Genoa: who are the protesters?
Matthew Tempest, political correspondent
Friday July 20, 2001
The British prime minister Tony Blair has dubbed them a "travelling circus of anarchists", but very few of the 10,000 to 100,000 protesters intending to demonstrate at the G8 meeting of the western industrialised nations in the Italian port of Genoa this weekend would actually describe themselves as "anarchists".
Instead, the 700 or so protest groups from around the world will be made up of trade unionists, anti-globalisation protesters, environmental campaigners, arms trade demonstrators, Kyoto supporters, third world debt agitators and a myriad of others. Probably including a few "official" anarchists from Spain and Italy.
Many more individuals will simply be at the conference of their own accord, to show their mistrust of national governments standing up to multinational corporations.
The final number of demonstrators will depend largely on two things: how many are turned away by the police force under Italy's new tycoon prime minister Silvio Berlosconi, and who is doing the counting - police tallies have a habit of halving the number of actual demonstrators.
Here are some of the main protest groups going to Genoa this weekend, a list which is far from exhaustive:
• Rallying point for anarchists and communists from Sweden, Ukraine, Italy, France, Spain and elsewhere. Does not reject violence as an option. Connected to Ya Basta and the Zapatistas.
Wombles - white overalls movement building libertarian effective struggles
• The white overalls, helmets and shin pads are a familiar sight from Prague, Seattle and Gothenberg.
• An umbrella group of anti-globalisation and environmental protestors. They organised a train to take 450 demonstrators to Italy, which was cancelled and then reinstated by SNCF following protests from UK and European politicians.
• Representatives from Green parties across Europe will be at the Genoa meeting, including Anna Bragga, Green party spokeswoman on globalisation, who will be writing a demonstrator's diary for the Guardian Unlimited politics site.
Ms Bragga said: "When 19,000 children are dying every day as a direct result of third world debt that could be cancelled tomorrow if only the G8 leaders had the will, it's important to make a stand in Genoa."
Drop the Debt
• The successor organisation to Jubilee 2000 will be at Genoa, campaigning to cancel the unpayable debts of the world's poorest nations. A petition signed by 24m people will be presented to the G8 conference.
• The Italian anarchists - the original model for Britain's Wombles - will be on home ground for this battle. Their name translates as "Enough, already!"
Destroy the International Monetary Fund
• Movement dedicated to abolishing the IMF by direct action. Links with the Wombles. Were at Gothenburg, Seattle, Prague and Quebec.
• The UK-based charity Christian Aid will be sending a delegation to Genoa by double-decker bus, to highlight the further action needed on third world debt.
• Climate change group, campaigning against abandonment of the Kyoto agreement, attending both the Bonn and Genoa conferences.
The battle for Genoa
Wednesday July 18, 2001
The banners are packed, the tickets booked. The glitter and white overalls have been bought, the gas masks just fit and the mobile phones are ready. All that remains is to get to the parties.
This week will see a feast of pan-European protest. It started on Bastille day, last Saturday, with the French unions and immigrants on the streets, the Welsh trampling their last GM crop and the first demonstrations in Britain and Germany about climate change. It will continue tomorrow and Thursday with environmental and peace rallies against President Bush, move on to the scandal of refugee holding-centres and build at Bonn for the climate talks. But the big one is in Genoa, on Friday and Saturday, where the G8 leaders will meet behind the lines of 18,000 heavily armed police.
Unlike Prague, Gothenburg, Cologne or Nice, Genoa is expected to be Europe's Seattle, the coming together of the disparate strands of resistance to corporate globalisation. Should the authorities allow all the protesters into the city (and that is doubtful) then some 120,000 people could take part in a range of debates, festivities and protest about everything from debt to demilitarisation.
If Seattle marked the emerging links between the disparate, frustrated movements, then Genoa will show the breadth of European concern. This stretches across trade unionists, fringe parties, greens, reds, social and religious movements, debt and genetic campaigners and a host of non-governmental groups. They will suspend their differences to object to what they regard as the injustice of power, growing poverty and the direction the world is going.
Neither the protesters nor the authorities know what will happen, but some things are predictable. Yes, there will be violence and yes, the mass media will focus on it. The world leaders will publicly condemn the head-bangers, but gratefully use them as an excuse to ignore the arguments of the rest.
What should seriously concern the G8 is not so much the violence, the numbers in the street or even that they themselves look like idiots hiding behind the barricades, but that the deep roots of a genuine new version of internationalism are growing. This is demonising the global institutions and there's not much governments can do.
They can't dismiss the protests as single issue affairs, nor can they buy them off as they might at home. The charge against them is now too deep. It questions the new role of the state, the distribution of capital and the trajectory of globalisation while at the same time appealing to the broad progressive social conscience.
For the first time in a generation, the international political and economic condition is in the dock. Moreover, the protesters are unlikely to go away, their confidence is growing rather than waning, their agendas are merging, the protests are spreading and drawing in all ages and concerns.
No single analysis has drawn all the stands of the debate together. The new era may yet throw up its Marx and Engels, a defining manifesto or political philosophy. In the meantime, the global protest "movement" is developing its own language, texts, reference points, agendas, myths, heroes and villains. Just as the G8 leaders, world bodies and businesses talk increasingly from the same script, so the protesters' once disparate political and social analyses are converging. The long-term project of governments and world bodies to globalise capital and development is being mirrored by the globalisation of protest.
But what happens next? Governments and world bodies are unsure which way to turn. However well they are policed, major protests reinforce the impression ofindifferent elites, repression of debate, overreaction to dissent, injustice and unaccountable power.
Their options - apart from actually embracing the broad agenda being put to them - are to retreat behind even higher barricades, repress dissent further, abandon global meetings altogether or, more likely, meet only in places able to physically resist the masses. Brussels is considering building a super fortress for international meetings. Genoa may be the last of the European super-protests.
But the dilemma also extends to the protesters. The wiser activists acknowledge that there is a momentum to the protests which no one group can control. But, they are asking themselves, what is the point of expending so much energy risking lives, trying to get people out of prison and making short-lived links with groups they would barely acknowledge at home?
They know the real task is immense - to persuade the majority, create real change and unclog the arteries of states that can still dismiss their cause with such ease. They also know that time is not on their side.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001