Ahead of G-8 summit, protests in high gear
PARIS — Gleneagles, a luxury hotel set amid fabled golf links deep in the Scottish countryside, is a good place to get away from it all.
The Group of Eight (G-8) leaders of the world's most industrialized countries, however, will not find the resort its normal secluded self when they meet there for their annual summit Wednesday.
Swarming with police and guarded by a five-mile chain-link fence, the hotel will be a magnet for tens of thousands of protesters who make G-8 meetings a perennial priority of their political activism.
More than 200,000 demonstrators thronged the streets of nearby Edinburgh Saturday, urging rich countries to offer better deals on aid, trade, and debt to the developing world.
As thousands more made their way to the Scottish capital following Saturday's Live8 rock concert watched by billions, the eclectic activists were united in a belief that mass demonstrations are a proven tool to promote global change.
"Politicians know they will be heavily scrutinized by people and the media and they don't court unpopularity," says Andy Atkins, advocacy director for Tearfund, an aid and relief group founded by evangelical churches, which is part of "Make Poverty History." "They want to be seen doing the right thing."
This weekend's protesters were a mixed bunch. There were churchgoing grandmothers, mobilized by the "Make Poverty History" alliance of charities, trade unions, and development groups that had already persuaded more than a million Britons to wear white wristbands as symbols of their sentiment.
There were families, encouraged by the mostly peaceful atmosphere: even Gordon Brown, the British finance minister, was on hand to rally the faithful.
And there were a few hundred anarchists, whose frothy outbursts against global capitalism accounted for most of the weekend's few scuffles with police.
Whatever their motives, however, they have been drawn to Scotland for one reason - to grab their share of the global attention that G-8 meetings attract nowadays, and thus amplify their voices.
Mass action does not always work, of course. The million-plus marchers who demonstrated against the Iraq war in London in February 2003 did not change Tony Blair's mind, and "if politicians do not want to do anything, no one will take any notice," says Stephen Rand, a leader of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates a reduction in developing countries' debt.
"When you have politicians who are responsive," however, "they can use the presence of sensitized people" on the streets to push for new policies, Mr. Rand adds. A big demonstration at the G-8 summit in Birmingham, England, in 1998, he argues, "changed the whole agenda on poverty for the G-8."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton found it politically advisable to hold an unscheduled meeting with demonstration leaders, Rand recalls, and a year later the next G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany, agreed to wipe out $100 billion of developing country debt.
Anarchists, too, say that they gear their tactics to their desire for attention.
At the G-8 summit in Denver in 1997, remembers Jay Kaye, a member of the "Dissent" network of activists, "we went marching down the street peacefully and there was a complete press blackout."
Two years later, at a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, riots made headlines all over the world.
"Blockades are a good tactic," says Mr. Kaye. "We want to shut down the summit," though he would not give details of his comrades' plans to do so.
Though the revolutionaries are unlikely to get much closer to their goal of destroying global capitalism with their actions this week, the reformists hoping to persuade G-8 leaders to be more generous to developing countries enjoy sunnier prospects, says Peter Waddington, an expert in the politics of protest at Reading University in England.
Bob Geldof, the Live8 organizer who urged audiences to march on Edinburgh once the music ended, "is going with the flow" toward reform of world trade and aid, says Professor Waddington. "The anticapitalists are swimming against the tide, and won't get anywhere."
Radical organizers are catering to every taste as they line up protests this week to keep anti-G-8 visitors to Scotland busy even if they cannot get to Gleneagles itself.
After the mass "Make Poverty History" march on Saturday, anticapitalist militants are lining up events around Scotland every day.
On Sunday, "Make Borders History" took small groups on walking tours of Glasgow, visiting the government institutions and private companies involved in detaining and deporting illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who have been turned down. It was the kind of quiet event that did not cause any arrests.
A far more intense event occurred Monday, when about 500 protesters blockaded the gates of Scotland's nuclear naval base at Faslane, some 60 miles from Gleneagles. "It is vitally important that people make the link between the industrial war machine and the poverty that so many people are suffering from around the world," said protester Jenny Gaiawyn.
Anarchists belonging (loosely) to the "Dissent Against Work" network, meanwhile, celebrated what they called a "Carnival for Full Enjoyment" Monday in Edinburgh, though the police assigned to the event did not appear to enjoy it much.
The tension was eased by protesters who kissed police riot shields, and by a group that called the Clandestine Insurgent Clown Rebel Army.
Today, activists have a choice between lighting a series of beacons on hilltops south of Gleneagles to send a message that the G-8 leaders are not welcome in Scotland, or of demonstrating outside an "Immigrant Removal Center" at Dungeval, where illegal immigrants are held before being deported.
Meanwhile, anyone with a spare moment any time during the week is invited to Glasgow to lend a hand at a community garden threatened with destruction by a highly unpopular new motorway that local authorities have planned.
A select group calling itself the "People's Golfing Association" has announced it intends - probably overoptimistically - to hold a tournament on Gleneagles's exclusive links on Thursday.
The tournament "is open to all freedom-loving individuals who reject everything the G-8 stands for (except golf)," according to the PGA's website, and "promises the opportunity to brush shoulders with ... dapper anarchists from around the world."
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.