Symbolism and reality of the G8-protests

A report from (some of) the Netherlands

In the weekend of June 30st and July 1st, G8-activists in Amsterdam, Netherlands sat down to evaluate the actions and their effect (see program: A stonecoal translation of a short report of that event by Pomos Duplovsky

"It is difficult to make deals with clowns" says a representant of the Dutch Clown Army with a serious face. Around him people nod their heads in understanding. It is the second day of a retrospective weekend organised by 'Broeinest' about the G8-protests. A colourful bunch of filmmakers, samababandmembers, writers, fotografers, cooks and other activists tries to reconstruct what went well and what didn't and thereby they do not hesitate to go into difficult questions. At the end the inevitable question is put forward about the effects of the protests. The roads around the Kempinski Hotel were all effectively blocked and the three self organised camps (with up to 7000 people in each) around Heiligendamm were certainly a logistical tour-de-force, but everybody who had to be in the hotel seems to have been flown in with helicopters or shipped in by boat...

The two-days discussion in the weekend of June 30/Juli 1st became especially exiting with the presence of three foreign activists, who came to add their experience. Also some older activists had their comments. Of course there was the usual remarks that the movement was a lot better in shape in the past, and also the traditional denigrating remarks about the bolshevist I.S. did not lack. Another recurring observation was the typical Dutch allergy for theory and analysis. But over all it was a constructive evaluation of a week of protests and the preparation of them. Dissent-Nl was not spared from criticism. After an initial good turnout at 'national' meetings the amount of people actively involved went down steadily. Searching explanation for that, some mentioned the large distance to travel for people from the north as well as the fact that for many people local activities are preferred. Another hindrance is the fact that many people are not accustomed to basis democratic decision-making and do not understand the value of it. Finally the specific structure of the dissent-network (Nl, but also international) was pointed at as explanation. It is a 'vague' and formless structure, with the advantage that it is difficult to combat but that also makes it more difficult to reach fixed agreements and commitments, because people feel less attached to such a loose structure.

Of course there was also discussion about the violent ending of the demonstration on Saturday June 2nd. Many present doubted if the violence applied by the black block was appropriate. Another observation was the return to autonomous form of organisation from the '80's and the question if there are any alternatives to that. According to one experienced activist, there are only two options for such a situation; either all participants try to figure out in advance what they want to accept and what not, or everybody is free to choose their own tactics (the so called 'diversity of tactics' approach) and accepts differences on forehand. In practice the first option is impossible because of the juridical consequences of being prosecuted for advocating violence, which leaves only the second option as a possibility. Another observation was that activists who had participated with the actiondays before the summit, were exhausted at the moment the blockades had to start. They might have better chosen their time to build affinity groups and make plans for the blockades. But others remarked that the actiondays added content to the protests, because of their thematic content (migration, agriculture and militarism), although you wouldn't find much of that back in the media, who were all focussing on the riots of Saturday. Another observation was that dissent more or less was invisible at the actions and in the camps. They were doing a lot of the work, but could not (or didn't want to) claim any of the results. This is understandable and even very correct in a network-situation, but also makes it possible for other more visible leftist currents to 'harvest' the successes.

A separate discussion was about the media and the image they created (of the G8 and the activists) and attempts to counterbalance this. One of the contributions from the Dutch side was a special bus for activist media, which was hindered by the police all the time and was even confiscated for 24 hours. The organising of such a project appeared to be quite some task, that was not done perfect all the time and much was learned. On the other hand a huge amount of images and reports was produced of which a part was shown at the evaluation. What many people observed, was that differently from other summits there were hardly any sightings of convoys with delegates from the 8 participating countries. And if the delegates can simply be transported via air and sea, isn't the blocking of the roads on the land then merely a symbolic act? And how many people get motivated by symbolic acts these days? There was some debate about the possibilities to block air and sea-routes, but we quickly concluded not to have the means for that. Also it appeared that many of the lower ranks of the G8-circus had not met in Heiligendamm but at other places. They had not been targeted by demonstrators, which had to do with the concept of blockading, which is always focused on the surrounding of one specific target. But there was a hopeful conclusion: with enough information and a good communications system, it might have been possible to block the harbours they had been using. In fact there were a few small blockades at the harbour of Rostock.

As to the question how to proceed; (apart from the international plans and the evaluation in Limoges) there were several suggestions. The ideas varied from organising the occupation of a liberated zone (zapatistas-Netherlands?) and organising an info tour to present the results of the G8-actions. Another idea was to organise a monthly meeting, each time in a different town with information about affinity-groups and how-to-organise efficiently and a presentation at the next 2.Dh5-festival end of November in Nijmegen. Because the participants understood they would not agree on one communal plan, they decided to organise a new meeting in September. (...)