The International Writers Magazine: G8 Diaries
World is Possible
A personal account of the G8 Protests.
July this year eight leaders from the worlds richest countries
met at a golf club in Scotland. Over 225,000 people marched in
Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History rally and the same number
watched a pop concert in Hyde Park. George Bush crashed his bike
(so close!), and Tony Blair had to leave the G8 summit in Bushs
hands while he returned to his assaulted capital city.
It was a surreal
time with so much at stake at this meeting of men.
The outcome would quite literally mean life or death for millions of
our fellow human beings if Aid, Trade and Debt changes dont meet
At a time
like this, with the possibility that our actions could affect a real
change in the G8 decisions, we got some right-on people together from
Portsmouth Universitys campaign group People & Planet, and
headed up to Scotland. People & Planet was organising its annual
summer festival to coincide with the G8, and had a beautiful location
in Stirling for us to camp in, as well as an amazing program of events,
workshops and speakers. We shared the camp (Hori-zone) with Dissent!
an open, anti-capitalist network of groups and individuals that
organises horizontally, makes decisions by consensus and are opposed
to the existence of the G8 and with good reason.
G8 is an unaccountable, self appointed exclusive club of the worlds
elite that "represent" less than 14% of the worlds
population, yet the decisions they make affect every person on the
planet. They are responsible for 47% of carbon dioxide emissions
yet 98% of people killed or affected by climate change are in developing
and Rita gave the States a rude wake-up call, it only served to highlight
the yawning chasm between rich and poor as the world tuned in to watch
the flooded streets of New Orleans, which is sadly so much more newsworthy
than a flood in the Philippines). The G8 countries (Russia, France,
Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, USA, and Italy) control 66%
of global wealth, and economic power in the World Bank, IMF and World
Trade Organisation. Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation said
that "The G8 present themselves as benevolent international creditors.
But their disproportionately high use of fossil fuels makes them global
ecological debtors, stealing the environmental capital of poor countries
to support their own development. They are parasites".
I am ashamed to say we hired a car and drove to Scotland, as we couldnt
afford the train (high prices are a form of public oppression restricting
the free movement of people, with detrimental environmental effects
the cheapest option was to fly!). The Dissent! train leaving
from London on the Friday was delayed as the police searched and photographed
the passengers just a taster of the full force of the State we
would feel once in Scotland.
On Saturday, 2nd July we woke up in a temporary camp in the sports field
of the Jack Kane Centre, in an apparently rough area of Edinburgh, so
we could be near the town centre for the massive Make Poverty History
march. The locals were so friendly and welcoming, excited to have this
many sound people coming to Scotland to make some noise about the state
of the world.
We arrived in the Meadows early, where staggered marches would begin
at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm to form a human version of the Make Poverty
History white band around the city. A festival was growing where all
the revellers were in dressed in white. Three giant stages hosted international
speakers, comedians and artists including Eddie Izzard, who was leaping
around, and Elaine C. Smith, alias Mrs Rab C Nesbit, who had everyone
is stitches as shed just been told not to stir us up too much
by the police. Gael Garcia Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries ladies
dont miss it) gave a rousing and passionate speech in English
about freedom, human rights and our duty as conscious human beings to
fight for this. There were stalls from every campaigning organisation
and faith group as well as a few corporations who had shamelessly jumped
onto the bandwagon. Its a shame but because the neo-liberal model
that is prominent in our society absorbs even protest, corporations
put up sponsorship because its good PR.
Meanwhile, numbers were swelling and although it was a real cross-generational
event, the police were clearly overwhelmed. Samba bands played, people
took part in the worlds biggest tea dance, and wrote messages
to our world leaders. So many people were there that we and the rest
of the P&P national contingent waited for hours to join the march
around the city. Although we were intermittently shown a live feed from
the Live8 event in Hyde Park, they never got a live feed from us.
The white band of people circled for 6 hours round Tony Blair and Gordon
Brown as they had a conference in the historic Assembly Rooms. These
two are fantastic at playing on the public mood, and listening to their
speeches you would have believed that Make Poverty History was a Government
initiative. A heckler who was asking real questions was forcibly removed.
Later in the week three activists hung a banner demanding "No More
Brownwash" to highlight the UK governments hijacking of the MPH
campaign. Leila Dean, one of the climbers said "We feel it is our
obligation, on behalf of the thousands of people who marched on Saturday
to decry the trick this government is trying to pull". Kath Pasteur,
another climber said "Whilst Brown claims allegiance to MPH, he
has chosen to ignore the most important demand of the campaign
Rebalancing trade rules in favour of the poor is the structural change
needed to allow countries to develop on their own terms" (source
Indymedia.com). Indeed Brown is still at it. In his keynote speech to
the Labour conference on26th September he used the words "Make
Poverty History" nine times in five minutes with no reference
to the grass roots movement those words represent.
Once Brown and Blair had gone, on Sunday afternoon the Assembly rooms
were used for their true democratic purpose, a counter-conference bringing
together respected UK speakers George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas, International
speakers Samir Amin, Trevor Ngwane and many more including the infamous
George Monbiot summed up the obvious truth and the reason we find the
world in such a critical state. We live in a world of totalitarian capitalism,
where "no aspect of human life is untouched by corporations".
Changes in Aid, Trade and Debt may reduce poverty but the real problem
is corporate power.
Berenice Celeyta highlighted Columbias plight, where children
are dying of hunger yet multinationals take gold, oil, water and minerals,
and remove indigenous peoples along the way. There are 7500 people in
prison for attempting to protest against this, and between 1994-96,
over 2000 people died in massacres near national resources.
Joel Bakan gave an example of how Coca-Cola is poisoning India. To make
1lt of Coke it takes 4lts of pure water, for cleaning machines etc.
One year after a bottling plant was set up, the local villages
water table had dropped by 100ft. Now they have to bore for water and
even then it is polluted by the chemical run-off from the factory. If
this wasnt bad enough, Coca-Cola apparently used to sell the black
sticky toxic factory waste as fertiliser to the local farmers! Sadly
this is not a one off case, Coke allegedly still has the same level
of disrespect for Africans that I heard first hand whilst travelling
Trevor Ngwane told us of Shells shocking behaviour in Nigeria.
Apart from the pipeline spills they regularly suffer, Shell might be
funding Nigerian delta conflict to keep the poor fighting the poor.
Destruction of the social fabric allegedly allows the corporation to
divide and rule.
It's shocking how we are able to overlook the needs of humanity for
the sake of making a profit. It is hard to comprehend how we as global
citizens could allow corporations to get away with this. But it is not
surprising as in America corporations have the same rights as human
beings. Coke has the same freedom of speech as I do, but I dont
have billions of pounds in saturation advertising.
The most shocking information we received that day was on climate change.
The results from the Exeter conference state there is no argument any
more that it is real, and man is responsible. It is so bad that we may
not be able to save ourselves from the critical mess weve made
but if we can, we have 10 years tops to radically change our
energy consumption and lifestyles. The Government acknowledges it should
have started an energy efficient economy years ago (Gordon Brown 26th
Sep), and legislation from them is the only way to make sure businesses,
home and car owners to clean up their act. But can we trust them to
put in unpopular policies to save us all?
Sitting there in the Assembly rooms steeped in history you could hear
bagpipes playing nearby and, in the company of enlightened people, you
could almost feel waves of power shifting over the Scottish hills.
Reeling from this overload of truth about the world we re-located from
the temporary camp in Edinburgh to the Eco-camp at Stirling. Like a
breath of fresh air, arrival at the eco-camp showed us that another
world is possible, with respect for the earth and community at the heart.
All power came from mobile windmills, the vegan kitchen provided full
meals for a pound, and the compost toilets that were like beds of roses
compared to the usual festival experience. I have NEVER experienced
living in a true community like this. Everyone was responsible for the
site and everyone took pride in it.
It was an amazing place to be, with respected writers, activists and
real life witnesses of global terror coming to speak directly to us,
the assembled masses of campaigners. We had workshops on all kinds of
social and environmental issues as well as direct action training to
prepare us for police tactics. All meetings and workshops were conducted
with total respect for other peoples positions and views, even
if you did not agree with them.
On Tuesday 5th, with the recent discussions on climate change in mind
we descended on the Innovene Oil refinery at Grangemouth which
at sea level, will be under water soon. To illustrate this point we
made a huge seascape complete with billowing blue seas, underwater creatures
and the G8 leaders as mermaids. Our beach party may have looked comical
but we were there to represent the voiceless victims of climate change.
The stunt worked and got a little media coverage but the papers were
much more interested in scare stories. Our home at the wonderful, progressive
eco-camp was now branded the "Anarchist Camp" (a contradiction
in terms!) or the "G-HATE" camp, with stories being printed
that just did not occur we know because we were there!
this time, with the summit starting the next day, the intermittent
buzz of helicopters circling us at the camp had become constant.
Our group from Portsmouth P&P had decided not to go on the marches
aimed at protesting outside the actual G8 summit because we were
not properly prepared, but we stayed up late assisting other people
with their missions.
After a sleepless
night, we left the camp on Wednesday just before the police went completely
over the top and closed off the one road in and out of the camp (it
was surrounded on three sides by a fast flowing river). After being
searched we found a way out by bus and passed hundreds of protestors
being marched by a human jail of riot police back towards the camp.
These people had not been arrested; they were being forced by the State
to stay out of the way.
People and Planet had been given 140 tickets to the Edinburgh 50,000
Gig "The Final Push". The 50,000 represents the number
of people that die every day due to preventable poverty. After the experience
of seeing decent forward thinking citizens being trodden on by the state
we were looking forward to being inspired again and surely 60,000
people in a stadium in Scotland would roar so loudly the world leaders
would actually feel us. Our hopes fell as soon as we entered the gig.
The usual array of corporate sponsorship and burger vans surrounded
the "Final Push" merchandising stalls where you could buy
a t-shirt to remember the night they solved poverty. Just remember to
thank the girl in the sweatshop that made it, using American subsidised
cotton that leaves thousands of African farmers unable to get a decent
price for their crop. We were not alone in noticing the glaring oversights,
somebody scrawled on the back of the van "Youre making
Geldof and Bono thanked everyone for coming out as if just turning up
to a gig will change the world. They have received much criticism since
then for self promotion and congratulating themselves too early. I say
they were probably exhausted and felt like they had achieved something
by getting all these people together. What they failed to do was issue
a call to action, to tell people that for real change they need to actively
lobby for it. And whatever you do dont buy a t-shirt on your way
We stayed in a real bed that night (bliss!), at a fellow AIDS campaigners
house so we could help out with an early morning AIDS stunt on Calton
Hill overlooking Edinburgh. Huge looming eyeballs followed the G8 leaders
around, spelling out to them The World Is Watching You. Then
the BBC crew who were filming us got reports of explosions on the London
Underground and the media disappeared. The world wasnt watching
The Climate Alarm was due to go off all over Scotland at 1.45 that afternoon
with car horns, bell towers and anything noisy to wake people up to
climate change. As a mark of respect, a silent vigil took the place
of an alarm.
As we returned home to the camp we were greeted by 47 police wagons
and hundreds of police in riot gear. They had closed off the one road
again. We took the opportunity to be friendly to them and find out their
feelings about guarding a bunch of hippies when London had been attacked.
They werent happy but repeated the mantra "were just
following orders". Legal observers were ignored. After two hours
with no legal reason for the hold up we got through the wall of officers
to find them facing off a few people sitting down in silence, one Malaysian
lady softly banging a peace drum, protesting at the earlier arrests
of friends. There was already a beautiful painted banner on the entrance
reading - "In the name of PEACE
For victims of violence EVERYWHERE- Were thinking of you London".
© Elle Gray - October 2005
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