The Week of Solidarity with J20 Defendants begins tomorrow! July 20 marks six months since the mass arrest on L and 12th Street in Washington, DC; more than 200 defendants are now facing up to 75 years in prison apiece on Trumped up charges. We’re calling on all supporters to organize events and actions in solidarity with the J20 defendants throughout the week. Send reportbacks, photographs, and inquiries to J20solidarity@protonmail.com.
Ongoing Solidarity Actions
Before the week has even begun, we’re already learning of solidarity actions around the country:
Graffiti reading “200 People, 80 Years, Just for Protesting?” along the Atlanta Beltway;
Graffiti on a Starbucks in Binghamton, NY that says “Dismiss J20, Drop the Charges!”
And a shout-out from Camp White Pine, the action camp in Pennsylvania currently resisting the development of the Marine East 2 Pipeline.
Organizations across the country have signed on to the Statement of Solidarity issued by DefendJ20Resistance, while a campaign is underway to demand that the DC Office of Police Complaints release $150,000 allocated for an investigation into the DC Metropolitan Police Department.
A host of events is planned across the country to keep the pressure on throughout the week:
New York City, NY
July 21 • Benefit Show // Film Screening // Art Sale @ Trans-Pecos, 8:00PM
Why I Am Facing 75 Years – a zine produced from an op-ed written by Carlo Piantini, a J20 defendant, about the political nature of the J20 case, its connection to the larger scope of political repression in the United States, and the need for continued resistance.
An Unpresidented Case – a brief graphic zine composed of recollections from defendants about the Inauguration Day protests, the kettle, and the repression that has followed since.
“Week of Solidarity” – A new flyer and web graphics for this second Week of Solidarity to use for wheat-pastings and social media blasts.
“Show Up For Dane Powell” – A flyer calling for solidarity with Dane Powell, the first political prisoner of the Trump regime.
“#DropJ20” – A flyer to announce #DropJ20, a campaign demanding that the US Attorney’s Office drop the J20 charges.
“I Want You!” – A set of six flyers calling for action to demand an investigation into the conduct of the DC Metropolitan Police Department on Inauguration Day.
The kit also includes an archive of previous J20 solidarity flyers and a host of resources on legal support and prisoner solidarity, analysis and theory on Trump and anti-Trump resistance, anti-policing zines, and material for newcomers on how to join the resistance!
Like graffiti, wheatpasting is a direct action technique for communicating with your neighbors and redecorating your environment. Because it’s easy to mass-produce posters, wheatpasting enables you to deploy a nuanced, complex message at a large number of locations with minimal effort and risk. Repetition makes your message familiar to everyone and increases the chances that others will think it over. If you’re looking for posters to paste up, we offer a wide selection of poster designs to print out or order in bulk.
To make wheatpaste, mix two parts white or whole-grain wheat flour with three parts water, stir out any lumps, and heat the mixture to a boil. When it thickens, add more water; continue cooking it on low heat for at least half an hour, stirring constantly so as not to burn it. Some people add a little sugar or cornstarch for extra stickiness; don’t be afraid to experiment. Wheatpaste, once made, will last for a while if kept in sealed containers, though eventually it will dry up or become rotten—and sealed containers of it have been known to burst, to unfortunate effect. Keep them in a refrigerator if you can.
You can also obtain wallpaper adhesive at any home improvement store; this comes in pre-mixed buckets or boxes of powder. Wallpaper adhesive is much quicker and easier to mix than wheatpaste, and not much more expensive even if you are paying for it. Don’t get the brands advertised as “easy to remove,” obviously—get the most heavy-duty adhesive available.
If you’re wheatpasting to express information or ideas, good design is key to getting your message across. Remember, most people will see these from a distance, so make the headline huge and legible and use images that are simple, high-contrast, and equally large. Be sure the headline communicates the basic idea on its own. You can also include a paragraph or so in smaller print for the casually interested, and it’s always a good idea to add a webpage address or similar link for those who want to pursue things further.
Don’t limit yourself to pasting up standard-size photocopies; many photocopying franchises offer much bigger options. You can make huge posters to put up; if such printing technology is unavailable, you can paste up big images comprised of smaller copies. Be creative: you could also paste up old anarchist newsprint publications, or those police target-practice sheets with photos of masked men on them, or bus schedules screenprinted with artistic designs, or income tax forms stenciled with the appropriate messages about taxation, representation, and exploitation.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the thinner the paper, the better—thin paper takes paste better, and will be more likely to rip off in tiny pieces rather than all at once if an art hater takes a dislike to it. Another way to foil such philistines is to run a razor quickly down and across each poster several times immediately after you’ve pasted it up; a pasted poster sliced in this manner will only come down one small piece at a time.
A new poster for you to put up!
If you’re pasting up a lot of small posters, carry them in a way that enables you to access them easily without it being obvious that you have them. A messenger bag will serve for this—just make sure you can reach into it and slide one out without much fumbling. If you’re posting great big posters, roll them up, top side out so you can swiftly unroll them down the wall, and rubber band them individually.
You’ll need a container from which to apply the paste. Wheatpaste tends to be thick, so a vessel with a wide mouth such as a large plastic bottled water container is well-suited for it; wallpaper adhesive tends to be thinner and more consistent, so it can be dispensed out of smaller holes, such as that of a dishwashing soap container with a pop-up nozzle. It can help to have something to smooth the posters up on the wall—a window-washing squeegee from a gas station will suffice, or you could get a plastic wallpaper smoother from the same retailers that provide wallpaper adhesive. Big paintbrushes can speed the application of wheatpaste, too. You could do all of this with your hands, but it will leave you messy.
For each poster, pick a good location, and make sure it’s clean; most smooth metal, glass, or stucco will take pasting nicely, while wood or concrete will be somewhat less accommodating, and brick even less so. Next, apply the paste. The more wheatpaste you use, the longer it will take to dry, so use the minimum amount to make all of the poster stick. If you’re using smaller posters, spread paste over the wall, place the poster on the pasted area, smooth out all air bubbles and wrinkles, and spread some paste over the top to hold down the corners. If you’re using larger posters, unroll them flat on the ground and apply the paste to their backs there, then put them on the wall, smooth them out, and add another layer of paste. Starting out on the ground renders you less conspicuous while you’re making sure the paste is evenly applied.
When you think about where to paste, balance the length of time the poster will probably stay up against the amount of traffic the location gets, factoring in the question of which demographics will most appreciate your design. Often, it is better to put up a poster in an alley that will remain for six months than it is to put up twenty along Main Street that will be gone by noon.
Because wheatpasting is somewhat less than legal in many places, it doesn’t hurt to go about it inconspicuously. Late in the evening can be a good time for it, when the streets are quiet but not yet empty and you can pass yourselves off as students going to a party or workers walking back from a bar. Behave as though what you’re doing is perfectly legal, while being careful not to do it before the gaze of the authorities; you’ll be surprised what you can get away with. Even in cities locked under the control of thousands of riot police, anarchists have still been able to decorate whole districts with posters.
A bicycle can be a useful accessory for postering. You can carry supplies in a basket on the handlebards, and it can function as a ladder to reach places where your art is more visible and harder to remove. It can also assist you in making a quick getaway, should the need arise. Also, bring something to clean up with—even if you wear latex gloves to keep your hands from getting sticky with wheatpaste, it can get all over your clothes, which is a dead giveaway that you’re the culprit.
A well-coordinated group can cover a city in posters in the course of a single evening: divide up the area, set the target locations in advance, and carry out the action quickly so you’ve all disappeared by the time people notice the new posters everywhere. Wheatpasting can also be applied to rework the images and messages of billboards. A group attending a mass mobilization could make wheatpasting kits including ready-to-use wheatpaste, posters, and maps showing vulnerable zones of the city to distribute to other groups with time and energy to apply.
Finally, you could put up posters with this wheatpaste recipe on them and a call for submissions, encouraging others to participate in decorating your town.
Appendix: Adventures in Wheatpasting—A Narrative
Most wheatpasting goes so smoothly that there’s not much to tell, but it’s always possible to push the limits, and this is the story of a time we did just that.
It was the night before the one-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, and we had scammed over two dozen posters five feet tall and three feet wide from the local photocopying franchise with which to address the pressing issues of terrorism and war. We had cased our city and identified the prime locations for these, in the downtown shopping district and along a few major thoroughfares. We mapped out the area and established the best order for visiting these locations, so we could get the most done in each section of the city before police could take note of our activity, and then move to another zone.
We divided five roles between us. One of us would ride a bicycle, doing reconnaissance in a radius of a few blocks around every site. The other four of us would travel in a vehicle. This vehicle would drop off a scout to stand lookout at one end of a street, as most of our targets were on one-way streets, then drop off the two people who were to do the pasting around a corner out of sight from the target, before driving down the cross street to keep watch from another direction. After the two had decorated the sites chosen in that area, they would meet the driver around another quiet corner, and the three would pick up the pedestrian lookout and move on to the next area, followed by the bicyclist. The driver, the bicyclist, the scout, and the pasting team were all connected by two-way radios with earpieces so news of the movements of police or others could be immediately relayed among us. The corporate news media had made a big deal about the extensive security precautions that had been made for this anniversary; accordingly, we were taking precautions of our own.
We spent a couple of hours brewing wheatpaste, then went out around midnight. We hit all our targets downtown without any trouble to speak of; at one point, the bicyclist informed us that a police officer had stopped a motorist a couple blocks away, but we did our work quickly and were out of there before the police car moved.
Having done some smaller-scale wheatpasting in which we were trying to pass as law-abiding citizens, it was actually a bit of a relief to be running around in all black with huge plastic jugs of wheatpaste and rolled posters. Everything was on the table and it was just a matter of moving fast and staying aware. We dashed past a civilian at one point, and I said hello—he just stared at us like we were Martian invaders.
The last target was a freeway underpass, where eight columns held up the other highway. We were to put up eight posters, four facing each traffic direction. After so much success, we were starting to encounter some problems: our clothes had inevitably been covered in wheatpaste, and it was starting to clog the microphone and earpiece of our two-way radio. All the same, the scouts took their positions and we were dropped off next to the underpass to finish the job. Ducking down whenever cars came and jumping up to apply the posters between them, we did four columns, then leaped over the concrete guardwall to run across the freeway. In a scene out of slapstick comedy, I was holding the wheatpaste in one hand and the posters in the other, and so had to hurl myself over the wall, crashing absurdly on the asphalt without my hands to break my fall. My friend helped me over the other wall, and we began the fifth column.
At this point our radio made some kind of noise, but it was impossible to make out the words through the wheatpaste. An instant later, headlights appeared, and we got down behind the column, moving slowly around it as the car approached and passed us. It was a police car. It kept going, so we set back to work wheatpasting, but no sooner had we done so than headlights appeared from the opposite direction, and we had to work our way around the pillar again, hiding as another police car drove by. This was starting to look bad. It was impossible now to get our radio to work, so, abandoning the posters, we set out walking quickly away from the underpass. As more headlights appeared ahead, I tossed the last jug of wheatpaste into the bushes.
We turned down the first side street we reached. Wheatpaste stains more visibly on dark colors; in our black camouflage with paste stains all over it, we looked more than a little suspicious, especially so late at night in a district with no pedestrian traffic. Worse yet, it turned out the street we had turned down was a long corridor with no exits on the sides, running through a closed warehouse district—no alibi could adequately explain our presence here. At that moment, a police car turned onto the street, slowing to a crawl as it approached us. We kept walking, maintaining our conversation as calmly as we could, acting as though we were oblivious to the policeman as he inched past, blatantly staring at us.
Strangely, he kept going! Seeing that we had no posters or paste, he must not have felt that he had enough evidence to justify arresting us—though the stains on our clothes would have given us away on closer inspection. We made our way down other side streets and walked all the way back to our secret hideout, where the others were waiting, relieved that we had escaped and excited to tell us about the police cars that had started following them and forced them to abandon us.
We slept a scant few hours, then went out shortly after morning rush hour to inspect our work.
When the government concentrates 20,000 police in a city to violently suppress protest and people respond by defending themselves, it takes a real fascist to argue that the problem is “left extremism.” Yet this is precisely the kind of opportunism we are seeing from politicians and pundits in response to the G20 protests in Hamburg. The strategy here is simple: spread fear, terrorize the general population, and if anyone dares to resist, use that as a pretext to demand even more violent repression. Everyone who was in Hamburg knows the police struck first, carrying out unprovoked attacks nearly a week before the summit began.
Sure, some anarchists and other opponents of totalitarianism traveled from outside Hamburg to support local organizing against the G20 summit. Many people considered it unjust that the summit was being forced on a city that didn’t want it—a typical example of how the policies of the G20 are forced on unwilling populations. And after seeing the kind of policing that took place during the G20, who could fault anyone for wanting to show solidarity to the residents of Hamburg?
But—could a thousand “left extremists” armed only with the paving stones beneath their feet have defeated 20,000 police dressed head to toe in body armor and equipped with water cannons? Of course not. It took tens of thousands of people to beat back the police—and a large number of them were Hamburg locals, not “left extremists” at all. Even if some people did come to the protests with the intention of breaking things and acting unruly, the situation only went so far because so many “ordinary people” got involved.
Many of the people who participated in the clashes in Hamburg did not start the G20 as avowed enemies of the police. It was only after they saw the violence and poor sportsmanship of the police on Thursday, July 6 that they realized they had to take a side. That’s why the resistance was so much stronger on Friday, July 7, the second night of confrontations. By Saturday night, at the end of July 8, almost all of the activists had left the streets, leaving only locals who had been drawn into the conflict over the preceding 48 hours.
Despite this, politicians, corporate media, and far-right nationalists are trying to use the reaction provoked by this heavy-handed police repression to justify it retroactively. Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg, has gone so far as to deny that there was any police violence in Hamburg at all. They are lying to you outright: cynically, they are assuming that you will believe anything they tell you. For example, everyone who was in the Schanze neighborhood on the night of July 7 when the police were forced out for a few hours knows that it was much safer inside the barricades than it was in the parts of the city where the police were still attacking people. Paramedics report that when the police finally reentered the district, they stormed spaces where injured people were being given medical care, threatening to shoot both caregivers and injured.
When politicians and corporate media say “violence,” they don’t mean police threatening to shoot people. They don’t mean tear gas grenades, water cannons, batons, phalanx charges, or punching arrestees. They don’t even mean police pepper-spraying reporters. They only mean the things people did in response, like building improvised barricades and using projectiles to keep police away from demonstrators.
In the same spirit, the conservative newspaper Bild called the police “heroes” for the dubious public service of violently attacking people in return for a paycheck—and urged readers to show “solidarity with the police.”
Solidarity with the police! Grab a stick and hit yourself over the head! Open a fire hydrant, stick your face in it, and water-cannon yourself! Take a hot pepper and stick it in your eye! Shut down the streets of your neighborhood and trap your neighbors in their homes—and charge them money for it! Then give yourself a medal for being such a good citizen!
Bild directed people to a fund supporting the officers who were in Hamburg. It’s not enough that your taxes already go to pay for these thugs to run around beating and gassing people—apparently they deserve even more of your money. Maybe someone should organize “Solidarity with the G20 Leaders” too, so we can all give Donald Trump additional donations out of our own pockets? Surely the billionaires and the cops who serve them won’t have enough money until every single officer can drive around in a water cannon of his own, dousing the world in pepper spray!
Elsewhere in Bild, we learn that nearly 500 policemen were injured during the G20. This is pure mendacity: it came out immediately after that the number was only 231 officers, only 21 of whom couldn’t continue performing their duties. This statistic includes 130 officers from Hessen who exposed themselves to their own gas. We are supposed to feel sympathy for officers who hurt themselves with the same weapon they were inflicting on everyone else, even though they were the only ones with taxpayer-funded protective gear.
As for the 101 officers not included in the Hessen group—have you ever heard of offensive injuries? It would be interesting to learn how many of the 101 injured officers hurt themselves while punching, beating, or chasing demonstrators—and how many of them were injured by “friendly fire” from other police officers. And again, they were all protected by many thousands of euros worth of body armor, unlike the victims of their attacks.
In any case, if it’s so dangerous to run around gassing and brutalizing a mostly unarmed population, perhaps the answer is—don’t. If the authorities really cared about these officers, they wouldn’t make them beat up civilians in the first place.
The same dishonest Bild article interviews an officer who says he slept less than an hour for two nights during the G20 protests. The wonder is that any of these officers ever can sleep! If the rest of us sold ourselves as mercenaries to beat and humiliate civilians, our consciences would keep us up all night, every night.
Here we see the torturer expecting sympathy for a hangnail while he tightens the thumbscrews—the Grand Inquisitor complaining that he has burned his finger while setting fire to a witch. Sure, it’s hard work being an asshole to people all the time—but you don’t have to do it.
The fact is, though, that the world of the G20 would not be possible without violence like this. You can’t force an extremely unpopular order on people without tear gas and water cannons. The police violence in Hamburg shows that Merkel and Macron do not really represent an alternative to Trump, Putin, and Erdogan. All of them rely on the same police tactics, the same exertion of brute force. The experience on the receiving end of each of their governments is increasingly identical: escalating surveillance, control, and brutality.
So the question is: when you see storm troopers assaulting people, do you identify with the storm troopers or the people? This is the most fundamental political question of the 21st century. On one side, this question gathers together politicians and pundits of all stripes alongside policemen and outright fascists. On the other, it gathers anarchists, rebels, and ordinary people who don’t wish to see tyranny in the streets.
The lines are drawn.
“Fenster klirren und ihr schreit. Menschen sterben und ihr schweigt!”
Windows break and you cry. People die and you remain silent!
Thanks to our comrades in Unicorn Riot for some of the above footage.
„Solidarität mit der Polizei“
Über die Ausreden, die die Polizeigewalt in Hamburg legitimieren sollen.
[Video und Fotos findet ihr weiter oben im Text.]
Wenn die Regierung 20.000 Polizist_innen in einer Stadt versammelt, um Demonstrationen mit Gewalt zu unterdrücken und die Menschen sich in Reaktion darauf verteidigen, braucht es schon eine ordentlich faschistoide Grundhaltung, um zu argumentieren, dass das Problem der „Linksextremismus“ ist. Dies ist schierer Opportunismus. Die verwendete Strategie ist einfach: verbreite Angst, terrorisiere die Bevölkerung und wenn es jemand wagt Widerstand zu leisten, dann verwende dies als einen Vorwand, um noch mehr gewalttätige Repression zu fordern. Jede_r, die/der in Hamburg war, weiß, dass es die Polizei war, die zuerst zugeschlagen hat, als sie fast eine Woche vor Beginn des G20-Gipfels grundlos Übergriffe durchführte.
Sicher, einige Anarchist_innen und andere Gegner_innen des Totalitarismus waren von außerhalb angereist, um die lokalen Vorbereitungen gegen den G20-Gipfel zu unterstützen. Viele Menschen betrachteten es als ungerecht, dass der Gipfel einer Stadt aufgezwungen wurde, die ihn nicht wollte – ein typisches Beispiel dafür, wie das Regelwerk der G20 unwilligen Bevölkerungen aufgezwungen wird. Und nachdem mensch die Polizeiarbeit während des G20 sehen konnte, wer könnte es jemandem übel nehmen, Solidarität mit den Bewohner_innen Hamburgs zeigen zu wollen?
Aber – hätten tausend „Linksextremisten“, bewaffnet mit nichts als den Steinen unter ihren Füßen, 20.000 von Kopf bis Fuß gepanzerte und mit Wasserwerfern ausgerüstete Polizist_innen besiegen können? Selbstverständlich nicht. Es brauchte zehntausende von Menschen, um die Polizei zurückzudrängen – und eine große Anzahl von ihnen waren Hamburger Bürger_innen, und keine „Linksextremisten“. Auch wenn einige Menschen mit der Absicht zu den Demonstrationen gekommen waren Dinge zu zerstören, konnte sich die Lage nur so weit zuspitzen, weil so viele „normale Menschen“ mitgemacht haben.
Viele der Menschen, die an den Kämpfen in Hamburg teilgenommen haben, sind nicht als erklärte Gegner_innen der Polizei zum G20 gekommen. Erst als sie die Gewalt und das unfaire Verhalten der Polizei am Donnerstag, den 6 Juli sahen, verstanden sie, dass sie sich für eine Seite entscheiden mussten. Deshalb war der Widerstand am Freitag, den 7. Juli, in der zweiten Nacht der Zusammenstöße so viel stärker. Samstag Nacht, am Ende des 8. Juli, hatten die meisten Aktivist_innen bereits die Straßen verlassen und nur die Hamburger_innen, die in den vorangegangenen 48 Stunden in den Konflikt gezogen worden waren, blieben noch übrig.
Trotz all dessen versuchen Politiker_innen, Mainstreammedien und Rechtspopulisten die Reaktionen, die durch die unbarmherzige polizeiliche Repression hervorgerufen wurden, zu verwenden, um eben diese Repression im Nachhinein zu rechtfertigen. Der Bürgermeister Hamburgs Olaf Scholz ging sogar so weit zu behaupten, dass es keine Polizeigewalt gegeben habe. Sie lügen dich unverblümt an: zynischer weise gehen sie davon aus, dass du nicht in Hamburg warst und dass du alles glauben wirst, was sie dir erzählen. Zum Beispiel wissen alle, die in der Nacht des 7. Juli im Schanzenviertel waren, als die Polizei für ein paar Stunden aus dem Viertel gedrängt wurde, dass es innerhalb der Barrikaden viel sicherer war als in den Stadtteilen, in denen die Polizei weiterhin Menschen angegriffen hat. Als die Polizei zurück in das Viertel kam, berichten Sanitäter_innen davon, dass sie und die Verletzen, die sie gerade in einem Haus versorgten, mit scharfen Waffen bedroht wurden. Nichtsdestotrotz: wenn Politiker_innen und Mainstreammedien von „Gewalt“ sprechen, meinen sie damit nicht Polizisten die drohen Leute zu erschießen. Sie meinen auch nicht Tränengasgranaten, Wasserwerfer, Pfefferspray, Polizeikessel oder Polizist_innen, die Gefangene schlagen. Sie meinen die Reaktionen der Menschen auf diese Dinge.
In diesem Sinne nannte die konservative Bild die Polizei „Helden“, um ihren fragwürdigen öffentlichen Dienst zu würdigen, bei dem sie jeden Befehl, Menschen brutal anzugreifen, ausführten, um ihr Gehalt zu erhalten – und forderte ihre Leser_innen dazu auf „Solidarität mit der Polizei“ zu zeigen.
Solidarität mit der Polizei! Nimm einen Knüppel und verprügle dich selbst! Öffne einen Hydrant, halte dein Gesicht rein und spiele Wasserwerfer! Nimm scharfes Chili und reibe es dir ins Auge! Lege die Straßen in deiner Nachbarschaft still, halte deine Nachbar_innen in ihren Häusern gefangen – und verlange dafür Geld! Und dann überreiche dir selbst eine Medaille dafür, dass du so ein guter Bürger bist!
Die Bild animierte ihre Leser_innen dazu Geld für die Polizei zu sammeln. Es scheint also nicht ausreichend zu sein, dass diese Schläger, die herum rennen und Leute schlagen und einpfeffern, bereits von deinen Steuern bezahlt werden – nein, sie verdienen anscheinend sogar noch mehr Geld. Vielleicht sollte noch wer eine Solidaritätskampagne mit den G20 AnführerInnen organisieren, damit wir alle Donald Trump noch ein bisschen extra Geld aus unserer eigenen Tasche geben können? Sicher werden die Milliardäre und die ihnen dienenden Polizisten nicht genug Geld haben, bis jeder einzelne Cop in seinem eigenen Wasserwerfer durch die Gegend fahren und die Welt in Pfefferspray einnebeln kann.
An anderer Stelle in der Bild erfahren wir, dass fast 500 Polizist_innen während des G20 verletzt wurden. Das ist eine reine Lüge: relativ schnell kam heraus, dass es sich nur um 231 verletzte Polizist_innen handelte, von denen nur 21 nicht direkt wieder ihre Pflicht ausüben konnten. In dieser Statistik sind zudem 130 Polizisten aus Hessen enthalten, die in ihr eigenes Gas rannten. Es wird nun Mitgefühl von uns erwartet für Polizisten, die sich mit den selben Waffen verletzen, die sie gegen alle anderen anwenden, wobei sie die einzigen sind, die staatlich bezahlte Schutzkleidung dagegen trugen!
Was ist mit den anderen 101 verletzten Polizist_innen? Es wäre spannend zu erfahren wie viele davon sich selbst beim Schlagen, Treten oder auf der Jagd nach Demonstrant_innen verletzt haben – und wie viele von denen durch „friendly fire“ ihrer Kollegen verletzt wurden. Und nochmal: dabei waren sie alle durch eine mehrere tausend Euro teure Ausrüstung geschützt, im Gegensatz zu den Opfern ihrer Angriffe.
In jedem Fall – wenn es so gefährlich ist, herum zu rennen und eine größtenteils unbewaffnete Bevölkerung brutal einzupfeffern und einzuschüchtern, dann wäre es vielleicht besser es einfach bleiben zu lassen. Wenn die Autoritäten wirklich um das Wohlergehen ihrer Beamten besorgt wären, dann hätten sie sie vielleicht nicht dazu bringen sollen die Zivilbevölkerung zusammen zuschlagen.
Die selbe verlogene Bild interviewt einen Polizisten, der angibt während der G20 Proteste nur eine Stunde in zwei Nächten geschlafen zu haben. Das wirklich verwunderliche daran ist, dass überhaupt einer dieser Polizisten je schlafen kann! Wenn sich irgendeine_r von uns als Söldner_in verkaufen würde und dann die Zivilbevölkerung schlagen und demütigen müsste, würde unser Gewissen dafür sorgen, dass wir kein Auge mehr zu kriegen, in keiner Nacht.
Wir können hier die Folterknechte dabei beobachten wie sie Sympathien für einen Nietnagel beim zuschrauben der Daumenschraube erwarten – den großen Inquisitor, der sich darüber beschwert sich beim Anzünden einer Hexe den Finger verbrannt zu haben. Sicherlich ist es ein harter Job, wenn mensch die ganze Zeit ein Arschloch zu allen sein muss – aber niemand muss Bulle sein.
Es steht fest, dass die Welt der G20 ohne Gewalt wie diese gar nicht erst möglich wäre. Es lässt sich keine äußerst unpopuläre Ordnung ohne Tränengas und Wasserwerfer aufzwingen. Die Polizeigewalt in Hamburg hat gezeigt, dass Merkel und Macron keine wirkliche Alternative zu Trump, Putin und Erdogan darstellen. Sie alle verlassen sich auf die selben Polizeitaktiken, auf die Ausübung brutaler Gewalt. Die Erfahrungen auf der Empfängerseite ihrer Regierungen werden immer identischer: steigende Überwachung, Kontrolle und Brutalität.
Also – wenn du siehst wie Sturmtruppen Menschen verletzen, identifizierst du dich dann mit den Sturmtruppen oder den Menschen? Dies ist eine der wesentlichen politischen Fragen des 21. Jahrhunderts. Auf der einen Seite versammelt diese Frage Politiker_innen und Expert_innen aller Richtungen, zusammen mit Polizisten und erklärten FaschistInnen. Auf der anderen Seite versammelt sie Anarchist_innen, Rebellen und gewöhnliche Menschen, die die Tyrannei auf der Straße ablehnen.
Die Fronten sind klar.
“Fenster klirren und ihr schreit, Menschen sterben und ihr schweigt!”
“Dear citizens, this is your police,” proclaimed a loudspeaker from behind a line of armored water cannons on Friday afternoon, July 7. A handful of unarmed young people dressed in bright colors were playing with an inflatable protest prop in the middle of an intersection on Willy-Brandt-Strasse over a kilometer away from the site of the G20 summit. A moment later, the water cannons attacked, knocking people down under the force of the blast. This scene played out again and again throughout the week, as over-equipped police bullied and terrorized the population of Hamburg. These are your police.
The next day, during Saturday’s peaceful, permitted demonstration, the police once more could not restrain themselves. After the march, as tens of thousands of people danced, shared free food, and listened to speakers at Millerntorplatz, a line of water cannons and riot police on Helgoländer Allee yet again attacked the crowd with jets of water. Detachments of fully-armored riot police pushed into the crowd, helmets on, weapons at the ready, prepared to violently assault anyone in their path.
At moments like this, when an occupying army attacks a peaceful population without provocation, it’s clear who the enemy is. For many people throughout the world, this is not an exception that takes place during a summit like the G20, but their ordinary day-to-day experience of police. At Millerntorplatz, the crowd was able to immobilize the riot police, surrounding them to block their path and sitting down in front of the water cannons to protect the rest of the demonstration from them. Yet police are not always so easily deterred, especially when they are dealing with demographics that lack social power or acting under cover of darkness. Later on the night of July 8, when the police attempted to reassert their supremacy in the Schanze neighborhood, witnesses saw a policeman snatch a full bottle of beer from an ordinary bar patron and break it over his head. Peacefully sitting down in front of them is not always enough to keep them at bay.
Countless events like this took place last week. This is why people mobilized to defend themselves and Hamburg in general from the invasion of riot police: not just because of specific excesses associated with the G20 summit, but in response to the structural role police play in imposing an oppressive social order characterized by tremendous imbalances in power.
The role of the police is to impose this order at any price. They don’t just “maintain order,” as if order were some neutral state of affairs; they enforce a particular order, a particular set of power relations. This is the link between the G20 and police brutality: they are different aspects of the same social structure, viewed at different levels of scale. To counter the disproportionate control that the G20 leaders have over all of our lives, it is necessary to be able to face down the police.
Both the G20 leaders and their flunkies in uniform tell us that the order they enforce is for our own good, and some of us are naïve enough to believe this. Every monarch in history told his subjects the same thing—so did Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, and the perpetrators of the Inquisition. The most basic principle of a free society is that no one else is entitled to decide for us what is good for us; we have to be free to decide this for ourselves. By protecting the privileges of the super-rich and imposing the agendas of politicians, police deny us the resources and space to live our lives on our own terms, chipping away at our liberties until all that remains to us is to choose which products to numb ourselves with.
As the technologies available to the police have become more and more complex, this process has accelerated. In the movie Terminator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, released in the Orwellian year 1984, the future is imagined as a war in which artificial intelligence conducts military operations to wipe out humanity. Yet just as it is still cheaper (in the era of “surplus humanity”) to employ cheap human labor in sweatshops than to fully automate the factories, rather than killer robots, we are seeing human beings integrated into a vast inhuman repressive apparatus. Each police officer is a bit of fragile flesh within a machine of metal, roboticized inside as well as outside; if you peer through the visor of his helmet, you see the human inside, his personality almost entirely swallowed up by the machine, his sense of personal responsibility abdicated. The rank and file officers are still recognizable as human beings, albeit dissociated ones; the officers serving in the special forces vanish entirely within their Robocop uniforms.
In this context, the only hope for humanity lies in creating spaces beyond the control of the police, in which we can renegotiate our relations without their interference. This is why the police-free zone that Hamburg locals and other demonstrators created in the Schanze neighborhood on Friday night was such a victory.
Some have criticized the rioters who barricaded the Schanze district and drove out the police for hours as being “apolitical,” engaging in “mindless chaos.” On the contrary, nothing is more political than to create such a space like this, in which we may once again become the protagonists of our social and political lives, rather than the authorities imposing their order on us. For those who value freedom, nothing is more pressing than to experiment with how to create such spaces, developing tactics that can face down the violence of the state.
Anyone who was inside the Schanze district during those hours of freedom knows it was considerably less violent than the areas of Hamburg in which the police were charging, beating, gassing, spraying, and water-cannoning people. The violence of people struggling against their oppressors cannot compare to the militarized state violence of an occupying force like the police who were concentrated in Hamburg from all around Germany.
The far right will take advantage of the events of July 7 to pass more repressive laws and invest still more resources and legitimacy in the police. We have to respond by working hard to delegitimize the police in the public eye and explaining why people would throw off their control. They cannot succeed in repressing us if we continue to emulate the model that people courageously demonstrated in Hamburg; they will only succeed if we rely on laws and politicians to protect our rights, ceding them legitimacy and power over us.
There remains room for improvement, of course. So much effort went into pushing back the police and destabilizing their control of downtown Hamburg that there was little energy left to make something beautiful happen in the liberated area that opened up. Yes, a couple shops were looted, and people painted art on the walls, but we have to demonstrate the world we wish to create, so people will be able to understand what we are aiming for when we oppose those who currently control our world. This is not simply a reactive project, in which we respond to the initiatives of the authorities and throw off the existing forms of law and order—it must be a fundamentally creative endeavor, in which we illuminate new paths, new possibilities. Next time people open up a police-free zone, let’s fill it with the lives we all deserve.
We welcome field reports, footage, and updates. Send them to us at G20@crimethinc.com—we’ll sift through them, fact-check them, and blast them out into the world.
The first urban clashes ahead of the G20 summit broke out in downtown Hamburg on Tuesday, July 4. Organizers had attempted to establish a campsite for out-of-town demonstrators in Enterwerder Park, but despite receiving permission from the highest court in the land, police blocked access to the park, then carried out a brutal raid, with the police president declaring “On the streets of Hamburg, we are the sole authority.” In response, demonstrators fanned out into Hamburg, occupying several more parks and other venues. After police raided one of these additional camps, a spontaneous march took the streets, ultimately precipitating confrontations between large crowds that blocked some of Hamburg’s main thoroughfares while armored water cannons and troops of riot police attacked them.
Walking through downtown Hamburg as the clashes died down, one could see “NO G20” graffiti everywhere. Stores that one would otherwise not suspect of anti-capitalist sentiments prominently displayed signs proclaiming “NO G20: Spare Our Shop!” In one small park in the midst of a gentrifying bar district, demonstrators gathered around a fire in the middle of the city, surrounded by tents and banners expressing opposition to the G20 and to capitalism in general. Despite the riot vans parked by the dozen at every intersection, despite the companies of riot police marching huffily back and forth, no amount of coercive violence could legitimize the G20 or the kind of policing required to force capitalism on an increasingly restless population. Something has to give.
It’s that time of year again, when jingoism reigns supreme and bootlicking chauvinists congratulate themselves on a revolution they didn’t participate in and that didn’t go far enough in the first place. If you want to learn about the xenophobic roots of the United States, check out our guide to nativism—but if you want another perspective on how to observe this national holiday, enjoy The CrimethInc. Guide to Celebrating the Fourth of July. Strictly for entertainment purposes, you understand.
The week of demonstrations against the G20 summit in Hamburg got off to a telling start on Sunday. A lengthy court battle culminated with the highest court in Germany upholding the right of the anticapitalist camp to set up in Hamburg. Yet when they attempted to do so, the police blocked access to the park, directly violating the court ruling, then carried out a brutal raid in which several hundred riot police surrounded and brutalized campers and confiscated their belongings. The following firsthand account illustrates the world that the G20 summit in Hamburg represents—a world in which “peaceful protest” and court proceedings exist only to distract the naïve, while the whims of security forces are the law of the land. No wonder people are preparing to resist the G20.
What Happened at Enterwerder Park
The passive demonstration that nonprofit groups organized for Sunday was explicitly not directed at the G20 rulers but only at their policies—as if mere sign-holding could possibly have any influence on state policy. The real demonstrations are scheduled to take place later this week during the summit itself.
The original group that had formed to organize a campsite for protesters during the G20 summit had split along similar lines, with the group that was afraid of anything that smacked of “violence” or opposition to capitalism accepting a purely symbolic site far away from central Hamburg, while the other group continued to push for a place in Hamburg proper. The latter group had apparently won, with Germany’s highest court ruling in their favor.
We arrive at Enterwerder Park in late afternoon. Hundreds of hopeful campers are gathered at the gates of the park, kept out by lines of police in heavy riot gear. The police have filled the area with armored vans, blocking the roads, stopping and immobilizing vehicles belonging to prospective campers and anyone else they consider suspicious. The campers have set up a temporary gathering at the gates, serving delicious goulash to whoever wants it and conferring about what to do. There is considerable outrage about the police defying the orders that the court gave to let us into the park, but no one has any particular idea what to do. Despite police rhetoric about “violence” and “rioters,” none of us came prepared for a confrontation.
There’s no point in trying to discuss it with the officers themselves. Their expressions are blank: their vacant eyes look through us as if we are not there at all. Recruiting advertisements on the armored vans depict hip young Germans with androgynous haircuts, their fresh faces strangely cruel and disinterested. I catch my comrades’ attention: “BEFORE,” I suggest, pointing to the fresh faces on the posters; “AFTER,” I conclude, pointing to a grizzled senior officer whose haunted visage illustrates the impact of a lifetime of obeying orders.
The police keep clamping down, establishing new control points along the road to the gate. They set up blockades multiple lines deep to prevent anyone from carrying more food to the aspiring campers at the gate—apparently someone was throwing apples over their heads so the campers wouldn’t go hungry. Fucking terrorists!
One local confides to me that although police will be present this week from all over Germany, these are the local Hamburg police. She knows them personally from attending demonstrations here—one of them broke her jaw, then made a point of beating her again at a subsequent demonstration.
We fan out into the area to look for other delivery routes to the assembly around the gate. In fact, there are several ways the police haven’t noticed. Rather than concentrating on the places they are blocking or sitting around apathetically, we should be looking for the margins, the edges beyond their awareness. They can never control everything completely.
However, when we finally return to the front of the park, the police have stood down. The officers who are standing to the side of the gates in small groups look somewhat sheepish as campers walk joyously past them. Has the chief of police relented, agreeing to abide by the court decision after all? We applaud as one of the trucks loaded with supplies passes through the gate. The drivers had been waiting for several hours, surrounded by lines of riot police.
Cheerful campers who have already set up large tents pick them up together, a person at each pole, so the tents themselves stroll across the threshold of the gate and into the park. This is the genial, animated world we hope to build.
Walking into the park, we pass dozens more armored vans and several more full squadrons of riot police in formation. It is beginning to dawn on us just how many of them are concentrated here. Groups of them surround the field in the park that will serve as our campsite. Nonetheless, the mood is festive as people set up the area. The practical-minded German protesters have prepared quite a bit of construction material. We eat and talk and compare notes together, speculating about what the week will bring.
As night begins to fall, groups of police withdraw from the field to the single road leading to the gate through which we entered. Are they leaving, finally? Will the campers finally be able to relax and get a little rest?
No—they’re not leaving. They’re massing at the end of the field, on the path leading to the gate.
Some of us go over to take a look. There are hundreds of them now, identical in their armor, line after line after line. Guns and batons and pepper spray hang at their sides. Each is dressed head to toe in thousands of euros worth of state-of-the-art protective gear, paid for by dutiful taxpayers who are not particularly curious about what Deutschland is doing with all their hard-earned income. The officers in the back have already put on their helmets.
They pull an armored van with a public address system on it to the front of their lines. People with medical conditions or histories of personal trauma are panicking as they try to figure out how to leave the park. The rest of us move towards the front. No one is eager to get arrested so early in the week, but we know that if we show any fear now, the police will be emboldened to bully and attack demonstrators all week long. We are not choosing whether to defend a campsite—we’re choosing whether to defend our capacity to demonstrate at all. If we don’t accept the gauntlet they’re throwing down, we will give away our freedom.
An announcement comes screeching through the speakers atop the police van: a man with a high-pitched, nasal voice is threatening us. People whistle and shout back at him. A camper makes a counter-announcement from the truck with the sound system in it and people cheer.
The police make a second announcement. The tension is thick in the darkening gloom: are we all going to jail? To the hospital? Then they make a third announcement, and the stormtroopers come marching in. We hear the sickening thud of their boots treading the ground in unison.
We mass around the sound truck and the tents, forming lines of our own. The police march around us, encircling us, and then they close in. They reach the sound truck, physically attacking the people around it. The chaos is disorienting—the shouting, the sound of people being beaten and pepper sprayed around us.
There is a person in the back of the sound truck where the sound system is. One officer sprays him full in the face with pepper spray, then the police grab him, pull him out of the truck, and throw him to the ground. Several officers crowd around him, kicking him over and over with their heavy boots. They kick him in the ribs, in the knees, in the neck, in the head. They do this calmly, robotically, and then they leave him on the ground, blinded, gasping, and contorted in pain.
They do not make any move to arrest him. Like the rest of the campers, he has not committed any crime.
Medics rush those of the injured who have managed to escape out of the police cordon. Ambulances pull up, anticipating serious or permanent injuries. Police wave around cameras on poles equipped with blinding searchlights. “Why are you filming?” shouts one camper.
“We’re not filming,” answers the officer flourishing the camera.
An eternity and a half hour later, the police march back in formation, half a dozen tents in their possession. All this to terrorize demonstrators, to show that brute force alone is all that counts in Hamburg.
Welcome to Hell, Indeed
“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” – George Orwell, 1984
The police seek to realize a vision of hell on earth. In the cosmology they represent, all humanity is suspect, guilty of potential insubordination, and only the constant threat of violence can keep us in line. Free will is a liability in a world in which the only conceivable purpose is to follow orders in return for a paycheck, so that everyone can be controlled and punished. Police are the murderers of freedom.
The worst thing about police is that they seek to strip us of the ability to imagine anything other than the reality they represent and impose. That is why it is worth it to them to spend millions of euros on an operation to seize a handful of tents. When they attack us—when they beat us with fists or batons, when they pepper-spray us, tear-gas us, or Taser us, when they shoot at us with concussion grenades, rubber bullets, marker rounds, or live ammunition—the real target of their assault is not our bodies, but our faith in humanity. They seek to bludgeon out of us any hope that human beings could relate on equal terms, leaving only the ugly equation of authority, obedience, and violence. They represent the very worst our species is capable of—pure mercenary indifference—and they hope to make this exception into the norm.
This is not surprising. Their lies about “human nature” offer the only narrative that could possibly excuse their conduct. For our part, we know that human nature, if there is such a thing, is broad enough to include many possibilities, many different ways of being and relating.
The masters of these police—the leaders of the G20, who will be meeting in Hamburg this week—represent a political class that no longer has any idea how to respond to the problems of our time except with greater and greater exertions of coercive force. There is no longer any pretense that we are moving towards a free and beautiful future, but rather a climate-change catastrophe torn by civil wars, divided between dictatorships and increasingly flimsy pretenses of democracy. This is why the G20 leaders are increasingly reliant on the police forces, to the extent of letting them dictate state policy in defiance of court orders. Without the representatives of brute force on their side, the ruling class is sunk, and they know it.
In this sense, the police state has already arrived.
When Donald Trump explicitly endorses violence against journalists and other Republican politicians carry it out, it is clear enough that the gloves have come off. In nations that still pride themselves on being democratic, such politicians—and their apologists, some of whom pose as their adversaries—will attempt to convince protesters that the only way to be “democratic” themselves is to obey the laws and passively accept whatever impositions the police make, while the authorities themselves hasten towards the rule of pure force. If they succeed in convincing us to be passive, the future will assuredly be unmitigated tyranny.
Make no mistake: if there are clashes in Hamburg this week, if anyone sees fit to defend herself or himself from the tens of thousands of police officers that have assembled here to brutalize all who will not slavishly consent to their rule, the fault lies with the so-called forces of order. They started it with their unprovoked attack on the camp at Enterwerder Park, they started it by treating Hamburg as a training ground to practice mass police brutality, they started it by training and assembling all these thugs in the first place.
The demonstrators against the G20 are fighting for their lives. They are fighting for all of our lives, for the world that we all share together—and they are fighting out of the kindness of their hearts. On the other side of the lines, we see the police abdicating responsibility for their actions in return for thirty pieces of silver. Anything anyone can do to resist them, to disrupt their strategies for world domination and carve out spaces of freedom, is loyalty to what is best in humanity.
Yet the transformations we seek will not be won simply in symmetrical clashes with police and fascists. Above all, we have to make it possible to believe in what is freest and most beautiful in our species, even as the authorities strive to conceal it. We have to make our dreams contagious, so that one day the police will find themselves surrounded and isolated, the last ones who still subscribe to their hideous program. We have to make spaces of joy and healing in which they, too, might one day shed their shameful skins and become something beautiful and free.
Postscript: A Note on Strategy
The park was a trap. The police did not let us in because the court had ruled that we had a right to be there, but only so that they could surround, contain, and brutalize us.
Perhaps we should have stayed outside the police lines. When a huge number of police are available to the state, as during this G20 summit, it doesn’t pay to let them surround us. It’s better to remain at the margins of their zones of control, always forcing them to expand further, spreading their resources thinner and creating situations in which they can’t help but antagonize the general population. At the edge of their range of control, our smaller numbers are not a problem—on the contrary, they can make it harder to track us, harder to predict what we will do next. When the authorities have to keep controlling ever wider areas, their bulk and force become liabilities, burdening them and provoking the public, drawing additional demographics and variables into the conflict.
This strategy of spreading out their area of concentration worked during the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, when protesters set out to cross the city in the opposite direction from the walls of riot police surrounding the meetings. When the police realized what was going on and mobilized, attempting to establish control throughout large swathes of the city, they ended up turning the people of Pittsburgh against them, precipitating a series of new clashes in which business districts were demolished, the police lost legitimacy in the public eye, and many who had previously been outside the clashes were politicized.
If, rather than filing into the camp, we had remained at the edges, we might have accomplished some of the same things. At the least, we might have been able to draw the focus of the police away from assaulting the hapless campers. There was only a single entry point into the park for all those riot vans—had we blocked it, they surely would have been forced to shift their attention from the camp to the city around them, a hostile territory that wants no part of their summit and experiences them as an occupying force.
Perhaps these reflections can be of use over the coming days.
Ten years ago, Hamburg, Rostock, and the woods around the tiny German town of Heiligendamm witnessed massive confrontations as anarchists and other rebels attempted to interrupt and delegitimize the summit of the world’s eight most powerful nations. As the 2017 G20 Summit looms in Hamburg this July, we revisit the demonstrations that took place against the G8 summit in 2007—to seek strategic insights, study how the terrain has changed, and illustrate what it is like to lead lives of passionate resistance.
This is a revision of a text that originally appeared in Rolling Thunder #5, augmented with additional resources.
Hamburg, May 28: Preludes to Summits
Finally, something was happening.
After linking arms in flanks for five hours straight in a huge permitted march, we were getting antsy. This was the first major demonstration in the buildup to the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, and everyone wanted to start it off right. The city of Hamburg needed to send a message to the world that they had the “violent demonstrators” under control. The protesters wanted to tear the city apart, to show the G8 leaders that they were not welcome and that anyone who tries to host them will have to pay. With a thousand black-clad anarchists in the front and thousands of others behind, the tension was thick. Screaming “fight the system, fight the state, fight capitalism, fight G8,” the demonstrators were not willing to compromise their vision or momentum. But who would provoke whom first? Would the cops use the water cannons? Would the anarchists break through their lines and go off the script?
For two years, the German autonomous movement and the Dissent Network in particular organized from the USA to Turkey for one week of action. The stakes had never been higher: the “War on Terror” had cast a deathly pall over the worldwide struggle against capitalism and the state, but at the 2007 G8 anarchists and autonomists hoped to seize the stage of history by scoring a decisive victory against capital.
The modern incarnation of the Autonomen1 in Germany is distinctly anarchist, mostly young, and very, very punk. Even though the movement had been in disarray over the preceding years, the arrival of the G8, combined with the police raids in early May on anti-G8 centers of activity, united the usually divided and overly self-critical autonomist movement. To the chagrin of the police, the raids also backfired in the popular press; most of the media and even much of the public came over to the side of the dissidents. Furthermore, in “Red” Hamburg, the home of insurrections, pirates, and the world-renowned anti-fascist football league St. Pauli, it is hard to distinguish locals from the Black Bloc in the streets.
Move swiftly. Stop. Fight a bit. Grab something. Then run. Turn around. Watch out for the Snatch Squad. Which ones are they? Wearing all black with red diamonds on their back. Damn, there they are. They’re gonna try and grab us. Move! But who are those pigs? Don’t worry, it’s just the green team. Green team? Yeah, green uniforms, they’re like the National Guard. They won’t arrest you, they’ll just tussle a bit. And them? Who? The darker green and dark blue. Oh them, well, they’re here to stop you. Be careful—Shhhhhhh. What? Be quiet, they’re looking for us. OK, hold it… hold it… NOW!
The police were nervous, and rightfully so. For months, cars belonging to German officials related to the G8 had been burned in the streets. As the mobilization got going, internationals were streaming into the well-run convergence center in Hamburg, the two-decade-running squat Rote Flora. The police wanted nothing more than to release their inner fascists and ruthlessly clear the streets of all protesters. But due to factors such as public opinion and their brutality backfiring on them in the courts, the police could not simply beat protesters without pretext. Instead, they could only vent their frustration with an anal-retentive attention to detail about the smallest of the rules regarding banner size, demonstrators masking up, and so on: like a hybrid of the SS and school-crossing guards, they stopped demonstrations for up to thirty minutes or more for the most minor infractions of their rules.
This causes almost any march in Germany, including the march in Hamburg, to be an exercise in frustration, a chess game in which both sides try to bend, but not break, the rules through a strict process of negotiation—that is, at least until breaking the rules is advantageous. While marching, German anarchists more or less engage the police in careful negotiations until the permitted demonstration gets as close to the desired location as possible—such as a financial district, a fascist demonstration, or in this case the EU-ASEM Summit meeting in the town hall—and then all bets are off. After that, they often charge police lines, attempting to escape off the official route as a bloc or break into small affinity groups to build barricades and attack police cars—which is precisely what the march in Hamburg did.
As the melee between protestors and cops spread down the street, people started to hop a small fence into the parking lot of the soccer stadium. Soccer in Hamburg is a big deal; St. Pauli, the local team, is world-renowned for drawing some of the most anti-fascist hooligans in the world. I looked around and saw that we were in an enclosed space with few exits. It seemed only a matter of time before the police trapped us in this parking lot and beat us until we could be mass-arrested—so I hopped the fence into the stadium.
I’m short, so the climb was a little difficult, and I fell ungracefully over the fence—but when I looked up I found myself in a German teen anarchist’s dream-come-true: I’d escaped a police riot into the caring arms of the St. Pauli soccer team! Imagine running around Seattle during the WTO protests, air full of tear gas and the anguish of protestors being beaten by police, and opening a door to find yourself safely inside Rage Against the Machine’s practice studio.
The team was finishing up a daily soccer practice when they were interrupted by my hooded, masked fall from the heavens. We looked at each other in silence before I asked… “ummm, can I stay here for a bit?”
“Of course—would you like something to eat?” They introduced themselves to me and told me to make myself at home. So I took off my mask and chowed down on their vegetable platters.
At the end of the march, Black Bloc affinity groups rampaged throughout the town, fighting police and wrecking cars; when the police chased everyone back to the convergence center at Rote Flora, even the locals began fighting back against the hated riot police. A giant banner reading “Total Freedom”—as opposed to any supposed freedom democracy or the State can offer—had sailed above the march. At the end, there were eighty-five arrests, but the rest of us were totally free.
They’ve surrounded the Rote Flora. What? The convergence center, you know, that huge squat. Are they going in? Not likely, I think they’ll get a beating if they try. Barricades are going up, let’s get behind them. The water cannons are coming out. Well, move. Down this alley! OK. Wait, are we all together? Close, too close. I know. We were gonna go back and get you. What? That’s insane, they would’ve grabbed you too. Hey look, they’re sending in more. Did they declare a state of emergency? I heard that too. Shit, there’s waves and waves of them. Back to the Flora? No, it’s not safe. OK, then disappear. Thousands of us in the march. Hundreds rampaging in the streets. About eighty-five arrested. Not bad for a start. No, not bad at all.
At one point in Hamburg, a police officer who had taken off his helmet and armor was caught alone outside his van as the riots closed in. In a moment reminiscent of the murder of Carlo Giuliani by a police officer at the G8 in Genoa, the officer drew his gun—but just as he raised it in the air, the back window of the van behind him exploded, struck by a projectile, and he retreated. Thrown bricks save lives.
Rostock June 2: Nocturnes for Capital
In 1998, at the very beginning of the so-called “anti-globalization” movement, the G8 met in Birmingham only to find themselves surrounded by 70,000 activists organized by various NGOs and a raging Reclaim the Streets party downtown. In fear, they fled Birmingham to a more tranquil manor. In 2001, the NGOs under the umbrella of the Genoa Social Forum organized a march straight to the forbidden Red Zone where the summit was taking place, and the whole city hosting that year’s G8 was consumed in flames.
But the powers that be learn from their mistakes; unable to beat the demonstrators, they joined them instead, to lead them astray. In Scotland in 2005, the bizarre menage-a-trois of Bono, Tony Blair, and “anti-globalization” NGOs created the “Make Poverty History” march. In this guise, they tricked the vast majority of protesters into showing up in white—the color of surrender!—and marching in a parade through the half-empty downtown of Edinburgh, far from the summit. The theme of the parade was begging the G8 leaders to take action on their behalf, the opposite of direct action. This government-organized farce was the symbolic inversion of their defeats in Birmingham and Genoa.
A mere two years later, the slogan was no longer “Make Poverty History,” but “Make Capitalism History”—and the team colors had changed to from white to black. The march in Rostock was organized by a broad alliance of groups ranging from the Interventionist Left to ATTAC, anarchists and reformists united. In stark contrast to the “Make Poverty History” march that attempted to provide a safe and legal alternative to direct action, “Make Capitalism History” explicitly endorsed blockading the G8. The fact that popular sentiment among the protesters was in favor of direct action was a triumph of organization and outreach by the Dissent Network, reflecting the delegitimization of the G8 in the popular imagination.
Like some strange suburban guerrilla army, the bloc gathered itself in the trees in front of the shopping center. At first, it was so small I could barely find it. After a few minutes, as I found one friend after another after another, it became clear there were thousands of us. We put on our masks—a mundane act elsewhere, but a tremendous step in Germany. In Scotland, all the white clothes had reminded me of the Scottish sheep our good shepherd, Capital, was fattening for slaughter. From the moment our black masks went up in Germany, we were not sheep but a pack of wolves.
However, pointless marches are still fundamentally pointless even if they endorse direct action and encourage their entourage to stop marching and start blockading the G8. Unlike the march to the Red Zone in Genoa, this was not a militant march, but a stroll to an anti-capitalist rock concert featuring musicians such as Tom Morello and Die Toten Hosen. The Nazis had been planning their own “anti-G8” rally in Schwerin, but the police canceled both the Nazi event and the anti-fascist counter-protest at the last minute—so most of the Black Bloc ended up in the middle of the Rostock march.
Neither the police nor the Black Bloc seemed to be expecting anything to happen at this march, as most people had thought the street battle was to going to be either later during the G8 itself or against Nazis in Schwerin. That gave the day a genuine element of surprise. Unlike Hamburg, where the police “kettled” the demonstration and contained it right up to the last minute, in this demonstration the police kept a safe distance from the march, instead massing on the streets paralleling the demonstration.
The march ends, and my elation drops into disappointment as, yet again, nothing has happened. My arms are locked with the members of my affinity group, ranging from an incredibly lanky and calm North American man to a small yet fierce Bulgarian woman. All armed with black flags, we’re at least making good pictures for the spectacle. In a second, everything changes. A line of cops charges the Bloc, batons swinging. The lines in front of us turn and run, nearly trampling us. If there’s one thing German anarchists are good at, it’s running from cops. Our black flags are useless in the face of the cop onslaught, and a few of us throw them at the cops. Separated from the rest of the affinity group, myself and my remaining partner join the fray. More well-prepared than myself, some clever anarchists begin using chisels to tear up the paving stones. It’s not what’s beneath the paving stones that counts sometimes, it’s the paving stones themselves.
At the end of the demonstration, the Bloc found itself running more or less without incident into the middle of the “Make Capitalism History” concert and merging with the crowd. What precisely happened next is unclear, but an altercation broke out with one of the small squadrons of Rostock cops that were being sent in at seemingly random intervals to maintain order. The tactic of keeping the main forces hidden on the side streets served the purpose of protecting downtown Rostock from being destroyed, but failed utterly in controlling the Bloc.
Every time a squadron of Polizei were sent in, little clusters of black would form and move towards the squadron, like the attraction of iron fillings to a magnet. When the squadron attempted to arrest someone or attack the crowd, the clusters of the Black Bloc would rain cobblestones and empty glass bottles upon the cops. The cops then blindly rushed into the crowd, resulting in the Bloc dispersing rapidly, a reversal of their earlier magnetic attraction to the cops. Then the bloc would slowly reform to rain projectiles onto the cops until they retreated, unable to weather such a torrent of rocks and empty beer bottles. After all, the riot was at a rock concert!
Scattered, the Bloc slowly regroups at the kiosk to prepare for a second charge. My partner is exhausted, but excited by the chance to try yet another attack we rush forward with the Bloc. Around me, I hear the sounds of windows smashing. Then, someone—a civil cop, I think—screams “Police!” The crowd panics, and in the chaos we lose each other. I look desperately for my partner. No luck. I begin pelting the cops with glass bottles, in attempt to drive them back so we can rejoin the rest of the Bloc. Gotta love German beer, or at least the bottles.
Did the crowd reject the Black Bloc, pushing them out and sacrificing them to the cops? While some pacifists tried to “de-escalate” the situation by raising their hands in front of the cops, for the most part the crowd was angered by the police and merged with the Black Bloc. As the bands played on, one singer got up and said over the microphone “This is not the spirit of Scotland, this is the spirit of Genoa!”—a statement of somewhat dubious value out of context, but clearly the speaker thought this “Spirit of Genoa” was a good thing and intended to express support for those fighting the cops. Cars were overturned and set afire, cops retreated, water cannons came out, and the bands played on as the crowd repulsed line after line of police charges—this was no Bono playing to complacent crowds at Live8. This was the redemptive spirit of Genoa—the spirit of resistance in the face of state violence, spreading like a virus through a crowd everyone had expected would just listen peacefully to the bands. The battle in Rostock was a victory like the inaugural protest against the G8 in Birmingham, and the spell that had been cast in Scotland to assimilate and pacify the “anti-globalization” movement was broken.
I step around a corner and see a line of cops standing guard next to the broken windows—so I hurl a glass bottle into the face of the closest officer. My bottle leaves my hand a few seconds too late, as the cops are already beginning a charge—although I do hear the satisfying shatter of the bottle against his helmet. Panicking, I turn to run, but a baton hits the nape of my neck and I fall to the asphalt.
Batons are beating my back and legs, gloved hands twisting my fingers and joints. I wrest my joints and hands free again and again, resolving to stay put as the cops pull my head up by my hair to take my picture. After some indeterminate amount of time, I see rocks and bottles soaring overhead. Black out. Darkness. Light. Then the impossible: there are no cops on top of me! The crowd has forced them to retreat! I stand up and run at breakneck speed away from the police and into the crowd, aiming for the only safe place within reach: the deck of the Greenpeace ship parked near the waterfront. Where’s my partner? Was she arrested? Hurt? Due to my reckless charge? I feel my soul collapse. Those who are not behind bars have to live with the consequences of their actions, and for the first time in my life I wish I had been caught.
Heiligendamm, June 6-7: Blockades Without End
After Genoa, the next G8 summit was moved the literal summit of a mountain in Evian, far from the urban terrain protesters have been accustomed to since the Paris Commune. This tactic of placing the meeting in a rural location inspired a new counter-tactic: spreading the blockades across miles and miles of difficult rural terrain. The summit site was hopelessly walled off, so the idea was to block the roads leading to and from it, so reporters and other sycophants couldn’t reach the gates.
Anarchy always has at least two faces: one of chaos and one of self-organization. If the streets of Hamburg and Rostock exemplified the beautiful chaos of our movement, the self-organization of Camp Reddelich showed the other. Transforming an empty field of grass next to a slaughterhouse into a thriving village in less than a week, anarchists of every stripe proved that they are capable of running their own lives without governments or capitalists, police or prisons. Antifascist, Queer, Yellow, and Internationalist barrios sprouted organically as if from the earth. Kitchens dotted the fields along with security towers, tool-making workshops, Indymedia centers, training tents, info-booths, trauma tents, anti-sexist spaces, and thousands of other tents, all providing the physical and emotional spaces for people to organize, strategize, evaluate, share, dance, and live free. This autonomous zone, mirrored by two other rural camps and multiple urban convergence centers across Germany, was the birthplace of a million secret plans.
Rural blockades require putting protesters in the countryside, so protest camps developed as a necessary prerequisite for large-scale rural direct action. In a step above the single camp at Stirling during the 2005 G8, hearkening back to the multiple camps at the 2003 G8 in Lausanne and Annemasse, the Dissent Network and the Interventionist Left set up three different camps. The first, Camp Rostock, was nearest to the city and held innumerable communists and NGO organizations—not to mention quite a few punks too drunk to get to other camps and a few clever anarchists who wanted some cover. The second, Camp Reddelich, was the closest to the “Red Zone,” and accordingly held almost entirely anarchists. The third, Camp Wichmannsdorf, was the domain of the more traditionally non-violent anti-nuclear blockaders—though in Germany, the line between the Black Bloc and non-violent civil disobedience against nuclear weapons is thin.
The camps were all incredibly well-functioning, with security shifts on watch-towers, self-organized canteens feeding thousands, anarchist-run bars (not serving the day before the blockades!), tents to deal with mainstream press, mobile Indymedia centres on wheels, endless conspiratorial meetings—and even showers! There was only one component missing: in the aftermath of Rostock, the alliance between the Interventionist Left and the autonomous movement started fraying, and the Dissent Network—perhaps having last minute qualms as the day of action approached—did not convene a public meeting about plans.
Raids were a constant worry at the camp and defensive measures were prepared in case of attack: barricades of scrap wood and metal, trenches to stop police vehicles, piles of bottles and rocks. The alarm was sounded one night at 3:30 a.m. when six vans pulled up to the front entrance and police in riot gear stepped out. The night watch rang the alarm and within three minutes a large black bloc had formed at the front gate. The vans left as quickly as they’d arrived and the camp returned to sleep.
From the helicopters’ perspective, we must have looked quite threatening. Groups of eight to twelve all over the camp were huddling in circles, poring endlessly over topographical maps and transportation routes. Whispers circulated in thirty languages from barrio to barrio about which intersections to target, how to get there, when to move on, whether to join the official blockades or form a suicide bloc to charge the gates. The bars and kitchens swarmed with international anti-capitalists debating past summit strategies, victories and failures, similarities to the present and new challenges. How would the sixteen thousand cops respond to a direct attack on the fence? To an attack on the police themselves? Which roads are still open? How can we get there? How will we hold them? Block G8 had a plan, but the insurrectionary anarchists didn’t—or if any of them did, at least no one would discuss it publicly. Paranoia filled the air and meetings got more and more clandestine, finally to a point at which the decentralization of knowledge was almost debilitating. Fuck it, we have to try something.
Earlier rural blockades in both Evian and Gleneagles had failed because they didn’t last more than a few hours and so could not actually “shut down” the summit. As one popular poster in Germany put it, Bewegen, Blockieren, Bleiben—“Move. Block. Remain.” That critical “remain” had been left out of previous summit attempts. The strategic change was not to blockade as either mobile blocs or small groups jumping in and out of the road, as at previous summits, but to mass as many people as possible in the roads near the main entrances to Heiligendamm to blockade them in a non-violent manner, staying until the police literally dragged people off. While previous blockades had aimed for small numbers and offered virtually no training, the “Block G8” campaign returned to the mass non-violence civil disobedience that was so crucial to success in Seattle but curiously and detrimentally absent at almost all subsequent summit protests. While the pacifist nature of this approach caused many of the “more-militant-than-thou” anarchists to mock it, the simplicity and accessibility of this approach enabled thousands of untrained Germans to join in the blockades.
Due to their long history of anti-nuclear Castor blockades, the German autonomous movement—unlike autonomous movements in places like Greece and the US—is experienced both at throwing rocks and erecting peaceful blockades. Internationals were bewildered as the Autonomen changed tactics from throwing rocks to sitting in streets for the day of blockades. When Block G8 moved into action on Wednesday, the cops more or less permitted it happen, much to the surprise of all—as they had quashed all demonstrations in the area after the riot in Rostock. Perhaps now that the G8 had officially begun, the police had to prove Germany was a civilized country without a near-fascist police force. Combined with Rostock, it was like a left punch of Black Bloc aggression followed by a right hook of colorful and effective blockades.
It wasn’t until I saw the multi-colored array of 5000 people marching in the bright green fields under a soft blue sky with helicopters above and police below that it hit me: we shouldn’t have underestimated the official blockades. Although the international anarchists and autonomists had decided against forming a militant presence at these blockades due to pressure from Block G8 organizers to remain nonviolent, there were still a number of us in black ready to throw down if necessary. As we tore through fields evading police lines, you could feel the growing excitement and power of the crowd. Breaking up into different columns to get past the police, we succeeded again and again in reaching the streets. Finally we saw it, the fence, with six layers of cops protecting it. Many hopped onto the main street and laid down immediately. The autonomous bloc started tearing down a barbed wire fence next to a forest that would serve as our escape route if necessary. The official organizers were scared and tried to dissuade us while the media captured their sexy images. The clowns played their games, the cops stood their ground, and everyone just sat there, waiting, for days.
Since the Block G8 campaign organized openly, it’s possible that the police knew the locations of the blockades and funneled all important delegates down another road, letting the protesters blockade the “main gates” to Heiligendamm. This raises the disturbing possibility that the G8 leaders are happy to allow the spectacle of a blockade to happen so long as it remains colorful, non-violent, and does not interrupt their actual operations. While the Block G8 plan and non-violence guidelines were mostly respected on Wednesday, on Thursday all bets were off.
Protesters swept across the fields of Heiligendamm and tried to blockade nearly every road. The day started off with a nearly comic attempt to repeat the “Suicide March” Black Bloc that was so successful at Gleneagles during the 2005 G8. Only a few hundred people, the Bloc barely got out of Camp Reddelich before being assaulted by cops and fleeing back in; in retaliation, the cops surrounded the entrance to the camp, preventing the 6 am Dissent Bloc from leaving. At the same time, mostly German groups struck with a series of decentralized blockades on major roads, achieving varying degrees of success. The paranoia and tight-lipped nature of the German autonomous movement left many of the internationals at the camp isolated, frustrated, and surrounded by cops, with only the all-knowing and all-seeing “Infopoint” to help them—although the Indymedia dispatch line ended up being invaluably useful for those who knew about it.
As the police left the front of the camps, the internationals formed a “rolling blockades” march that left camp at 9 am. In two hours they reached the gates of Heiligendamm itself, blockading the roads and using the “five fingers make a fist” strategy when confronted by the police: breaking into smaller groups and reforming on the other side of police lines. At one point, in a moment of long-overdue poetic justice, the Russian delegates were blocked by Eastern Europeans who smashed their car! By the end of the day, the blockades had so disrupted the summit that the police began clearing them with unusual ferocity, using water cannons to shoot water mixed with tear gas. Some blockaders refused to leave and continued to resist, turning Block G8 blockades into autonomous blockades. In the end, what started as colorful blockades of clowns and pacifists gained the air of a battlefield, and what had seemed certain defeat became apparent victory.
At the West Gate, a car carrying Russian delegates attempted to pass protesters. It was stopped and the wheels were deflated and the exhaust pipe broken. Activists then opened the trunk and removed the belongings of the delegates, just as the G8 removes the freedom of those it claims to represent. Once the trunk was opened the car drove into people, resulting in its windows being smashed.
“A few days a go the BBC reported that Tony Blair was ‘concerned’ about the lack of democracy in Russia. The Russian government doesn’t give a fuck if he is concerned or not. Hopefully they will listen to this act of resistance.” –From a communiqué posted to Indymedia
Berlin, June 8: Anticlimax
Our hopes weren’t dashed yet. The next morning our rural fun was to begin. We started early, around 3 am. First decision: suicide march or autonomous blockade? We chose the latter and moved slowly into position. Cars were dropping off packs of people by the woods. Affinity groups disappeared into the forest as endless lines of cop vans appeared. It seemed like the setting for a Wild West shootout, with both sides building up their arsenals and waiting for the other to move first. Seventy-five of us made it safely inside, transformed into a black mob, and moved like a guerrilla army through the brush, dodging under tree cover when helicopters swooped by. Camouflage would have been better than black—but hey, we’re city folks; black’s our forte.
With saws and combustibles in hand, ready to light up the morning with a spectacular blockade, we called a last minute meeting. Speaking in four languages through our masks in the black forests of northern Germany, we called it off. It was a trap. Other blockades on the same road happened and all were arrested immediately with no effect. Disappointed yet feeling good about our judgment, we dispersed into our casual clothes and headed for Berlin, where the final show was about to begin.
Some of the internationals were frustrated with the entire “Plan A” of the blockades. Coming out of a year-long analysis of previous mass mobilizations, Genoa in particular, various insurrectionists decided that it was time to take the initiative and try something new. Instead of following the lead of the traditional Left, using its large marches and demonstrations as cover for breaking windows and burning cars, they decided to see if they could launch a strategic attack by themselves, one that would violate the traditional set-piece roles of mass mobilizations. With the help of some of the German Autonomen, a secretive “Plan B” was organized in case the blockades failed. While the blockades appeared successful, on the final day of action a banner appeared on the two decrepit cement towers overlooking Camp Reddelich: “Plan B: Burn Berlin!”
Plan B resembled the idea behind the Seattle Black Bloc, when an autonomous bloc took advantage of police being distracted by blockades to wreck the shopping district—but instead of happening outside the summit, it was to take place in the nearest large city. Tactically, it was attractive, since on the day when a thousand Berlin police would be distracted by dealing with the blockades a Black Bloc could more easily strike the heart of financial capital in Berlin. However, only a few hundred people showed up, surrounded by riot police and infiltrated with undercover civil cops. A piece of paper went from hand to hand notifying protesters they should move to Rosenthal Place to begin a riot, but by the time the crowd got there the police were already there. Strangely enough, there were almost no Germans at the Reclaim the Streets, and it ended without any more incident than a few destroyed cars.
While the Berlin police may not have known about Plan B, many anarchists did not either. Perhaps the vast decentralized infrastructure of three separate camps made communication impossible; it takes more than a good idea to get people involved. Also, there was a real lack of support from many Berlin autonomists, who originally seemed to pledge their support. This might be understandable: their primary social center, Køpi, is threatened with eviction, and a major riot in Berlin would have brought harsh repression upon them. It would have been far better for all involved if locals had been more upfront about their doubts instead of simply not showing up.
The idea of separating aggressive demonstrators from pacifists by giving each their “own” day of action divides the movement tactically and temporally, which plays perfectly into the hands of the police. It’s far better to divide spatially if numbers allow, but to act all at once on the same day. Dividing the movement spatially over Rostock, Berlin, Hamburg, and Heiligendamm definitely stretched the police to their breaking point, but made coordination difficult at best. In hindsight, doing anything new and dangerous requires not only an adequate assessment of your numbers and strength but also truly believing it will work. Plan B failed on account of a crisis of faith.
We sat in the darkness, Berlin far from in flames and only the ghosts of our dreams to haunt us. Slightly drunk, a comrade from Greece muttered, “In Greece, you are welcome in my house. In Greece, all of us will make bottles together, and throw them at the fascists, and…” He was almost choking. He turned to me and said, “Now is time for that most sad of moments, the emptying of the Molotovs.”
When revolutionary movements take the historical stage, as the “movement of movements” did at the end of the last century, there inevitably follows an equal and opposite wave of counterrevolution.2 As the curtain falls upon the reaction to “anti-globalization” known as the “War on Terror,” it becomes ever more urgent for a new rupture to reorient the world for another revolutionary moment. Today, the crises of migration, climate change, and the failure of global capital are far more important than the bankrupt narrative of terror. Despite the hype of the Dissent Network, the 2007 G8 was not the rupture we were waiting for—but it was a strategic realignment of the global movement, positioning us to strike and tear the seems of history apart to create that much-needed rupture. As any martial artist can tell you, the positioning for the strike is as important as the strike itself.
Movements decline, dissolving into fragments and micro-parties, failing to grasp the imaginations of even their own most dedicated adherents. Movements rise, consolidating new assemblages, spreading hope to even the most forlorn hearts. After Seattle, there was a rapid if unarticulated consolidation across completely unexpected boundaries, leading to the christening of the “movement of movements.” Through avenues such as the radical “fringe” of the social forums and endless gatherings, a coherent critique of capitalism, most vocal in the Global South, began slowly but surely penetrating the movements in the West and North. After September 11, 2001, the movement fractured: the “center,” organized labor and NGOs, fled back to the welcoming arms of the State—or, in parts of the Global South, actually took over the State apparatus. This left only a ragtag bunch of anti-capitalists throwing themselves from defeat to defeat in the streets, reaching a nadir in the United States with the FTAA protests in Miami 2003.
After September 11, suddenly everyone in the streets was “against capitalism”—not because of the growth or radicalization of the movement, but because its collapse had left what was once its periphery as its center. The anarchist critique of global capitalism incubated in these summits spread to many people outside the anti-globalization movement, and what was a defeat in the streets became a victory in the battle of ideas.
Starting at Evian, moving through Gleneagles, and reaching its apex at Heiligendamm, the true miracle of post-Genoa G8 protests was that what appeared to be the dying gasp of the movement in Europe has effectively reconstituted a growing “movement of movements” with anti-capitalism as its center. Everyone from the Interventionist Left to the Dissent Network put aside petty politics to work together to increase the momentum of the movement as a whole. Due to the work of the Interventionist Left, most NGOs of note endorsed blockading the G8—something still unimaginable in the US and Britain. Unlike the 2005 G8, reformist NGOs and political parties that tried to organize “alternative summits” and “rock concerts to fight poverty” met with low attendance, for the “hip” thing to do was direct action. The enemy—global capitalism—was identified far more clearly than it ever was in Seattle or Genoa. Thousands of people participated in their first direct action in the streets of Rostock and fields of Heiligendamm. The climate is changing: it’s becoming anti-capitalist.
One question for the new manifestation of the “movement of movements” is how to deal with those other “anti-capitalists,” the resurgent fascists—who took advantage of the G8 to articulate their own warped “Third Position” against capitalism by marching against the G8 in Berlin and Lueneberg. Luckily, the fascists were marginalized by the “movement of movements,” whose act of blockading and fighting police stole the show. The distinction between the “movement of movements” and the fascists in Germany is that “the movement of movements” is fundamentally invested in open space, while the fascists want to reconstitute a closed world based on mythical ethnicities. It may be the battle between these two forces that takes the stage once the G8 is in the grave.
There is a logic to blockades and open space. Humans are creatures of habit, socially imprisoned by millennia-old closed systems of despair and discipline. To even begin to hear the voices of our desires that are otherwise muted by the hustle of everyday life under capitalism, we need open space. Here lies the paradox: today, the only way to create open spaces is through acts of closing, acts that blockade the circuits of capitalism. By blockading the flow of traffic, guilt, property, greed—whatever flows enable the growth of capital at the expense of the living—we create space for the living to flourish. These blockades may shut down roads or railways, but they open up space for new types of social relationships. During the blockades, we find ourselves accidental revolutionaries. By blockading the summit, our desire for safety is magically superseded, and our other desires flow naturally into the gap to become an unexpected reality. In a world enclosed, opening space this way allows us to shed our skins as workers, as students, as women, as men, as Germans, as members of this faction or that, and experience ourselves as part of something greater. These moments of freedom burn themselves into our memories, and it is our quest for such moments that causes us to keep coming back, summit after summit, regardless of the odds.
This is the secret of the rock thrown at the cop—and yes, the Black Bloc did throw the first stone! It is only through such a moment of negation, through the blockading of the police beneath a hail of stones, that we could create an open space, one that reflects the magnitude of what is at stake in these summits. Had the marches passed in peace, it would have been the tragic peace of the graveyard. Far better for us to throw our cobblestones—if trees and polar bears and the human beings marginalized in the ghettos of the global capitalism could, they would be going after the police with a lot more than cobblestones. It doesn’t hurt to bring the violence that lies beneath the veneer of capital in Western countries up to the surface, either. The real question can no longer go unspoken: “What is the appropriate response to a world of capitalist violence?”
All anarchists are comrades in a new sort of international brigade, and we must set our sights beyond battles like the one in Rostock. The networking that happens before the blockade, before the battle with the cops, lays the foundation for all our future blockades and battles and gives us our ultimate chance for decisive victory over capital. The real international summit was not at Heiligendamm—that was just a PR stunt for a few would-be leaders, and the fact that they needed 16,000 mercenaries to protect them from the rest of us reveals the worthlessness of power. The real international summit took place in the convergence centers and camps where thousands of brave, unshaven, and driven men and women whose names will never appear in history books organized their own daily lives, found unexpected friendships, hatched hopelessly idealistic conspiracies, and took to the streets and fields together. Regardless of the outcome of any particular demonstration, our international brigade will return home to the snows of Siberia and the strip-malls of America to share stories with those who could not go and e-mail newfound friends. The international brigades grow, the network beneath the network, the hidden roots that will blossom into the open space our world so desperately needs: a world outside the death-grip of the G8, a world we have glimpsed in the convergence centers, the camps, and—in our better moments—ourselves.
Appendix: Two Narratives from the 2007 G8
The march came to a standoff with the cops on a bridge over one of Hamburg’s downtown canals. The organizers called off the march at this point, letting everyone know that if they stayed it was no longer a permitted action. This was not so much a way to separate themselves from the “bad” unpermitted demonstrators or to encourage people to leave, but rather a license for those participants who wanted to throw down to go ahead and do so. Roughly 500 in black bloc stuck around, milling about in AG’s and figuring out what to do. In front of the march was a line of cops backed by water cannons, behind the march was an intersection we turn from, the two sides of which that weren’t walked by demonstrators marked off by rows of police and water cannons. The bloc made an offensive on the cops, but could not push through. The police made a few offensives on the demonstrators, and arrested a few. As time passed and passivity persisted, the chances were looking worse and worse for the few hundred demonstrators left. The only ways out were back the route we marched, lined with police, or down a walkway that traced along the side of the canal. Our AG started to file out down the pedestrian walkway, expecting to leave the demonstration. But as we turned up a street that paralleled the road to City Hall (where the ASEM meeting was occurring), we saw that the demonstration was following us! A sea of black began to emerge behind us. And much to our delight, as we continued to look back, the cops had chosen to stay on their bridge and leave our slowly building mass alone.
We walked for a few humble, residential blocks in total silence, total anonymity. On a few occasions someone would attempt to start a chant, but those nearby would hush them back to our stealthy silence. We turned up a hill, and as I secured my bandana and hoodie, I heard a comrade greet me. It was an Italian I had shared the kitchen with a few days before at the Rote Flora. His English was not very good, so we joked by sticking vegetables in each other’s pockets. It was exciting to see someone I had shared such a humble experience of international protest insanity with in another light, ready to cook up something different that day. The bloc came to a halt in a courtyard around the corner from the main strasse north of the City Hall. We rested for a moment, everyone silent.
People exchanged looks and picked up cobblestones. After a day of reacting and defending ourselves from the police, it was a bit alien to be in a position to act. But soon enough, someone called out “What are we waiting for?” and we charged into the street. Police were already chasing a few stray demonstrators up the road, and were swarmed by our group. For a few blocks the crowd dispersed and converged, attacking the police along the way. For an American like myself, it was a little strange that people weren’t seeking out banks or property, content with focusing on fighting the cops as a target rather than an obstacle.
As the melee between protestors and cops rolled down the street, people started to hop a small fence into the parking lot of the soccer stadium. Soccer in Hamburg is a big deal; St. Pauli, the local team, is world-renowned for having some of the most anti-fascist holligans (and for that matter, hooligan antifas) in the world. But these anarchists weren’t rushing to get tickets for the game (St. Pauli righteously defeated Nazi-fan-based team Bremen two days prior), it was just a quick escape from the police. I looked around and saw that we were in an enclosed space, with really only a few exits… it seemed like a matter of time until the police trapped us all in this parking lot and beat us until we could be mass arrested. So I hopped the fence into the stadium.
Being short, the climb was a little difficult, and I had an ungraceful fall over the fence… but when I looked up I found myself before any German teen anarchist’s dream-come-true… to have escaped a police riot and be delivered into the caring arms of the St. Pauli soccer team! Truly, a comparison cannot be drawn to an American context for how cartoonishly fantastic this fate was. Imagine running around Seattle in ’99, air full of tear gas and the anguish of protestors being beaten by police, and then opening a door to find yourself safely inside Rage Against the Machine’s practice studio. The team was finishing up a daily soccer practice when they were interrupted by my hooded, masked fall from the heavens. We looked at each other for a bit before I asked, “Ummm… can I stay here for a bit?”
“Of course—would you like something to eat?”
They introduced themselves to me one by one, and told me to make myself at home. So I took off my mask and hoodie, and chowed down on their vegetable platters.
Once things had calmed down, I said farewell to my athletic caretakers and headed back to the reconvergence point my affinity group had chosen earlier, near the Rote Flora. Each of us couldn’t believe the others were OK, but my story took the cake. As we walked around we saw hordes of punks, anarchists, and other black-clad people just chilling on street corners… while cops were across the street! We were sketched out as hell, but as we walked on it just did not seem like mass arrests were a German police phenomenon. There were some small riots around the Rote Flora, and in front of it to defend it from getting raided (which it was not!), and this is what made the nightly news. But for those of us who were there for the action earlier in the day… we knew real revolution wouldn’t be broadcast, mass arrested, or in the context of a large, liberal march. It set the tone for the rest of the G8.
Brigada Flores Magon were the last band to play in Camp Reddelich the evening before the blockades. They played a solid set with rowdy anarchist skinhead anthems for Latin America, solidarity, Carlo Giuliani, and resistance. During their last song four hooded figures wearing balaclavas emerged from behind the stage, each with two of the G8 nations flags. They perched themselves on the barrier between the crowd and band, and held the flags high for all to see. A fifth black mask emerged, this one with a torch. They parted the crowd and proceeded to burn each of the G8 nation’s flags. BFM ended their set shouting, “See you at the blockades! Block G8!” before the final cymbal crash. Mmm, it really got me pumped. I took the train back to Camp Rostock and got barely three hours of sleep before waking up for our Bike Bloc to the blockade rally point.
Only a few people responded to our bike bloc call, and we got controlled on our way to the rally point. On our way we encountered another group of cycling German radicals coming our direction. They shouted to us to turn around, because a polizei van was hot on their trail. So we turned around, and as the polizei van sped up to close off the path ahead of us, the German bicycle squad shouted “OK! Now turn back!” and then darted off into a trail that the van could not follow—they tricked the police! It was going to be a good day!
We got to the rally point and people were handing out water, food, bags of hay to sit on, and there was a festive soccer game happening. The rally point was a soccer field in the middle of a very rural area. My partner and I fell asleep for what felt like hours, but must have been only thirty minutes or so. We awoke to the march from one of the camps converging on our site, which was the signal to form into our fingers. We lined up, parallel to the police line, but much further extended. I saw the yellow finger, all the way at the end of the line, starting to hop the local farmer’s fence and trod into the field. No sooner did this happen than someone shouted out “Here we go!” and our blue finger began to move.
To my surprise, the tactic was working. The police just stayed on the road, at this point not even attacking any of the demonstrators. Strategic insight: if you know the police department where you are demonstrating does not have the jail capacity to arrest and hold your numbers, there is only so much they can use physical force to accomplish. This was important in Seattle, where the police vastly underestimated the numbers they needed, and was true in Germany as well. We can also see this as a need for us to focus our direct action strategies to smaller towns where we can have a larger impact.
The march through the fields was somewhat surreal. For years, I’ve heard rhetoric thrown around about how protests have the significance of battles for our movement(s). For the first time, the imagery I saw matched my idea of “battle.” Files of demonstrators marched on the horizon, on hills so that the morning sun silhouetted them. At one point in the march, we passed a cattle farm. The cows, seeing what they recognized as a large herd, started to herd alongside us on the other side of the fence, the vegans in the march were delighted and erupted in animal liberation jargon.
Finally, we were getting closer to the road we needed to block. It was the designated emergency access/exit road for the G8 summit, not the main roads that delegates, corporate lobbyists, caterers, and media planned to arrive on—but the back up plan for if those roads were blocked… as they obviously were going to be. We had to cross two roads to get there. I don’t know if this was the feeling of every finger that day, but it sure seemed like we were always the ones sent in first to push through the cops. As we got closer, the police got meaner. Helicopters circled around us and dropped off more police to block the road with. Water cannons roamed back and forth on the streets, and then they started to fire. As one pointed its gun at me, I froze. I definitely had not prepared myself for the possibility of being shot by a water cannon.
So I got squirted. At first I thought it wasn’t so bad… after all it was a hot day and I welcomed being soaked in water. But soon afterwards the chemical weapons (mace, pepperspray, tear gas, something like that) laced into the water started to burn. This was happening all over the field, and a group of people started to get encircled further away. Some of the younger, inexperienced folks in our affinity group began to condemn the march, proclaim we were doomed, that we should just give up now. Being so close, and having walked so far through stinging, wet, gross cropfields—I knew there was no turning back. My partner and I walked up to the police line after recovering from my burning sensations. We pushed each other to dare to break through the line.
“Come on, there’s a break, we can do it!”
“No, no one’s through, they’ll nab us—”
“Someone has to be the first!”
“But what about—”
I’m really glad I had a partner who could push me without making me feel unsafe. I recommend being in affinity groups with people who you feel safe with, but who encourage you to be daring outside of your comfort level. So… we outran a Bulgarian water cannon that was speeding down the road, and once we were on the other side… unscathed, not arrested, we saw others had broken through as well, and then more, and more, and more, until everyone was through safely.
At the second line, a large number of people lined up parallel to the police. In our affinity group we were preparing for more spraying, and even some clubbing at this point; but as we were scanning the line for a break in police, one officer just waved his hand authoritatively, as if to say “come on, just walk through.” My partner and I looked at each other in disbelief. We took some unsure steps, and then walked through to the other side. The police admitted powerlessness… at least a few did, and their line was only as strong as their weakest link. We made it through to the access road, which was in the middle of a residential area.
The Block G8 coalition decided on a strategy of nonviolence, so their tactic for self-defense was to encourage and escort as much media as possible through to stick around the blockades. This, combined with the fact that it was a residential neighborhood brought up some strategic questions… Should we let residents of the neighborhood be able to drive through? How far down the blockade could media go?
Most of the neighbors just used bicycles to get through, for it was still pretty troubling to get a car through. After the first day of seeing fancy rental cars with out of town tags be let through, media come through on motorcycles and bicycles, people started to question the effectiveness of the blockade. The conflict was between having an effective blockade and being kind and respectful to residents of the neighborhood our blockade was situated in. In my opinion, we should have been an uncompromising blockade. To prioritize not wanting to look “bad” over the effectiveness of our action, logically, made it at times ineffective. Largely, we shut down the road from media, corporate lobbyists, and food being delivered—and absolutely no delegates would come through our blockade. At one point, in a comical turning of tables, the police trapped between the blockade and the summit begged us to let them drive their van out—for they were hungry and tired. We decided not to let them leave and for them to figure out another way.
In one outrageous situation, on the morning of the second day of the summit and blockades, the sleeping mass of the blockade was awoken by people on the security team—a group of people who said they would work as liaisons to pass on the decisions from the spokescouncil to people trying to get through with cars. They shouted “Get up, clear the way, the firetruck needs to get through.” somebody else responded, “What business does a fire truck have here at 5 in the morning?” The security team responded, “There is a burning blockade down the way, it needs to be put out.” It turned out to just be a rumor anyways, but that the security people would allow fire trucks to be let through to shut down a fucking blockade was outrageous. In our affinity group, we decided to go to the front of the blockade to make sure nothing else like this happened. We told the AG of Danes in front of us, so they would know that there would be a gap behind them that needed closing—but they too were angered and came along to the front. We pissed off the security team a few times by not letting certain cars through, but in the end this gave them more leverage to say, “Sorry, but these crazy assholes just wont move… there’s nothing I can do.”
Strategic insight: All in all, the effectiveness of a blockade is measured by its disruption. It should be explained as an important tactic in shutting down whatever evil matter is at hand. To frame it as a measure used to control people and make sure they are not whatever category of “bad guys” we happen to be protesting (delegates, cops, ambassadors, etc.) turns the blockaders into an occupying force, regulating the flow of traffic. Inspirational and radical possibilities of social interaction that did not replicate police but rather cooperation did occur during our blockade. Demonstrators aided in carrying groceries to residents’ homes, helped fix bicycles that had not left the garage in months, and exchanged conversation and respectful debate with people in the neighborhood. The mutual aid was indeed reciprocal, with neighbors providing gallons upon gallons of water to thirsty blockaders, and at times giving us some heads up of police activity up the road.
“Autonomen” is the German word for participants in autonomous movements, including Autonomous Marxists (see this issue’s glossary of terms) and anarchists; one can trace the European roots of these movements back to Italy in the 1970s. ↩
In 2005, when the rulers of the eight most powerful countries in the world gathered in Scotland, capitalism seemed invincible and eternal. Most protesters limited themselves to begging the G8 to be nicer to the nations on the receiving end of colonialism and imperialist wars. Yet a few thousand anarchists, recognizing how short-lived “the end of history” would be, set out on a seemingly suicidal mission to blockade the summit and demonstrate what sort of resistance it would take to create another world. Today, as the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg approaches, we publish this retrospective to keep the adventures and lessons of 2005 alive as part of the contemporary heritage of the international anarchist movement.
The 2005 protests took place years after the heyday of anti-summit protesting—after the triumphant victory over the WTO in Seattle in 1999 and the courageous struggles against the IMF in Prague in 2000 and the FTAA in Quebec and the G8 in Genoa in 2001. Yet the mobilization in Scotland showed that it was still possible to challenge the rulers of the world on their home turf. Anarchists confronted the forces of the world’s eight most powerful nations right outside their gala gathering—shutting down highways, tearing down fences, and almost preventing their meeting altogether. The attacks that fundamentalist bombers carried out in London the same week looked cowardly in comparison.
Unfortunately, in the popular imagination, the suicide bombings that killed 52 people in London during the summit overshadowed the more ambitious and life-affirming counter-summit demonstrations. Whether they serve an existing government or seek to create one, the violence of those who pursue fundamentalist and nationalist projects is intended to close the field to any real alternatives, promoting a “clash of civilizations” in place of a struggle against oppression. The powers that be are much better situated when they can point to rival powers that pose an equal or greater threat to their citizens. Together, the state repression, grassroots resistance, and fundamentalist terrorism of that week in 2005 foreshadowed the ugly situation we find ourselves in today.
Britain was the nation in which industrial capitalism first took root, and accordingly it has often been ahead of its time in the art of protest. The British anti-roads movement of the early 1990s was a harbinger of the “anti-globalisation” movement in Europe and the US, featuring a wild and eclectic focus on direct action and cultural resistance in contrast to the notoriously boring politics of the institutional Left. The model was moved with much success into the cities in the form of Reclaim the Streets, capitalizing on the fact that in Britain hordes of ravers would show up just about anywhere for a good party. Within a few years, people in cities from Brisbane to Bratislava were reclaiming the streets. Coinciding with the G8 Summit in Cologne, the Global Day of Action against Capitalism on June 18, 1999 paralysed the financial centre of London, prefiguring the shutting down of the WTO in Seattle a few months later.
But every boom has a backlash, and as Britain’s turn came to host the G8 in 2005, things looked grim. The last successful anti-capitalist mobilizations had taken place years before, and though anarchists had participated in protests against the war in Iraq, many were convinced that mass mobilisations were no longer an effective means of resistance. Early meetings to discuss the G8 summit consisted of arguments about whether a truly anti-authoritarian mobilization was even theoretically possible.
Despite this malaise, the anti-capitalist network Dissent! came together nearly two years before the summit to mobilize resistance. Composed of collectives from throughout the UK, Dissent! was intended to be inclusive and accessible, though the lack of solid press relations sometimes enabled the mainstream media to portray them as secretive and sinister.1 Hashing out a plan also proved difficult: a centrally organized attack on the summit à la Quebec or Genoa seemed suicidal, and many in Dissent! feared the possible repercussions of organizing illegal activity, but decentralized protest models without central coordination had proved utterly ineffectual. The large reformist coalitions were organizing their protests a great distance from the summit, several days before it even began, so they could not be counted on to offer any opportunities. Eventually, a strategy developed based on the model that had been applied at the G8 protests in Evian in 2003: autonomous groups would blockade the routes leading to Gleneagles—the rural hotel at which the summit was to take place—shutting out the delegates, staff, and media. To this end, a campsite—the “Eco-village,” designed to be a working model of a sustainable community—was secured within hiking distance of these roads.
Organizers solicited international participation via meetings in Germany, Spain, and Greece, and little stickers appeared everywhere announcing the upcoming protests. Under this pressure, the Socialist Workers’ Party, attempting to prevent the defection of more militant protesters to Dissent!, announced that their front group G8 Alternatives would host a peaceful march to the fence surrounding the summit regardless of whether or not they were granted a permit. Two days before the G8 summit began, the streets of nearby Edinburgh were transformed by an anarchist carnival that ended, characteristically, in clashes between angry locals and police. The stage was set for something to happen.
The Suicide March: An Anonymous Firsthand Account
Originally published immediately afterwards as “This Is How We Do It: An Anarchist Account of the G8 Actions”
From the beginning there was no well-thought-out master plan for shutting down the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. In fact, some of us even dubbed the march we were about to embark on “The Suicide March.” At three in the morning, a large group of militants dressed in black slipped into the darkness of the night as the first rain of many days dumped down on them. The air was thick with the eerie presence of a thousand determined individuals beginning to walk along the deathly still road. Besides the occasional attempt at a chant, the group was quiet, perhaps reconsidering the slim probability of success. Five miles and a heavy police presence stretched before us and our only destination in sight: Motorway 9 (M9). This motorway was one of the crucial motorways that delegates and support staff to the G8 Summit expected to travel down in a few hours.
Wednesday, July 6th was determined to be the day of blockading the G8 by calls to action from People’s Global Action (PGA), the same loose network that had called for the day of action against the WTO six years previous. The idea of blockading was ratified at the five-hundred-person international anarchist assembly in the ancient halls of our convergence space at Edinburgh University on Sunday. The next day, a street party called the “Carnival for Full Enjoyment” (as opposed to full employment) took to the streets of wealthy downtown Edinburgh in order to protest wage slavery and the G8. Any doubts about the no-compromise nature of the militants who had converged here in southern Scotland dissipated rapidly in downtown Edinburgh on Monday when police attempted to stop the Carnival of Full Enjoyment only to be met by quick-moving breakaway marches and a front line that refused to be intimidated. And this was only the beginning, a taste of what was to come.
We left Edinburgh for Stirling, Scotland. Our destination was the “Hori-zone”, the Eco-village set-up as the point of strategic coordination, encampment, and support for the vast network of anarchists and other activists who had come to Scotland in order to halt the Group of Eight (G8) summit meeting on its opening day in Gleneagles. The camp was organized by Dissent!—an international anti-authoritarian network of resistance against the G8. The small town of Stirling is practically equidistant from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Gleneagles, and historically has been the major crossroads upon which all battles for control of Scotland had been fought. Gleneagles, a ridiculously luxurious golf course and hotel, became the heavily fortified home to the G8 meetings—but it has very limited facilities. Most of the delegates and support staff for the G8 were staying in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the two major cities in Scotland.
Since Stirling is nestled between these three cities, the Eco-village provided the perfect location for launching the rolling blockades against the G8 on Wednesday, especially along the crucial M9, the motorway that eventually reaches the front door of the Gleneagles hotel itself. The Wallace monument stood silently against the gentle skyline on a hill above the Eco-village as we prepared to blockade a total of thirty miles of highway. Built in 1869, this two-hundred-and-twenty-foot monument is said to be where the legendary Scottish rebel William Wallace observed the English coming across Stirling Bridge in 1297 before descending into a fierce battle with them. One cannot help but notice the parallel between the ancient anti-colonial battles of Scotland and the battle against the G8 that was waged in the rolling green hills of Scotland last week.
At the Eco-village, we were assembled at the very last minute to determine how we were actually going to blockade the G8. As the deadline for the action came closer and closer, it was decided that the initiative to carry out the blockades should be left to autonomous affinity groups and each departed to find their own route to the motorway and blockade it by whatever tactics they chose. A major factor in this decision was the unfortunate location of the Eco-village. The campsite was surrounded by Forth River with only one exit leading out, which could be easily sealed off by police. To avoid such an entrapment, affinity groups began leaving the site around twelve hours ahead of time to situate themselves in the forests or small suburbs along the motorways that fed Gleneagles from all sides, allowing them to spring into action as the delegates arrived in the morning.
While groups were streaming out of the site, about two hundred people were meeting to determine whether or not to have a large mass march leaving the camp, and if so, how it would be organized. This is how the suicide march came about.
“Suicide” was not a word chosen hastily. How could it be possible for such a group to actually make it to the distant M9, the major highway connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh to Gleneagles, before being stopped and contained by a ten thousand strong police force assigned to the protests? Even if the march had failed, it would provide a crucial cover for the clandestine groups to launch their siege on the various junctions of the motorways. The group decided against all odds that the risk was worth it, and the march would begin shortly. At two am, it finally felt like it was on.
The march leaving from the Eco-village in the early morning was an international contingent with some of its members coming from the UK, Spain, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States. Morale was high as the rain poured down steadily, but little did we know that this thousand-strong militant group would have to battle through five police lines to reach its destination. The determination of the anarchists was heavy, and as we swelled in numbers a group of about eight with thick pieces of wood around seven feet long moved to the front with the purpose of clearing the way for the march to proceed. One group, clad in shields made from trashcan lids and foam padding taped onto their clothes, bore an ironic banner declaring “Peace and Love.”
The police force mobilized from around the UK to protect the G8 summit was completely incompetent. Poorly assembled police lines were sometimes composed of front line officers who, instead of arriving in riot gear, came wearing fluorescent yellow jackets to face protesters. The police were armed often only with batons and tried their best not to use them. Perhaps this was a de-escalating tactic, considering the police seemed to be primarily set on avoiding violent engagement with protesters and instead sought to simply contain them and apply their infuriating “Section 60” order that allowed them to stop and search any suspects for weapons. Had this been any other G8 country, many of the plans implemented on the Day of the Blockades, especially the Suicide March, would not have accomplished their goals.
The quickly moving group had proceeded without interruption for fifteen minutes when the Scottish police finally got their act together and moved a line of cops into the group’s path. This happened at a roundabout surrounded on all sides by car dealerships, though at this point the group was not distracted by damaging corporate property. We had set our eyes on the prize: to disrupt the roads leading up to G8 Summit. The determination was there, but there was no backup plan. After a quick assessment of the situation, it was decided that the line of police was too deep to take on, and the group began moving back in the direction it came from to find another way on to M9.
Retreating in order to find another path to the M9 meant building barricades on the way. We found a big pile of palates in a nearby construction site and piled them into the street. During the somewhat chaotic process of finding another road leading to the highway, the crowd stumbled upon a suburban mall area that included a branch of the Bank of Scotland and franchises of Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Enterprise Car Rental. Some members wanted to keep on moving and not be distracted by the corporate property, but the rage against the corporations could barely be contained, and windows were smashed and walls were spray-painted with slogans.
When the bloc left the corporate oasis, we found a sign to a road leading to the M9 and the march surged. A couple of trolleys [shopping carts] were taken from the shopping district and were filled with fist-sized rocks from the sides of the road, the perfect ammunition for the class war. A German comrade with a bicycle was among the group and able to ride ahead as our scout and alert the rest of us of intersections and police movement. He came back and told us of a police line forming in our path. A few people moved into the field on the left to outwit the police. The rest decided that this was the moment it was necessary to throw down.
The police line was weak and did not have any riot gear apart from their shields. Those with big sticks moved to the front lines and the militants behind picked up stones from the shopping cart. We marched right up to the lines and began smashing through with stones and sticks. The police were not prepared for such determination, and after thirty seconds they scurried away. When their retreat was obvious, I heard a thick German accent scream “DEESS ISS HOW VE DO IT!”
The road was wide open as we marched the long distances from one roundabout to the next, following the road signs to M9. We came across four people wrapped in trashbags, who peeked their heads out from the side of the road in amazement at the march passing by. They were part of the hundreds who had left early to hide among the trees, completely drenched by the continual rainfall.
Our crew included a significant number of locals who were eager to represent their own culture of resistance. One middle-aged Scottish member of the group from Glasgow carried a bodhran, the traditional Celtic drum historically used in battles and parades. Another Scottish youth had a didgeridoo that was blown at crucial moments of battle to build up the energy. In the face of such a crowd, it looked as though the police had given up.
We made it the onramp to M9. This was it: victory. After trekking five miles in the rain and through police lines, there was only 70 feet between us and the highway. But these things are never so easy. Scores of police vans appeared from around the corner and unloaded hundreds of riot police. It seemed to be too much to take on, and we moved back. This time, the police seemed as determined as we were and brought another line of riot police to our only exit.
There was one option left: to battle our way out. The restocked trolleys rolled to the front and stones began raining down onto the police, thumping against their shields to the steady battle beat of the bodhran. In one of the most creative use of local resources to create weaponry, even the shrubbery was turned upon the police. This area of Scotland is known for a poisonous plant called Hogwart that has a flower that causes huge welts and blisters when touched. At one point, the bloke from Glasgow grabbed one of these plants from the stalk and beat the police with its flower. After five minutes, the police lines were pushed back fifty feet and a small path leading into a suburban residential area was revealed to one side. As we walked down the path into suburbia, there were only 250 people remaining. Most of the initial crowd had separated at various police lines to disappear into fields or return to camp. Though we were few, we had demonstrated our determination.
A woman in a white bathrobe walked out of her house baffled at the march going by her community at 4 am. The police would later report that damage was done to people’s homes, cars, and satellite dishes. However, the only property damaged was corporate and police property and the police eventually had to retract their statement. In fact, the woman in the white bathrobe was friendly and she waved at us. We even asked her for directions towards the M9 and she showed us the way.
We had been thrown off our original route and now had to find a new way to the motorway. The police had mobilized a much larger force and were coming toward us from multiple intersections. As we rambled through the unfamiliar suburban streets, police would appear from one side, retreat under the force of the bloc, and appear again from a new direction. The sun, which only sets for about four hours between midnight and 4 am in Scotland during summertime, was now peeking over the horizon. We were wet, cornered, and lost. Another resident of the area stopped while passing in his pickup and pointed us toward the highway. His directions weren’t the most conventional: “Go down that road and climb down the valley, across the fields, through the trees and that is where the motorway is.” We had come this far, there was no way we were going to turn back, even if it meant hiking through the fields.
Standing on the edge of the hill, next to a golf course, one could see the trucks travelling on the highway far away. We quickly referred to a topographical map, concerned that there might have been a big drop to the side of the highway that couldn’t be climbed. It looked doable. Those remaining of the international anti-capitalist black bloc, tired from hours of breaching police lines and soaked to the bone, began a Viet-Cong-style journey towards the motorway we had to blockade to prevent the G8 from meeting.
In a moment of bizarre humor, one of the Scottish blokes among us was understandably concerned about marching on the golf course and warned the rest of us: “Don’t Walk on the Green!” I turned back to observe how many of us were left at this moment and was confronted with the surreal scene of hundreds of comrades dressed in black hiking single file through the luscious green landscape of Scotland. Seeing us there, hours and miles later and still on the move, I realized that most likely the Scottish rebels fighting the English had also passed through these fields centuries ago.
We continued on like this, passing through scenes of another history, through a golf course, three different cattle pastures, and knee-high grass as we walked towards a quickly approaching future of our own. Under a pale blue sky, we finally reached the motorway. We were the first group to make it onto the highway, but definitely not the last. At that moment, the rain stopped.
Delirious from walking and drunken with success, we all began to assemble anything and everything we could find on the side of the road—tree trunks, rocks, branches. It was 6 am and both directions on M9 were blockaded.
Walking back to the campsite later, we passed the residents of Stirling trying to go to work on the backed up roads. The reactions we got were varied but clearly split into two different groups. People who were in personal vehicles were upset at the delay and called us many things, most notably “Bastards!” Those who were in busses and vans and could be identified as construction or roadside workers by their bright yellow vests were fully supportive. We were greeted by raised fists, cheering, and others shouting “Power to the People!” out their windows.
We returned to the Eco-village. At the entrance to the camp, there were two permanent flags strung high to identify the political nature of the inhabitants—the red and black flag of social anarchism and the rebel skull and crossbones of piracy. Inside was a vast space of camps, organized by either the geographic origin of the inhabitants (e.g., the Irish “barrio”) or by clusters of affinity groups working together (e.g, the Clandestine Insurrectionary Rebel Clown Army—CIRCA). A central corridor was lined with different activist support tents, eight different kitchens, medical services, an independent media center, trauma support, action trainings, and huge tents for the periodic spokescouncil meetings taking place. Beyond this central corridor was a multi-colored sea of hundreds of personal tents. Many of the tents had one version or another of black and red flags with the anarchist circle A flying above. We had arrived home.
The Eco-village was buzzing with activity. The intricate communications network that had been set up was functioning in full force. Bicycle scouts who were situated at major cities where delegates were staying, along the side of the highways and at major junctions, were providing up-to-date information on motorcade movements and alerting the affinity groups hiding along the highway when and where to strike. An informational tent at the entrance had a detailed tactical map with a large scale, providing breaking news on the different blockades of the summit. As the day progressed, one note after another appeared on the map marking the points of the blockades:
7:00 AM – Spanish Block on M9, 7 arrested
8:00 AM – 4 Protesters with ropes dangling off a bridge on M9
12 PM – Group of 50 including CIRCA and the Kid Bloc having picnic on the Motorway with massive amounts of riot cops looking confused
All railroads leading north have been halted by activists locking themselves to the tracks.
This was only the beginning. The notes continued appearing throughout the day: a bicycle contingent took over A9 at 4:00 PM, the Belgian and Dutch Bloc locked down on Kincardine bridge at 4:20 PM, and so on.
The Eco-village was the epicenter of brilliant tactical coordination. This was a result of months of reconnaissance work and a chaotic yet functional plan of blockading that provided both fluidity and agility. As soon as a report would come in that one blockade was breaking or being threatened by the police, the transportation team would have vehicles ready to take people to the location and reinforce the blockade. The BBC Scotland radio station was reporting that all roads leading north to Gleneagles were backed up with no traffic passing through. Naturally, they did not mention the reason for this, and tried to hide the successful blockades behind a regular traffic update.
Everyone at the campsite was ecstatic and it felt like it was time to start upping the ante, which meant taking on the perimeter fence around the G8 summit. The legal march scheduled for the afternoon by the G8 Alternatives, who were often controlled by the Socialist Workers Party, had been called off by the police due to the disruption caused on the transportation system of Scotland. To their credit, the organizers decided to move forward and go ahead with the march at Auchterarder, the town nearest to Gleneagles Hotel.
Now that the stakes were raised, vans from the Eco-village began to head straight to Auchterarder rather than to reinforce the blockades. Two hours later, the news of the perimeter fence being breached at two different points reached the camp. Anarchists and Scottish socialists were tearing apart the fence and throwing pieces of it at the riot squad police. Some groups entered the G8 Summit area and were confronted by Chinook helicopters unloading hundreds of riot police equipped with dogs. At 12:30 in the afternoon, it appeared that the eight most powerful men in the world were still unable to begin their meeting in Gleneagles.
There are many lessons to be learned from the victories won at this most recent mass action of the young anti-capitalist movement. Tactically, having decentralized actions coordinated within the same infrastructure, all given the targeted locations in the same area, was an incredible strength for activists attempting to disrupt the summit. Previous mass mobilizations have failed when calls were made for affinity groups to do autonomous direct action without a strategic frame in which to act. On the night of July 5th and into the early hours of the 6th, groups in Scotland were able to scatter themselves along a geographical network of points. Working together to assess need for numbers and actions, people dispatched themselves between a multitude of different motorways and byways surrounding Gleneagles and around hotels in Edinburgh. There were threats to blockade not only the roads around Gleneagles but the roads out of the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. This meant the police forces were stretched thin, having to be at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sterling, and Gleneagles at the same time. The state was forced to provide dozens of officers to contain each small group of activists, and as affinity group after affinity group spontaneously hit the transportation corridor, the police simply could not maintain their own coordination or mass their numbers. The suicide march, which went on for miles over before reaching the highway, was a strong challenge to state control and proved to be impossible to contain even with the strongest police effort.
According to friends inside of the summit, the blockades were a throbbing migraine for the G8 and it took some delegates up to seven hours to get to Gleneagles. Suffocating their critical control with a continual barrage of activity and exhausting police numbers by using quick-moving affinity groups to the best possible advantage are tactics that allows us to call the shots on our own terms, whether it be Gleneagles, Buenos Aires, or La Paz. The rabble-rousing group behind the blockades was extremely international in character and the links formed are going to be a major pain for global capital for the years to come. As if the international anarchist force wasn’t enough, it was reported that while Bush was riding his bicycle at Gleneagles he ran into a police officer, sending him to the hospital.
September 11th reminds most of the world of New York and some of us of Santiago. There was another September 11th more then 700 years ago. On September 11th, 1297, William Wallace observed the English coming into impose their enclosure of the Scottish land. This was the day of The Battle of Stirling Bridge, where the 60,000-person English army suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Scottish who numbered around 10,000. The English sent two messengers to Wallace to ask for his surrender. Wallace’s reply was similar to that was given to the G8 on Wednesday by the street fighters in Stirling:
“Return to thy friends and tell them we come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and to set our country free. Let thy masters come and attack us; we are ready to meet them beard to beard.”
Following Up with the Locals
In the evening of July 6, others in the camp went to a meeting with local activists. The people they met were community workers who all lived locally and would have been broadly against G8 activity. They expected hostility, but didn’t find it. It was decided that the residents of Stirling would be invited to dinner in the camp on Friday, July 8, and that some of from the camp would join the community organizers at their weekly stall downtown.
Those present from the camp wanted to find out if they could donate money to people who had had the windows of their homes broken. The residents said that besides newspaper reports, they hadn’t met anybody who knew anyone to whom this had actually happened.
Out of everyone involved in the black bloc action, it wasn’t possible to find anyone who saw damage done to private houses. One participant said that he saw an unmarked police car being trashed. Perhaps some within the press assumed this car to be owned by local inhabitants.
[a post on the Scottish Indymedia website:]
You’ve got to hand it to them…
…some good has been done.
Thanks to the anti-world brigade, we have all been told we can leave work early.
I back the protesters, more protesting please…
Can you protest next Monday? I would like the day off, I have a dentist appointment.
In Muthill, near Crieff, a small village that had never been discussed openly as a site for protest, five people locked themselves together, blocking traffic. Thinking themselves safe, the American delegates to the G8 had located in Crieff; they had to spend hours waiting for the police to disassemble the complex blockade. Another blockade composed of a car with lock-ons inside and underneath hit the small road southeast of Gleneagles at the village of Yetts o’ Muckhart. Because the police had to spend so much time getting the Crieff blockade dismantled, this one was up most of the day. In case the delegates were re-routed around the A9, another large blockade hit the exit from Perth, and two smaller ones were set up southwest of it. The train tracks to Gleneagles were disabled by means of a compressor, with tires ablaze on both sides as a warning. The hotel was completely surrounded by blockades for most of the morning. The Canadian delegates never even made it to Gleneagles.
The original plan was to coordinate these blockades with disruption at the hotels where delegates were staying in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but this was less successful. Presumably going on the primarily urban character of recent anti-summit activity, the police had guessed that the most trouble would take place in these cities, and assembled much of their forces there. All the same, a few protesters managed to carry out their plans. Some went to the Sheraton Hotel where the Japanese G8 delegates were staying, and while hordes of police officers prevented any mass action, affinity groups blocked the road by throwing a bin into the street as the delegates climbed on a bus. Then, as delegates left the hotel with the help of the police and made their way north to the giant steel bridge connecting Edinburgh to central Scotland, anarchists blocked the road by crashing two cars into each other in a literally death-defying action.
After the initial wave of blockades, many activists remained near the routes to Gleneagles, establishing further blockades on an impromptu basis. Whenever police showed up, they dispersed into the surrounding fields, only to reassemble as soon as the coast was clear. This helped keep the roads impassable for much of the day.
The format used to shut down traffic to the G8 summit resembled the model used to paralyze San Francisco on the first day of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Such decentralized tactics proved to be extremely effective when coordinated by a common infrastructure. Even against a vastly more powerful opposing force, small groups can gain the upper hand so long as they are highly mobile and well-coordinated and are able to muster numbers equivalent to those of their opponents at the critical points of engagement. The lack of a central directing body means that even if one group is immobilized, the others can carry on just as effectively, as the strategic framework for actions has already been established.
After blockading, many went to join the G8 Alternatives march to the fence surrounding Gleneagles. Using the disruption of traffic as an excuse, the police had announced that they would not permit the march to take place; but, to their credit, the organizers threatened to march on the US embassy in Edinburgh if the original march route was denied, and the police grudgingly let them go ahead. As soon as the march came within view of the Gleneagles hotel, a great many participants, not at all invested in the socialist organizers’ call for a submissive, law-abiding march, surged across the fence and charged forward. The police lines were not sufficient to stave off this incursion, and hundreds more riot cops had to be flown in by means of Chinook helicopters before the field could be secured again. An eyewitness from the Infernal Noise Brigade reports:
The grass was tall and deep green and I was keeping myself between the band and these lines of mounted riot police. I was doing tactical and so not carrying an instrument; as the horses approached, they were so incredibly tall, their legs buried in the barley. I could smell them, and they smelled like normal horses, but they had these beasts on their backs driving them forward, threatening us by turning them so we were in range of their back hooves. The sky was gigantic and held low-flying military vehicles, stark against the blue, and the fields stretched on forever in every direction, the horizon cut by the outlines of all these people in their battle outfits, their flags of peace or war, their cameras and clown costumes. It was terrifying, beautiful, and epic.
Resistance in an Age of Terror
Under the cover of darkness early the following day, the police finally fulfilled everyone’s fears by blockading the camp. The more insurrectionary anarchists argued that the police blockade around the Eco-village had to be broken so activists could continue the successes of the previous day. With the police so obviously weak and the fence easily toppled, they believed one more coordinated action could shut down the summit. More pacifist elements felt that any attempt to fight through the police lines, especially now that the police would not be caught off guard as they had been the previous morning, would be a disaster; but they couldn’t propose another way to deal with the blockade.
Before discussions about the next few days of action could really commence, however, the news arrived that there had been a terrorist attack in London. It hit everyone like a physical punch in the stomach; the whole meeting came to an eerie standstill. The net effect was complete paralysis. The energy left the Eco-village, and people eventually began leaving in small groups, making their way meekly through the police checkpoint.
The bombings enabled the G8 leaders to cement their image as the defenders of Western civilization from barbaric extremists. Never mind that it was these same leaders who had moved the entire police force of London north to repress protesters instead of guarding the civilians who were killed. Never mind that it was the policies of these leaders that provoked terrorists to target British civilians in the first place. Indeed, like the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the London bombing was so effective in enabling the G8 leaders to consolidate their power that one can’t help but wonder if such attacks might figure in their strategy for world domination. Could it be that these heads of state are banking on the inevitable reprisals that their activities provoke to keep their citizens in line?
The fact that the G8 protests were eclipsed by the attack in London shows that anarchists have some catching up to do to be able to act effectively in the current historical context. The successes of these protests disprove the cowardly superstition that militant demonstrations are impossible under the conditions of today’s terror war. The problem is not that resistance is impossible, it is that our resistance, however tactically effective, will not be able to attract mass participation until people see that their rulers pose as great a threat to them as the terrorists they claim to be keeping at bay.
As long as people can only imagine politics as a choice between authoritarian rulers, they will always choose the more familiar ones; we have to show that it is not necessary to submit to rule of any kind, that in fact submission to authoritarian power brings us into greater danger than opposition to it does. Every time we freeze up in the face of a terrorist attack, fearing we will appear insensitive or insane if we continue our resistance, we cede the political field to the mind-numbing spectacle of one authoritarian force versus another. We need to craft a strategy for resistance that takes into account the strategies of fundamentalist terrorists as well as the tyranny of our rulers.
We could begin by focusing on holding powers such as the G8 responsible for the attacks they bring about. It is their imperialism and exploitation, their wars for power and control, that put the rest of us in harm’s way, anyway, whether as soldiers in occupying armies or as civilian targets. Most of the protesters in Scotland focused on economic issues, such as third world debt and the erosion of social welfare programs and job security; perhaps if more anarchists had explicitly stated that they were there to stop the rulers of the world before those rulers get us all killed, their efforts would have retained their relevance and persuasiveness after the bombings, possibly even serving as a catalyst for a broader public outcry. The rage people feel about being targeted by terrorist attacks is one of the most powerful forces in the political climate today; if we could turn this against those who currently benefit from it, anarchists would quickly gain the upper hand in our struggle against state power.
The Dissent! media policy succeeded in preventing the rise of media spokespeople—but, in the words of one frustrated activist, “When no one speaks to the media, the police just end up speaking for us!” When one of our goals is to reach and involve a lot of people, we must either establish our own means of reaching them, or else find ways to use the media to our own ends. Mass mobilizations offer an opportunity for anarchist alternatives to seize the popular imagination; we can’t afford to be outdone by reformists, or to underdo things ourselves. ↩