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Experience: I’ve seen videos of people being punched, kicked and hit with batons

Activist and youth activist officer Cameron Joshi, 25, revisits the events of Saturday’s Kill the Bill demonstration in London and how the right to protest is a cause close to his heart

As told to Hannah Sargeant

I’m a youth activism officer at Global Justice Now, one of the more radical NGOs that rely on a network of activists, and I'm also an activist in Global Justice Bloc, a non-hierarchical climate justice group.

We mainly formed in the wake of Extinction Rebellion (XR) and all the criticism of XR from the left. Some of us got our first taste of activism through XR, but agreed with the criticism and saw that XR had some strategies that we could use. We wanted to marry some of XR’s more forceful, powerful strategies with an actual understanding of left-wing politics, and get rid of a culture that totally marginalises everyone else.

A lot of us also really like ‘direct action’, which is - whether legal or not - stopping someone from being deported, halting a fossil fuel project, or de-arresting someone, showing people we don't have to just sit by and let things like this happen.

I was there at the vigil in Clapham because of the disappearance of Sarah Everard. I knew about the policing bill and I wasn't that optimistic. I didn't feel like our movements are strong or connected enough to oppose them. If the government's willing to exert that amount of power then what are we going to do about that?

But everything snowballed from that vigil in a way I didn't expect. At the Sarah Everard vigil (literally a vigil), I saw the police choose their moment to come and try and arrest people. They try to thin out the crowd and usually they do it quite politely, but at that vigil they were really aggressive.

I saw it happen in Bristol. Not only have I seen all these videos of people being punched, kicked and hit with batons and riot shields, I have seen videos that show that the protest was mostly peaceful.

I was disabled for five years from when I was 19 to when I was 24 because I have a chronic illness, Crohn's disease. Most of my adult life, I was very, very ill in a really debilitating way. My experience of that was that I couldn't get a job because I was too ill, but I couldn't get a disability benefit either because the government decided to cut that to the bone.

I was housebound a lot of that time with my parents and if I didn't have them, I would have been homeless. I was one of those people who fell through the safety net. I knew that the only way to make that change was through politics. If we can't go on the streets - if we can't call out a system - then we're screwed.

A lot of people I work with are trying to change society substantially. We know there's no other way to do that, except by exerting power on the streets, really. We know that this policing bill would cut off a lot of those avenues for us.

The small protests of 300 people in Parliament Square after the vigil was enough to be taken up by mainstream media and led to delaying the bill. I'd been to those protests, but this time I saw this one needed to be bigger. I worked hard to get as many mates as I could to go, including my brother who’d never been to a protest before.

On Saturday, there were so many people at Hyde Park that you couldn't really see the edge of the crowd, it was a fantastic feeling. There are some protests you go to where the emotion is palpable, like the BLM protests. This one was different. Everyone had seen the riots in Bristol. There was a feeling of anger towards the police. It hadn't expressed itself much - but it was definitely there.

The march ended up in Parliament Square where most people were sitting on the grass and listening to speeches. We saw a crowd of 200 people who were blocking an intersection near parliament. I do feel like if you're doing a protest, you've really got to block a road or target a place and protest outside of it, or do something that's going to exert some force, because A to B marches are in danger of just being ignored.

At some point, a massive truck was trying to get through. It had gone too far and the crowd was packed. The police start pushing. Most of the crowd were just standing there, but someone took a policeman’s hat and chucked it in the air. Someone picked it up and out of nowhere, roughly 20 brutally slammed the person onto the floor.

At that moment it started to turn completely. They picked two more people out of the crowd and attacked them aggressively.

For the rest of the day, the police formed new lines and battens were out if anyone came too close and riot police aggressively broke-up crowds at Trafalgar Square.

Once they started kettling people, we decided to leave. The police, as I feared, had reacted in a really unhelpful way.


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