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'Block The Bridge' demo to defend the NHS

"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it." - Nye Bevan.

Somewhere between 3,000-5,000 people came to "Block the Bridge, Block the Bill" - the UK Uncut-organised demo to defend the NHS from axe-wielding Tory maniacs (see SchNEWS 791). Billed as an up-fer-it direct action blockade of Westminster Bridge (in the very heart of the city for those who's knowledge of central London's geography is lacking), the location couldn't have been better chosen. On one side of the bridge is Parliament, on the other St Thomas' Hospital. Protesters symbolically placed themselves in the way of the hospital to protect it from the harm that the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill will do to it and the rest of the NHS.

By 1pm the entire bridge was closed to traffic and full of demonstrators of many persuasions; health workers, disabled people, students, trades unionists and more gathered to defend Britain's most popular state institution. Some of the more enthusiastic attendees took "Block the Bridge" a little bit too seriously and linked arms, preventing protesters and non-protesters alike from crossing the bridge to get to the demo because, err, the bridge was blocked. They eventually stopped when the rest of the crowd nearby started taunting them for being idiots.

The rest of the demo was full of creative chaos; including a die-in by people dressed in medical gear, street theatre of all shapes and flavours and mobile sound-systems a plenty. Block the Bridge bore witness to the first 'Occupy London' General Assembly. Directly inspired by Occupy Wall Street, the Assembly was a classic example of Brits almost, but not quite, copying the American way of doing things. In place of the exuberant 'can do' attitude of our comrades across the pond there were hesitant speeches and suggestions that people might like to get into groups to organise for the future.

Although the event was about as fluffy as direct action ever is, the police still couldn't stop their authoritarian urges from getting the better of them. After stopping anyone who looked vaguely protester-ish from leaving via the north side of the bridge, they then kettled groups of protesters on Lambeth Bridge, eventually letting people go after a round of pointless stop and searches.

With the Wall St protests continuing, and an Arab Spring still in people's steps, occupation as a tactic looks like the way to go these days. Flush from the success of the Westminster Bridge demo it looks like next week's Occupy the Stock Exchange should be a biggie.