Though outnumbered by police by approximately two-to-one, thousands of people took to the streets of the Alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany on Saturday to express their opposition to the hegemonic and neoliberal policies of the G7 nations as they gathered in a nearby luxury hotel ahead their annual summit which begins Sunday.
Speaking out against the destructive policies of the world's leading industrialized nations—which includes the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Japan, Italy, and Germany—organized groups and individuals who participated in the protest carried signs and banners decrying inaction on climate change, the pending TransAtlantic Trade in Partnership (TTIP) agreement, ongoing wars and militarization, and the overarching assault on global democracy that has seen the power of corporations rise alongside nearly unprecedented levels of economic inequality.
Saturday's demonstration follows a larger one that took place in Munich on Thursday which saw tens of thousands march beneath those same messages.
"I'm protesting because the big financial corporations have too much influence over politics," one protester, 50-year-old Thomas Schmidbauer, told Reuters on Saturday. "Poverty isn't being tackled. It is unfair. We could organize our economies much better for the people."
Protester Monika Lambert, meanwhile, told the Associated Press she had come "to exercise my democratic rights to say that everything the G7 decides is in the interest of the banks and capitalists."
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Charging the G7 leaders with offering empty promises and false solutions for the world's most pressing problems, Oxfam International put its focus on the interrelated crises of soaring inequality and climate chaos.
"Today, 85 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population," said Oxfam's Natalia Alonso in a statement ahead of Saturday's protest. "At least US$18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide representing a loss of more than $156 billion in tax revenue; money that could be invested in promoting equitable and sustainable growth and jobs. By not agreeing on next steps to end financial secrecy and tax evasion, G7 leaders have in effect shut their eyes to the growing problem of economic inequality."
Meanwhile, she added, G7 leaders continue to fail on the issue of global warming by offering some quality climate action—like emission-reduction pledges and renewable energy plans—on the one hand, "only to snatch it away with the other" by continuing to finance fossil fuels expansion elsewhere in the world and stubbornly refusing to embrace a truly transformational energy paradigm.
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"Europe’s dependence on dirty energy is pushing up fuel prices and driving climate change, which means higher food prices in Europe and across the world," said Alonso. "If leaders don't break their fossil fuel habit, poor people may be left to choose between eating and heating."
Speaking from the demonstration, Guy Taylor, a campaigner with the UK-based Global Justice Now, told the Guardian that his group was focused on calling attention to the far-reaching threats posed by the pending TTIP, a corporate-friendly pact that expresses the worst inclinations of global capitalism. "There is clearly no mandate for the G7 leaders to be pushing ahead with this disastrous trade deal," Taylor said. "TTIP may bring some economic benefits for a tiny handful of the business elite but for the rest of us it would mean compromising vital public services, the stripping of regulations protecting labor rights and the environment, and a dramatic erosion of democratic process."
As this video shows, at least minor clashes broke out as police responded violently when some demonstrators attempted to leave the official march route and break through barricades leading to the summit site:
In a shocking show of force, news outlets report that the police presence was far larger than that of the sizable number of demonstrators. According to reports, more than 17,000 police officers were deployed in the area, with as many as 5,000 additional officers on standby or waiting on the Austrian side of the border.
According to the Guardian:
German police said they would carry out spot-checks at the country’s borders, which, because Germany is a member of the Schengen agreement, are normally openly accessible.
Police had planned to keep all demonstrators away from the venue, which is in a tiny village five miles from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but a court ruled that 50 protesters could be allowed inside the security zone, so G7 leaders would be able to hear them outside.
Simon Ernst, one of the organisers of the Stop Elmau demonstration, called the G7 leaders "the henchmen of bankers and corporations" and said that having just 50 demonstrators allowed to be near the actual venue was far too few.
"We think it shows an arrogant attitude toward freedom of assembly," he said.