The spontaneity of the first Stop the City was somewhat lost during the second. The cat and mouse game protestors played with the police seemed rehearsed. The police also came down really heavy this time because they were caught off guard during the first one. I believe 1,000 arrests were made that day, including yours truly.
My arrest happened during one of the many breakouts after being cornered by the police. We were in a situation similar to the one pictured above, and I was grabbed by a copper while trying to break through the line. Many others made it through. The Met police was far less militarized back then, so at Stop The City they mostly used their fists and boots, or just grabbed you if they were feeling generous. There was no riot gear or pepper spray used on peaceful protestors.
I then spent about 6 hours banged up in a small cell designed for 1 with about 10 other protestors. It was pretty challenging considering that I had a habit of ingesting certain stimulants back in those days. The kind that would put you in the mood of running around the streets rather than standing in a small cell for 6 hours. By today’s standards in New York City, my time in the cell was modest, but it felt like an eternity—that was due to the amphetamines more than anything else. I had been arrested by a black police officer, a real rarity in the British police force at the time. So rare, that his racist colleagues referred to me as “Sooty’s case”. I don’t actually remember what I was charged with, or what happened in court, but it was pretty minor.
It turned out that the unruly rabble of anarchist squatter punks on the dole were right about corporate capitalism and the financial industry: rotten to the core. Our protest took place at the beginning of the neo-liberal economic project of bank deregulation, privatization, austerity, corporate welfare, and putting profit before people. Reagan and Thatcher had come to office just a few years earlier.
While I knew the intentions behind the project were evil, I would never have guessed that so much incompetence would also flourish within the corporate class. Privatized profit and socialized loss is devious, but with the colossal losses of the economic collapse it’s just plain silly. And what hubris it must take to think you can get away with it. How very Marie Antoinette. At the time of Stop The City, bankers and stockbrokers were all supposed to be very clever. Most were in the Oxford and Cambridge old boy network. In he early ’80s, it was completely outrageous to protest the financial industry. Certainly the people Stop the City was protesting could not fathom it. It was fitting that something so outrageous would come out of punk.
The world economic crash of 2008 changed the mirage that the corporate class was very smart—now we know they’re a bunch of twats, especially those up top.They’re there because society rewards the wrong qualities, not because any one who is super-rich is particularly gifted or talented.
I left the anarchist punk scene shortly after the second Stop The City, and in fact left London in 1986 and moved to the US. It has been great to see anti-corporate protests move beyond punk and into the mainstream attracting a whole range of groups over the years since Stop The City—from the Battle of Seattle to Occupy Wall Street.
In late September 2011 an old friend from London asked me if I wanted to go and see Occupy Wall Street. I had heard about the protest, and told him that it reminded me of Stop the City, a protest that we had both gone to when we lived in London in 1983 and 84. When I did finally visit Liberty park before OWS was evicted in November 2011, the first kid I spoke to was wearing a Crass t-shirt and wanted me to sign a petition against factory farming. There I was, a middle-aged man with two kids telling him about the Crass gigs I went to in North London in the early ‘80’s. Here was a guy in his 20s—a direct descendant of Stop the City—a primitive anarchic spasm of a protest that happened 27 years before its time. Stop the City gave birth to many anti-Capitalist protests throughout the 90’s and 00’s, culminating with Occupy Wall Street.
Stop The City from J. Sprig on Vimeo.
I went to many protests in the early ‘80s, but none were anything like Stop the City. Whether it was CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) or Jobs for a Change, the routine was always the same. While these protests were massive—easily in the hundreds of thousands—they were traditional marches and rallies. I remember standing around for hours waiting for the thing to begin, and then moving at a snail’s pace once it did. I often did not even bother hanging around to hear the speakers. One high point was seeing the Jam play “Going Underground” at the beginning of a CND march.
Then in September of 1983, I went to Stop the City. I was a punk rocker living in a squat in King Cross at the time. We heard about the protest at a Crass gig. Crass was an anarchist punk band that started a whole movement within the punk scene. They were very much against commercialism, had to start their own record label because no one would press their records, and only played “squat” gigs.
Any way, Crass put the word out that we were going to meet on the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral (the site of the Occupy London camp today) and “stop” the city. The “city” refers to a small area called “The City of London” which is London’s equivalent of Wall Street. Stop the City specifically targeted the financial district because many firms profited from the arms race and arms dealing. While that was the main gripe, there was a host of other issues ranging from the animal rights (“Meat is murder!”) to unemployment and general hatred of Thatcher and the Tories.
I went to the first Stop the City with my then girlfriend and a few mates we were squatting with. It was clear when we showed up that this was going to be a protest like no other. There were no stewards and no one had communicated in any way with the police. As far as I could tell, it was solidly punks-at least a few thousand. A rabble like this, would still have been quite shocking to most people in Britain at the time, because punk was only 5-6 years old. And no one was in charge. We basically all gathered on the steps of St. Paul’s and waited for someone to do something. Because of the protest’s spontaneous nature, there were no barricades set up, since there was no route. At that point I didn’t see that many police around either. Suddenly, a guy called Colin, who played in a Crass-inspired band called Conflict, yelled: “come on, lets go and stop the fuckin’ city!”:
So off we went, hundreds of punks marching to … well I wasn’t really sure where…and chanting “1, 2, 3, 4 we don’t want your fucking war!” and “Fight war, not wars!”. You can imagine that the city gents in their bowler hats were staring with dropped jaws and eyes popping out of their heads. What a bunch of wankers they were. Except for one small group of them who actually joined the protest with a big banner that said: “Stockbrokers Against the Bomb”! They were cheered loudly by the crowd.
At some point, we started off again, and then for some unknown reason broke out into a run. So there we were, tearing down the street, the sound of hundreds of pairs of Dr. Marten boots thudding on the asphalt. We were in the street at this point. And strangely there were no police anywhere in sight. I still had no idea where we were going, but I just went with flow. When the old bill finally got their act together, they managed to trap groups of protestors in streets. But then groups would break through police lines and start running again. Word would spread through the crowd of where we would go next, and we would regroup at each destination. Then we would tear off again and get penned in by the police. The whole cycle would start again, and it went on all day.
The protest was highly confrontational, but mostly peaceful. There were a few idiots who had ideas of their own and smashed bank windows on the extreme end, others were spray painting anarchy signs all over the place. I thought our presence was enough, and any violent action was unnecessary. One high point for me was seeing a group of construction workers start to hurl verbal abuse at some punks, which happened constantly at that time if you looked different, and then see them shut up when they realized they were completely outnumbered.
The protest made the evening news. Other people who went would claim afterwards, that trading in the City had been affected by the protests that day. I think over 400 got arrested, which at the time was a massive amount for a demonstration, especially if you consider that only a couple of thousand went in the first place.
More about Stop the City at Dangerous Minds and History is Made at Night.
Fight War not Wars!
Destroy Power not People!
Conservative ideology is more dangerous than any other because it is extremism masked as respectability.