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Disclaimer -- I'm posting this because I found it to be an interesting and very well-written eyewitness report, not because I am in 100% agreement with every single one of the reporter's value judgments. As it happens, I'm not in 100% agreement with every single one of his value judgments. But he does know how to report.
Perhaps They'll Sing in Tune After the Revolution!
The first signs of trouble came as I strolled north toward the Old City of Edinburgh. Interspersed amongst the working Scots of the town were out-of-place youth, dirty, disheveled, and profane; and almost all dressed in black. They ranged in apparent age from their mid-teens, with the girls still sporting baby fat, and the boys striving mightily to grow thin beards; to their mid-30s, at which point they were rangy, ragged, and almost uniformly male. Many carried banners, but none carried signs. They were therefore cryptic figures, intelligible to those not of their kind only as was the rebel without a cause:
"What are you rebelling against?"
It's a deeply appealing motto to the juvenile, the witless, and the uninformed: but as maturity and the grim logic of consequences set in, its appeal tends to fade. Reject capitalism? Hate wage slavery? Detest the corporate world? Good luck at the collective, comrade, and sorry your girl left you for the fellow with the Prius. (As mentioned, the more middle-aged didn't appear to have so many women in tow.) Looks like the good life and social conscience can mix, so long as you're willing to sell out just a little. And when selling out is defined as working, obeying local laws, and washing up from time to time, it's damned hard not to.
But the true believers exist, and they are capable of organizing themselves. A counterintuitive thing, one would think, but the anarchist/hard left capacity for assembling at set times and doing set things is a well-proven one. Just like libertarians availing themselves of public services, the contraindicating intersection of reality and ideology is often employed, but never acknowledged. As at Seattle, DC, and Genoa, so too Edinburgh: the city is overrun in a well-planned influx from across the developed, Western, wealthy world to protest developed, Western, wealthy things.
When they say "protest," they mean "smash." The second sign of trouble was the Starbucks at which I was hoping to access some wifi (my bed and breakfast, which purported to have it, turned out to be run by an elderly Scottish couple with an endearingly troubled relationship with technology). It was closed-up and boarded-up. As was the next. As was the next. Several other storefronts toward downtown were as well, but only Starbucks had seen fit to simply shut down all its outlets across town. Starbucks knew it would be a prime target for the young and the restless. It always is: it's successful, ubiquitous, and its product comes wholesale from the Third World, all of which must surely mean it's profoundly evil. Worse, the achingly hip know it, and when they're not dressing in black and smashing its windows, they're ordering tall double lattes and hoping no one calls them on it. So Starbucks gets the full-on treatment, while the local bike shop (Third World rubber) and the local beauty shop (Third World cocoa products) escape comparatively unscathed.
Need it be said, woe betide the coffee producers of the indigenous peoples whom the righteous youth so love should Starbucks ever cease purchasing their wares.
The heart of the Old City of Edinburgh is Princes Street, which runs from the picturesque Edinburgh Castle to the royal palace in a stretch known as the Royal Mile. It was here that I began to encounter riot police in full gear and lines of ambulances, paddy wagons, and squad cars blocking off the thoroughfare. The mood in the park abutting the Walter Scott memorial alongside the street was vaguely festive. Anarchists congregated on the grass, but so did families, and children clambered over the giant seated statue of Scott, whose expression seemed weary and bemused: he'd seen this foolishness before. Police clad in face masks and armor stood in a line through the park, but their stance was casual. Tourists stood beside them and took photos as they waited to be called into action. Action was surely coming: a half-mile down the street was a march from which sounds of drumming could be heard. Well: drumming and giant puppets. Surely the inevitable harbingers of social change. I left the park and resolved to proceed toward George Street, a long block north, and more important, a place where I was hopeful for some wifi-enabled cafes.
I walked, and the crowds thickened. To my left, a side street beckoned. Rose Street -- and there was a milkshake stand halfway down. Why not? I could use something to keep mind and body together for a bit, so I strolled down and ordered a shake. The young fellow manning the kiosk and I spoke a bit, neither of us understanding the other much. I pride myself on a small linguistic ability, but Scots English is alarmingly impenetrable at points. Doubtless the Frisians understand it well, though. As I waited, I looked about at the milling crowd. Kids in black, kids in terrorist regalia -- let's not pretend the keffiyeh affectation is anything but -- kids dressed in Soviet flags, kids with Saudi flags, kids with scarves pulled across their faces for the sake of anonymity in violence. And down the lane a ways, more riot police.
Unlike at the park on Princes Street, these police were drawn in a line and ready for action. Their postures were braced: left foot forward, right foot back and turned 90 degrees out, shield to interlocking shield. Before them was a line of police cavalry. These are truly impressive on their massive British steeds, which were themselves armored like so many modern-day knights' mounts. The horses wore plastic visors, some manner of flak jackets across their flanks, and shin wrappings that appeared to be sewn of kevlar. Atop them, the mounted cavalrymen sported similar gear to their infantry comrades, with full-face clear visors and body armor of their own. Unlike the foot soldiers, though, they had no shields -- only batons. They used their batons readily, clearing out the odd anarchist with the backbone to approach them too aggressively, and marshaling others who more obviously wanted to clear the area. The latter group was regrettably small, and so as the crowd confronting the riot line grew -- I and my milkshake were by now at its front -- the forces of law and order called in reinforcements. These reinforcements, rather impressively, arrived and marched in formation from behind and through the hostile crowd, which mocked and jeered them, but moved aside nonetheless. One of the anarchists began goosestepping alongside the formation, chanting in time: "Ba dum da dum! Ba dum da dum!" It occurred to me then that I was looking forward to the inevitable police charge to clear out these folks. It also occurred to me that I was surely in its way.
As the reinforcements arrived, the foot-based riot line opened to let them in, let the cavalry withdraw behind, and then re-formed into an even tighter set of double ranks. Isn't this interesting. Something's coming. Rotten fruit and garbage, looted from adjacent dumpters, began to fly from the crowd toward the ranks. I dashed in front of the anarchist lines to get a shot of the police formation. A full sack of garbage landed between us as I got my shot; and then the policeman in the center raised his right arm. The anarchists surged forward. I fought my way back and into an adjoining alley. The police charged.
It was a fearsome sight, seeing the lines clash. The outcome was never in doubt: some of the kids were trampled, some thrown bodily back a surprising distance, some fled in pure fear. All deserved it. As swiftly as it began, the police line halted just shy of my alley, having cleared perhaps a hundred feet of Rose Street. The foot soldiers resumed the stalwart stance, and the cavalry trotted up in a line behind. The anarchists were in disarray, with most of the girls screaming, and most of the men assiduously not helping them. Into my alley, some women dragged another woman, this one elderly and evidently in a seizure. She twitched and moaned on the pavement, eyes rolled back into her head, and one of the girls began shrieking at the impassive line of rioters: "Do something! Help her! We pay your salaries! Do your job!" She was immune to irony, and for all I know, the cops were too: they did not move.
According to her companions, the old woman, one of the anarchists, had been thrown into a seizure by the shock of the police charge. Male anarchists walked back up to the police line to berate the cops: "So this is how you treat the elderly! Fascists! I hope you're proud!" A few gathered about the gagging, twitching old woman to take amateur videos of the fruits of police state brutality. Two anarchist women, clad in black but with orange crosses pinned to their shirts, moved forward to render first aid. As they did, the second charge descended.
The rush came in two waves. First, the foot police line split neatly in two and swung in a manner to make Schlieffen proud. They neatly sealed off my alley and the alley across the way; and the cavalry moved up from behind to maintain the ground gained on the main thoroughfare. The crowd began shrieking again -- and then the cavalry charged. I have never seen a mounted charge before, but I certainly hope to again: the sight was profoundly more amazing than the foot charge witnessed mere minutes before. At once I understood the age-old truth of the power of the horseman over the man on foot: a lesson that those of us whose military service was in the modern era have precious little opportunity to grasp. Again the anarchists lost ground as fast as their fleeing feet could take them, and I was sure that the entirety of Rose Street would shortly be seized in the name of the Lothian and Borders Police. But no: passing the alleyways and arriving at a point at which their flanks were secured by solid walls, the cavalry stopped dead.
The foot police sealing me and a platoon of anarchists into our alley opened ranks, and two cops, in full armor but without shields or batons, strode confidently among us. Ignoring threats and curses, they walked to the old woman in seizure, knelt down, and began to render aid. In a flash it became clear why the cavalry had charged as it did: with their flanks and rear secure, the police could render aid. Having been among them long enough to get a sense of their nature, I have no doubt that lone policemen amongst the crowd would have been assaulted mercilessly even in their mission of mercy; now, though, they could do good work unhindered. The anarchists, excepting two, withdrew from the old woman. The couple remaining spoke in low voices to the cops, and they worked together to calm the stricken woman. The rest milled about, cowed and perhaps even shamed.
No, let's not get our hopes up on the shamed bit.
I wandered back down the alley, and found a bit of fencing amenable to being twisted open. I squeezed out and found myself in a different alley, this one looping back toward Rose Street. I was hoping to emerge on a police-controlled stretch; alas, there were more anarchists, hurling trash and screaming profanities. This time, I walked away from the riot line. I walked until I once more saw ordinary Scots trying to make the most of their workday as their city was defiled about them. I walked south, toward some measure of normality and nonviolence. Two anarchist girls, standouts in the throng of regular people, walked alongside me. One complained loudly: "Why is it they're only arresting the hot guys? It's like they're trying everything to make us miserable." I looked over. We made eye contact, and they began to laugh.
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