Published on Saturday, June 18, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
The First Embedded Protest
Live 8 and G8 are attempts to hijack justice campaigns
by Kay Summer and Adam Jones
|Shortly after Bob Geldof called for a million people to converge in Edinburgh for the opening day of the G8 summit, Midge Ure, the co-organizer of Live 8, was asked if he was worried about the events being hijacked by anarchists. His response was that Live 8 was, in fact, hijacking the anarchists' event. There is more than a little truth in this statement. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that Blair and Brown, in turn, are trying to do something similar with the Live 8 and Make Poverty History campaigns.
The spin surrounding the summit is beginning to appear as little more than a cynical attempt to buy off a section of what is commonly called the "global justice" or "anti-capitalist" movement by feigning serious engagement with some of its core issues: global poverty and ecological crisis.
This is the first G8 summit in the UK since the battle of Seattle, an event which brought the contemporary anti-capitalist movement into the spotlight and succeeded in breaking both the "there is no alternative" spell of neoliberalism and the "one size fits all" dogma that had plagued the old left.
This was a leaderless movement that began to talk about building diverse communities of self-determination, direct democracy and ecological sustainability. They declared: "Another world is possible." A world, of course, free of poverty, but also one free of the G8, whose raison d'être, after all, is to manage a system that prioritizes the pursuit of private profit over people and planet. In other words, they talked about a world without capitalism.
Blair and Brown do not want a repeat of Seattle, or Genoa, or any of the other summits that have been accompanied by mass acts of disobedience. They want a stage-managed, benign spectacle, and so they play along with Live 8 and Make Poverty History, creating the world's first "embedded" mass protest.
Blair's wearing of the Make Poverty History wristband and Brown's presentation of a modest new debt-relief program (one, we might add, with stringent conditions attached) were carefully manipulated spectacles designed to obscure the fact that the G8's policies are at the very core of the world's problems.
While the coming together of hundreds of thousands of people for the Make Poverty History and Live 8 events certainly should be understood as a genuine expression of human solidarity, if we are serious about wanting to change the way in which the world works it is essential that we do not make poverty of history in attempting to do so.
In other words, we need to ask ourselves: who have, historically, been the agents of change? And, importantly, who has the ability to change the way in which the world works today? The answer, of course, is not Bob and Bono. But neither is it Blair and Brown. It's ordinary, everyday people. It's us. It's you.
Those who have the power to not only make poverty history but to make history itself are the same as they always have been: ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
The contemporary anti-capitalist movement, born in the tear-gas-filled streets of Seattle, belongs to an ongoing history of struggle: the Haymarket martyrs who fought and died for an eight-hour working day; the anti-fascist fighters of the Spanish civil war; South African townships refusing to pay extortionate water bills; the ecological direct activists who resisted the UK road-building program of the 1990s; the workers of occupied factories in Argentina; the Skye islanders who reclaimed their right to free movement; the indigenous of Bolivia fighting the privatization of natural resources. History is made by people who refuse to play by the rules, who refuse to politely ask for the powerful to throw them a few crumbs.
If on July 6, when the summit opens, the multitude who converge on Edinburgh decide not to play their allocated role in power's spectacle but to join together with those from around the world taking direct action by blockading the summit, while demonstrating real alternatives to the way in which we currently live, then perhaps history will have made one of those leaps that happen only a few times in a generation - a leap that restores our faith in our own power to change things.
Adam Jones is from Brighton Dissent! Kay Summer is from The Common Place Social Centre, in Leeds; both are involved with the Dissent! Network, promoting radical resistance to the 2005 G8 Summit
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.