"Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime" Jacob Bronowski
Everyone knows that the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against us at summit mobilizations. Yet the 2005 G8 mobilisation in Scotland proved that disrupting a summit is not beyond our grasp, and that, if anything, we underestimate our own capabilities.
It is all too easy to state that "Another World is Possible"-to actually create another world is far more difficult. For a week, an unlikely field near Stirling became the "Hori-Zone," a model of large-scale horizontal and autonomous decision-making. To create a long-lasting and effective anarchist network is looked upon as a fantasy. However, the G8 mobilisation turned a scattered and divided activist scene into a well-organised network of resistance, capable not only of hosting an explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian mobilisation, but also of continuing beyond the G8. As for the inevitable action, anarchists confronted the meeting of the eight most powerful men in the industrial world directly, right outside the G8 summit venue, shutting down their highways and tearing down their fences. The attacks of the fundamentalist Islamic bombers in London the same week look cowardly in comparison. One cannot help but feel that there is something hopeful back in the air in Britain, even as the dark repression of the police state inevitably kicks into motion after the London bombings. Britain was the nation in which industrial capitalism first took root, and accordingly it has often remained ahead of its time in the art of protest. The British anti-roads movement of the early 1990s was a harbinger of the "anti-globalisation" movement, featuring a wild and eclectic focus on direct action and cultural resistance, in contrast to the notoriously boring politics of the institutional left. The model was moved with much success into the cities, in the form of Reclaim the Streets, capitalising on the fact that in Britain hordes of ravers will show up anywhere, anytime for a good party in the middle of a street. Within a few years, cities from Brisbane to Bratislava were reclaiming their streets. Coinciding with the G8 Summit in Cologne, the June 18th 1999 Global Day of Action against Capitalism paralysed the financial centre of London, prefiguring the shut-down of the WTO in Seattle a few months later.
As Britain's turn came to host the G8 in 2005, things looked grim. There had been successful mass mobilisations, particularly in London for Mayday 2000 and 2001, and anarchists had taken part in direct action against the war in Iraq. However, there had not been a "Global Day of Action" in Britain in six years, and many anarchists in Britain were simply not interested, since many were convinced that mass mobilisations were no longer effective means of resistance. The early meetings consisted of arguments about whether a truly anti-authoritarian mobilisation was even theoretically possible!
Nearly two years before the G8 summit, an anti-capitalist network called Dissent! was founded in Britain to mobilise against the G8. The questions we want to look at in this piece are whether Dissent! and the 2005 G8 mobilisation actually succeeded, and whether they can serve as a model for actions and networks elsewhere. We will begin with an analysis of the formation and functioning of the Dissent! network. We will then give an overview of the myriad actions that took place before the blockades around Gleneagles. Finally, we will analyse the blockades and the response of the anarchists to the bombings in London.
The Dissent! Network Forms...
Before beginning, there are two brief disclaimers. First, the participants in the Dissent! network studiously avoid the word "anarchist," and prefer to call themselves "anti-capitalist" and "anti-authoritarian." One reason behind this is that the word "anarchist" might be seen to exclude our comrades in the autonomist communist movement (especially from Germany) and the occasional post-Situationist council communist. A more pressing reason is that in the last decade, just like a century ago, the public in all Western countries has been subjected to a media scare campaign around the word "anarchist," so the word "anti-capitalist" is seen as more friendly. Nevertheless, we will just call all the people who participated in Dissent! "anarchists" since we believe most of them (minus our autonomist and council communist friends, to whom we must just apologise!) would not object to using "anarchist" to describe their politics, and since the word "anti-capitalist" could also be seen to include retrograde Marxist-Leninist sects like the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) who were by design not part of the Dissent! network. Second, we indeed often use the words "Dissent! network" or just "Dissent!" to describe the actions of particular working groups and people, and the general feelings of people, in order not to have to specify individual names. Though a useful shorthand for saying "anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist" every time we wish to speak of the protesters (many who may have had only the slightest of contact with Dissent!), this stands against the official policy of Dissent!, since only consensus decisions at network-wide gathering can carry the weight of being cited in the name of "Dissent!" and "anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of the Dissent! network is lying."
Dissent! as a network began after meetings at the UK Earth First! gathering and London Anarchist Bookfair in 2003. More class-conscious than their North-American counterparts, British eco-activists always tended to have little patience for the notion that the Earth coming "First" means that its human inhabitants are somehow "second." The original plan for Dissent! was to loosely unite the various strands of British anti-capitalism in the run-up to the G8, a grab bag of everything from ecology to insurrection, and to show that it was something that could stand on its own as an anti-authoritarian UK-wide network. The main problem is that there was actually no clearly defined or unified agreement on anything at all, except a hatred of capitalism and hierarchy combined with a love of humanity and the planet. Turning that particular weakness into a strength, Dissent! adopted the most minimal points of agreement: the hallmarks of the People's Global Action (PGA) network. This had the effect of maximising the number and diversity of people who would be interested in participating, while maintaining some political parameters. In particular, these hallmarks feature "a very clear rejection of capitalism" just in case people thought the network was reformist, "a confrontational attitude" with a "call to direct action and civil disobedience" to focus the network on concrete action over bureaucracy, and "an organisational philosophy based on decentralisation and autonomy", which conveniently excluded authoritarians like the SWP. Some groups participating in Dissent! originally seemed to want only to network on a model similar to Earth First!, so that there would be local collectives such as Edinburgh Dissent!, Brighton Dissent! and so on. Early on, many people seemed to want to dispose of the idea of a mass action altogether, and instead focus on decentralised local actions.
The initial meetings involved endless discussions about "What exactly is a network anyway?" These involved both very long-winded arguments, and a real discussion of how a UK-wide network could enable local groups to join something larger without sacrificing their autonomy. A strategy based on maximising the autonomy of the participants in Dissent! emerged. First, it was decided that all local groups should adopt their own names - Newcastle Dissent!, for instance, became "Why Don't You? - as a first step toward becoming a network of autonomous groups in practise and not just in theory. Local groups were expected to take care of their own internal finances, have regular meetings, and hold local events. In addition, a Dissent! network gathering was used by the Britain-wide Social Centre Network to donate generous amounts of cash to start social centres throughout Britain. The purpose of these centres was to increase the general level of social struggle, and many local groups coalesced around them. Dissent! incarnated itself most clearly at its more-or-less monthly "gatherings," where the local groups came together to discuss network-wide issues and form working groups, the latter ranging from the normal "Publicity" and "Legal" working groups to innovative ones such as the "Trauma Support Group," which aimed to reduce burn-out and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the wake of police repression, and the "Working Group Against Work," which formed to highlight issues of wage-slavery and precarious labour during the G8 protests. The "Education Working Group" became TRAPESE, a travelling roadshow that educated people about the G8 through pub quizzes and workshops. Importantly, these working groups allowed individuals from across different geographical locations to get to know each other and work together, building bonds of friendship and trust across the network. The network adopted the fairly standard consensus and working-group model, so that during network-wide "Dissent! gatherings" the often unmanageable number of people at the meeting would break up into their working groups. They would "report back" to the entire network on the results of their actions (or lack thereof) in between gatherings, and ask for input from the wider network. If any decision was expected to actually affect the entire network, it was decided via consensus in the dreaded but useful plenary meetings.
Dissent! as an anti-capitalist network was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Dissent! gatherings went on for nearly two years before the mobilisation, and two-day long meetings nearly led many participants to a state of heavy drinking. For the first few Dissent! gatherings, the network seemed more like a dis-organisation than an organisation. Many of the original proponents either moved on, or dropped the torch for others to carry. From that chaos, however, evolved a sort of flexible order as groups organically came together. Often the first real point of action for a local group was to successfully host a Dissent! gathering. While some of the "local groups" and "working groups" were in reality a single individual (or, worse, just an e-mail address from which no one would reply!), some groups formed into solid affinity groups where none had been before. There was no small number of problems, as many groups managed to meet for nearly a year without being able to focus their energies and accomplish anything of note, and often individuals were stretched among what appeared to be a never-ending cast of bureaucratic meetings. However, where before there had been almost no activity, new local groups inspired by Dissent! and the possibility of taking down the G8 began to be taken seriously, and long-standing direct action groups ranging from local Earth First! collectives to the WOMBLES in London started participating in the Dissent! network. When weak spots were identified such as finances (after all, no-one ever wants to sign their name to the paradoxical bank account of an anti-capitalist network), individuals stood up and took responsibility.
The Dissent! network also jumped through hoops to remain inclusive, albeit with mixed results. At almost every gathering there was a discussion of who should be allowed to participate in the Dissent! network. Could Christians, who might be proselytising an authoritarian religion? How about members of organised political parties? What exactly were the limits of the PGA Hallmarks, and who did they include and exclude? By adopting the most minimal radical guiding hallmarks, and by agreeing to disagree on many issues, the Dissent! network succeeded in attracting participation from more than the "usual suspects" in such scenarios. Novel and accessible projects like the Cre8 summit community garden in Glasgow and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army further contributed to making the network more diverse and open. Although anarchists are often used to meeting and planning in a clandestine manner, Dissent! tried its best to be entirely open and public, both to avoid the stereotyping of anarchists as secretive and to allow more people to get involved. In a country like Britain where it sometimes feels like every square inch of the ground is under CCTV surveillance, this strategy makes certain sense. The network published all its meeting minutes on its admittedly labyrinthine website, and was remarkably accessible - at least if one were on the e-mail list and read the website regularly, since the communications of the network in between meetings were nearly all digital. Despite this openness, reporters often announced "secret anarchist plans to take action against the G8" after visiting the website and discovering among the piles of meeting minutes a juicy tidbit that had been, after all, publicly announced. Not that there weren't secret plans, but more on this later.
Some aspects of Dissent!, such as its focus on local groups and decision-making structure, were clearly hallmarks of a genuine network-but others, such as the bank account and the mostly centralised production of propaganda, definitely seemed to be the work of something resembling an actual organisation. Dissent! had an informal leadership develop,as individuals and groups put things in motion behind the scenes or overtly set the agenda via the process group and proposals, resulting in much gnashing of teeth at meetings. Yet the informal leadership was flexible, with individuals moving in and out of various levels of activity, and often political manoeuvrings at meetings resulted in issues that were being foolishly ignored being addressed. The "process group" in charge of creating the Dissent! gathering agenda was in theory supposed to rotate every gathering, although often it did not due to lack of volunteers. At the beginning many processes were heavily criticised. To Dissent!'s credit, the network learned by its mistakes and improved, though there is still much room for improvement.
Also, Dissent! had unprecedented amounts of funding, combining online donations with extensive fund-raising, and the total budget for the protest ran into the tens of thousands of pounds, nothing compared to the multi-million pound budget of "Make Poverty History," but substantial for anti-capitalists. People need to think about the issues behind anti-capitalists using money to destroy capitalism. Are we being corrupted or just "bio-degrading" money out of capitalist circulation?
Who's Down for Civil Unrest?
After almost a year of perpetual meetings, the location of the 2005 G8 Summit was announced: the Gleneagles Hotel in rural Scotland. This posed a dilemma: either commit to a centralised action around the summit location or to decentralised actions around the United Kingdom. Earlier at Dissent! gatherings, many shared the implicit assumption that mass mobilisations around summits were a dead-end. Serious thought had been put into what went wrong and what went right at previous mobilisations, as shown by the still useful magazine "Days of Dissent: Reflections on Summit Mobilisations." The rural location of the Gleneagles Hotel presented added difficulties, since many found it hard to imagine primarily urban activists tromping through the woods and glens of Scotland. On the other hand, the idea of decentralised actions, which had every local working group doing direct action in its home town instead of coming to Scotland, was not appealing. First, just issuing a vague call for action and hoping that every group would do something, even if focused around a theme like climate change, was uninspiring. While decentralised days of action like J18 in 1999 had been successful in the past, recently widely decentralised actions had failed to accomplish much of anything. No one even remembers the "Insurrection Night" proposal for decentralised actions across the United States for G8 2004, which was accompanied by an equally ineffective call for solidarity actions in the UK put forward by the Dissent! network. At the urging of many members, especially those in Scotland who were thrilled a mass summit was coming near to their town, Dissent! finally did reach a consensus that it would indeed take on hosting a mass mobilisation in Scotland.
One lurking question was: Could anyone organise direct action and not be held accountable by the powers of the state? The repercussions of this nebulous and even dangerous position lent an atmosphere of paranoia to Dissent! gatherings. The year-long operation to round up activists after J18 set a worrying precedent, and often crippled the ability of newer activists to even discuss what they actually wanted to do. Dissent! at first determined it would take as its prime duty the organising of infrastructure for protests and remain absolutely neutral towards action, except insofar as it would publicise them. This meant organising a convergence centre for everyone and making sure there would be no official Dissent! action. However, upon closer inspection of the actual location of the summit itself, confusion set in even over infrastructure. The location of the summit was north of Stirling, about an hour drive north from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, the two largest Scottish cities. The large reformist groups like "Make Poverty History" were basing their huge marches in Edinburgh, while cities like Glasgow had a much stronger tradition of working-class resistance, and the nearest towns to the summit itself, Perth and Stirling, had only a very small number of sympathetic activists. As for action, after Genoa many militant anti-capitalists were not excited by the prospect of "storming the red zone" through a traditional attack on the perimeter fence, which would likely be heavily guarded. The simple spatial layout of the protest was a nightmare, and if Dissent! was too paranoid to organise any actions, who would?
Despite the gloom, even the most cursory inspection of a map would give anyone with an inkling of tactical ability reason for hope. Gleneagles was not nearly as remote as many other previous summit locations. In fact, it was extremely vulnerable by virtue of being accessible largely off a single trunk road, the A9. A number of small side- roads led to the G8 venue through the idyllic resort town of Crieff and the Ochil Hills. Since the Gleneagles Hotel only held a few hundred people, and since the entourage of bureaucrats, translators, caterers, and other assorted servants of capital for the G8 numbered in the thousands, the vast majority of participants in the summit would have to be driven in from nearby cities.
The idea captured the Dissent! network: Well-placed blockades on the motorways could paralyse the summit. A large-scale blockade scenario, involving not city streets but rural motorways, had already been experimented with earlier around the G8 in Evian. Now, this idea could be revisited in the Scottish countryside, with far better preparation. It was a difficult concept even to formulate, and somewhat doubtful at times, but it made sense: If delegates, staff, and media coming in from hotels could be physically stopped from getting to the G8, the meeting would be shut down. Even if eventually many made it through, a blockade would at least disrupt the meeting and send a message to the G8 that it could not ignore. The sheer number of places the delegates could be staying was confusing, but it seemed likely that a mixture of urban and rural convergence centres at major cities, with at least one near the A9, would be best. To top it all off, the Gleneagles Hotel was surrounded by hills. One group formed to promote the ancient Scottish hobby of "hill-walking" across the countryside of Scotland, a time-honoured occupation and hard-fought-for legal right in Scotland. Its plan was to meet at the Gathering Stone in Stirling and walk right over the Ochil Hills. Once on the hills they would light "Beacons of Dissent," fires on the top of the hills that could be seen by the G8 leaders below in their hotel, and then descend upon the hotel, not to be stopped until they were having a whisky at the hotel bar in Gleneagles.
As a network, Dissent! continued to sponsor the policy of no "official Dissent! actions," but at the network gatherings autonomous action groups began forming and hatching plans around blockading and hill-walking. Since the action groups were autonomous and not representing anyone but themselves, and their decisions did not need to be ratified by the rest of the network, anyone was allowed to join in any legally-risky action-planning. On the other hand, people who didn't agree with a particular action or who were not in a position to suffer legal repercussions could still participate in the Dissent! network. The combination of hill-walking and blockades around the roads to Gleneagles would be hard for any centralised police force to deal with, and was nearly guaranteed to disrupt the summit as long as people showed up ready for action.
Convincing People of the Impossible
Would people actually show up for action against the G8? There had been some activity in Europe: many considered the prior G8 mobilisation in Evian, France to be a success since blockades did manage to substantially delay the G8 meetings, but Scotland was considerably further away than Lake Geneva for most of Europe. Many anarchists and assorted anti-capitalists in England were probably more familiar with the hotspots of Barcelona than they were with Scotland. Nearly two years ahead of the protest, the "Dissent! Publicity Group" began making ludicrous amounts of stickers, posters, and other pamphlets to announce the summit mobilisation against the G8. These texts went through an often painful but rewarding group writing process, and did end up sounding like the voice of the genuinely new spirit many of us were feeling in the heyday of the "anti-globalisation" movement before the vultures like Globalise Resistance moved in. An "International Networking" working group formed, and hosted a packed meeting in Tuebingen, Germany five months before the G8. This made it much easier to get the word out in Germany and for people from overseas to arrange their travel. In outreach it is often the small things, like helping to pay the travel costs of anarchists from Ukraine and Russia (where the G8 will be in 2006) that build true international solidarity. When it appeared there might not be many Mediterranean activists at the mobilisation, a series of workshops was organised in Spain and another International Networking Gathering took pace at Thessalonika in Greece. In Britain itself, at every major and minor activist event, from the autonomous spaces around the European Social Forum in November 2004 to an anarchist ballroom dance in Cambridge, the word spread that something big was going to happen in Scotland during the summer. Towards the end, a large print-run of small stickers was made, and these proved to be an immensely effective tool in spreading the word about the G8, as they were easier to put up than fly-pasted large posters and stayed up longer.
The Dissent! network made an effort to ensure its media policy did not create leading spokespeople. Too often in anarchist groups one person, usually a white male, gets labelled as the "leader" by the media, usually through talking to the media about the message of the protest. One of the earliest decisions by Dissent! was that "anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of the Dissent! network is lying," in order to prevent any self-proclaimed media spokespeople from arising. Only decisions and statements approved by the plenary meeting of a Dissent! gathering could be cited in the name of Dissent!. However, local groups, working groups, and individuals could make as many statements and do as much media work as they wanted to, as long as they were clear about who they were and spoke in their own name. As a tool for preventing the media from creating leaders, this policy was excellent. The policy was misunderstood by many participants in Dissent! as explicitly forbidding all media work, and confounded by so many anarchists' overt opinion that all media coverage was to be inherently negative. Local and working groups did not for the most part deal with the media at all, with only a few of them occasionally communicating to the media through a collectively written press-statement. In turn this led the media to more or less make up whatever they wanted to about the "sinister" Dissent! network, and ironically ended up in a situation where the cops and corporate media were the only ones "speaking" for Dissent! to the media. While the corporate media are, with a few notable exceptions, scumbags who are interested in making anti-capitalists look like deranged axe murderers, this media policy didn't make it easy for anyone outside the anti-capitalist scene to feel sympathy towards or even understand Dissent! or the radical anti-capitalist analysis of the G8. In the final few months before the summit, a media-group called the Counterspin Collective formed itself. The Counterspin participants sent letters to the editor regarding the sensationalist British media's outright lies about the "dangerous anarchists," and helped individuals who were prepared to be interviewed as individuals. Members of this group acted as a go-between for mainstream journalists through a "media phone number" that they advertised. A group within Dissent! even managed to get an opinion piece published in the "Guardian" newspaper, where the efforts of Make Poverty History and Live8 were called the world's first "embedded protest," pointing to how they allowed Blair to co-opt, domesticate and diffuse the struggle for global justice.
Even the Rock Stars Mobilise
Throughout the two years leading up to the G8, other groups and networks against the G8 started organising their own large-scale activities. The Southeast Assembly, an anti-authoritarian network around London, took on the ambitious plan of hiring trains to transport protesters from London to Edinburgh for the mobilisation. This was viewed as a way to increase the level of anarchists' organisational capacity by taking care of some of the necessary but unglamorous and expensive work, such as booking transport, that is normally left to the traditional Left and socialists. One interesting thing to note is that instead of organising exclusively in large cities, Dissent! made it a priority to organise in smaller towns that were in need of more momentum and conveniently had less police surveillance.
At the same time as Dissent!, two years before the G8, large NGOs such as Oxfam launched a massive media campaign and strategic alliance to "Make Poverty History," a campaign centred around asking the G8 to cancel third-world debt, enforce "trade justice," increase aid to developing countries, and in a very radical gesture, not let privatisation be the condition for any aid or debt relief. While this was a fairly radical agenda, in practice the campaign consisted of wearing white wristbands manufactured in a Chinese sweatshop and pinning all hope upon the G8. "Make Poverty History" was seen by many anarchists in Britain, and many NGOs actually composed of Africans, as a literal whitewash of the power held by the G8 by the largest British NGOs. Even within "Make Poverty History," many of the more radical NGOs like "War on Want" began heavily criticizing the endless heaping of praise upon Blair and his chief economic wizard Gordon Brown, as well as the fact that Oxfam, Comic Relief, and the more conservative NGOs were effectively dismissing their agenda in their attempts to coddle to the G8. It appeared some of the NGOs might even be sympathetic to Dissent!
At the mobilisation against the G8 in 1998 in Birmingham, many of these very same NGOs under the banner "Jubilee 2000" formed a human chain around the G8 during its meetings. This was tactically useful and provided a great counterbalance to the direct action that took place in City Centre. This time around the NGOs did a massive media campaign that took "marching in circles" to a whole new high: "Make Poverty History" hoped to mobilise two hundred thousand people dressed in white to form a white armband around a non-existent target in central Edinburgh an hour away from Gleneagles and on the weekend before the G8 actually met. There is something to be said for bringing so many thousands to Scotland for issues of social justice. This was massive mobilisation for the wrong date and the wrong place.
Later in the day, the manipulative Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) quickly put together a front-group called "G8 Alternatives." Originally they wanted to hold a corporate rock concert in order to distract people from direct action and sell them newspapers, but after the Scottish Parliament denied them funding, they settled for an "alternative summit" complete with a high price tag and big name speakers. While Dissent! was based primarily in anti-globalisation networks south of the Scottish border, G8 Alternatives attracted many more Scottish people due to the widespread socialist tendencies of Scotland and good old-fashioned regular meetings in Scotland that were widely advertised. However, the grassroots constituents were more feisty than the SWP bargained for, and after Dissent! revealed its plans for blockading the G8, the leadership of G8 Alternatives, attempting to prevent a mass defection to Dissent!, announced they would host a peaceful, legal, and police-controlled march to Gleneagles.
A few months before the G8 meetings Bob Geldof (a singer in the not particularly well-known rock band "The Boomtown Rats") of Band-Aid fame decided to hold simultaneous "Live8" concerts around the world on the same day of the "Make Poverty History" march, inviting everyone from the Pope to rapper Fifty Cent to join in his call for the G8 leaders to do something about poverty in Africa. The politics of Live8 were murky and unclear at best, with no set agenda besides celebrities grandstanding and legitimizing the G8, holding them up as potential saviours who under the pressure of a few rock concerts would use their powers for good instead of evil. In what could only be termed a truly bewildering turn of events, Geldof then announced a concert on July 6th in Edinburgh - the same day as the blockades - and called for everyone to flood Scotland. The police panicked as visions of half a million confused pop fans wreaking havoc in the city began troubling their sleep. Some anarchists viewed this as a potential opportunity to expose hordes of well-meaning and previously depoliticized people to radical politics. The government was likely simply pleased there would be a giant rock concert to show on the evening news rather than protesters. Geldof's second-in-command, Midge Ure, admitted that instead of worrying about anarchists hijacking Live8, Live8 was hijacking the anarchists' event.
The Dissent! network steered clear of sectarian warfare with reformist groups by being friendly, while making no promises and consistently criticising their reformist politics. The Blair spin-machine was using anti-globalisation rhetoric to posit the British leader as a responsible world statesman, portraying him as the saviour of Africa and pitting him against the Bush regime, in its refusal to admit that climate change was real and man-made. In contrast to many previous anti-globalisation protests where the public seemed unaware and apathetic to the issues, it became positively hip to talk about the G8 and anti-globalisation, and the forces of state and capital seemed to be positively aping some early Naomi Klein article in their rhetoric. Even Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was spotted wearing a "Make Poverty History" wristband. It was like some anarchist dream: people knew the world was going to hell in a hand basket due to poverty and climate change and were looking for solutions: the main problem was that instead of relying on their own ability to take action, people were petitioning the G8 leaders, the very ones responsible for the problems, to solve them. As one leaked document after another showed, the G8 was not even going to agree climate change was a "problem," and poverty in Africa was only going to be worsened through further devastating privatisation, even though a few small debts might be written off. Not a big surprise since, as the radical research group Corporate Watch had already revealed, the G8 agenda had been stitched up ahead of the summit in collaboration with the very corporations destroying Africa and the global climate - from Shell and Rio Tinto to Monsanto. One could almost feel the disillusionment in the air: and now, as the dreaded anarchists took the stage, this could have been the historic moment when many people finally understood that solutions to the problems of the world could only come through direct action.
History Speeds Up!
Even though there was a strong feeling about doing "something" at the Global Day of Action on the opening day of the G8 Summit, it was felt by many that just another spectacular protest was not enough. Instead, as one group after another began formulating plans for actions around the G8, the Dissent! network publicised and connected the diverse tapestry of actions of many groups, from a demonstration in front of the Dungavel Detention Centre, where asylum seekers are imprisoned on arrival or pending deportation, to the blockade of the Faslane nuclear submarine base, where Britain's fleet of Trident nuclear submarines is based, by Trident Ploughshares and Scottish CND. These alliances were crucially important: while the local anti-G8 Reshape! groups were just starting in Scotland, Scottish CND had a decades-old history of blockading and pacifist direct action, and was widely applauded by everyone who disliked the storage of all of Britain's nuclear weapons in Scotland. The idea of focusing all energy on a single day of action gave way to the idea that a diverse tapestry of actions should be woven together, starting months before the day of action itself.
The Month Before July 6th: Cre8 Summat
From the beginning, the Dissent! network tried make its radical politics accessible to people of all sorts. Anarchists in the UK were inspired by the "Fix Shit Up!" community outreach actions in the previous G8 Summit in Georgia, which connected the G8 mobilisation with local struggles. Tired of being seen as merely destructive, anarchists saw it as crucial to demonstrate how direct action was also "positive" and constructive. It became a clear agenda for many anarchists not only to attack the existing system, but to begin to construct and demonstrate what the better world would look like. As the sensationalist media were bound to tell everyone that senseless anarchist thugs were coming to burn down their homes, and as Scotland had no previous exposure to such a large anti-globalisation protest, some form of community outreach was vital. The idea of a "Cre8 Summat" ("summat" being local slang for "something") finally took flesh when a group of permaculture activists hooked up with campaigners in Glasgow to create a community garden in a desolate patch of urban wasteland, in one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods. Although community gardens and social services were usually supported by the kind, gentle, and disempowering Scottish government, in this case they wanted nothing less than to wipe whole sections of the neighbourhood of Govanhill off the map, in order to build the M74 motorway extension. In order to do this, Glasgow Council had begun to shut down one social service after another. Now, residents had responded, even mounting a militant occupation in order to reclaim their Victorian baths.
Early in June, after a few planning meetings with some of the local residents, anarchists arrived in Govanhill armed with spades and with plants carefully propagated months beforehand. Since the land was unsuitable for growing edible plants, having been a wasteland and dump for years, truckloads of soil were brought in as locals watched, interested but wary of the outsiders. One by one people walking their dogs and kids riding their bikes came through the garden, and were soon gardening hand-in-hand with the anarchists. In this wasteland on which the state was planning to construct a supporting-column for the massive road, there soon stood a garden with sculptures, paintings, flowers, and herb beds. The Cre8 Summat ended with an all-day celebration at which the entire neighbourhood showed up to party, and local newspapers published encouraging stories about this "new way of protesting." While the Cre8 Summat was going on, it was announced that the M74 motorway extension would be delayed by at least two years following citizens' legal challenges. To its credit, the Cre8 Summat helped to empower people in the neighbourhood around the project and demonstrated that people do have the power in their own hands to bring about positive change without waiting for the "sympathy" and "aid" of any politician. Some of these people who would otherwise not have been interested in the G8 got involved in Cre8, and went on to participate in the rest of the G8 mobilisation.
The Month Before July 6th: Not One, but Three Convergences
One problem with mass mobilisations is that no one knows exactly how many people are going to show up. When a member of the Edinburgh Council asked someone from the Dissent! Convergence Working Group exactly how many people were in their "organisation," the only response was somewhere between a thousand and twenty thousand. While everyone coming in from afar didn't need full "Bed and Breakfast" treatment, some legal autonomous space near both major transport centres and within spitting distance of Gleneagles was crucial. The Dissent! network decided on the ambitious policy of opening multiple convergence centres: Urban convergence centres in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a rural convergence centre somewhere near Gleneagles itself. Since there was a whole week of actions planned in or near the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in the run-up to the G8, it made sense to have a base in both cities. Most people would come directly to either Edinburgh or Glasgow rather than directly to a rural convergence centre near Gleneagles. With Glasgow having a large and historically volatile working class, and Edinburgh hosting the massive Live8 and "Make Poverty History" events, it was reasoned that some of these people could be tempted to join in more radical politics once they were actually exposed to them.
The Dissent! network formed convergence working groups six months before the protest to look for someone insane enough to rent a piece of land or a building to anarchists. In Glasgow there was no problem finding a nearly derelict warehouse that could be rented for hard cash and no questions asked, and soon the Glasgow convergence space was up and running, with funds allocated to help get a new permanent social centre off the ground.
Edinburgh was another story. The tight housing market in the expensive capital of Scotland made finding space for a full-scale convergence centre impossible, so a shop-front opened as the "Dissent! Infopoint" to offer free Zapatista coffee and G8 information to interested parties. After what was either a naive or an insane plan by the Scottish government to house the anarchists and police in a single football stadium in Edinburgh, pressure from everyone from the Dissent! network to the Green Party prompted the city to provide state-sanctioned protest camping in the Jack Kane Centre, miles away from Edinburgh City Centre. The protest site was revealed to have a price-tag and to come complete with security and surveillance. On July 1st, anarchists arriving in Edinburgh on the train from London decided to set up a squatted campsite more to their liking in Pilrig Park. This horrified the authorities, who proceeded to drop the cameras and lower security, and even let Dissent! set up their own tent and food facilities.
In order to bring in more people from the streets, the Dissent! network in co-operation with the reformist yet very effective People and Planet student group (who once offered a workshop entitled "Reform or Revolution: Why Reform is the Answer") set up a free "Days of Dissent" conference of workshops and films in Edinburgh University. Around the corner, in the remains of a former church, Indymedia set up dozens of computers to serve as the media communications centre for the G8 protest.
Inspired by the "VAAAG" village set-up in Annemasse, France at the 2003 protests against the Evian G8, the rural convergence centre was designed to be both a demonstration of the world we want and a base for action against the G8. The amount of energy spent in specifying exactly how the world we want would function was intense, and the original idea for a campsite was transformed into an idea for a Eco-village to demonstrate sustainable alternatives to life under capitalism. With the protest just a few weeks away there was still no Eco-village in sight, despite six months of intense searching, forming a non-profit company, planning the details down to the plumbing, and allying with much more publicly respectable groups such as People and Planet and Scottish CND. Two sites on which tentative agreements had already been reached fell through. Rumour had it the owners received menacing visits from agents of the state. In an emergency manoeuvre, the rural convergence working group approached the City Council in Stirling (the city due south of Gleneagles and on the A9 trunk road to Gleneagles) and made a simple statement: It was fundamentally better for everybody, including the residents of Stirling, if the protesters had a legal place to camp with proper food and toilets than to have them squatting buildings and rampaging throughout the countryside. One member of Parliament from the region reported concern from his constituents that Italian anarchists would be camping in their backyard with their sheep. After considerable debate and even interest from Stirling Council in greywater systems, a cattle field behind the Stirling football stadium was offered to Dissent!. It was unfortunately bounded by the swift-flowing River Forth on all sides except the entrance. For actions it appeared to be a certain trap but it was still far better than having no place to hatch plans and organise within walking distance of Gleneagles. The chessboard was finally set.
The Week Before July 6th: The Eco-village Opens
Within days after the deal was made, the cattle were cleared off the land and the rural convergence site was ready to roll. Somehow a giant lorry had been captured by anarchists and went around the whole country collecting all the needed wood and other bits for the Eco-village. The Eco-Village was set into two main sections, one a small section for People and Planet to hold their festival, and the other the much larger "Hori-Zone" initiated through the Dissent! network. As a week of intense set-up began, volunteers worked day and night to get everything sorted out, anarchists from outside Britain began pouring in, and the Eco-village began to take shape. Against all odds, it actually was a genuine Eco-village: thousands of anarchists managed to live for a week in an ecological fashion, including a vast "diversity of toilets" (as Starhawk put it) ranging from composting toilets to the immensely non-ecological but legally necessary porta-loos. Water was dealt with via greywater systems were meant to filter the water through woodchips inoculated with beneficial water-cleansing bacteria (although the clay soil of the site made this difficult!), and an alternative energy collective had varying levels of success in getting wind and solar energy working to help power mobile phones and an Indymedia Centre. As for ecological living, even the BBC noted that it "could be a model for us all." The Eco-village was criticised for not being ecological enough, since many non-recyclable materials were used in its construction, and a lot went to landfill afterwards. However, if more time had been available for set-up instead of waiting for Stirling Council to commit to giving the site to the protesters, better planning could have made the eco-village even more ecologically sound. Some felt excluded by the often haphazard decision-making process at the Eco-village, including the so-called "The Bureaucracy Bloc,"an unelected group which ended up dealing with infrastructure and all manner of troubleshooting.
The camp was organised around "barrios" or neighbourhoods, usually centred around a kitchen, since a kitchen provided a natural place for everyone to be together for breakfast and dinner. Each neighbourhood had its own consensus meetings and would self-organise in order to deal with its own problems, and each neighbourhood would send representatives to the site-wide consensus decision-meetings that met every day to deal with village-wide issues. The Dissent! Network emerged from the realm of bureaucratic meetings and ethereal cyberspace to become concrete and real, as each local group and social centre became a neighbourhood within the Eco-village. Food was bought from local organic farms and distributed through the network of neighbourhood kitchens. Medics provided rations and supplies to take care of people's needs both in the Eco-village and for the blockades. Whole neighbourhoods took care of children, and a loving and caring spirit made the Eco-village a surprisingly relaxing hive of activity.
It was a virtual kaleidoscope of resistance: a death metal band raging against capitalism, pagan healers helping anarchists deal with emotional trauma, and Celtic fiddle keeping everyone's spirits high. A number of Stirling residents visited and came away impressed both by the welcome they received and by just how together it was. Many others, nervous of communicating with us, drove up to the entrance to have a look and turned back. Corporate journalists were kept corralled in a media tent outside the Eco-village. The occasional noisy drunk would be dealt with by a "tranquillity team" of mediators who maintained security on site, while others watched the horizon for approaching police. Many people, when confronted with the idea of a world without government, quickly retort that without government we would just rob, loot, and kill each other off. Instead, without any state thousands of people lived, loved, and actually made decisions together by consensus, often agreeing to disagree and respecting the wide away of diverse opinions there. For those in the Eco-village, it was like living the revolution.
Saturday July 2nd: Make Poverty History
The "Make Poverty History" march began in the Meadows of Edinburgh - sort of. While many people had imagined an actual march from one point in the city to another, the organisers had set it up so people would literally march in a circle, for the sole purpose of a media stunt: A white band around central Edinburgh, just like the "Make Poverty History" wristbands that had been distributed throughout Britain. Having seriously underestimated the number of marchers, the event became one big traffic jam. People were standing around for hours waiting to begin marching, while others milled around on the large lawn of the Meadows, listened to speakers, and paid money for bottled water and food from corporate stalls. It was, in short, a "happening" rather than a march, and a very disempowering one at that, although many of the speakers did have a surprisingly radical flavour and questioned the legitimacy of the G8, the IMF, and even occasionally capitalism itself. Despite threats by certain members of "Make Poverty History" that those not wearing white would be removed from the march, a horde of clowns showed up to add colour and humour to the event. Dissent! had printed eighty-thousand fliers carefully subverting the logo of "Make Poverty History" to "Make History: Shut Down the G8," in order to encourage everyone at the march to stay on in Scotland and take direct action; everyone from old Scottish ladies and young children from council estates took the fliers, often resulting in confused questions and engaging debates about social change. While the message of anti-capitalism was spread, few of those people seemed to actually come to the Eco-village, showing not surprisingly that it takes more than handing out a flyer to get people to act.
Anarchists met in a disorderly fashion in front of the "Days of Dissent" conference. There had been debate about whether anarchists should split up into small affinity groups for the march or march as one large contingent in order to radicalise it, but as the moment approached the crowd simply split into two main groups, with one sizeable Black Bloc running off early and the clowns and others making their own way later to the march. After a good deal of pointless milling about, the colourful anarchist contingents mostly dispersed into the crowd, but the the Black Bloc tried to lead a breakaway march. It was a bit too late, for by then the police had enough time to prepare their forces and surrounded them with heavily armoured riot police, sending a message to all that no unauthorized demonstrations would be allowed. Using the particularly British policing tactic of "frustrate and disperse," they managed to isolate and eventually split-up the Bloc. For better or for worse, the rest of the march seemed to pass without incident. Nobody knows if they actually managed to create the giant white wristband of people circling Edinburgh, although there were thousands upon thousands there.
Monday July 4th: Blockading Faslane Nuclear Base
On the Monday before the days of action, two actions of differing natures happened in Edinburgh and the Faslane Nuclear Base. For seven years before the G8, Scottish CND and Trident Ploughshares had organised large non-violent blockades at Faslane, home to Britain's infamous Trident nuclear submarines. This year they moved the date of the protest close to the G8 summit in order to remind people that the G8's domination of the world was backed up by murderous wars, not by handing out debt relief to poor countries. This long and proud tradition of civil disobedience was only strengthened by the energy and numbers brought in by anti-G8 mobilisation, and for most of the day the entire base was shut down. The police, long-accustomed to this sort of thing, actually were rather kind and accommodating to the protesters. In Edinburgh, a different story was taking place.
Monday July 4th: Carnival for Full Enjoyment
In Edinburgh, the Carnival for Full Enjoyment took to the financial and tourist district of Edinburgh, in order to connect the mobilisation against the G8 to the everyday struggles of people in the city. The carnival encouraged everyone to take a day off work in protest against low wages, lack of job security, over-working, and dole slavery. In the city that played such a key part in the birth of the anti-poll tax campaign, this definitely hit a chord: thousands of locals showed up for the Carnival, and Princes Street was lined with ordinary people waiting for something - anything - to happen.
The state and the media had promised everyone a riot in central Edinburgh, and they were hell-bent on making it transpire. Hordes of cops were everywhere, and they went out of their way to harass, as the newspapers put it, the "most militant anarchists": The clowns. They also again quickly trapped the Black Bloc, and targeted medics for arrest. However, the Infernal Noise Brigade made it to downtown Princes Street and then courageously took the streets. The police reacted by blocking them in. However, as one older Scottish gentleman noted, while from their limited perspective the police thought they had won the day, the anarchists did a classic pincer around Princes Street, as there was not one but three gathering spots for the Carnival. As these other groups arrived, the police found themselves surrounded by people on every side, and proceeded to panic.
The carnival then began in full force. Police attempted to block one unit of their carnival with a line of horses, but the hilarious movements of a black IWW sabotage cat puppet terrified the horses. Police from Manchester attempted to arrest a man, and anarchists were outdone by angry locals who shouted for the English cops to get the hell out of their town, and backed up their threats by throwing uprooted flowers, rubbish, and even benches at the police! The carnival sought to move people to targets like the Social Security head office, home of dole fraud investigator Joan Kirk. Large bits of carpet with handles were used to help reclaim some of the streets, and even a sound system was pulled out at the last minute.
Many locals were disgusted with police behaviour and enjoyed the Carnival because of, not despite, the chaos: People roaming the streets, cars trapped, music playing, clowns mocking police officers, the houses of the corrupt and wealthy targeted for payback. It was anarchy in its most pure and undistilled form, and it felt a hell of a lot better to everyone involved than the zombie-like shopping that dominates Princes Street every other day of the week.
Wednesday July 6th: The Day of Action
"Violent Extremists Come to Gleneagles: And we're going to try to stop them!" the web-page of Dissent! proclaimed. And against all odds this is exactly what happened. The hill-walkers met at the historic Gathering Stone inside the grounds of Stirling University, and began their long walk through the Ochil Hills. On the top of the breath-taking Scottish hills and within viewing distance of the wine-glasses at Gleneagles, the hill-walkers lit their "Beacons of Dissent!": the fires on the hill that traditionally in Scotland were the signal that an invasion was near. The day before July 6th, the day of action, the Eco-Village was abuzz with last-minute talk of blockades. Likewise, a series of difficult meetings were taking place in the Glasgow warehouse, and anarchists were busy hatching a scheme in Edinburgh as well. To say that communication between the various convergence centres was difficult would be an understatement: people for the most part had little or no idea what other groups were doing. Although last minute guides to blockading the G8 had been produced by the notorious Deconstructionist Institute for Surreal Topology, to almost everyone the plan seemed vague and informal: Find friends, exit the convergence centre, and stop the delegates on the roads by whatever means you can. There was a method to the madness.
Scotland is home to an insect called the midge. The midge is like a mosquito, but terrifyingly tiny, and they travel in hordes, making them even more ferocious and unstoppable. Due to their small size and speed, one cannot even slap them to kill them, but can only resist by literally running away from them. In retrospect, the entire plan seemed to be based on "The Midge Principle": Hundreds of irritating and determined small groups moving in and out of critical road junctions would be impossible for a centralised police force to cope with. This contrasted with the "Make Poverty History" march, which seemed to be based on the behaviour of another common Scottish animal also known to wear white: the sheep. The police, much like a shepherd, can easily control vast numbers of people if they are docile and scared of confrontation. In contrast, the "Midge" action was based on confrontation through swarming, so that even when facing a vastly superior force, smaller groups could overcome it by surprise and speed, so long as they were highly mobile, co-ordinated, and had numbers at the critical point of engagement equivalent to that of the superior force.
Although the plan sounded dodgy, autonomy worked: in their neighbourhoods in the Eco-village, groups each met and had decided together how far they were willing to go to stop the G8. The answer was pretty damn far; the highway to Gleneagles was many hours from the Eco-village, and rainclouds were gathering. Since the Eco-village was surrounded by a deep river and had only one exit, it would be ludicrously simple for the police to simply block the exit and trap everyone inside. To counter this, affinity groups began leaving the Eco-village en-masse the evening before the day of action, often with nothing but a plastic trash-bag for a raincoat and no supplies to block the road but their bodies. Hordes of affinity groups scattered to the four winds, each trekking to find their own way to the A9. The police set an emergency "Section 60" order that let them stop and search anyone in Scotland for weapons, a technique used mainly to separate activists and even arrest them. As the groups slipped out one by one, the police seemed to be sleeping on the job.
The Black Bloc Strikes Back
As nightfall approached, roars could be heard from the campfire. Over a thousand people, including a large Black Bloc, had stayed behind in the camp, preparing themselves to march straight from the Eco-village to the M9 motorway (which becomes the A9 a little further north). This courageous plan was dubbed the "Suicide March" since it likely meant a direct confrontation with the police, and for the inevitable throw down with police the Black Bloc prepared by having some impromptu padded armour, a "battering ram" made of a line of lorry tires attached to a banner, which bore the bemusing text "Peace and Love," and some "big sticks." Since it was assumed that the police would attempt to block the camp early in the morning, the mass walk-out set its leaving time for 3:00 AM. As the Black Bloc gathered in front of the mass walk-out as it readied to leave, the heavens opened and a giant torrent of rain came down, soaking the Bloc and all the affinity groups already outside of the Eco-village.
Resolute, the mass walk-out left the camp - only to discover that in an act of shocking incompetence the police had not blockaded the exit to the Eco-village. While the police did eventually move in to stop the Black Bloc, it was too little and too late as much of the Bloc had left the Eco-village unchallenged. When the Scottish police finally managed to stop the Bloc en masse, they attempted to trap them in a nearby industrial estate. The police learned all too soon this was a mistake, as in a controversial but tactical move the Bloc began to wreck corporate outfits like Burger King and Pizza Hut. This was exactly the type of behaviour the police were trying to stop, and they had just caused it by trapping the Bloc in a corporate shopping district. The police backed off and the Bloc managed to find a road out. As the Bloc approached the M9, the police finally pulled out the riot cops and formed a line blocking their route.
To the shock of the police, the Bloc reacted with a full frontal charge on the police lines. Ya Basta!-style armoured members took the initial charge - and then, in a very non-pacifist move, turned on the police and attacked them from behind! The front line of the Bloc was armed with the infamous big sticks, and managed to beat the police at their own game by giving them a shocking beatdown, while rocks were thrown at the police from behind. Overwhelmed by the ferocity of the Bloc, the police line collapsed and the impossible was accomplished: The Black Bloc and others involved in the mass walk-out victoriously took the M9, shutting down traffic going to Gleneagles. In a panic, the police sent hundreds of riot cops to surround the Bloc, but again the Bloc battled their way out, and eventually dispersed and escaped through the Scottish countryside to return victorious to the Eco-village. The "suicide" plan was a momentous victory, for the taking of the M9 by the Bloc would turn out to be the largest and most public of a series of blockades.
Continue to Part 2