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The International Writers Magazine
: G8 Diaries

Another World is Possible –
A personal account of the G8 Protests.
Elle Gray


 
In July this year eight leaders from the world’s 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 Bush’s 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 don’t meet "economic policy".


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 University’s 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.

The G8 is an unaccountable, self appointed exclusive club of the world’s elite that "represent" less than 14% of the world’s 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 countries.

(Although Katrina 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 couldn’t 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 she’d just been told not to stir us up too much by the police. Gael Garcia Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries – ladies don’t 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. It’s a shame but because the neo-liberal model that is prominent in our society absorbs even protest, corporations put up sponsorship because it’s 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 world’s 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 Yes Men.

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 Columbia’s 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 village’s 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 wasn’t 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 there.

Trevor Ngwane told us of Shell’s 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 don’t 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 we’ve 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 people’s 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!

By 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 – "You’re making it worse!"

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 don’t buy a t-shirt on your way out.

We stayed in a real bed that night (bliss!), at a fellow AIDS campaigner’s 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 wasn’t watching any more.

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 weren’t happy but repeated the mantra "we’re 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- We’re thinking of you London".

© Elle Gray - October 2005


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