Scots bloggidge: a London Rising Tider at the G8 actions writes...
**Publish date modified due to system failure**
We seem to have been preparing for it forever, but the G8 is finally upon us. My London life is sorted enough to leave behind for 10 days - I hope - and now it's time to pull together whatever courage and creativity I have. After all, this psychotic system needs to be dismantled and the seeds of new ones need to be nurtured, and fast. That's what I try to tell myself when the doubts and fears drop by for a chat every now and then.
Friday July 1st:
Some came before us and many came after, but I slipped quietly over the border into Scotland a little after 4am on Thursday morning. The timing was more to do with lack of traffic than secrecy, and the admittedly ironic choice of a diesel-drinking van was made necessary because we were moonlighting as curators, carrying up the Art Not Oil exhibition to display in a student's union building in Edinburgh.
We snatched a couple of hours' sleep in the snore-filled basement of the Edinburgh Dissent 'infopoint', Dissent being the name of the UK network which came together a couple of years back to co-ordinate the direct action-based anti-capitalist mobilisation against the G8 and hopefully into the future, (which isn't the same as organising the actions themselves, it's important to note!)
The infopoint is a small shopfront already overflowing with leaflets, skipped sofas and a coffee machine that brews any coffee as long as it's Zapatista, and it was a welcome sight after the shrink-wrapped, freeze-dried horror of your average motorway service station.
By 9am we were back on the road, taking our vanload of bikes, bags and conscious art into the centre of town, where we parked alongside the Clown Army's chipfat-fuelled battle bus and unloaded the art into the Teviot building. Teviot is an impressively gothic students union building where the surely disapproving faces of past professors stare down from the walls at the Dissent whippersnappers who've managed to borrow it for workshops, info, tea, art and plotting. When I'd smiled sweetly at the building manager and helped throw a 'truer portrait of the oil industry than that painted by exhibitions like the BP Portrait Award' (www.artnotoil.org.uk) up on the walls, it was time to check in with old friends and get my head round what to do at Make Poverty History.
Back at the infopoint I had a dodgy morning losing and finding my sleeping stuff in the basement, not to mention lairy all-night drinkers from the bar next door wanting a fight and the police turning up to take pictures and pull down the shutters, all the while laughing - drunk on their own power perhaps...
Anyway, I managed to hook up with my London Rising Tide buddies and head off to the Meadows where Make Poverty History (MPH) was massing. We thought that while we had some issues with MPH - partly that it ignores climate change and seems happy with debt 'forgiveness' on the condition that African countries privatise yet more essential services - it would still be useful to be there, to share ideas and leaflets, and to let people see some of the sparks that fire the hearts of anti-capitalist movements.
It seemed that pretty much anyone not dressed in white - either multicoloured or all in black - was a part of those movements, the Rhythms of Resistance 'pink bloc' samba band, the Clown Army and the black bloc being the most noticeable. I ended up tying a pink piece of material on my head, dancing with the samba and handing out hundreds of Dissent 'Make History - Shut Down the G8' leaflets (which went down surprisingly well, a good reminder of the range of political opinions present within MPH).
High points? Streaming to the front of the music stage with the clowns, leafleting all the way, and seeing them all waving their hands from side to side in unison, in time with the Latin rhythms of the band and the slightly bemused prompting of the its lead singer. Then there was the fascinating chat I had with an elderly woman in white about the corrupting nature of political power and her pleading with me to show her the programme to get us to the leaderless ecological utopia I dreamt of aloud. 'But there can't be one programme,' I said - 'surely that would be a kind of fascism?'
But they were both topped later by dancing down a huge hill in front of the samba band, glitter floating all round us, then turning round to see the behind the drummers a massive banner reading 'Make capitalism history'...
And then I had to go - sore of foot but euphoric of head - off with other LRTers in one of the many Dissent vans ferrying activists up and down the motorway to a beautiful self-organised campsite only accessible through a soulless car park somewhere outside Stirling.
On our way there I saw for the first time a vast and terrifying BP oil refinery looming out of the horizon: Grangemouth. The community there are being slowly poisoned and the workers systematically underpaid and over-exposed to constant corner-cutting when it comes to health and safety. Which means a steadily rising toll of deaths and serious injuries.
To make matters worse, BP claims it 'offsets' the millions of tonnes of CO2 pumped out of the place day and night by buying carbon credits from a Brazilian company building monocultural eucalyptus plantations which also lay waste to biodiversity and indigenous people. Welcome to the violent, duplicitous world of carbon trading.
Living in London means I hardly ever get to see even from a distance the dirty reality of the oil industry. We spend loads of time asking Londoners to see beyond the 'greenwash', so I suppose it was useful to get a closer view. But actually my strongest feeling was of awe and frustrated anger at the sheer physical size of our adversary.
It was possible that night to dream of better worlds at the rural Dissent camping space, at the entrance to which were a series of wild, climate justice-conscious, permacultural painted panels. The site had been organised into individual 'barrios' named mostly after the region each crew and its kitchen had come from. So we camped in the bike barrio partly because other LRTers and friends were there, having just arrived after the long pedal to justice, also known as the G8 Bike Ride. They were looking good on 45 miles or so riding per day - tanned, weatherbeaten and still elated in part at having occupied the runway of Coventry airport a few days earlier.
We also camped there because there were rumours of gale force winds ands tents flying off into the stark and beautiful hills like bizarre birds of prey. Luckily all we were visited by were a few squally showers during the night, long after the Peace Not War hip hop/folk tent had shut down, and I woke up with nothing more alarming to deal with than a couple of damp feet and a seriously shiversome (voluntary and necessary) cold tap shower.
After a hearty Manchester barrio breakfast of muesli, bread & peanut butter and tea, as well as a quick LRT crew natter and a visit to the immaculate compost toilets, it was a free ride back to Edinburgh in the Legal Support team's bus. (Legal Support keep a lookout for arrested folk as well as being legal observers on demos and actions.)
The main reason for getting back to Edinburgh was to go to a meeting of Peoples' Global Action (PGA: www.agp.org). PGA is a network of direct action-based anti-capitalist groups and movements worldwide, and Rising Tide is a part of it. This meeting was an important one as there's a global conference coming up in India in the autumn and there's a hell of a lot of work to do to help bring it to positive fruition. Keeping networks like this together, whether in London, England or worldwide, is always really hard, as it can be seen as a diversion from the very necessary work of organising locally. But I don't think we're going to build the worlds we want to live in without making closer links with other regions and struggles.
It was long and arduous but we got plenty of groundwork covered, and it was great that we were sitting amongst the Art Not Oil work for part of it...
After that I grabbed the chance to film the exhibition for a short film we hope to make about the exploits of Art Not Oil in 2005. With an hour or two on my hands, I headed over to the Indymedia centre housed in a beautiful churchlike room owned by Edinburgh University for some email checkery. That was a frantic sudden opening of scores of doors into my life everywhere but where I was, most of whose rooms I didn't go into, making the whole exercise more destabilising and disconcerting than anything else. Having bolted those doors back shut, a few of us trundled off to Glasgae in the LRT battle bus. We passed Grangemouth again, this time its gas flaring chimneys puncturing a big sky of crystalline clouds with fiery bolts of sunshine bursting through them...
But I was brought back to earth with an unholy bump by our need to fill up the van with goddamn diesel. And whose forecourt should it be beckoning to us at the end of the sliproad? None other than the company running Grangemouth and the focus of much of our activity in London: BP. But since there's no such thing as a good oil company, or even a ‘less bad’ one, (unless you're able to buy the diesel of the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolution pehaps, which we aren't in the UK, at least not without being sold under the name of one of the big western companies), we thought 'what the hell' and headed in.
On the forecourt we noticed that even the CCTV cameras carry BP logos, and inside was a sign saying it was impossible to sell petrol in plastic cans during G8 week. This made me realise for the first time what a threat to the climate is this thing called a molotov cocktail.
We'd left one of my bags in Edinburgh, and we had to tarry awhile on the forecourt to get word of its whereabouts. Some of the staff seemed to be glancing over at us quizzically, maybe because we didn’t look exactly like your average BP punter, so I thought I'd seize the moment to stroll into the till with a copy of 'Beyond Oil - the oil curse and solutions for an oil-free future'. Somewhat sheepishly I approached the 3 or 4 people working there and struck up a conversation with one about the fact that we campaigned on oil - particularly BP, ‘who are building this pipeline across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey which will carry a million barrels of oil a day for 40 years’, and other such easygoing banter. He seemed receptive, so I gave him the booklet, paused a little, and said with a smile:
"You know, if you have a look at that and think it would work, we could probably supply you with a few wholesale copies for you to sell here."
"If I did that you can bet I'd be out of a job by the end of the week," he laughed back. Then I left, dizzy with the delicious ironies all aswirl in that place in that moment, as well as the pleasure at having been in that situation without either of us having judged the other.
From there it was off to the collapsed outskirts of east Glasgow, where all there seem to be are paint-peeled pubs decorated with cheap union jacks, scrap merchants and, for a few weeks only, a Dissent 'convergence space'.
'Convergence space' is a fancy way of describing a place where people planning to do actions at a big event like the G8 can sleep, eat, meet, discuss and possibly even have some internet access; (I'm writing this in the Glasgow convergence now, alongside 4 other people tapping wildly into their keyboards to file reports to friends and Indymedia centres all over the world, or trawling the web to see how our friends and the corporate media have reported our exploits of hours or days past.)
The space is a derelict factory on Dora Street, rented to us thanks to the amazing hard work of people who gave up weeks of their lives to come here early and launch into the thankless slog of negotiating with landlords. It didn't make a very positive impression on the local folk, fired up as they were by hysterical scare stories in the local paper. When I was in the mood to feel negative and alienated, it seemed like a coming together of tribes who thrive on the teenage iconography of negativity and destruction, and who have little time for making connections with local people, but when I was more upbeat, it seemed a beacon of something like hope - a whole gang of people who don't know eachother but who share a positive common purpose coming together to take care of our own needs without the presence of a leader or chain of command.
One football pitch-sized space is given over to kitchen and open-plan chill-out space, where people read, snooze, pore over maps, cycle or play frisbee. Another similar-sized space is taken up with row upon row of sleeping bags and people's tat: ('tat' = stuff). Out back is a yard with two tough, lovely maple trees and wild flowers, as well as a firepit, car seats and piles of beercans and bottles. The local kids come to the mesh fence that separates the yard from the street and chat or throw stones, depending on their mood for the day.
We've got bog paper in the working toilets, soap in the running water sinks, and signs from the medics reminding us to wash our hands regularly. As the action week progresses, this attention to hygiene does begin to slip, but the kitchen even today, pretty much the last day, is full of people washing up, wiping down surfaces and preparing the next meal. Some of the best times I've had this week have been there, working hard with 15 or so others to clear up and cook. Conversely, the most miserable I've been is when I've been out by myself without having a role or a job in hand, which, mercifully, hasn't been that often.
Every now and then the police drive by, often with a CCTV camera circling evilly on the roof, but apart from that, whatever surveillance they have - either inside or out - is impossible to see. So we live together in a friendly way but with the knowledge that there are undercover police in here lurking in the back of our minds and no doubt contributing to the atmosphere in various ways that are hard to quantify.
Once into the space, I found a sleeping spot near my mates, grabbed some now-cold but still good vegan dinner, and turned in for the night.
Today was pretty uneventful - a wander in town, various long meetings about what should happen for the blockades promised for tomorrow, the opening day of the G8 summit, loads of rumours about the rural space being shut down, us being surrounded etc., and plenty of washing up, which wasn't without its own unique and indispensable therapeutic value as the tension slowly rose like mercury in a thermometer dropped in a tea urn.
Underlying all this was wondering what the hell to do - some people in our group were planning to be a part of a critical mass mobile bike blockade, others wanted to be on foot but also ready to get in the way of delegates and others getting to the summit. I'd been fearing this day for some time, and had been building myself up to get out there and get in the way of stuff, but when I heard that hardly anyone was planning to stay and take care of the space, I had a tempting prospect dangling in front of me…
So I took it, bidding farewell to my LRT friends for the day. All day I was telling myself that looking after the space, cooking dinner etc. was as useful a role as the more glamorous 'chasing round the hills, avoiding cops and suddenly appearing out of nowwhere to block roads' stuff, but deep down I felt I'd let myself down, the final nail in my day's coffin was hearing that the bike bloc had made it as far as the Gleneagles media tent and were giving the journos an unvarnished take on the dodgy deals happening in the hotel.
So that was my supportive, useful - nay invaluable - but still somehow deeply dissatisfying day. On a wider scale, the chaos and disconnection of people being in three different spaces which has made people worry loudly about whether anything useful could be done on the day turned out to be a kind of strength. It seems the police and security forces hate more than anything to be faced with uncertainty, fluidity and diversity, and that's what they got in spades on Wednesday.
A day or two later I was on the train between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and fell into animated conversation with a Sierra Leonean woman now living in London. She was carrying the world’s biggest-ever placard, which read ‘AIDS IS MAN-MADE’, and was in Scotland for Make Poverty History. She was absolutely bewildered that anyone would consider trying to prevent the G8 from meeting. “Why don’t they see what decisions are made, and then take action afterwards?” she suggested. I said that the G8 had been meeting for 30 odd years and hadn’t acted in the peoples’ interest yet, so they were hardly likely to start now. We had to agree to differ when she let me know that she was hoping - or possibly expecting – God to act through them and sort out the problems on their plates, an event over which they would have no control.
We parted with smiles and a slightly better understanding of where the other stood, but it did also bring home to me the massive distance between us…
It's hard to know how much actual disruption the blockades, toddler's picnics on junctions and spontaneous breaches of the hated fence protecting world leaders from their angry 'subjects' had, but it seems to have given the ongoing movement of resistance in the UK a shot in the arm as well as plenty to learn from. And with any luck those images of the fence coming down will have been beamed around the world and sent a good, strong message to movements in the global south that when the institutions and corporations that are carving up the planet meet in the north, they can no longer do so without inspirational resistance.
But that was Wednesday, and by the next day, everything had changed all over again - for the worse. I arrived back in the Edinburgh exhibition space, as we had to pack it away that day, only to receive a call from a friend telling me about the bombs in London. More information trickled in as I took the paintings and photos off the walls. Whoever planted the bombs has travelled a million miles from a deep connection to humanity and a real, heartfelt rage against injustice, I thought. Now it seems all they want is to land us in a godawful conflagration as soon as possible, with movements for radical, positive social change sure to suffer almost as badly as the indigenous Muslim communities of the west.
Back in Glasgow - and elsewhere - there were debates raging about whether the planned 'save the climate- stop the M74' street party should go ahead the following day. Many thought it inappropriate, or that at least it would be painted as disrespectful by the almost entirely hostile local media. Someone else said that if Tony Blair could promise, as he did, to continue resolutely to implement the G8 agenda, then the resistance to it should also continue.
I was also worried about it, so went off to make a banner while waiting to hear what the decision would be. I wanted something which might help explain why people might be wanting to hold a street party the day after the attacks. We've been hearing a lot about Ken Saro-Wiwa this year, as it's the 10th anniversary of his murder by the Nigerian government and Shell, and because there will be a 'living memorial' to him in London in November 2005 and beyond;
(www.remembersarowiwa.com). So a quote of his came to mind:
'My brothers, my sisters, dance, dance, dance, dance, your anger and your joys.'
In a hurry and in a childlike messy purple, white and green daze, we painted 'Dance your sorrow, your anger and your joy', and left it to dry overnight in the convergence space where most of the T-shirts, stickers, leaflets and graffiti started with the words 'No to' or 'Fuck the'. Making that banner made me feel very happy, partly because of what it said, but partly also because it was something practical and creative to take my mind off other stuff.
So here it was at last, the 'international day of action on the root causes of climate change'. Even though we had invited NGOs and others to take action on this day, most had held their events on other days of the summit, so this was the day where direct action with a post-oil, post-capitalism flavour seemed more the order of the day.
After plenty of doubt and a few rumours of cancellation, the street party went ahead on the hottest day of the mobilisation so far on a bridge near the route of the planned but wanted-only-by-business M74 motorway. The police had rerouted the traffic and given us this bridge - the George V, factfans - so it was chilled out when I got there, with the slightly anti-climactic unvalued sense of having been given what you want without having had to struggle for it. The 5-lane street was full of the same sort of strewn-with-colour gang of folk that always made up London Reclaim the Streets' parties back in the 1990s. And they'd done the thing I'd always loved about those parties, which was to bring their own banners, placards, costumes, props and chalk to decorate the street with bikes, upful messages and random creatures.
For some nice pictures from the bridge and beyond, have a look at:
The downside was a lack of recorded or live tunes and only a skeleton crew samba band. The corporate media photographers wandered aimlessly, then drifted away having only shown excitement when a bloke in a monkey mask stood to attention in the midst of the police line, which was hilarious but maybe didn't make the message sing out loud and clear. I asked ‘What does the monkey think of the M74?’, to which he replied by jumping up and down. I had to think quick, so came back with ‘Could the monkey jump up and down if he’s against the M74?’ Monkey jumps up and down, appearing as the picture accompanying the following day’s Scotsman report, headed “Anti-G8 ‘ceilidh’ causes traffic chaos in Glasgow”.)
In my pink hat and pink shirt I concentrated on making the 'Dance your sorrow' banner visible and handing out leaflets explaining what it was all about to partygoers, some of whom didn’t seem so sure. In fact, someone had made a second, last-minute leaflet after the London bombings to explain ‘Why this, why now?’, which it did, beautifully, but which made it hard to decide which of the two to hand out to people no doubt already with pockets overflowing with texts.
After a few hours of chilled but slightly unfocussed 5-lane reclamation, a group of 50 or so people started to drift towards the police line at the north end of the bridge, helped along by the slightly uncertain beats of a band of drummers who I didn’t recognise. Much of the crowd looked up, pondered whether to join their break out posse, but thought better of it, so the attempt was a bit half-hearted and failed. Then they turned around and headed south, where instead of the city’s financial and shopping districts and closest access to the M8, lay the way to the route of the planned M74 extension. This time, the police for some reason let them drift off the bridge, leaving those left behind to wonder whether or not to stick around, most deciding to follow the breakers-out and head south.
Which is what I also did, ending up spending the next half hour standing in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic handing leaflets to most people but being turned down by most taxi-drivers and the occasional bus driver. Funnily enough, that was the best part of my day. Then a few of us got word that one break-out group had taken a second bridge leading into Glasgow, and another had made it to or near the M8, about a mile away. We headed to the motorway ourselves to see what we could see. When we got closer, we were warned that the police had enclosed (or ‘penned’) most of the 150 party-goers, who had headed unknowingly into a working class protestant housing estate. When we got there we found at least 15 police vans, several lines of police on foot and a few locals looking on with bemusement at the strange play that was being enacted on their doorstep. The heat was intense with police pouring water down eachother’s backs and even passing water to the party people, who seemed in pretty good spirits. One woman on our side of the line marched up and down making an impromptu inspection; I lay on the grass in the blessed shade wondering if I was being any use.
After a while, we heard that a negotiated settlement had been reached, and that the police would escort everyone to the Cre8 Summit space, about 2 miles back where we’d come from. Cre8 is a project to reclaim a slice of derelict green land on the planned route of the M74 extension. It had been squatted a few weeks back as part of an attempt to make sure the anti-G8 mobilisation left something positive behind, as well as making some good connections with local people who weren’t part of the usual activist scene, (which is actually pretty tiny in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.) That suited me as it had sounded from a distance like one of the most exciting pieces of the Dissent jigsaw, and I hadn’t had a chance to see it yet.
A policewoman told us of the plan, and invited us to join our friends in the soon-to-be-mobile pen. It was a tricky decision whether to join them or stay safer and more able to chat to people and give them leaflets on the outside, but in the end we opted in, being ushered surreally through police lines that had up until that moment been very solidly blocking everything. And we were off, escorted by police on horses to front and back, with police on foot completely surrounding us, trying to distract ourselves from the feeling that we were corralled sheep by whooping, drumming, dancing and occasionally scuffling with police our way to our destination.
Police that had up to now been unaggressive and even friendly gradually picked up the pace from the back, shoving us forward and insisting that we walk faster, even if that meant stepping on the ankles of whoever was in front. It seemed their lust for beer was even stronger than mine, either that or it was a concerted attempt at stirring up various forms of nickable anger. People with loud mouths and short fuses were dragged into the middle by friends who could see that he had used up his nine lives for the day.
When we got to Cre8, a beautiful blot of overgrown green on the city landscape, the ‘we are sheep’ feeling became impossible to ignore, as the police marched us off the street and into our night quarters. But the feeling was short-lived as there were friends there, as well as the very welcome G8 bike ride tandem sound system and a just-about-cold can of lager. Cre8 looked great, and this was a chance to chat to some of the local folk, some of whom weren’t sure what the transformation had been all about. Most of the newly-planted foot-high trees were protected inside car tyres, but loads weren’t, so I made a quick announcement on the mic asking people to keep an eye out for them, my holiday from being a responsible citizen having lasted about 37 minutes.
We had hoped that there might be plenty of smaller, ‘affinity group’ actions (ie. unannounced actions carried out by a small group who know and trust eachother) on the day. However, in the event, the only other Scottish action that we heard of was two people hanging a banner reading ‘COMING SOON: MILLIONS OF ECOLOGICAL REFUGEES, IN A CITY NEAR YOU!’ from a bridge in Edinburgh. See
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/07/317494.html for a report and also a discussion about whether the banner slogan is pandering to anti-immigration types.
Elsewhere in the world, so far all I can find is this inspiring report from Rising Tide in Sydney, Australia:
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/07/317494.html, this from Venezuela: http://www.noalg8.contrapoder.org.ve/ and this from the US: www.mountainjusticesummer.org/actions/2005-7-08/index.php The following day saw an Esso station shut down with vegetable oil in Edinburgh: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/07/318306.htm
It seems that the decision to call a day of action for the last day of what was always going to be a knackering mobilisation was flawed but still worthwhile. No one seemed to know where the call had originated from, but the build-up to the G8 saw climate change slowly start to be accepted as a good and necessary focus for anti-capitalist direct action, even though there’s still some way to go to convince some other activists that it’s about a whole lot more than polar bears and disappearing butterflies, crucial as species loss is in itself. With any luck it will come to be seen as a slightly faltering step towards the creation of a worldwide movement for climate justice…
Too tired to party long and late, I crashed out early at the Glasgow convergence space while others danced to the cycle sounds and shared stories around the firepit. The next day was one to pack and drive the art and all our other tat back to London and for me to pick up where I’d left off nine days earlier. The few days since then have been spent wondering why I can’t seem to blow any air into the balloon of my enthusiasm, so I’ve slowed down and let a little leisure in. The G8 experience has been tiring in more than just physical ways – as well as lack of sleep there’s been fear, adrenalin, boredom, euphoria and confusion about my place within this ‘movement of movements’. There’s been satisfaction peppered with disappointment, and a strong desire for solitude. But now the balance is returning. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Oyle E. Wragg, London Rising Tide