The preparations began months ago — long before Bob Geldof woke from his long sleep. Trade unionists, anti-capitalists, members of churches and community organisations, activists of every sort booked their coaches and agitated with those around them to come to Edinburgh on 2 July in a massive protest against the G8.
And over 300,000 did come and waited for three hours for a chance to march through the city.
The NGOs thought they had the ear of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. At the Live8 concert in Hyde Park a neon sign above the stage read “Eight men can change the world.” Most people on the protest had no such illusions.
When a Make Poverty History (MPH) commentator described some of the banners on the march, she did not mention the thousands of placards spread throughout the march denouncing Bush and Blair as warmongers, nor the white T-shirts with “Fight poverty not war” emblazoned across them.
That was why Brown did not join the march, as many had expected, choosing instead to speak at a ticket-only rally that evening, where he could get away without having to mention the war.
Edinburgh was not a good day out for ageing rockers, but an angry protest which insisted that war, poverty and ecological disaster are intimately connected. We were not pleading for Africa, for the suffering masses (whose culture and whose voice were, of course, absent from Hyde Park). We were joining with the resisters of Africa, the fighters for justice around the world.
Paying for their chains
Trevor Ngwane, from Johannesburg, asked, “Whose debt are we asked to pay?” Centuries of slavery, theft and pillage. Billions of dollars worth of arms sold to tyrants whose only qualification was their obedience to global capital. And now they ask the enslaved and exploited to pay for their own chains.
The MPH stages at the rally were initially larger and louder than the Stop the War podium. As the evening wore on, the crowd by the podium was quietly surrounded by police, encircling us and looking outward to intimidate anyone who wanted to hear the G8 leaders exposed as hypocrites and liars. But they still came.
Sunday in Edinburgh began with the morning papers. They carried pages of colour photographs of Live8 and the concerts in eight cities across the world. One city that was barely mentioned was Edinburgh. For those who marched the day before this was compelling evidence of how truth is distorted, how the public is misinformed.
As George Monbiot put it, media representation of the campaign has created a “false consensus”. Our movement has nothing in common with G8.
Our purpose is to end poverty by abolishing debt and redistributing the world’s wealth. We had already nailed the lies of Brown and Blair. We knew that the $40 million promised to Africa was a fraction of the $200 billion or more spent on the destruction of Iraq.
So the mood of the 5,000 people who spent Sunday 3 July in debate and discussion at the G8 Alternatives counter-summit was vibrant, inspired, but angry that the market and its musicians had relegated the voice of African resistance to a Cornish meadow and a minute of global TV time.
Scotland had never seen a political meeting of this size organised by a committed team of anti-capitalists — without the benefit of media attention or the sponsorship of Bill Gates.
Vittorio Agnoletto of the Italian Social Forum told us that the same Gates who shook Bob Geldof’s hand is sponsoring European legislation to restrict unauthorised access to his software.
This counter-summit was as serious as it was inspiring. We were, after all, meeting to discuss our alternative — our alternative to this world, our shared conviction that capitalism and poverty were inseparable companions, and that poverty could only end when capitalism itself was a memory.
The irony is that when Brown et al have introduced the new debt rules, millions more will be poorer and hungrier, because they are attached to a new neo-liberal assault on Africa.
Geldof said eight men can change the world. We said yes, but only for the worse. So who can bring change?
The answer was a single word that echoed through the counter-summit —Bolivia, where a mass movement took the centre of the historical stage, threw out a president and began to forge the organs of a new kind of mass democracy.
Susan George, speaking at the magnificent final rally, put it like this: “We have come to the point where our movement is a new subject of history, an actor in the drive for a transformation of capitalist society.” Edinburgh was another important step on that road.
Mike Gonzalez is a writer and member of the Scottish Socialist Party executive. He writes in a personal capacity.