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(en) Britain, Media, Inside the weird world of the G8 anarchists

Date Tue, 28 Jun 2005 11:23:13 +0300

IF YOU need directions, then ask a policeman. Never was this
more true than when I took my early steps into the world of the
front-line activists who have dedicated their lives to disrupting
the G8 summit at Gleneagles.
Struggling to find the real venue for a planning meeting held by
a loose coalition of anarchist groups in Glasgow in February, I
knew I had reached the right place when I spotted a police
helicopter circling helpfully overhead.
The line of battered old vans and the knots of people smoking
roll-ups in the foyer only served to confirm what the security
services already knew. Here, in a room at Glasgow School of
Art, was a snapshot of anarchy in the UK.

The only anarchy on show, however, was the groups of
children running wild around the meeting space as we
discussed the finer points of keeping on the right side of Scots
law while carrying out a disruptive - but non-violent - protest.

The worst disruption - perhaps a case of getting your
retaliation in first - came from the helicopter buzzing overhead.
Those speaking had to raise the decibels by shouting to get
their points across. It lent a farcical atmosphere to the serious
matter of planning to spoil the G8 party in Perthshire.

It was part of my six-month journey into the lives of the
activists who will be on the frontline of political confrontation,
peaceful or otherwise.

It was a world in which neo-hippy mumbo-jumbo met
hardline, expert protest technique. Activists met in circles -
use of a table was regarded as too corporate - and indicated
their approval or disapproval of decisions by waving both their
hands in the air, hokey-cokey style (up for agree, down for
disagree). But there was a more serious side. Surnames were
never used and all talk of the direct actions that are inevitable
were quickly closed down due to fears of infiltration.

Events, however, were orchestrated with a clear purpose in
mind. "From July 6th to 8th, violent extremists [ie G8 leaders]
will be converging on Scotland... they'll be trying to meet at
Gleneagles hotel, and we'll be trying to stop them." So read the
irony-heavy manifesto of the Dissent network, the leading
anti-G8 protest group currently mobilising activist groups.

I learned of plans to blockade the roads leading to Gleneagles,
in order to stop the huge numbers of administrative assistants
and translators required to make the summit a success getting
to the luxury hotel venue. This was a tactic which had
disrupted the G8 meeting in Evian, France.

Plans were circulated to make human-chain blockades more
effective with the use of "lock-on tubes" made from metal,
plastic and cardboard. Activists first push their arms down the
tubes and then lock their hands together using clips
(karabiners) used by climbers. The police then find it difficult
to move protestors individually as they have in the past. Tube
workshops have been set up in Edinburgh and Glasgow to
prepare for the events ahead.

Many discussions also centred on the so-called "convergence
space" which will become the anarchist group's strike base
within easy reach of Gleneagles. A site, being called an
"eco-village" and housing up to 5,000 protestors, was approved
by Stirling Council on Friday. It is from the solar-powered
camp that protest leaders will initiate and co-ordinate direct

One will be a demonstration at Faslane on Monday, July 4.
Activist documents gave detailed instructions on how to cut
through the toughest of wire mesh fences.

My first tentative steps to becoming a fellow "comrade" began
with an open meeting held by the Autonomous Centre of
Edinburgh (ACE) in a meeting hall in the city centre in early
February. From initial impressions, it was difficult to see how
any of those present would be capable of organising any
serious counter revolutionary activity.

The group consisted of around 30 people of varying
nationalities, including Spanish, German, American, Dutch
and Italian. Only a few Scots were present, along with some
dubious-looking extras wearing very pristine combat trousers
and brand new hiking boots. It was difficult to tell if they were
journalists or police officers - but they were definitely not of the
activist ilk.

There were no formal introductions to begin the meeting - and
those who arrived not knowing the group already obviously
didn't need to know. The group has no clear hierarchy, though
there were a few individuals who were very obviously pushing
the agenda.

Those present were asked to make a brief statement outlining
what they wanted to achieve by joining the G8 protests,
without actually naming themselves.

A young man, with blue hair which covered only one side of
his head, introduced himself as simply 'an anarchist'. Although
he had no clear idea of what he wanted to achieve, he knew he
wanted to at least be involved, preferably within the groups
arranging suitable squats in the Edinburgh area. It was more of
a Citizen Smith kind of scenario than a well-drilled hard-left

But alongside him were representatives from the Dissent
network and the Working Group Against Work, an
Edinburgh-based movement against low paid, insecure jobs.

The main focus of the meeting was to discuss mobilisation
within Scotland for the upcoming summit. The most pressing
issue was convergence space, loosely translated to mean
finding spaces to house the large number of protesters
expected, as well as finding office space to set-up a
communications network, both in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

We also talked about Scotland's right to roam laws and how
they could be used to gain access to the countryside around
Gleneagles without breaking any rules. A "beacons of dissent"
action was discussed - a proposal to burn effigies of the G8
leaders on nearby hilltops to be organised by a protestor
nicknamed 'Spacebunny'.

The next meeting was organised under the banner of Dissent
on February 12. Dissent was formed in 2003 from groups of
protestors involved in radical direct actions. The network has
no central office, membership list or spokesperson, but derives
its principals from the Peoples' Global Action network, an
umbrella group set up in 1998 to co-ordinate and communicate
with groups committed to global anti-capitalist resistance. It
calls for a "confrontational attitude" and civil disobedience to
achieve its aims.

Because of the suspicious nature of the Dissent network, just
finding out where the meetings are taking place can be a
laborious task in itself.

The original venue for the meeting was to be the Carnival Arts
Centre in Glasgow. When I arrived there, I wasn't too sure I
had the right place. There was no one around, and it looked
like a disused warehouse. Only a small sign saying Dissent
with an arrow pointing up the dark staircase told me I was
indeed in the right place. Well, almost.

From the surroundings, I was surprised to find the space
upstairs filled with brightly coloured tapestries and Christmas
tree lights. A small group of children were running between
rooms, playing very un-activist type war games. I was told that
at the last minute the venue had been changed to the Glasgow
Art School.

The police helicopter hovering overhead confirmed that the
security services at least saw this meeting as a hotbed of
anarchist activity. Other protest groups had turned up,
including Scottish CND and the Faslane Trident Ploughshare.

Dissent information pamphlets were available, describing
successful disruption tactics used at previous summits and
other government meetings. There were clear steers as to what
was expected from activists at the G8. "Another problem for
Tony [Blair] and his chums, though, is that Gleneagles only
has 270 rooms," they said. "Never enough for them, their
entourage, and the press. So it looks like these guys will have
to be bussed in from Perth, maybe Dundee and even further
out. Not a lot of roads between Perth and Auchterarder: if one
of those roads was to get blocked it could be an awful hassle."

Working groups were formed to discuss direct actions,
meaning protesting in a manner that is disruptive rather than
outright violent.

There was a loose form of organisation to it all, though not
exactly what you would call a well-oiled machine. During
meetings, a speaker is never interrupted until it is clear they
have finished speaking. The group use the hand waves to
signal their agreement or disagreement, and a minute-taker
speaks only to clarify points raised.

A controversial statement can provoke furious hand waving,
with arms raised in the air to provide emphasis. An example of
this was the proposal to form a "tranquility team" to maintain
order within the rural convergence space.

The group agreed that there should be some people dedicated
to maintaining peace and harmony within the community. But
it was hands down for the proposal to have them wear yellow

When it came to direct actions, the group discussions became
purposely vague. Any discussion that strayed into actual details
was quickly shut down. Those that needed to know clearly
already knew. As some of the group are veterans of previous
G8 protests, the cloak and dagger approach they have adopted
has come as a direct result of the treatment they have received
at earlier protests.

The topics were mainly limited to discussing the organisation
of a suitable place to create a community. It is within that
community space that the direct actions will be planned. A text
messaging system will be used to co-ordinate direct actions
and a communications team will be active within the rural
convergence space - at Forthbank in Stirling - with a well
equipped, solar-powered communications hub.

As innocuous as the proceedings seemed, the purpose of this
gathering was nonetheless geared towards planning a strategy
to disrupt the G8 proceedings. How do you turn a situation to
your advantage? If a train full of protestors was stopped
heading north to Edinburgh, activists should be ready with
posters and banners to turn the exercise into a publicity

In April, it was time for a Festival of Dissent in a field in
Lanarkshire, which had a huge turnout of both journalists and
police. The purpose was not to train activists in direct action
but to teach them how to set up the eco-village that will house
many protestors.

An American veteran activist named 'Starhawk' was
co-ordinating this through a group called Earth Action. The
arts of non-violent protest were on the agenda, as was what to
do in the event of being arrested. Finances also figured highly.
The Dissent network was holding funds in the region of
£30,000 but had still to find a suitable accommodation space
to spend the money on.

The most important Dissent gathering was held in Nottingham
in May where the all-important convergence site was fully
discussed. Minutes from the meeting reveal a discussion about
what to do if police want to enter the site. Organisers want it to
be a no-go zone for the security services although they were
prepared to allow an inspection before it fully opened.

Legal arrangements were also made clear with a team of
lawyers due to be on standby. Around 50,000 "bust cards"
have been ordered for Scotland, giving activists information on
their rights and a number to call if arrested.

The key to direct actions lay with finding out more about what
was to happen at the convergence space. So my last brush with
the activists earlier this month was at a Dissent Gathering at
the Scottish Carnival Arts Centre in Glasgow, where the site
was to be discussed. Attendance was poor as many activists
were away in Sheffield planning for a pre-G8 ministerial
meeting, at which police were expected to try out new crowd
control tactics.

Only the core organisers for the convergence space in Scotland
were on hand and as I had not been part of this group earlier I
was looked at suspiciously. I was woefully out of my depth
within this small group and they knew it. The discussion was
being drawn back at the slightest hint of giving away any
details of what the group were planning. I knew I wasn't
welcome anymore, though as was fairly typical, everyone was
far too polite to say anything.

It was clear to me that my time as a would-be anarchist was at
an end.

SCOTT McCULLOCH Scotsman Sun 26 Jun 2005
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