Guest post: Inside Fortnum and Mason: an eyewitness account

This is a guest post by Jo Evans, who took part in Occupy for the Alternative.

My day on the UK Uncut organised actions in London

As I watched TV news yesterday afternoon and evening and read this mornings papers I really wanted to share my experience of the UK Uncut actions as what is currently being reported in the media seems to confused about what events on the day UK Uncut organised, so here’s my story.

I was proud to join the march yesterday and march with my UK Uncut flag. The turnout for the march was fantastic – hundreds of thousands of people – families and trade unionists, public sector workers and pensioners marching together against the government’s unnecessary and cruel cuts. The size of the demonstration was massive and massively important, showing how many people oppose these cuts and are prepared to do something about it and it was a result of an enormous amount of hardwork by the trade union bodies and ordinary people. We should be congratulated for such an inspiring day.

I decided to not attend the rally in Hyde Park but instead go to Oxford Street to occupy tax avoiders and banks as part of the UK Uncut actions. I’ve been on a couple of their actions now and have loved the creativity involved. I’ve dressed up in a number of costumes and painted my own banners, and – despite being new to civil disobedience, have felt that the sit ins that UK Uncut organise provide a space for people like me who are scared of what the cuts will mean and have decided to take a step in civil disobedience to do something about it. You always feel like there’s nothing you can do, and yesterday day – by marching and by sitting down in protest – we were all doing just that.

I moved about a bit, and started with BHS (owned by tax dodger Philip Green). I wasn’t sure what was happening at first as it wasn’t clear if anyone apart from the police was there, but soon a sort of theatre or outdoor performance space opened up and we sat and drew pictures on long pieces of paper whilst listening to poets and a musician play the guitar. I even saw Sam West and Timothy West perform an extract from a play which was brilliant – especially as it was noisy on Oxford Street and everyone gathered round listening to the words and forming an audience right there on the street. There was a bizarre moment when another performer was reading aloud and a passing group with paint bombs splattered the BHS shopfront. We all got covered in paint and started to chant “Don’t throw shit!” at them to get them to stop, but the atmosphere at the UK Uncut action was good natured about it and everyone took it in good humour really. The woman who was compering said we looked like a Jackson Pollock painting, which was pretty ironic!

I then went down to Soho square to join the open air comedy gig – and there were hundreds of people there! It was amazing! I didn’t see Josie Long sadly but did see comedian Mark Thomas – and really enjoyed it, I was however, a bit disappointed that it didn’t happen inside a bank. Not sure what happened there.

I moved to Oxford Circus for 3.30 as was the plan and there was a real carnival atmosphere, there was a giant ‘Trojan horse’ in the middle and a samba band playing. It felt very celebratory. Everyone was talking about how great the turnout for the march was, and that it felt like “YES – WE CAN DO SOMETHING!” I joined a group of people moving in different directions on Regent Street. I was in the group heading south, although there was bit of confusion about where we were actually going but then we stopped, and went into Fortnum and Mason – someone stood up to explain why we were there – that Wittington, the company who own Fortnum and Mason, dodge £10million pounds in tax every year, which would pay the salaries of 500 nurses.

The atmosphere inside the shop was great! We sat amongst the expensive jam and marmalade and chanted ‘Pay Your Tax!’ Then we sang songs and held our banners, and shoppers seemed to be quite amused by the whole thing. It was a great feeling to be sitting with others and being together. I started a read in with some friends but after a short time I left as I had to be somewhere that night. It must have been just in time, as a friend texted me to say the police had closed the store.

I walked away with a feeling of great positivity, which is how I always feel about being on the uncut actions, what a day! Being with hundreds of thousands of others and feeling proud to be part of such a diverse movement of people saying no to the cuts.

Watching the news and looking on Twitter, people must be totally confused about what UK Uncut actually did on the day. I’ve been on a few demonstrations in my time and I know how many different people get in one shared space so this is my account of the day which you can use as much as you like. I feel like all of us who have been involved need to tell people the truth about what actually happened, we were all just doing what we always do – using our creativity to protest against the governments support of bailed out banks and rich tax avoiders, when they cut services that we all need, and cut jobs.

I will remember the day as a positive one, as I stood alongside my colleagues in the public sector and stood up for ordinary people.