Thursday, 9 April 2009
The joke that was the G20 summit or why many potential protesters stayed at home
Sure, protesters marched through the City of London, flanked by police. Loads of police. But, let’s face it, their heart wasn’t really in it. And there weren’t that many of them. Even the Countryside Alliance has fielded more people than hit the City last week.
All the banks were on high alert of course. City workers were told to work from home or dress down, come in earlier than normal (protesters are not used to early starts, you see, they sleep in, lazy people that they are) but really when it came down to it, things were quiet in the City. Eerily quiet most of the time.
And that’s as it should be. Contrary to pet fears, protesters are neither ignorant nor stupid. They have no quarrel with City workers, the number-crunchers that get crunched by the crisis worse than anyone. The people they have a quarrel with were either not coming into work on those days or sitting right at the heart of the G20 summit. So City workers were left to their own devices, largely.
Their bosses were largely not there, so they weren’t hassled.
And the G20 bosses, well, they have security details and traffic police clearing the way so they can’t have noticed much either.
Uneventful, is what the protests were.
Now that’s no bad thing. The people who hit the streets were pacifists, issue-focused and politically aware. Destruction and havoc was not on the agenda so the fact that the protests were uneventful was part of the plan and not, as the BBC seems to suggest, a lucky accident. These people protested our leaders’ inaction in the face of a financial crisis that has been raging and deepening for months now; they protested the indecision and lack of vision that plagues the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan; they protested climate change and the lack of any policy to combat it. They protested real issues affecting us all, in the presence of people who can do something about it. Not the junior associate from HSBC, but the presidents and prime ministers of powerful nations sitting in consultation with each other for the good of their people.
Well some of their people were outside the building trying to get heard but, as usual, they got penned in out of the way until the leaders were out of earshot. Predictably no leader or representative even attempted a sortie even though the protesters were peaceful.
‘We are not all like that Mr President’ said the Sun, juxtaposing a picture of a protesting crowd in the City of London and a photo of the Queen with the Obamas.
What does that mean anyway? We are not like what?
We are not all like a kindly, elderly monarch with a strange taste in clothes? No, I’d think not. But obviously that’s not what it means at all. What it means is we are not all like ‘the great unwashed’, the filthy hippy protestors. We wouldn’t protest, oh no, not us!
And what I want to know is how is that a good thing?
If something is worth protesting against and you do so peacefully and respectfully, how is a protest not proof of care, compassion, humanity and engagement?
Oh yes, the Sun never fails to offend me.
But strongly as I do feel about all this, I must confess that I was not out there on the streets last week.
In the past, I have joined demonstrations even though I knew the government would not listen. Stop the war coalition – I was there, in the cold and rain every time although I knew Blair would take no note. It was important to me to stand up to be counted.
I care. Oh do I care. I wish I didn’t, it may help me sleep at night, caring less. But much as I care, I could not take the G20 summit seriously enough to protest against it. And I could not take the leaders involved seriously enough to try and get their attention.
It was clear even before the summit started that nothing would come of it. No new idea, no commitment, no genuine debate, no genuine falling-out, even, helping to clarify where the global politico-economic fault-lines lie.
We knew, before the debates even started, that we couldn’t even hope for radical disagreement showing us, the voters, that there are genuine, thought-through viable options to choose from.
Nobody had any expectations from the summit. Nobody has any expectations from the leadership.
So I stayed at home alongside millions of people.
Some disagreed with the protesters. The Sun and the man down my local pub feel squeamish at the sight of a protest, those dirty hippies and all that. That’s not me.
The cynics say we are not in Kansas any more and only the protesters can’t see it. That’s not me. Others stayed at home because they have more influence when they are near their phones and laptops than if they are waving placards at passing cars. Well that’s not me either.
I just couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that even if we were to rally the mighty, it will make not a jot of difference as they are largely to blame for the mess we are in anyway. The feeling that the protests had loads of goals but no real aim. A lot of issues but no real focus because it is no longer clear who can solve these problems and how – our leaders lacking both means and will, both ideas and a backbone.
So I stayed at home.
But I am comforted by the fact that not everyone did.
Because when there is this much wrong with the world giving up and going home seems like the sensible option. But it’s not the responsible option.
And still I stayed at home.
Because I knew that everything would come down to cash injections and I just couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm or anger to get out onto the streets to be yelled at by policemen over that. Of course other things were on the agenda. I’m sure Sarkozy suggested radical solutions Obama shrugged off because, generally speaking, the sort of thing the French like gets shot down on the Hill before you can even blink. So we are left with cash injections. And the problem with cash injections is that you and I, long-suffering tax payers, finance those thus salvaging the banks the bosses of whom brought us to where we are today.
And the protesters know that, of course. And I know that.
The difference is I stay at home while they obviously still shout in hope and anticipation even though they are bound to know the paradox – the lack of clear solutions, the total lack of grounds for inter-governmental collaboration and agreement. They are bound to know. Because if they care enough to be angry, if they care enough to be there, they care enough to know.
They know. And they still hope.
They were out on the streets because they still have faith.
And I was at home because I’m all out.