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The G8 protests: Below, around and against

Uncomfortable collaborations in blocking the G8

By Shannon Walsh

“I have no fear of any sentence that you may pass on me, while
protesting nevertheless with energy against this substitution of
violence for justice, for this frees me in the future of any
inhibition against repaying the law with force”. Defense speech of
Louis-August Blanqui before the Court of Assizes, 1832

The blockading of the G8 in Heiligendamm Germany at the beginning of
June revealed once again the enormous flood of opposition, and counter
worlds, that continue to grow in the face of global capitalism.
Rostock, the coastal town closest to the cloistered meeting, was a
blossoming of strategies, movements, and individuals swarming below
dozens of police helicopters. The protest was a grand expose of the
many cracks against, within, and beyond capitalism.


But all cracks are not equal.
On June 2nd more than 80,000 people took to the streets of Rostock.
Clowns pranced around police, giant puppets waved between people of
all ages, balloons, slogans, flags, banners, colour and music all were
a part of the kaleidoscope of the huge march. Simultaneously,
cobblestone and pavement was torn up, masks donned, stones thrown,
cars overturned and set aflame, and symbols of capital smashed. About
500 police left the scene injured, as did almost as many protestors.

Within our ‘many yeses’ were the continued uncomfortable
collaborations that have yet to be an accepted part of these new
movements. For all the rhetoric around letting ‘a million flowers
bloom’, there are some flowers still not welcome in this garden. The
liberal left quickly revealed its continuing ‘discomfort’, and even
condemnation, of the more militant attacks waged by black bloc
activists from across Europe. As usual, debates ensued amongst
liberals about the ways in which the violence of June 2nd fragmented a
desired unity amongst the diverse alter-globalization movements.

It is as though each time afresh liberals and pacifists must
rediscover and puzzle over the politics of those that seek to confront
state power and capitalism with direct action. In fact, each time it
is as though the liberal left is rediscovering that there may be a
politics to these tactics at all. “They must have been attacked by the
police”, “it is only a small group of youngsters,” or the “police must
have sent in instigators to provoke them”, are some of the ways the
liberals console themselves in their confusion. That the unity desired
by liberals is not a unity desired by all— that unity itself is one
of the contested assurances of this ‘movement of movements’ — is
something that just doesn’t seem to sink in.

As the march wove its way through the center of Rostock, over 200 rows
of black clad activists linked arm by arm as a solid force against
police snatch squads and rushes. The bloc was a visibly arresting
symbol of the growing force of anti-capitalist sentiment in Europe.
Slogans like “One Solution! Revolution!” resounded from the mass. Many
of the mainly white Northern activists seemed to see their own role to
play as one of challenging the states in which they live with direct

These activist take up the call of those from over a century ago who
felt that only to write about injustice from the middle-class, to
allow only the bodies of the oppressed to be confronted by the state,
was hardly enough. To fight, actively and forcibly, was necessary. The
growing popularity of ideas to take struggle seriously is clear in the
theoretical leanings recently emerging. August Blanqui’s work, for
example, has been republished this year in French. In 1866 he wrote;

“Thousands of young educated, working and middle-class people quiver
under a detested yoke. To break it, do they think of taking up the
sword? No! The pen, always the pen, only the pen. Why the one and not
the other, as they duty of a republican requires? In times of tyranny,
to write is fine, to fight is better, when the pen of a slave remains

For some the pen is enough. For others, it has never been enough to
publish pamphlets and denouncements, but to take to the streets in
active contestation of the tyranny of oppression.

Liberal denouncements were made even in the midst of the mayhem in
Rostock, with pacifists pleading heatedly in the streets with masked
activists to ‘put the stones down’. Other marchers, such as a
representative from Oxfam, told the BBC that their desire was for a
peaceful march, distancing themselves from direct confrontation. “We
are all happy together”, the liberals insisted, “as long as we feel
comfortable, safe, and non-confrontational. As long as we obey the
police and allow them to manage us. The system will change if we show
them our numbers”. Many others clearly do not agree. By the police’s
own admissions, there were around 2,000 people who participated in
direct confrontations with police, vandalism, and rioting.

It should also be understood that the parameters within which liberals
find comfort are not only those set by the state. They are also part
of constructing, funding, and maintaining law and order. Their own
sense of being and purpose is vested in this system, which they plead
should be less unfair, but nonetheless must be maintained. Any
fundamental rejection of it threatens their stability as much as that
rejection threatens the state. Perhaps more so.

It was not hard to understand the analysis that we are under
unreasonable oppression by the state for voicing opposition while
German police shot water canons doused with tear gas into the largely
peaceful crowd, pepper sprayed, let dogs lose, attacked with batons,
and stormed into the crowds in their riot gear. An expensive
12-kilometer security fence surrounded the resort of Heiligendamm,
part of which was underwater. A police force 16,000 strong guarded the

Perhaps a resolution between these two positions is not ultimately
necessary if there is truly a respect for a diversity of tactics with
this large and eclectic movement. But a diversity of tactics seems
only to be allowed if it falls within the socially acceptable norms
set out by the state itself.

Those identifying with the black bloc actions, for example, don’t pull
liberals up from their sit-ins, forcing rocks into their hands. Of
course, some argue that the use of violence makes resistance more
dangerous for everyone, forces pacifists into situations in which they
seem in conflict with the police. Some may get caught in the
cross-fire as police increase their forces, clamp down harder on
everyone by increasing state security apparatus. Yet thousands of
people participated in the more aggressive confrontations with capital
and the police, which at least for a large part of June 2nd made the
city of Rostock ungovernable, and made hosting the G8 an increasingly
unattractive option. Like it or not, these confrontations also threw
notions of liberal unity to the wind. This is far from new.

No amount of arguing about unity is likely to change the situation in
which individuals and groups identify different ways of dealing with
the global structural violence represented by organisms such as the
G8, the IMF, and the WTO. Different groups believe in dealing with the
present situation in different ways. For many, the forth world war is
on. For still many others the strategies of the 20th century are no
longer applicable.

An ‘uncivil’ society has not yet been reconciled by the liberal left
who expects change to come through reform. For many in the North that
don’t have to face the politics of oppression and violence in their
everyday lives, violence is still and uncomfortable way to confront
the state. We watch the devastation from our armchairs and convince
those with real grievances, who have violence inflicted on their
bodies everyday, that the courts will help them if they wait
patiently. Perhaps, we insist, if we have the right information, we
will be able to find justice. We maintain an idea that with numbers,
or through vigorous demands of government, needs will be met.

Learning little from struggles of the last century, ignoring the very
foundations of the capitalist system, we maintain the idea that the
state will deliver. From the blockades we civilize society into the
comfortable chairs of conference centers to lament about their
troubles. We move dissenters into ‘civil’ society and name them
social movements. Perhaps, if they are lucky, they are invited join
the global elite of the left at the World Social Forum to debate
‘another possible world’.

The fact remains that neither many liberals nor militant activists in
Europe face the violence of the everyday inflicted upon those who are
unable to fly to places in the G8 countries where these meetings take
place. These are the contradictions that global politics have
presented us. How we learn to deal with these uncomfortable
collaborations will continue be a real challenge for a global movement
of movements.

Shannon Walsh is a filmmaker, researcher, writer and activist. Her primary research uses participatory visual methodologies to work with young people to support social activism in Canada and South Africa. Through these methods she has been exploring ways to give communities tools with which to frame their own questions and voice their own experiences around issues relevant to their lives. Recent documentary work includes “No One is Illegal” a video on a seven day march undertaken by refugees, migrants and ‘illegal’ people and their supporters from Montreal to Ottawa to demand changes to Canada’s immigration system, and “Fire & Hope” an intimate look at a group of youth activists fighting HIV/AIDS in their communities in Khayelitsha and Atlantis, South Africa. Shannon is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary PhD at McGill University in Social Policy and Public Health.

Source: http://www.nu.ac.za/CCS/default.asp?2,40,3,1232