Monday, 6 April 2009


So what can be made of the protests and the G20 communique?

Let's start with the protests. Jeremy Seabrook wrote one of the most eloquent and beautifully written comment pieces on the Guardian website, declaring the protests the beginning of a new movement. As much as it was well written, I think it was far from being well founded.

Undoubtedly, the protests were wonderful, particularly the Climate Camp with its flamboyant and good humoured carnival in the streets, a brief little requisition of our land from the imposing cathedrals of capitalism that had laid the tarmac on which we played games, shared food and held workshops.

But if Jeremy had been there, he would have realised it wasn't quite the first wave of a perfect storm of unbridled revolutionary fever. Many of the protesters were the usual suspects; veterans of campaigns past and present, and to my dismay, many more were unmistakeably media, holding aloft cameras, video cameras and microphones. That's not to say there were no protest virgins. There were lots of them, as well as folk who just came for a knees up and bit of booze in the sunshine and thanks to police tactics, many innocent bystanders who simply got caught in the kettles.

I don't want to undermine the work of many of the protesters (including myself) because I think we sent out a strong message that we are not happy, and especially at the climate camp, which in itself was a starkly beautiful image of climate change's insignificance in the face of the global economy, we left with a renewed vigour to continue the fight. However, put simply, most of the people I spoke to on the day had done this kind of thing before. The average Briton was still going about their usual daily business, giving the odd cursory glance to the rolling news stations during the day and getting their fill of protest on the six o'clock news and in the morning papers, which I may add, seemed to focus entirely on the violence at the Bank of England. Hardly convincing material for a revolutionary recruitment drive - "Come, protest! And get your head in kicked in by the Met!"

That's not to say it wasn't worthwhile. Climate Camp generated some real debate amongst the campers, proving to ourselves and anybody in the City that day that sustainable, environmentally friendly communities are perfectly feasible. We managed it on limited resources and a bit of imagination; imagine what the whole world could achieve if it pulled its finger out of its arse and got on with it? Unfortunately a lot of the mainstream media passed over this, what's new? But there's enough coverage in the blogosphere, social media networks and some of the more counter-culture media to build upon and help spread the word. If anything, the camp can act as a launchpad for future campaigning.

Furthermore, real questions are now being asked about the policing of not only these particular protests, but protests in general. The violent and heavy handed manner in which police dealt with peaceful protesters last week was catapulted into the limelight, especially with the sad death of Ian Tomlinson (which I'll comment no further on, out of neither being there nor being able to make head or tails of conflicting reports; albeit reports which are generally pointing the finger at the police). The police behaviour was nothing new, the brutality itself was for me at least, but the general treatment of protesters as hoodlums and scum whose protests are an inconvenience to the establishment has been around for some time now and finally there are murmurs of a new concerted effort to reform the laws that enshrine such policing.

As for the G20 itself, well, it failed climate change spectacularly. It's as if somebody rather meekly raised their hand as proceedings drew to a close, mumbled something about gases or something and then simply lumped a couple of courtesy paragraphs at the end of the communique:

"27. We agreed to make the best possible use of investment funded by fiscal stimulus programmes towards the goal of building a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery. We will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure. We encourage the MDBs to contribute fully to the achievement of this objective. We will identify and work together on further measures to build sustainable economies.

"28. We reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009."

In other words, as Greenpeace said, they'll sort it out later. The G20 basically skirted the issue of really tackling the problem by saying "yeah, we'll keep doing what we're doing", which isn't really a lot and is still enslaved by the dominance and mechanisms of carbon trading, the very thing we were protesting about on Wednesday.

If we're honest, we never really expected to get much of a deal out of it in the first place, yet still we seized the opportunity to put climate change at the forefront of people's minds. Unfortunately, that got overshadowed somewhat by a few chaotic idiots down the road, but for those that were there it was an inspiring day and a boost to our morale, despite the violent end at the hands of the police. Now we have to keep the pressure up and not be bowed by what we knew would happen in the Excel centre all along. We must take what we learnt from each other at the camp and use it to continue the fight, to keep the issue of climate change and carbon trading in particular in the spotlight and generate that grass roots movement that Jeremy Seabrook senses. This is just the first step on the long road to Copenhagen, where a real difference can be made and we can't shy away from the challenge.

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