started rushing around the blockade giving out fake wigs, mustaches and hats to the rest of the block.
The sun came out, and after a few shows of pointless machismo from the police, trying to barge through the blockade and shove people around, things began to calm down. Sandwiches were broken out and the sound system began to knock out some tunes.
We must admit it took a little while before people began to really 'get' what we were up to. For a long time we pranced around dishing out clothes and screeching in our ridiculous voices to rather bemused faces. However with the arrival of the FIT photographers documenting everyone, it gradually dawned on people quite how useful our launderette would be. The Shell Oil refinery sign was re-decorated by some helpful types with a big "CLOSED" banner and other embellishments, all under the ever nosey eyes of the police and their notepads. When suddenly the group surrounding the sign dashed en-masse to the Laundry. People blockaded the outside from prying eyes as our decorators slipped in and performed a quick outfit change before slipping back out into the crowd. A little like "Pay N'Spray" in in Grand Theft Auto.
Later as the cold drew in, the Dot's ferried warm coats up to the people on the tripods and jumpers out to the various fabulously (but not so warmly) dressed characters on stilts. Around 5pm a decision was made for the original blockade to join ours and once again the Laundry came into it's own. The daring ladies who'd been up even earlier than us to first take the road dashed in to finally take off their outfits and switch to less distinctive clothing. Surrounded by fellow protestors the Fashion police were kept at bay (we can't have them ripping of our styles) as the ladies then blended back into the anonymity of the crowds.
It was a really heart warming day, with no arrests and minimal police violence it felt like a positive step in the right direction. As the sun came down we collectively agreed to pack up and leave after dancing to the Samba and sound systems in this final day of summer.
Back on the train to London, reflections on the day were all positive, and we all left looking forward to our next outing...