Paving stones best left in the road: G8 protests in Germany

IssueJuly - August 2007
News by Kelvin Mason

The Welsh International Sector Network, which works for peace, justice and global citizenship, funded 8 people to attend the anti-G8 demonstrations in Germany. WISeN Coordinator James Maiden ponders his experience:

“Some of the people we funded helped Oxfam International pull off a successful media stunt. This involved the now famous `Big Heads' - fantastic caricatures of the G8. At a specially constructed card table the Big Heads played with a campaigner from Ghana. “The message was simple: the G8 holds all the cards and is gambling with crucial money they've already promised to the world's poorest people.

”When we took the heads off we were given a round of applause, which made me realise, `Wow. I'm in Germany and I'm actually doing something positive to raise awareness of global injustice - and people appreciate it.'

”The stunt captured a lot of global media interest, including the BBC in the UK, but also, and my favourite, featuring on Al Jazeera. Then the rioting kicked off and stole the limelight. Violence is pretty much an inevitable part of G8 protests and the media love it. You realise this when you see photographers walking round with helmets and gas masks.

”Media coverage quickly moved away from any discussion of aid and climate change to talk of missiles and tear gas.

`Was it worth it? How did wearing a silly costume help sort out the world's problems? What impact does the violence have? If the police weren't there, who would people throw stones at? Would the money spent on our train fares be better going to someone in Africa? Will the G8 keep their promises? How do we influence world leaders? What are we going to do with the gambling table?

”Some of these questions are easier to answer. The table went on sale in an Oxfam shop in Berlin. If nothing else that one day in Rostock will have sent some other questions around the world. It is right that we question the status quo and our leaders. It is also right that we question our methods of demanding change.”

Rachel Sewell took part in actions that subverted the authority of the police, parodying their macho shows of force and making protesters laugh at them. She believes such actions can change attitudes on both sides.

”Seeing NVDA work is one of the most powerful experiences I've had. The spontaneity of direct action, coupled with the thoughtful and humane approach that pacifism calls for, creates a unique space. I know Quakers who think all forms of direct action are at some point violent. [Even] lying down blockading a road is too aggressive. Equally, I know people who feel that nonviolence is an inadequate response to state violence. They feel there is a legitimate difference depending on who violence comes from.

”NVDA may appear a paradox. The DA forcefully reclaiming spontaneous action to directly affect the future [while] the NV seems a passive life choice. If the nature of NVDA is paradoxical, this is maybe why it makes sense, challenging the “us and them”.

Trwper Twp is a member of Byddin Boncars Clowniad Cymru (BBC Cymru) the Wales gaggle of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA).

Roughly translated, her name means Soldier Stupid - but the nuance in Welsh is more affectionate. Twp went to the G8 to serve in the farces of life against the forces money. “What Twp did not understand was why the police and the black bloc had to do all that fighting. Paving stones flying, watercanons blasting, truncheons thumping... Twp didn't like it!

”Boys playing games, but not nice ones. Twp thinks nonviolent action is fun and paves the way, while setting an example, for the `Another World' we want to live in.

”Twp's army fights with feather dusters, soap bubbles, balloons, flowers, games, humour, wit, satire, consensus decision-making, organic food, environmental awareness...That's the world Twp wants to live in. Paving stones are best left in the road.”

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