Saturday 30 June 2012

Olympics: This Is Not A War Zone

This afternoon, I joined a march from Wennington Green near Mile End to Bow Quarter, the gated community that was once the Bryant & May match factory and is now a potential site for a surface-to-air missile launch pad during the Olympics.

The march was relatively small, perhaps a few hundred people at most, but effective in making the point that there are more than the "very small number” of objectors that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of in the House of Commons.

Here are a few pictures - there are more on Flickr.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Olympic Laws - A Short Guide For Trouble Makers

A number of people have asked me to clarify what impact Olympic-specific legislation may have on local people and anyone promoting protests or making political statements during this summer’s Games. Here is a short guide.

Olympic Laws

There are two relevant Acts of Parliament – The Olympic Symbol Etc (Protection) Act 1995 (the “1995 Act”) and The London Olympic Games And Paralympic Games Act 2006 (the “2006 Act”). Both are primarily concerned with providing special protection for Olympic brands, sponsors and copyright holders, over and above existing copyright or contract law.

The 1995 Act created an 'Olympic Association Right' that may be infringed when the five-rings symbol, the Games' mottoes and the word Olympic, Olympian or similar words are used without authorisation in the course of trade. The 2006 Act created a new 'London Olympic Association Right' giving LOCOG the power to prevent unauthorised associations with the Games. It also created "Listed Expressions” in the form of two lists, A and B. List A contains the words Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012 and Twenty Twelve. List B contains the words London, Medals, Sponsor, Gold, Silver and Bronze (and even the word “Summer”). Use of any two words in list A or any word in list A with one or more of the words in list B is not permitted..

This means even references to London as ‘Olympic Host City’ in any advert could be an infringement, so local traders will need to tread very carefully if they want to avoid breaking incredibly restrictive laws. For example, the advert on the right, which I photographed recently in the window of a shop in Newham, is almost certainly a very bad idea and it is also worth mentioning that infringements are criminal offences, not civil grievances. The maximum fine is £20,000.

However, the use of protected words or listed expressions is allowed for editorial use in news bulletins and journalistic articles about the Games or the Olympic movement - as long as they are not "advertorials".

For more on brands and marketing, see London 2012’s UK statutory marketing rights on the LOCOG website [PDF]

Attending the Games - No Uploading Photos

Visitors to Games events will find that the terms and conditions of their tickets include a long list of restricted items that includes “printed matter bearing religious, political or offensive content or content contrary to public order and/or morality” and forbidden behaviour’ that includes “activity or protest related to unions, political or religious subjects” and “unauthorised transmissions and/or recording through mobile telephones”.

Specifically, there is a restriction on uploading photos pr videos to FaceBook, Twitter or YouTube: “a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally”.

In the Vicinity of Games Venues

The 2006 Act includes the provision to make regulations about advertising in the vicinity of London Olympic event zones. These are listed in the Act but in east London include the whole of the London boroughs of Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

However, in December last year, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport issued the London Olympic Games (Trading and Advertising) (England) Regulations 2011. These outlined restrictions on “advertising activity in an event zone” that apply to any goods, services or business and include “advertising of a non-commercial nature” – although not to a “not-for-profit body” with charitable purposes.

Section 22 of the 2006 Act gives a constable or enforcement officer the power to enter land or premises on which they reasonably believe an illegal advertisement has been placed and “remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article”. However, there is a specific “exception for demonstrations“ – restrictions do not apply to "advertising activity intended to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons" or to "publicise a belief, cause or campaign”, as long as this does not promote or advertise goods or services.

Individuals are also excluded from restrictions “if they displaying an advertisement on the individual’s body”, as long as there is not reasonable cause to suspect that they are engaged in ‘ambush marketing’. This means it is OK to simply wander around wearing a t-shirt advertising a brand that is not one of the Olympic sponsors.

It also means I can wear my Official Protester Stratford without fear of contravening Olympic laws, but not inside the Olympic Park if I want to avoid invalidating a ticket – and if I was foolish enough to set up a stall and try to sell these t-shirts, I’d be in deep trouble.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

We Are All Simon Moore

I was on the platform this evening speaking on behalf of Newham Monitoring Project and NetPol at a public meeting organised by the Save Leyton Marsh Campaign, at Harmony Hall in Walthamstow. This proved to be the ideal place to capture the picture above of an act of collective solidarity with Simon Moore, who had a two year 'Olympic ASBO' imposed upon him on 18th June (Simon was sitting next to me and seemed delighted but rather overwhelmed by the gesture).

Campaigners have published a statement in support of Simon, which they are encouraging people to add their names to: it says:
Like us, Simon believed that what was happening on Leyton Marsh was wrong and needed to be resisted peacefully.
Like us, Simon did not want to see a beautiful habitat and recreational space enclosed, contaminated and destroyed for a wasteful temporary facility for the Olympics.
Like us, Simon was prepared to show his opposition to this destructive land grab.
Like us, he was intimidated with the full force of the law and criminalised.
Like Simon, we do not wish to stop speaking the truth about legitimate issues around the Olympics such as environmental destruction and suspension of our human rights.
Like Simon, we will not stop peacefully protesting.
Like Simon, we will not stop speaking out about what is right.
Like Simon, we refuse to fear doing what is right and just in the face of repression.
We stand together against this injustice and speak as one. Simon is one of us and we are all Simon Moore!

Welcome To The Security Games

This is a piece I wrote for Peace News - an edited version appears in its next issue.

With weeks to go before the start of this summer's London Olympics, a sense of foreboding has descended on many of the people who, like me, live and work in Newham in east London, one of the poorest and most ethnically diverse parts of the capital. This anxiety, shared even by those who are enthusiastic about the spectacle of the Games, has been raised by the stories over the last six months about snipers in helicopters, missile launchers on tower blocks and RAF fighters in the skies during the Olympics and repeated predictions that it may be almost impossible to leave the borough during peak periods. People speak of feeling trapped by the arrival of an event that seems more like an invading army of occupation than a welcome visitor.

Welcome to the Security Games. This summer sees the largest peacetime military and security operation since 1945, with a budget that has soared to around £1 billion. Since 2010, the number of security personnel required by Olympic organisers has risen sharply to an overall estimated 23700 on the busiest days, more than double the original predictions. As well as up to 12000 police from forces across the country, the Ministry of Defence has provided more troops deployed (in uniform) to work during the Games than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. More CCTV has been installed in a part of London already awash with cameras and around £80 million has been spent on the construction of an an 11-mile long 5000-volt electric fence around the Olympic zone. One of the chief beneficiaries of the huge level of spending is the global private security corporation G4S, which has seen enormous expansion of its contract for providing security guards, from £86 million in December 2010 to £284 million in December 2011. The reality is that, like everything else to do with the Olympics, costs remain obscured by a lack of transparency and may be far higher.

Most military and all private security personnel will work inside the 'ticketed areas' of the event venues, according to promises made by the London Olympic organisers. Whether this turns out to be true in practice is one of the issues that the community civil rights group Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), with whom I have been an activist with for twenty years, will keep a close watch upon. However, in the streets surrounding the Olympic Park in Stratford and the ExCel Centre in Canning Town, it is the massive policing operation and its impact on local people that is of our greatest concern.

Newham's population has one of the highest percentages of young people in London, with a long history of difficult relationships with the police. Teenagers enjoying the long break from school, many of whom live in temporary or overcrowded homes, will inevitably be out on the streets during the summer and although most will not have tickets for Olympic events, every youth worker in the borough predicts that most will gravitate, out of excitement and curiosity, towards Stratford. Even before the start of the Games, the new Westfield shopping complex next to the Olympic Park has been described by one of my colleagues, who runs a community project for young people in East Ham, as “the largest youth club in east London, drawing in young people from five boroughs”.

The period of the Games also coincides with the start of Ramadan on 20 July, a week before the opening ceremony. This continues until 18 August (after the close of the Olympics but before the start of the Paralympics) and means that Muslims will be preparing to break their fast with their evening iftar meal between 8.30 and 9pm. The streets of Newham, which has a Muslim population of 24.3%, the second highest in the UK, are likely to be very busy late into the evening.

However, Olympic security measures have been designed to target people out on the streets, especially in crowds and during the evenings. Stratford will be covered by a 'dispersal zone' during the Games, giving police officers the power to instruct groups of two or more people who live outside of the area to leave for up to 24 hours. Refusing to comply with an officer's direction can lead to arrest and charge, with a conviction potentially leading to a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment or a fine of £5000. In addition, officers have 'curfew' powers: young people aged under 16 are effectively prohibited from public spaces within the dispersal zone overnight, from 9pm to 6am, unless they are accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult over 18 years of age. The use of these kind of powers is borne from a stereotypical view of the dangers posed by young people and the perceived 'threat' they represent to Olympic visitors, but as we saw in August last year, draconian police powers are, if anything, more likely to lead to increased tension and resentment.

Coupled with a range of stop and search powers under criminal, anti-social behaviour and anti-terrorist legislation, NMP's fear is that young people in particular and ethnic minorities in general will be subjected to a level of intrusive policing that is likely to lead arrests and criminalisation. We know already that the Metropolitan Police will have at least one mobile police station with the capacity to detain people on the Olympic site and facilitate video link appearances to Magistrates Courts. What we are unable to confirm is what will happen if there is any kind of major incident – all we have been able to discover is that an area covering one mile around the Olympic Park would be designated a 'Blue Zone' but the powers available to the police in these circumstances remain a secret.

Amidst the far more powerful media narrative of the 'greatest show on earth', our worry is that the impact of heavy-handed policing on the communities around the Olympic sites is likely to be largely ignored. That is why Newham Monitoring Project has already trained over 90 volunteer 'Community Legal Observers' who will patrol in teams as the Games take place, monitor the conduct of the police and hopefully, by our very presence, help to restrain some of the police's worst excesses. One of the reasons for recording the experiences of local people is in preparation for the future: we believe that, having built and tested a vast, expensive security infrastructure in east London, much of it will remain in place long after the Games are over. The Olympic stadium and its complex layers of secure and sterile zones is ideal, from the point of view of security planners, for future events – and not just sporting ones. Where better to hold a future gathering of world leaders?

The effect of a massive police presence, as well as the recent treatment of demonstrators (especially the 'pre-emptive arrests' of anti-monarchy campaigners during last year's royal wedding) has also inevitably has an impact on the ability of people to exercise their right to protest. Unlike previous Olympics, the level of planned opposition has been extremely limited and it is evident, from conversations I have had with activists, that many are reluctant to put their heads above the parapet for fear of the consequences during such a huge level of intensive security. NMP is working with other members of a coalition called the Network for Police Monitoring (which includes experienced legal observers from groups like Green & Black Cross, FITwatch and Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp) to ensure that any protest during the Olympics has access to expert legal support, but the reality is that sheer scale of the Security Games has already made a mark on the expression of freedom of speech and assembly. No-one wants to find themselves – like Simon Moore, who took part in demonstrations at the site of an Olympic basketball training facility in Leyton Marshes – hit with an anti-social behaviour order that severely restricts the right to demonstrate long after the Olympics are over.

Eventually the Olympics 'army of occupation' will leave east London and there will be time to assess the extent of any security 'legacy' but until then, there is a crucial role for activists in helping to gather evidence of its immediate impact. This is exactly how NMP first started to build up a picture of the extent of police racism and harassment within Newham's black and Asian communities when it was founded back in 1980. If anyone has some free time and is willing to train and volunteer as a Community Legal Observer, we welcome your participation. The scale of the security operation may seem daunting, but that doesn't mean we need to feel completely powerless. Nor can the job of monitoring the Security Games be left to local people alone.

If you would like to get involved, please contact NMP at

Saturday 23 June 2012

Work Begins on Fortress Wanstead Flats

This morning I went for a stroll on Wanstead Flats as work began on the Metropolitan Police's 'Muster, Deployment and Briefing Centre (MDBC), the Olympic operations base that has been the subject of concerted local opposition over the last two years. Today is the first day of the police's three month period of occupation of the site between Centre Road and Lake House Road.

Here are a few photos - I will add more here over the next few weeks as Fortress Wanstead Flats begins to take shape.

UPDATE: Sunday 24 June

Back at the Flats again today, I was almost immediately asked by a police officer in a van parked by Centre Road why I am photographing the Olympics policing base - followed by whether I was against the base and knew anything about the likelihood of protests. In view of this evident panic about the possibility of protesters turning up, work is progressing more slowly than I expected, although this may be the fault of the weather. As predicted, the ground is taking a beating from the vehicles on it. I can only imagine what it'll be like after having coaches to transport officers on it for six weeks.

Thursday 21 June 2012

London Olympics: A Summary of Protests And Meetings

Details of protests and events relating to the Olympics are still trickling in slowly but here is a quick summary of what is coming up between now and (just after) the Olympics opening ceremony.

Tuesday 26 June

Defend the Right to Protest Meeting: The Olympics and Beyond
7pm – 9pm, Harmony Hall, Truro Road, London E17 7BY

 A public meeting organised by the Save Leyton Marsh campaign. Sspeakers including Simon Moore, who was recently the recipient of a punitive Olympic ASBO; Alfie Meadows, the student who was charged with violent disorder after his skull was fractured by police; Caroline Day from the Save Leyton Marsh Group; Brian Richardson from the SWP and me speaking on behalf of Newham Monitoring Project.

More information here

Saturday 30 June
No Missiles in Our Community
March called by Stop the Olympic Missiles. Assemble at 1pm at Wennington Green, Mile End Park, London E3 5SN

More information here

Saturday 7 July

The Fattylympics
Billed as a non-profit community event satirising the Olympics and featuring "fat activism, games, performances, stalls and other DIY activities", the Fattylympics will be opened by the actor Erkan Mustafa, who played Roland Browning in the children's TV series Grange Hill.

From 12pm to 5pm at Grassroots Resource Centre, West Ham Memorial Park, Memorial Avenue, London E15 3DB

More information here

Tuesday 17 July

Celebration Capitalism: The London Olympics and Its Discontents
Canadian writer Jules Boykoff discusses the idea of 'celebration capitalism', the affable cousin of Naomi Klein's 'disaster capitalism', pointing to key historical moments in its emergence, how it is playing out in London and how activists are responding.

From 6pm to 8pm at The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (Room 541, Main Building)

More information here

Monday 23 July

The Austerity Games
The Socialist Party linked 'Youth Fight for Jobs' is organising an alternative Austerity Games with teams competing on Hackney Marshes. Starts at 2pm with "ten athletics events highlighting the plight of young people in the shadow of these expensive and corporate Olympic Games."

More information here

Saturday 28 July

Whose Games? Whose City?
The main demonstration called by the Counter Olympics Network and supported by the majority of other Games resisters.

Assemble at  12 noon at Mile End Park for a family-friendly march to Victoria Park.

More information here

Further updates on other events as I receive them.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Time To Abolish Section 60 Stop And Search Powers

This year, police forces around the country have started to scale back on its use of powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This was originally introduced to tackle football hooliganism and the threat of serious violence and could only be authorised by officers at Superintendent level and above. Stop and searches under section 60 have been an issue of considerable concern because they do not require ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is about to commit a crime or is carrying a weapon. Just being in an area covered by a section 60 authorisation is enough for officers to conduct a stop and search.

The reason for the reduction of section 60 stops and searches was revealed in January 2012 in a leaked letter from new deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Craig Mackey to senior colleagues, which highlighted police fears of a successful challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. Senior officers were aware that as well as the questionable legality of the lack of a requirement for reasonable suspicion by officers, there has long been evidence that section 60 is open to severe and disproportionate misuse (just like section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was suspended by the government in 2010 after a successful judicial review). The power appears particularly prone to allegations of 'racial profiling'.

This week we saw the most up to date figures demonstrating the extent of that evidence of misuse, with data published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This showed that the Metropolitan police carried out the highest number of section 60 stops and searches between 2008-11, with over 258,000 in total (three-quarters of the total for all forces in England). The use of the power in London and across the country has gradually decreased since 2008, but the EHRC data shows that nationally in 2010-11, black people remained 37 times more likely to be stopped and searched under section 60 than white people. It also found that in England, the percentage of ethnic minorities stopped and searched actually rose from 51% of the total in 2008-09 to 64% 2010-11. Despite the overall fall in section 60 stops, racial disproportionality grew within the Metropolitan Police (from 9.7 to 11.1 times greater for black people and 3.3 to 4.5 times greater for Asians between 2008 and 2011). The worst figures were for the West Midlands, where the rate rose from from 23 times more likely that a black person was stopped in 2008-9 to 28 times greater in 2010-11.

These statistics are only for section 60 – they do not include other stop and search powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence (which have their own problems over misuse). What the EHRC data also shows is how crudely ineffective section 60 powers are: only 2.8% resulted in an arrest in 2008/09 and this decreased to 2.3% in 2010/11. Fewer than one in five arrests were for offensive weapons. Section 60 authorisations were never intended to be used so widely or so often when they were introduced and their growth is an example of a new power that has become more and more of a blunt instrument as its use has become more commonplace.

Soon after his appointment, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe acknowledged that police stop and search powers should in future be used in a more targeted way. Changes to the use of these powers would, he said, be introduced by December 2011. He told the now disbanded Metropolitan Police Authority:
"We need to move away from searching in an area to searching for a person, and stop targeting the people who don't need to be targeted."
However, whilst figures may be falling, there is still little evidence from the EHRC research to suggest that officers have stopped targeting areas where there is a higher ethnic minority population or that they are instead acting on credible intelligence. If Hogan-Howe is serious about changing stop and search policy and avoiding further legal embarrassment, he should do with section 60 what he did with the temporary replacement for the discredited section 44 anti-terrorism power – stop using it completely. Meanwhile, its ineffectiveness and its tendency to result in misuse against black communities means that campaigners will continue to press for the only sensible reform possible – the abolition of section 60 altogether.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Today's People's Picnic On Wanstead Flats

The rain held off this afternoon for the People's Picnic marking both the end of the "Save Wanstead Flats" campaign after almost two years and the continued local rejection of an Olympics policing base on the Flats.

Overlooked by the missile launch point on the top of Fred Wigg Tower, around 60 people dropped by over the course of almost three hours to celebrate why we value our common land so much and to catch up with others who have campaigned to protect it. There were residents from Leytonstone, Forest Gate and Wanstead sharing food today and we were joined by a contingent from the Save Leyton Marsh campaign who came over to show their solidarity

Over the next few months, there will be regular monitoring of the construction of the police base and of the impact it has on local people when it is operational. Evidence gathered will support further pressure on the City of London Corporation to ensure that, after the Games are over, their promises that the base is a 'one-off' enclosure are kept. However, everyone I spoke to today remains convinced that the precedent set by the Olympics will have long-term and damaging implications for Wanstead Flats and other parts of Epping Forest. This is the 'Games legacy' that has been imposed upon us and somehow I expect that the battle to defend the Flats is far from over

Meanwhile, here are a few photos. There are more on Flickr.
All photos have a a Creative Commons license - please feel free to use them, but please attribute them to 'Kevin Blowe'.

Volunteer As A Community Legal Observer This Summer

Estelle from Newham Monitoring Project delivering yesterday's training
Over forty people came for yesterday's training run by Newham Monitoring Project for people prepared to become Community Legal Observers during this summer's Olympic Games, with more than 30 more signed up for a second session at the end of this week. With the eyes of the world  on east London during the Olympics, the role of these volunteers will be to monitor the huge policing and security operation that involves up to 12000 officers on peak days from forces from all over the country and ensure that the civil liberties of local people are not pushed aside in the pursuit of a 'perfect' Games.

Community Legal Observers will take to the streets in teams in four daily shifts throughout the Olympic period, supported by a back office of experienced staff to respond to incidents and provide advice. As well as giving out information, letting people know about NMP's 24-hour emergency number and talking to local people about their rights, volunteers will record what they see. Their role is to gather evidence rather than to intervene, which means that specialist legal experience is unnecessary, just basic common sense. However, the hope is that the very presence of legal observers will have a positive impact on reducing disproportionate and excessive policing in east London during the Games.

NMP's training focuses on the issues that are most likely to impact on local residents, especially young people: the use of stop and search powers, the dispersal zone in Stratford, curfew powers and what to record when witnessing an arrest. By the end of the Olympics, NMP aims to gather together the evidence from its volunteers to produce a detailed report on the way the Games have been policed.

It isn't too late to volunteer - the next training is on  Friday 15th June from 11am to 4pm at the Harold Road Centre in Upton Park. If you'd like to become a Community Legal Observer, contact NMP to register. Further training is planned for July if there is sufficient demand and hopefully there will be 100 trained observers by the Olympics opening ceremony on 27 July.

If you're visiting Stratford this summer, don't forget to look out for volunteers in their distinctive red vests. And just in case the policing operation is as heavy-handed as everyone expects, stick this free telephone helpline number - 0800 169 3111 - in your phone. You never know when you may need it.

Friday 8 June 2012

Lake Lucerne in Monochrome

I returned from Basel in Switzerland a couple of days ago and already seem to have a packed diary for the next two weeks. But I have managed to find the time to experiment with transforming some photos from a trip to the beautiful town of Lucerne into monochrome. A set of others in colour is on Flickr.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.