While the eyes of the world were on the first full day of competition at the London Olympics, a far smaller group was marking the “anti-Games” near the stadium on Saturday.
A few hundred protesters gathered in a party atmosphere to express their opposition to everything from corporate sponsorship of the Olympics to anger about missiles positioned on the roofs of nearby apartment blocks for the Games.
At the protest in Mile End, one subway stop from the stadium in east London, many demonstrators looked a little stunned by the sudden media attention after months of being largely ignored.
“There seem to be more cameras than protesters!” said Jean Videler, 60, equipped with a rucksack and tennis shoes, her grey hair falling to her shoulders.
The protest brought together around 40 activist groups under the banner of the “CounterOlympics Network” – groups that had hitherto struggled to be heard above the din of the London 2012 media machine.
Some protesters were from the “Occupy London” anti-capitalist movement, or from far-left parties, united by their opposition to the multi-million dollar sponsorship of the Games by multinationals like McDonald’s and Dow Chemical.
They joined forces with local residents opposed to the placing of anti-aircraft missiles near the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to prevent any possible airborne terror attack.
As well as the new media attention, the activists also found a heavy police presence keeping watch.
A dozen motorcycle officers and two police vans were stationed at the end of the road to ensure the protesters did not get any closer to the sporting action.
John McDonnell, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour party, explained why they had come to demonstrate.
“We enjoy the sport, what we don’t like is this corporate takeover that’s gone on,” he said.
But the atmosphere was relaxed as the protesters, ranging from pensioners to parents with young children, waited in the sun. Some shared a picnic, while others handed out leaflets.
There were even a group of ethnic Circassians in traditional dress protesting against the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Albert Beale, 60, a spokesman for the protesters, said he was pleased with the turnout.
“Some people are here because they have been thrown out of their home for the the Olympics, some are here because they don’t want to allow to have missiles on their roof,” he said.
Isabel, a 60-year-old woman, brandished a hand-woven banner saying “Bugger the Olympics and the Jubilee”, referring to Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating 60 years on the throne, which Britain celebrated in June.
“We are more representative of people living here,” she said.
There was also a more serious banner, saying: “Stop the Olympic missiles. Don’t play games with our lives.”
Videler, who works as a volunteer for an environment centre, said she was disgusted by the corporate sponsorship of the Olympics.
“I felt I needed to be here to stand in solidarity,” she said.
[image via Agence France-Presse]