A series of Home Office proposals could ban protests during the London 2012 Olympic games. In reaction to the longevity and scale of recent Occupy London takeovers of public and private space at St Paul’s Cathedral, Finsbury Square and a former UBS bank, ministers are reported to be drafting legislation loosely based on part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 – paying particular note to restricting tents and “sleeping equipment” for up to 90 days around exclusion zones. Police and “authorised officers” will be allowed to disperse protests quickly. Presumably with “reasonable force”.
Don’t be too shocked or too quick to compare this to Beijing 2008. Then, the Beijing Organising Committee banned all foreign visitors and non-Beijing-resident Chinese from attending, watching or applying for the right to demonstrate in authorised protest zones. Athens had protest zones in 2004. So did the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002.
The reasoning behind these restrictions is always to “preserve the festivity” of the Olympic experience. And security. Always security. In London’s case, security means Britain apparently waives its own rights and customs to allow America to oversee its own security operations, laying on 21,000 private security contractors and enforcing the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.
That allows police and “enforcement officers” the right of entry to private buildings suspected of contravening legislation on Olympic advertising. This includes: “advertising of a non-commercial nature” and “announcements or notices of any kind” paying particular attention to “the distribution or provision of documents or articles, the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds, and things done with or in relation to material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement”. In other words, protest.
Artist Peter Kennard, noted for overtly political art in a public context says: “The Secretary of State has regulations banning ‘advertising in the vicinity of the Olympics’. How big is a vicinity? Words fail me and because I make public art in the ‘vicinity’ of the Olympics it might be safer for me if both words and images continue to fail me until after the Olympics”.
A London swamped with police, security officers and spy drones might just dampen all the fun. Providing you sing along with the hymn sheet laid on by the Games’ sponsors and ignore the £9.3 billion price tag, you’ll be fine. But if you argue that a corporate agenda and exploitation is being sold under the auspices of uniting the world under sport and “generating jobs”, you might be in trouble.
The proposed legislation and the laws already in place only serve to secure the profits made by those with heavy financial stakes in the Olympic Games. These corporations read like an anti-capitalist wet dream: McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Dow, G4S, BP…. They may bring jobs to an area, but totally undermine the community-building that encourages grass roots businesses and the local relationships and interactions that stem from that.
It’s interesting to note that the Home Office sees protest as a threat. They’re not only worried about homegrown “domestic extremists” with a grudge against capitalism but international groups seeking to use the Olympics as a platform to air their grievances about authoritarian regimes around the world. Syria, China and Bahrain spring quickly to mind. So instead of giving an example of a functioning democracy where everyone gets a voice and can practise free speech, Britain hides dissent in an attic like it’s an invalid child.
The idea that ministers are considering bans on protest off the back of a global Occupy movement further legitimises the idea that these restrictions are directed at those who oppose one of the greatest and most murderous regimes of the world…capitalism.
So here we go. I hate the Olympics. Arrest me.
This article was first published in the Index on Censorship. Reprinted with permission from the author [ie., me].