g8

G8 Meeting Ends in Germany with Weak Promises on Climate Change and Africa

photo of protests at 2007 g8 meeting

Largely echoing the 2005 G8 (Group of 8) Summit in Scotland in 2005, the annual G8 summit has ended with a series of meaningless statements on “climate change” and aid to Africa. The summit, described by many observers as the most divided in the G8’s 32-year existence (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/06/372876.html), failed to accomplish its pre-summit goals on climate change and has received widespread criticism from NGOs.

Despite a “compromise” deal on climate change that overcame some opposition from the United States and recognized the danger of global warming, the G8 has been criticized by environmental groups for failing to take serious steps to address global warming. The United States and Russia agreed only to “consider” steps being taken by other nations and made no pledge to reduce their emissions. The six remaining G8 nations pledged to reduce emissions, although the G8’s statements are non-binding. Greenpeace rejected the G8’s actions, summarizing them with the statement “G8 to act on climate change, later… maybe,” as did Friends of the Earth.

On aid to Africa, the G8’s actions were similar. Despite the G8’s continued statements that they will live up to previous promises of aid to Africa, Oxfam criticized the G8 for breaking their 2005 promise on aid to Africa. While the summit pledged “new” aid to Africa, Oxfam pointed out that this at most amount to $3 billion in aid or $27 billion short of the $30 billion promised in 2005. Aid for HIV prevention in Africa will also fall short of the 2005 goal, reaching only $23 billion of the $50 billion by 2010. The announcements of new aid were described by NGOs as “smokescreens” designed to hide the dismal failure of the G8 on Africa.

Protests at the summit received substantial media coverage early on following clashes between police and protestors the weekend before the summit began. Throughout the week, there were a series of protests targeting both the G8 and capitalism, and addressing issues ranging from migration to agriculture. Once the summit began, protestors effectively blockaded the summit for two days, turning away delegates and forcing them to be brought in via helicopter. Protests were held outside of Germany as well, with solidarity demonstrations taking place in a variety of cities including Portland, Chicago, and San Francisco in the United States and around the world St. Petersburg, Santiago, and Thessaloniki.

Throughout the summit, the corporate media’s coverage downplayed the reasons why people were opposed to the G8, highlighted protestor “violence,” and favorably reported on the G8’s “action” on climate change and Africa. Aside from the excellent coverage of the protests provided by the Indymedia network–in particular the Germany and UK sites–protestors also focused on deconstructing the corporate media and public relations “spin” surrounding the protest. The Unspin the G8 website features an archive of corporate media coverage of the summit and analyses of how the coverage frames messages about the G8 and the protestors.

Protests in Germany in Advance of G8 Summit

g8 protest photo - make capitalism history

In advance of the G8 (Group of 8) Summit beginning on Wednesday in Heiligendamm, Germany, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Rostock, Germany on Saturday. While the corporate media in the United States and around the world has focused on the “violent” clashes between police and several thousand “black bloc” anarchists, the marches featured protestors from a variety of different backgrounds highlighting the problems of empire and capitalism. Two separate marches under the themes “Make Capitalism History” and “Another World is Possible” united for a demonstration and rally that organizers estimated at 80,000. Police violence was widespread and focused on the entire protest, not just the militant element.

Although not mentioned in the corporate media’s focus on violence, organizers of the June 2nd demonstration issued a statement explaining why they were protesting the G8:

At the beginning of June 2007, the governments of the seven most important industrialised countries and Russia will meet for the ‘G8 Summit’ at the Baltic seaside resort of Heiligendamm. The ‘Group of 8′ (G8) is an institution without legitimacy. Nevertheless, as a self-appointed informal world government, they make decisions which affect the whole of humanity. The policies of the G8 stand for a neoliberal globalisation and deregulation, economic policies oriented towards the capital returns of international financial investors and companies.

  • Every five seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world from hunger. More than 800 million people are chronically malnourished. Primarily responsible are unjust world trade policies, forwarded by the rich industrialised countries within the G8 and other international institutions.
  • Despite the whole-hearted promises of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, until now only a small proportion of the debt of Southern countries has been cancelled.
  • Through their promotion of liberalisation and privatisation, the G8 have not only increased poverty in the global South, but also in the industrialised countries. The worldwide plundering of raw materials and other natural resources is being accelerated.
  • At the same time as the rich industrialised countries seal themselves off from refugees and migrants, those who nevertheless arrive are illegalised and exploited as cheap labourers without rights.
  • The G8 states are the biggest destroyers of the climate. They are alone responsible for 43% of worldwide CO2 emissions as well as being in favour of a renaissance of nuclear energy, which we decidedly reject.
  • The G8 states are responsible for 90% of worldwide weapons exports and a new era of war for raw materials. They are the leaders of a world order based on war, which leads to migration, displacement, new hate and violence in many countries.

The world shaped by the dominance of the G8 is a world of war, hunger, social divisions, environmental destruction and barriers against migrants and refugees. At our mass demonstration on 2 June 2007 in Rostock, we want to protest against this and show the alternatives. Together with millions of people around the world we say: Another World Is Possible!

  • For the immediate cancellation of illegitimate debt and comprehensive debt relief for the countries of the global South!
  • Against the sale of public goods and services – for equal social rights and standards worldwide!
  • For a speedy and radical transfer to renewable energies! Dangerous climate change and further wars for oil and gas reserves can only be prevented through a significant rise in energy efficiency and the transfer to a sustainable economy.
  • For the immediate and permanent abandonment of nuclear energy and for complete worldwide nuclear disarmament!
  • For the showing of solidarity with, and the living together with equal rights, of all people – against every form of racism and fascism!
  • For the overcoming of walls and borders! Against detention camps and deportation!
  • For a peaceful world! End the military imposition of economic and power-political interests through the G8 states!

Globalisation in the interests of the majority of people requires a fair relationship between industrialised and developing countries, and means freedom, justice, social security, democracy and the conservation of the planet’s natural resources for the next generation.

Such an alternative globalisation will not result from exclusive and insular summit meetings, but rather from below out of the global movement of people and initiatives who stand up for another, better world. This global movement will make itself heard through numerous actions and events during the G8 Summit. At the International Demonstration on 2 June 2007 in Rostock, we will make the size, strength and diversity of our colourful and broad protests visible.

Protests will continue throughout the week, with plans to blockade the summit to prevent delegates from arriving for the G8 meeting. At past G8 summits in France in 2003 and Scotland in 2005, protestors made extensive efforts to shutdown the summit.

Reports: [en] 1 | 2 | 3

Pics: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14
Video: 1 | 2 | 3

For more information, see g8-tv.org, the G8 protests ticker, and Indymedia Germany.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later

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Seven years ago yesterday, protestors in Seattle effectively disrupted and shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting and essentially launched an anti-corporate globalization movement that put the spotlight on a variety of little known entities including the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), the G8, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, the World Economic Forum, and others. In the intervening five years, mass mobilizations across the globe–from Seattle to Cancun–greeted nearly every meeting of the global elites. While the effects of these protests can (and should) be debated, they were successful in establishing a movement in the global north that was able to act in solidarity with movements in the global south to limit the expansion of the neoliberal agenda, with planned agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) or the Doha round of WTO negotiations coming to a standstill due to widespread public opposition while also playing a significant role in reinvigorating an anti-capitalist movement within the United States.

Out of the context of Seattle, Media Mouse was formed here in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1999 and actively participated in the anti-corporate globalization movement. In Grand Rapids there was a rise in activism following Seattle, with groups like Media Mouse and Students Against Sweatshops forming, as well as community, labor, and church groups putting a focus on trade and participating in the movement. Like Seattle and subsequent protests, the resistance in Grand Rapids was varied and incorporated educational events, street protests, and even a coordinated graffiti campaign (in the Grand Rapids Press’ reporting on the Seattle protests they mentioned a graffiti campaign and communiqué by a group calling itself the Midnight Special Committee). Media Mouse, taking its inspiration in part from the global indymedia network and the Independent Media Center movement, emphasized the role that grassroots media plays in building movements for social change and covered protests both in Grand Rapids and across the country. Media Mouse covered the June 2000 protests against the Organization of American States and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Detroit, the April 2001 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City and produced video and photos, the 2002 World Economic Forum protests in New York City, and the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami.

Because of the importance of the WTO and the subsequent anti-corporate protests in Media Mouse’s history, Media Mouse is printing the afterward from a new 64-page booklet on the 1999 WTO protests released yesterday by CrimethInc. While the analysis in the afterward does focus somewhat narrowly on the anarchist portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement, the booklet is essential reading for those involved in movements to challenge corporate power and is useful for remembering an important moment in recent radical history. The forward-looking analysis may be helpful in reinvigorating current movements and fostering a renewed sense of commitment and motivation in light of a disempowering fight to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the invasion of Iraq. Those organizing in the United States should also not lose sight of the fact that while times may be difficult here in this country, recent events in the Americas, from the Oaxaca and Zapatista struggles in Mexico to the electoral victories of leftists in Central America, give plenty of reason to be optimistic.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later…

…From this vantage point, it is possible to interpret the WTO protests according to any number of frameworks. They were a watershed in the development of the contemporary anticapitalist movement, at which thousands of disparate groups discovered each other and the power they could wield together. They were the point at which, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the old “democracy versus communism” opposition, the fundamental dichotomy of global politics was recast as corporate capitalism versus the common people. They were, as the researchers of the RAND corporation self-servingly discovered, the substantiation of theories about how new communications technologies would shape social conflict. They were simultaneously the beginning and the high point of a “movement of movements” which ended when terrorists hijacked the global stage on September 11th, or when communist splinter groups hijacked the anti-war movement a year and a half later, or which continues so long as certain anthropology professors require a subject for inquiry.

The only thing that matters for us anarchists, of course, is what we can learn from the past to act effectively in the present. Does it make sense to pursue “another Seattle,” or is that just a will-o’-the-wisp? Could any of the tactics that succeeded in Seattle be as effective today, or are they subject to a law of diminishing returns?

What Happened in Seattle

Immediately following the Seattle WTO protests, some reformists moaned that the confrontational tactics and far-reaching goals of militant participants alienated people and ruined any chance of concretely affecting national policy. Yet by reformist standards, the so-called anti-globalization movement [1] associated with the Seattle protests achieved practically unprecedented triumphs, and the credit for this must go at least in part to the militants. The next WTO meeting had to be held in Qatar, cementing the image of the WTO as an anti-democratic, oppressive elite. Many of the proposals that had most outraged activists were immediately dropped; likewise, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement is now essentially dead in the water. Some analysts have concluded that the mobilization against corporate globalization peaked early because its goals were not ambitious enough.

In addition to giving the WTO a public image makeover and successfully forcing concessions from it, the militancy of the demonstrators in Seattle pushed its supposed critics to adopt a more uncompromising stance. Organized labor and segments of the Democratic Party have to present the illusion of being oppositional in order to justify their existence. As was frankly acknowledged in the RAND report, they hoped to maintain this illusion and simultaneously absorb and neutralize any radical tendencies by putting in an appearance at the Seattle WTO protests. Once they found themselves caught up in a huge, obviously popular demonstration against the WTO, they had to feign at least some sympathy or else reveal their “opposition” to be a mere pretense. Thus we can see that direct action is the most effective means both for putting pressure on adversaries and for exerting leverage on supposed allies. Even if you don’t want to overthrow the government, forget about voting and petitioning–the only hope for change is in the streets.

Finally, the successes in Seattle brought US anarchists worldwide visibility, along with a needed morale boost, and provided a format for future actions. The “summit-hopping” model made a virtue of the transience that has been such a stumbling block for anticapitalist organizing in North America; like it or not, a movement must make the best of its weaknesses, and if many anarchists couldn’t be counted on to stay in one place long enough to do effective local organizing at least that mobility enabled them to come together occasionally at capitalist summits.

The breakthroughs in Seattle that affected the anarchist community turned out in the long run to be dangerous gifts: as soon as the media attention, the thrill of victory, and the effectiveness of the new model were taken away, many anarchists felt they were back at square one.

A Complex Legacy

In reflecting on the mobilization in Seattle, people often overlook the years of failure that had preceded it. What happened in Seattle was possible precisely because it had been years, if not decades, since so many people joined in disruptive action against a capitalist institution in the US. As noted in the RAND analysis, police expected symbolic arrests à la the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1980s, not the coordinated obstruction and rioting they got. Subsequent mass actions were much more difficult to pull off, as the authorities mobilized every resource to ensure that what happened in Seattle would not happen again.

Despite this, Seattle was followed by a series of demonstrations unlike anything in the preceding decade: Washington, D.C. was shut down the following April by protests against the International Monetary Fund, and a year later the FTAA ministerial in Quebec City occasioned the most intense street fighting since the Los Angeles riots of 1992. All the teargas in the country was no match for the enthusiasm of the anticapitalist movement once people had a model to work from and a structure to plug into. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that the tide finally began to recede, and this occurred primarily as a result of the widespread self-fulfilling prophecy that the high point of anticapitalist mass actions was over. The momentum that followed Seattle was not destroyed by the government response, it was abandoned by those who had maintained it: the most significant question presented by the post-Seattle phase of struggle is not how to handle repression, but how to sustain morale.

After anticapitalists lost the initiative, it was inevitable that the partisans of willful impotence would regain it. Proportionate to the number of participants, the antiwar movement of 2002 to 2003 was incredibly ineffectual, largely due to the machinations of liberals and communists who did their best to prevent anyone from taking effective action. And once the legend of Seattle ceased to be the origin myth of an existing, vibrant movement, it became a burden upon everyone who tried to apply the mass action model. Even though many anarchist demonstrations between 2002 and 2005 put everything that happened in the mid-1990s to shame, they seemed stunted and disappointing compared with the Battle of Seattle. Past accomplishments always cast a shadow over the present, and shadows loom bigger the further the object casting them recedes.

The FTAA ministerial in Miami four years after the Seattle WTO protests showed how much ground anticapitalists had lost and how much their adversaries–both those in uniform and those carrying protest signs–had learned. While there were probably almost as many committed anarchists in Miami as there were in Seattle, far fewer other protesters showed up–partly because Miami is so far from the rest of the US, partly because it has the most reactionary Latino population of any US city, and partly because the ability of anticapitalist networks to bring out protesters had been sapped by demoralization and competition with antiwar organizing. The AFL-CIO duplicitously coordinated with the police while asking demonstrators not to carry out direct action during their march, and the demonstrators–insanely–agreed to this request. This enabled the police to concentrate on beating and pepper-spraying people before the union march, controlling the streets during it, and then viciously brutalizing and arresting everyone who remained in town after it. The police tactics in Miami, which were significantly more aggressive than those of the police in Seattle, showed that the fluke in Seattle was not that the police were so aggressive but that the corporate media were caught off guard and accidentally reported on their violence [2]. Finally, the strategy of the demonstrators in Miami, which consisted of a largely symbolic assault on the fence surrounding the meetings, had no hope of actually interfering with them. The protests in Miami only succeeded in disrupting business as usual and giving the FTAA a bad name because the authorities, still transfixed by the specter of Seattle, went to such lengths to repress them.

As of this writing, the Miami FTAA ministerial is itself three years behind us, and there have been no major mass actions in the US since Bush’s second inauguration almost two years ago. Paradoxically, the good news is that enough time may now have elapsed since the WTO protests that a mass mobilization with a clever strategy could catch the powers that be by surprise again–but the bad news is that anarchists, demoralized from so many years of trying to “repeat Seattle,” may not yet be ready to stake everything on another attempt.

What Next?

The presidential campaign of 2008 will be the next backdrop against which major mass actions can be expected to take place. Whatever misgivings some of us currently have about them, for anarchists not to have a powerful presence in mass actions in 2008 would be tantamount to our disappearance from the national arena of social struggle.

The essential challenge of the mass action model is that its greatest strengths and weaknesses are identical. Working from the physics equation tension=force/area, this model brings together a great number of people in a small space so their coordinated actions can have exponential effects–but with sufficient warning, the state can also concentrate its forces to neutralize their efforts. Consequently, successful mass actions must either come as a surprise themselves or employ an unexpected strategy. At the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, for example, participants outwitted the authorities by dispersing into the countryside to block roads outside the areas where police forces were concentrated.

Effective mass action necessitates that people from a broad range of perspectives work together without limiting each other. In that regard, mass actions are good practice for building the symbiotic relationships fundamental to an anarchist society. The mobilizations that succeeded in Seattle, Quebec City, and elsewhere succeeded because a great number of people simultaneously engaged in a diverse array of complementary tactics. Regardless of the success of a particular action, the ability to do this itself constitutes a victory over the segregation, isolation, and conflict promoted by the capitalist system. In that regard, the Seattle WTO protests were not an unrepeatable miracle, but rather an example of how powerful we can be whenever we find ways to work together.

Suggested Reading

We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism–Through testimony, photos, tactics, and history, this book provides an excellent context for anticapitalist organizing in the years up to and immediately following the WTO protests.

Five Years After WTO Protests” by Chuck Munson–In this article, one of the administrators of http://www.infoshop.org refutes corporate media reports that the movement behind the WTO protests had come to an end by 2004.

N30 Black Bloc Communiqué” by the Acme Collective–Some of the participants in the Black Bloc in Seattle released this excellent and nuanced defense of anarchist property destruction at the WTO demonstrations immediately afterwards.

Demonstrating Resistance,” the feature article in the first issue of Rolling Thunder–This extensive analysis follows the anarchist experimentation with mass action and autonomous action models that occurred between 2000 and 2005, drawing conclusions about what factors must be present for each approach to succeed.

1–Ironically, the “anti-globalization movement” was perhaps the most globally interconnected movement in the history of protest movements. The corporate media christened it with that misnomer because identifying it for what it was–a movement opposing capitalist globalization–would acknowledge the existence of capitalism, and thus the possibility of other social and economic systems.

2–Likewise, as the dramatically militarized police force in Miami consisted of at least six times as many officers as protected the WTO in Seattle, and they faced off against crowds perhaps a fifth the size of those that had gathered in 1999, they could not fall back on the excuse of being “overwhelmed” and forced into violence. If anything, the police in Miami were more violent than those in Seattle, thoughtlessly attacking demonstrators, retired union members, and corporate media reporters alike.