Block the bridge, block the bill

Posted: October 10, 2011 by blackdaffodil in Demonstrate, Rally & Occupy!
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Westminster Bridge joins Parliament with St Thomas’ Hospital. What better place to protest the passage of the NHS privatisation bill (so-called ‘reform’ in the ConDemNewBlueLab newspeak) in Parliament and its upcoming test in the Lords? UK Uncut put out a call to block Westminster Bridge from 1pm on 9 October to tell our rulers: “We won’t take this laying down!”

About 3000 people attended. Many people have memories of being kettled on this very bridge last winter on one of the tuition fees protests. And recently people were kettled, beaten and arrested on Brooklyn Bridge in New York City as part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. So perhaps worries over the strategic challenge of occupying a bridge kept some people away.

I brought along lots of layers in my rucksack in case we got kettled, but happily it turned out to be unnecessary. An early morning rain had also subsided into a warm but not hot afternoon, with scattered sun. The weather was fine for a day out.

There were loads of great colourful banners and homemade placards. This was encouraged by a guy who gave out speech bubble placards and marker pens for people to write out their own personal slogans. “Block the Bill” stretched across the southern end and “Save the NHS” suspended between two tripods, occupied by protestors in surgical uniforms. There was a refreshing lack of mass-produced party political placards on the southern end of the bridge!

Adding to a carnival atmosphere similar to Reclaim the Streets actions of the 1990s, people dressed up in hospital scrubs and surgeon’s masks or blood-spattered patients; sound systems serenaded different parts of the bridge and a samba band drummed.

Lambeth Keep the NHS Public also put Andrew Lansley on trial. Patients, health workers and others affected by the destruction of the NHS testified against the health minister. His feeble attempts to justify his policies as ‘improving’ the health service were met with boos from the large public jury, and then overruled by the judge. A death sentence was pronounced on Lansley’s political career, and he would be taken to Tyburn where…ahem… his political career would be put to death. Some felt the sentence should be much more severe, but further action was left to the crowd on the day…below is the trial in pictures for your enjoyment


There was also an assembly for planning ‘Occupy London’ actions. Reports on this were positive, though I missed most of this when I went to get some lunch. The assembly continued with personal contributions with health workers and health services users, plus some more comedy.

Around 4:30pm the banners went down. The crowd moved from the bridge, with one group going down to the Southbank and another with the samba band headed towards the roundabout at the end of Westminster Bridge. Rumour had it they were headed to Parliament Square by way of Lambeth Bridge. I was already near the roundabout so I joined the second group. But this all seemed to break up and I went home.

However, I later read that a group had been kettled on Lambeth Bridge for about an hour and forced to take off their scrubs and other ‘disguises’. For an account of this see http://www.occupybritain.co.uk

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