Make History

The G8 came to my city of Sheffield.

Make History

As I said in a radio interview recently, there’s nothing like a good coup to inspire you!

When, in the 1960s, Indonesia’s democratically-elected leader, Sukarno, was overthrown and replaced by the right-wing Suharto, the Western powers who financed the coup met, decided who’d get which piece of the pie, and clearly felt a light-bulb over their heads…

France, one of the major countries involved in the initial meetings over Indonesia, hosted the very first superpower summit, when in 1975, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing invited fellow leaders to the Chateau de Rambouillet for a “fireside chat.” It sounds lovely, and I can just see the rug with a bear’s open-mouthed head at the end, at their very feet – how symbolic! Now, no less than the Group of 8 – consisting of the leaders of the eight most developed countries (well, seven, and Russia) – the summit comes to Britain this year.

Here in the activism hotbed that is Sheffield, we’ve already had a taste of the G8. Back when David Blunkett was Home Secretary, in addition to promoting a more “Orwellian” Britain, he kindly proposed that the G8 Justice & Interior Ministers summit take place in his hometown of Sheffield. It sounded like a lovely gesture, but it was always going to be more like a punishment – they call the city the Socialist Republic of Sheffield. Yeah, great idea – send the G8 bigwigs into that town!

Two mounted police officers with old buildings in the background under a blue sky where a helicopter hovers

David Blunkett has, of course, since been replaced by Charles Clarke, who has continued his crusade in spite of the House of Lords even ripping apart and throwing away his proposals for an Anti-Terror Bill, which will remove many of our civil liberties while using the War on Terror™ as an excuse (even though no such bill was needed when Tories were getting blown to pieces by the IRA). Charles Clarke was joined by two Americans: Michael Chertoff authored the US Patriot Act, which the Anti-Terror Bill was based on, while Alberto Gonzales is the man who gave the go-ahead for torture at Guantanamo Bay. What a nice start! In addition, Guiseppe Pisanu (pronounced “piss-on-you”) – the man who said “we will use the just repressive force of the state” when talking about the police tactics – represented Italy, doing his bit to keep alive the spirit of Mussolini. Aah.

A protesting performance artist crawling in front of cops, wearing overalls that say "backward intelligence team" written in reverse, and a frame around their neck

Man, I love this town! The people here are trouble – the kind of trouble you’ve gotta love. Sheffield made sure to give the politicians a welcome, in spite of a huge police presence not felt since the miners’ strikes here twenty years ago. Initially, the police had told the demonstration organizers that essentially no protest would be allowed! While the politicians were meeting in the city centre near the Winter Garden, the authorities said protesters would have to remain across the city, over on Devonshire Green (my proverbial back yard.) Well, I never thought this would go down particularly well – I remembered the marches in this city the day the attack on Iraq officially began, and after several hours of sending the marchers along different streets – north, east, south and west – the protesters just ended up running straight at the police en masse, causing the cops to cower, before sitting in the middle of the road at the main junction near my haunt, the Showroom, getting comfy, and refusing to move.

Dozens of armoured cops with one police officer striding behind them in the street.

This was no different. On the first day, the amount of police was overwhelming, making many protesters uneasy, which caused tensions to rise. Protesters were stopped and stunted, splintering the demonstration into small groups that would then dwindle. On the second day, initially there were fewer police, but once they realized there were far more protesters than the previous day, this soon changed. On the march along West Street towards Devonshire Green, police attempted several times to form a line to block the march for no logical reason, although as members of the “Rhythms of Resistance” band slipped through, this eventually failed and the march continued to its predetermined destination and Devonshire Green – where a table and chairs had been set on the grass, with a tablecloth and golden platters, and demonstrators inviting the politicians for a meal consisting of rice…which is what the majority of the world are grateful to get at all thanks to the status quo of the G8. Many protesters sat on the road eating their rice, though they’d pay for it later once night had fallen by being inexplicably penned in on a street by hundreds of police officers and kept there for close to an hour, while other reports stated mounted police charged at people, grabbing them by their necks. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what they did in the miners’ strikes – in addition to bringing in police from other parts of the country, so they could run back to their posh southern towns and hide like dirty yellow gutless cowards.

Multi-millionaire wishy-washy liberal businessman Bob Geldof finally decided to go back on his word and attempt to repeat the success of Live Aid with Live 8, a day of worldwide stadium and open-air gigs designed to raise awareness of the poverty in fact caused by today’s capitalism, and mobilize people to get to the actual G8 Summit in Gleneagles weeks from now. The Sheffield demonstrations have already helped to mobilize for the event, one at which the police have said they expect to make thousands of arrests. Bless ’em.

The G8 being a gathering of the richest nation’s representatives rather than, say, the poorest, obviously the continuations of the causes of poverty are actually top of the agenda! The G8 decides the directions of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization, all of which collect debts from the developing countries, some of which pay more on it than on their own health care, education, or essential supplies. This is a debt that could be scrapped tomorrow and create a world where all countries have more of a chance – but it won’t be scrapped. A bowl of rice is considered good enough for the world’s poor, but many don’t even get that, with four thousand children dying of starvation every hour. Bob Geldof has tried to push this issue onto the agenda, and the G8 have acted like they acknowledge it. They will continue to portray themselves as caring godfathers of the world’s poor, when in fact all they care about is themselves; their unkind kind and kindred. That’s why Tony Blair joins campaigns to bomb poor countries for oil, why George Bush pulls his country from the Kyoto Treaty, and why the G8 itself flies the flag of globalization that builds sweatshops and puts a bloody GAP in every town.

A police surveillance van with armoured cops in front of it, one of whom is filming protesters with a small camcorder

Just today, a young black man was headed to his local pub for a pint or two, but couldn’t get there because the scale of the police blockade meant that almost the entirety of Sheffield’s city centre was inaccessible. As I walked along near him, we both expressed our frustration at the situation. “The protesters are people with a voice, and all it’s asking for is to get rid of the debt,” he said. “All this is crazy; I can’t even get to my local pub, just because they’re here having an expensive meal that we’re paying for!” “Exactly,” I replied. “And if we don’t pay for it? They throw us in jail.” This guy wasn’t part of the protest, but he still had it all figured out. Because this is Sheffield, and after twenty years, people are wiser. That’s why these demonstrations took place. Because whether it be a miner eating “milk pobs” because he’s broke, or a person in an African nation hoping for a bowl of rice – it’s all part of the same picture.

The Big Picture has started here in Sheffield, and it’s time to make the most of this opportunity for us British people to let the G8 know what we think, by going on to Gleneagles for the Summit itself. It’s time to make history.

And in case you were wondering, the offer of rice wasn’t taken.