The designated convergence space for activists had already been raided by police as I arrived at the 12 noon Oxford Circus meeting point for the Carnival Against Capitalism.
Stop G8 had squatted a building in Soho, believed to be a former police Section House, to use as a base for a week of action leading up to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland from 17 to 18 June. Police stormed the building on the morning of 11 June and the fallout lasted most of the day.
At Oxford Circus we were joined by a samba band and the carnival-like atmosphere began to build. The focus of the day’s activities was the West End of London with a ‘party in the streets’ planned to point out ‘the hiding places of power, and take back the heart of our city for a day’.
There were large numbers of police poised for arrests and large numbers of press poised to film people being arrested. Over 200 people eventually took to the streets and it was clear the police wanted to keep things as contained as they could get away with.
Jamie Kelsey-Fry, New Internationalist contributing editor, was also there: ‘I saw a woman who was arrested by about ten police because she had a felt tip,’ he told BBC radio that evening. ‘This is a really extreme form of policing.’ Over 50 arrests were made, either during the protest or at the convergence space.
The night before Jamie had been at the Beak Street building as activists planned the #J11 activities, and he told the BBC: ‘The average age was 24; I met people from Italy, Spain, Algeria Greece, Turkey… all these countries that have been affected in the same way. They are genuinely inspiring, brave young people.’
Where I was, earlier on in the protest, people had been attracted to the crowd by the samba band or curiosity, or they just happened to be passing through. Members of the public, not part of the protest, were pushed aside roughly with shouts of ‘get out if the way’, every time there was a surge to grab a protester to stop and search.
It was like a travelling party, with small groups breaking off and interspersed with scuffles. The drone of the police helicopter was a constant overhead. The most destructive thing I saw a protester do was put a sticker on a wall, no worse than any renegade gig promoter or big bucks advertiser. There seemed to be no attempts to enter buildings – a mobilization designed to stay mobile.
There was no easy way for onlookers to see what the protest was about, with little visual reference to the G8. However some of the popular chants were ‘this is what democracy looks like’ and ‘anticapitalista.’ At one stage I was standing on the pavement near a man in a shirt and tie as a group of people ran across the road, chased by police. When a passer-by with a suitcase asked him what was happening, he told her it was about the G8 adding, ‘fucking scumbags’. She looked disgusted, replying ‘I agree with them actually’ before walking off. This was typical of the mixed reactions I heard from people around the West End: disdain, admiration and often just provocation of a general discussion about ‘the system’.
Stop G8 continued to take action on 12 June as an anti-militarization protest took place outside defence giant BAE Systems.
The anti-G8 week of activity is a wide ranging critique of capitalism, including actions themed around borders, prisons, and debt. After the 11 June events they released a statement saying: ‘In Istanbul today they sent in the cops with rubber bullets and teargas to clear Taksim Square. In London today they came with batons and tasers to clear the Beak Street social centre… police violence against our week of action will only make us stronger. No fear! Solidarity!’
For more information on events and actions planned under the Stop G8 banner, see the website.
On Friday 14 June, there will be a protest focusing on cuts, climate and capitalism at Canary Wharf, London, organized under the banner of ‘They Owe Us.’ Plans are for a mass assembly to discuss alternatives to the systems that is creating the economic and climate crises.