The hype surrounding Wednesday’s impending protest in the City of London against the fat cats and bankers deemed responsible for the current economic crisis is eerily reminiscent of the hype which surrounded the planned protests during the G8 back in 2005, when it was held at Gleneagles.
Back then, in the weeks leading up, the media were full of stories of camps dotted across Europe at which legions of anarchists were said to be training with the discipline of an elite special forces in preparation for their descent on Scotland, where they intended to wreak havoc and mayhem.
G8 Alternatives was a coalition of socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, antiwar activists, environmentalists and others who were intent on marching and rallying outside Gleneagles Hotel on the day that Blair, Bush and the other leaders of the world’s richest nations were set to begin the three day summit at which matters of global trade, health, the environment, and poverty would be discussed and decisions made affecting the lives of billions.
Just as in the run up to the G20 this week, during the G8 the police attempted to divide people into whom they considered were good protesters and bad protesters. The good protesters were the tens of thousands who took part in the Make Poverty History march on the Saturday before the summit, initiated by Oxfam and spearheaded by Bono and Bob Geldof. The bad protesters were the anarchists who’d organised a march through Princes Street on the Monday following without police permission. Also on the bad protesters list was G8 Alternatives, who’d initiated legal action against the local authorities in Perth and Kinross after they tried to ban the march to the Gleneagles Hotel on the day the summit was due to begin.
Edinburgh during that week was like a war zone. A small army of police had been drafted in from London and Greater Manchester, and the sight of them marching through the city centre in columns dressed in full riot gear, looking like extras out of a Star Wars movie, was surreal.
It was inevitable that there would be trouble, though it was not started by protesters. On the contrary, the police were clearly intent on making sure they hadn’t gone to all the bother of getting dressed up for nothing. What began as a good humoured protest by a group of protesters, the self styled Clown Army, who many will have seen on demos up and down the country engaging in silly antics, soon gave way to ugly scenes of riot police charging into peaceful protesters lashing out indiscriminately.
Two days later, as protesters were boarding buses in Edinburgh city centre to take them up to the Gleneagles, they were suddenly confronted with a fleet of police vans arriving to block the buses leaving. The police officer in charge said that due to trouble in and around the Gleneagles area, involving anarchists attacking buses making their way to the march, the event had been postponed.
However, upon making a few quick phone calls it became immediately apparent that the officer in charge was lying. The march hadn’t been postponed. Instead the police were intent on preventing the 300-400 people still waiting to get on a bus to Gleneagles from exercising their right to protest.
But the police had miscalculated if the thought they’d be able to do that easily. In response the protesters decided to blockade the road until the buses that were already full of people ready to depart were allowed to leave. The police relented, moved their vans, and the buses moved off to a huge cheer. Thereafter, the protesters moved back off the road and proceeded to wait for the other buses that were due to arrive any minute to take those who were left up to Gleneagles. Another phone call, this time to the bus company to inquire as to the whereabouts of these buses, revealed that the police had already been in contact with the company to cancel them.
This was the final straw and once again the protestors assembled on the road. But this time, instead of a stationary protest they marched through Princes Street, catching the police off guard.
The ringleaders of this impromptu action were subsequently arrested and charged with civil disorder offences. A year or so later the charges were dropped due to the ‘inability’ of the police to provide all of the CCTV footage they’d taken of the incident and the events leading up to it.
The important point is that the biggest danger and threat to public safety at major events such as the G8 or the upcoming G20 summit has always been the police.
Ultimately, the protesters who come out on Wednesday better be ready for trouble, because if the police have anything to do with it trouble is exactly what they’re going to get.