London, February 2012*
The ghost of my younger self hovers on the sidelines
watches as they break camp: at first it’s gradual, but the word is out — imminent
the beauty of a camp is that it can appear given a couple of hour’s notice –
will it be the same in reverse?
A young woman, well-wrapped against the cold, looks cheerful
as she takes down bunting from around the entrance to her tent,
rolls it up with care for another time, packs away a half-empty
packet of Pampers, brought along for an infant protester:
Q Why are you here? A Because things need to change
Behind her a man in a camouflage jacket, a face mask pushed
to the top of his head (freed now from the need to hide his identity?),
pulls a bin bag behind him, his belongings spilling out
Why are you here? He shakes his head.
Even before the real breaking starts, the hounding, the rows of police
in high viz padded vests, I fancy I hear breaking glass, screams
of protest; echoes of my own?
Shame on you. Shame on you. Fuck off, fuck off –
the identical words again and again, across time, across lives
A skip, helpfully provided, is piled high with old chairs salvaged
from lofts and cellars, produced with pride, painted up, sacrificed
to the occasion: the celebration of free speech in public:
Shame on you. Fuck off
as hand-lettered signs are ripped down, crumpled up, protesters carried away
with a roughness bordering on brutality…
Why are we so fearful of those who will protest;
are not citizens and activists one and the same?
Camouflage gear is prevalent today; Chico wears it proudly:
Q Why are you here? A Government shit – dads should be able to look after their kids,
So much protest crowded into this raggle-taggle bandwagon,
it buckles under the weight of its many agendas…
Why are you here?
Styx, in combat boots and an apron says I was walking past and someone
wanted someone to cook …
Dan the Man wants to see the underdog get a fair crack…
Is this when common sense shifts on to the side of the erstwhile heretic?
My ghost is shivering on the lawns of a university in 1960, sleeping bags
spread out and shared, stippled with dew from morning fog, and I am shivering
on the steps of a courthouse in California, where water cannons
are turned on us; bodies fall, are dragged away in the melee…
Is this what it comes to – outsourcing activism
to those who do it all the time?
*Italicised comments are quoted from interviews with St. Paul’s campers, published in ‘The Big Issue’
Wendy Klein is a poet based in Reading. Her collection ‘Anything in Turquoise’ is available from Cinnamon Press