Mutually-Assured Distractions

Continuing from where we left off, in media res:

Things haven’t really cooled down here, since. The following Friday, bailiffs from GRC bragged to occupants of a squatted site the night before how: “you lot will be gone tomorrow.” Cue 18+ hours of tense resistance the next day, culminating in the bailiffs slinking off sometime around midnight, concealed behind a screen of cops.

Now GRC are particularly notorious (even amongst such sorry excuses for humanity as bailiffs) as a bunch of spiteful bullies – full of ex-coppers, rightwing thugs (complete with Blood & Honour tattoos), and (in this case) rent-a-mob part-timers, with little other opportunity for violence during lockdown.

GRC are also hated by other bailiff firms because of their tendency to undercut them, since their speciality is illegal evictions ‘without the expense and delay of having to go through the court system’ (as their slimy website puts it). They know their usual targets – travellers and squatters – won’t normally have the patience or the resources to drag them through retaliatory lawsuits.

There’s plenty to say about the day, but this pair of articles are already getting pretty long – so see the full lowdown from BASE. Here are our highlights:

1) When GRC burst in at daybreak, dragging people out of bed by their hair, they faced determined resistance on site and at the gate. Their answer was to ring up their friendly neighbourhood cops – a somewhat dumb move on their part. Though the filth were content to (literally) avert their eyes from bailiff violence (including a case where one bailiff caused enough trauma to induce an epileptic fit), their presence did keep GRC from dragging people off the roofs of caravans and diggers, creating a stand-off which bought time for up to 100 site supporters to flood the area (well, saunter sleepily along hours late, in some cases).

2) In between the cartoon violence and strategic own-goals, the site residents and their friends used the good weather and impromptu gathering to fire up multiple sound systems, and make the most of it. This particular writer doesn’t excel at music reviews, and would probably show their age by writing nonsense about “phat beats”, so we won’t go there – but in short, the good guys had fun, while the thugs got demoralised and exhausted. Residents were joined by supportive neighbours, horrified by both the bailiffs’ disregard for social distancing, and their perverse devotion to increasing homelessness during a pandemic. One defender hit the nail on the head when they said “this is probably the only festival we’ll get to, this year”.

3) As well as canny defenders converting caravans into makeshift barricades and scrambling atop their roofs, things took a retro turn towards the 1990s, when resistance members scampered up GRC’s JCB for a spot of what’s affectionately known as ‘digger-diving’. At least one of these folks – clearly feeling uplifted by the airy atmosphere – began delivering rousing Hollywood-esque speeches to crowd, cop, and corporate mercenary alike, such as “this is what resistance looks like!” (I guess you had to have been there) and “don’t you lot ever get tired of being on the wrong side?”.

4) Later that night, cops trying to arrest the climbers swarmed around the digger’s base like Mordor orcs. Site defenders had other plans. Chanting “you’re not getting arrested!” they threw up a makeshift bridge of scavenged planks and debris, from the site gate over to the digger arm. It was probably 50/50 as to whether the two climbers would have braved the dodgy structure, and also as to whether it would have held their weight if they did. Alas, it was not to be, and a spoilsport cop smashed it down, prematurely.

By day’s end, there were four arrests, and yet more work for BDS. To quote their appeal: “If you witnessed any arrests, bailiff or cop violence (or know someone who did) please contact BDS: bristoldefendantsolidarity[at]riseupdotnet / 07510 283424. As always, be careful what you say by phone / email; BDS can arrange a meeting in person if need be”.

We have a bit of a sorry point to end on, though. With the urgency of the eviction threat dragging on all day, there was only a small amount of energy and bodies to monitor the other threat in Bristol that day: 300 or so right-wingers gathered at the Cenotaph, resolved to stop the dirty lefties from taking it down. Never mind that no-one had actually suggested doing so. Why should the fash, or their racist hangers-on, let facts get in the way of a good piss-up? Which is what their event became (though, of course, it wasn’t as good as our piss-up).

So, leaving them to it is rarely a tactic we’d advocate, but that’s effectively what happened. Fortunately, about the only damage they did was to their own image, although they did trash the BLM placard display set up the previous weekend, to exchange it with their own litter. They successfully protected the Cenotaph from themselves, but failed to protect other nearby historic sites, like St. Stephens Church, from their own members’ urination.

Edit: three and a half weeks after winning this battle with GRC, site folks opted to move on rather than resist a second eviction attempt (this time backed by a court order).

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