I don’t exactly know how I got in touch with Dissent, but emails kept appearing in my inbox. Mainly they were meeting announcements, but then the news came through that they had managed to persuade Stirling Council to use a tract of land at the back of the stadium as a convergence centre. I went up there at the set up night, to offer my old doors and to take up some supplies, and when I saw it I realised that this was where I wanted to be that week. This account is in a kind of chronological order, but as time has gone on, the week has passed into the kind of fuzz that holidays usually do, but I’ll do my best.
After going to the Make Poverty History demo, I set up camp and brought the boys through on the Saturday before the G8. They were very excited at the prospect of a week in a tent, and that night tired but happy we all snuggled down in our new home. The next morning, breakfast was interrupted by an eight year old girl, who was rounding up all the children in the camp to the kids space. A big geodome had been constructed with branches and pipe connectors covered in tarpaulin. It was to become a major focus of activities for the approximately 80 children who were on site, and a critical place for parents to discuss their activism knowing that the others there also had children to consider when planning their activities.That day was spent alternating between the kids space and wandering around the camp, exploring some of the innovations, such as the grey water filtration system that cleaned water which had not been contaminated with detergent; the solar generator and initially ominous composting toilets
The camp was set up on the basis of “barrios”, or neighbourhoods, which was the convergence space for both food and discussion. These large tents provided the food for all of the campers in their immediate neighbourhood – I would reckon there were perhaps around 30 of them serving a population of approximately 3000 at the peak. Most of them appeared to be geographically based, however there were a number that were identity based, such as the ‘wimmins’ barrio. All of the food that I encountered was both vegan and delicious, (note to self: must get copy of Anarchist cookbook!) and everyone was expected to pitch in with the preparation, cooking and washing up.
The people who had come were clearly a disparate bunch – there were the expected crusties, lifestylers and students, (the latter of whom provided the main backbone of the camp), but beyond them there was a whole load of people who had pitched up, like me, taking a break in an otherwise conventional 9-5 life. I noticed a couple of older teenage lads on the first night, looking rather bewildered as they wandered around, somewhat nervous of the dreadlocks and of a gay couple holding hands. A few days later I noticed them running around a crowd with a giant rainbow ribbon. A couple of SSP members from the Stirling branch also turned up to visit and to see it all first hand – like me they were stunned and curious
On the Monday was a trip to Faslane. I got there rather late, but we had a victory of sorts as my little one casually wandered through the police lines blocking the base, much to the amusement of the assembled crowd (and the confusion of the police who hadn’t noticed). The SSP was out in force, along with a whole range of other activists. I enthused about the Eco-village to anyone who would listen and raved so much about it that another SSP member went home to get her tent and join me. (Unfortunately next time I saw her was after the G8, nursing a bandaged arm having joined the blockades – sorry!.)
That night there was music at the camp, music like I had never heard before. I sat outside the tent listening for a bit and then wandered over for a short while. I have never seen this before and I doubt that I will ever see it again, but the sight of animal rights activists in balaclavas singing about the beneficial effects of pumpkin seeds in the prevention of testicular cancer is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
The Tuesday was taken up with planning for the G8. I joined the Kids Bloc, who were intending to join the G8 alternatives march in Gleneagles. The meeting was an unusual affair with about 100 people including children. The main facilitator breastfeed as she managed the meeting as did a number of the contributors. The meeting was run by consensus decision making, which I have to say that I didn’t quite get my head around, but the major points were to keep contributions very short and on-track, non-verbal communication being used both to indicate agreement or dissent from a proposal, and to manage the meeting. We covered an amazing amount of ground in a short time, including transport, special needs, emergency procedures and contacts, food, media and police relations
We also established our affinity groups, a concept that I had never heard of before, but which struck me as such an obvious and beneficial idea. Each affinity group had between 5 to 8 people who all had a similar view on action and risk, and acted as a support group throughout the action – travelling together, helping each other out with practicalities and ensuring the safety of one another. Having struggled to fairly vanilla demos with two babies in tow, I can see how this can both be a powerful concept to enable participation by people who have difficulty taking action and a strong enabler of more powerful actions.
That night after the boys were in bed, I watched the groups leave – some for roadblocks, some for beacons and some for other secret actions. The weather had turned, yet there was a fantastic spirit among those setting out with tents and sleeping bags to position themselves in the countryside around Gleneagles. The Chinooks flew constantly overhead, and the sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance. It was all starting for real.
The next day I set off with the Kids Bloc at 10am to find the police stopping and searching all vehicles leaving the camp. By 11.30 they finally let us all go, firstly to the M8 where the police had sealed off the route, then to the A8, where the police had sealed off the route, then Stirling where we got turned back by the police. We tried to get through Bridge of Allan, but they were having none of it and we eventually got going towards Crieff, with police at the front and back of the convoy. The response of the residents of the hillfoot villages was amazing as we went past, many of whom came out and waved to us.
About 5 miles from Auchterader, Ali decided that he needed a pee. After a short stop we rushed to catch up with the convoy –but in a siding about a mile further on, the police were dragging people bodily out of a van which had been pulled out of the convoy, while others were turning another couple’s home/van upside down, much to their distress. When we stopped and tried to get pictures a WPC came up and insisted that we moved on
We caught up with the convoy on the bridge over the M9, where a solid line of riot police were blocking the entrance to Auchterader. Given no way in, but a rather good sound system, a couple of dozen clowns and a Samba band, we had a party and a picnic in the rain. All the while we were being filmed by at least two groups of police with surveillance equipment who were clearly picking out individuals. The party lasted about 90 minutes before the police announced that they had now opened up our exit and that we should move. We moved as quickly as 80 kids, a couple of dozen clowns, a salsa band and a big red bus can.
Eventually we made it to Auchterader around half past four, just in time to see people coming back from the march. Undeterred we decided to head up to the Rally but on our way we saw a line of riot police on horseback heading up the road. After a quick confab amongst the affinity group we decided that we did not know enough about what was going on up there to be sure that it could be safe for our children and decided to go for chips instead. Coming home we saw people emerge from the sides of the roads all the way home – exhausted and rather damp, but very proud of what they had contributed.
That night the Chinooks were even more prevalent than before and there was a very real concern that the police would enter the camp in the night. There was a number of people there from the travelling community and who had been to Genoa and there was a real concern that something similar could happen here. We were very vulnerable, camped in an exposed area surrounded by water with only one entrance. As it happened, although the police came up to the gates of the camp en-masse, those delegated to ensure security managed to get the situation under control. Nonetheless the feeling of siege and the emotions from all we had witnessed that day made the camp a tense place that night.
The next morning, we heard for the first time about the London Bombings and that people were now being prevented from leaving or entering the camp. The bombings made people lose appetite for the planned actions that day, particularly those from London concerned about their families and friends, but there was also great concern that people were not being allowed to leave. Information was limited – reliant on wind-up radios and internet access which was available at the Indymedia tent. The police were being tight lipped about how long this would last and several people were getting concerned about getting back home for their other responsibilities.
Eventually the police were persuaded to let people out – at first only individually on production of a valid train ticket and later in small groups. Although the police claimed that they leafleted the camp to avert the fear inside, these leaflets were only given to those leaving, and as no one was allowed back in, this information did not reach the majority of people. There was further concern that the police were deliberately letting the most active out so that they could shut down the camp to re-deploy their resources back to London.
By mid-afternoon, the situation was more relaxed and people could come and go through a massive police presence at the exit. I took the opportunity to go and stock up on a few things, as I came back in I noticed that all of the police had their numbers covered with coloured epaulettes. I ask one of them why this was, and he told me that special powers had been invoked which meant they didn’t have to show their numbers, but he didn’t know what they were. After checking with a couple of people I was advised to ask them to identify a senior officer so that these powers could be identified. I approached the line a second time and asked one of the officers to identify a senior officer – he refused. When I asked for his number he also refused to give me it. (I subsequently made an complaint, wherein the officer in charge of the policing at the G8 visited me at home to explain that it was all an innocent error with uniform. The investigation, such as there was, concluded that the policeman concerned should have identified a senior officer and given his number when requested, but as I didn’t have his number, they could not identify him to correct his misunderstanding),
That night there was a big party – great music, great atmosphere. After the party, the neighbours and I talked on into the night about politics, about climate change, about democracy and about resistance. I got a potted history of Grenada from one of my neighbours who was on holiday in the UK when the US invaded and never went back, and heard about someone’s Dad who got caught up in the Battle of the Beanfield. But most of all we shared accounts of G8 actions. Everyone had a story to tell about their involvement and their resistance. I went to bed at dawn determined to squeeze every last drop from the experience.
All in all, it was brilliant. The solidarity and support that was there was fantastic. The lack of cars meant that children could have the kind of freedom that they could only dream of at home. The communal kitchens made for an efficient pooling of work. The innovations were enlightening. The music – both scheduled and impromptu was brilliant, and the opportunity to meet so many people involved in resistance in their own ways was uplifting.
In fact, it was so good I think that we should invite Blair, Bush and co back again next year. Eight of the most dangerous men on the planet ringed with a fence of steel and surrounded with police sounds good to me…but this time we shouldn’t let them go.
Originally published in Frontline, Vol 1; Issue 18