the Disillusioned kid: Make the G8 History, Part Deux
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Monday, July 11, 2005

Make the G8 History, Part Deux

Given that my write-up of my experiences during protests against the G8 began at the end, it seems consistently logical to follow it up with an overview of the whole week.

Despite having been involved in radical/progressive/leftist/anarchist politics for more years than I care to remember, I have never been to a G8 before. Indeed, this was my first summit of any description, although I did turn up for protests against two of the meetings which brought together ministers responsible for specific areas (namely the environment and development ministers meeting in Derbyshire and the interior and justice ministers confab in Sheffield). As such I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I knew we weren't in for a repeat of the events in Genoa in 2003 when demonstrators clashed with Italian paramilitary police, one activist was shot and police raided a converegence centre beating those inside. The UK just doesn't work like that. That didn't mean, however, that the possibility of things getting hairy could be discounted.

The ease of getting from the train station to the campsite, provided for free by Edinburgh Council, was encouraging, as was the chilled-out atmosphere when I arrived. Sitting in a field eating vegetarian curry and sipping Mecca Cola, both provided by a local mosque, it would have been easy to forget about the politics and think that this was just a holiday. We were there to do a job (so to speak) however and that would begin the next day with the set-piece Make Poverty History march, an event which would attract 225,000 people. I was struck by the fact that the site was largely empty, which remained the case throughout the week. This is at least partly attributable to concerns about security on the site amongst some activist groups (rumours about razor wire, omnipresent surveillance and guard towers had spread quickly, including some of my friends who arrived a day after I did and were surprised to see how civil the whole set-up was).

Much had been made in media coverage prior to the summit on the amount of time and money invested in security: thousands of police were brought in from around the country; riot cops were trained fro some eighteen months; Gleneagles Hotel where the summit was taking place was to be surrounded by a £1 million fence, described by police as merely a "line in the sand". It was not difficult to see where this money had been spent. Every action I participated in was attended by huge numbers of police, oftentimes kitted out in full riot gear. The sheer number of police quickly came to feel oppressive, particularly when they began stopping and searching people under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The fact that they often tried to get more out of those being searched than they were legally obliged to give, sometimes under duress didn't help.

Apart from the police presence, the week was in fact fascinating, inspiring and enjoyable, if higely tiring: the sheer scale of the MPH demo was impressive and reminiscent of the gargantuan anti-war march on February 15 2003; the counter-conference the following day included contributions from a wide range of inspiring speakers including writer George Monbiot, South African anti-privatisation campaigner Trevor Ngwane, executive director of NGO Focus on the Global South Walden Bello and situationist troublemakers the Yes Men; Monday's blockade of Faslane was surprisingly effective, while simultaneously remaining chilled - a striking counterpoint it would emerge later to events taking place at the same time in Edinburgh; the protest against Dungavel refugee detention centre on Tuesday was much more disempowering with the centre having been emptied prior to our arrival and police boarding and searching buses carrying demonstrators.

The highlight of the week for me, and - I think - for many others, was the chance to see the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) in action. I have to confess, when I first heard of the idea of people going along to actions dressed as clowns I was dismissive, but having seen them in action I've completely changed my opinion. I had previously seen CIRCA in action in Sheffield, but there they were few in number. In Scotland there seemed to be hundreds of them. There activities were amusing and entertaining, while retaining a strong political element. There ability to engage with the police in new ways was particularly interesting. I watched on group of clowns, for instance, pursue an evidence gathering team, trying to film those involved in blockading Faslane, getting in the way of their filming and ultimately forcing them to retreat across police lines. The incident was never going to flare into violence, yet it was effectively able to neuter police tactics. Testament to the Army's success was the number of people I spoke to who expressed an intention to do the CIRCA training workshop and become a rebel clown.

While there is much more which could be said, I should save something for 'Part Third' of this report and so I will end on a positive note. I was amazed in my time in Edinburgh by how ridiculously friendly everybody I met was from the bus drivers carting us from campsite to city-centre to those running the community centre which had been commandered by the council for campers. I wonder how the inhabitants of Nottingham would have responded to a similar influx of protesters. Thank you Edinburgh.

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