300,000 March Against the G8

Ring of steel, teargas, plastic bullets and live ammunition failed to deter Italian and international demonstrators.

Europe saw its largest anti-corporate globalization demonstration yet during the recent Group of Eight (G8) summit in Genoa, Italy.

Over 300,000 marched in Saturday's demonstration - more than double the organizers' original expectations. Rather than scaring people away, the shooting of 23-year-old student Carlo Giuliani the day before galvanized opposition to the G8. 300,000 marched against the G8, against the assassinis, against a system that puts profit before people.

Momentum Builds

The energy was contagious in the lead-up to Saturday's International March. The Genoa Social Forum (GSF) held a weeklong teach-in. Over 50,000 marched on Thursday's International Migrants March, calling for an end to migrant workers' exploitation, racism and "Fortress Europe" - the restrictive immigration policies of the European Union. Friday's direct actions had 80,000 participants, including a march of 12,000 people to the fence.

Ring of Steel

In Quebec, it was called the wall of shame; in Genoa it was known as the "ring of steel." Surrounding the Plazzo Ducale where the G8 summit was held, a barrier was constructed of 2.5-metre-high industrial sheet metal imbedded in a fifty-centimetre-high concrete base. It was spot-welded at every seam and reinforced with steel poles. The top angled 45 degrees to ensure anyone who climbed over could not climb back. It made the fence in Quebec look like kids' stuff.

But the demonstrator's response was the same as we saw in Quebec. People climbed to the top of the fence and planted flags. Water bottles, balloons, flowers and a dozen giant inflated condoms were thrown over. Stickers and banners were hung on it. Hundreds of people railed against the barrier, pounding and shaking it in a deafening rhythm.

Security Forces Attack

There was no hope of tearing the fence down that day, but the security response of the Carabinieri paramilitary units and police was ruthless nonetheless. The demonstrators were sprayed with water hoses. The frontline fell back from the fence and the high-pressure water that many said felt laced with pepper spray. But the mesh fence dispersed the impact of the water, allowing demonstrators to dance in the spray (including a man who stripped naked).

Security forces switched to teargas and plastic bullets. The crowd fell back, pulling on their bandannas and gasmasks. They held their ground just metres from the fence and hurled the canisters back. Volley after volley of teargas made it impossible to stay. The crowd retreated, but marched defiantly back to the convergence centre at Plazzale Kennedy. They were victorious, going further then anyone had expected - a crowd of 12,000 at the edge of the zona rossa.

Genoa Residents Shower March with Solidarity

Saturday's International March stretched for kilometres. Demonstrators, packed shoulder to shoulder, filled Via Felice Cavallotti - a street four lanes wide - and spilled onto the sidewalks as they waited to march.

Residents peeked through door cracks and shutters to watch the march in the street below.

The demonstrators, baking in the Mediterranean sun, called to the residents: "Acqua, acqua, acqua." One elderly woman opened her door wide and stood on her balcony with a basin of water. She peeked over the edge. The chants of the section below her grew louder. With a wide smile she flung the contents onto the street. The crowd roared in approval. Suddenly water appeared from balconies all along the street. Children with super soakers, women with watering cans, couples with basins and elderly men with hoses poured relief and solidarity onto the outstretched hands of the demonstrators.

Another World is Possible

The march was organized by the Genoa Social Forum (GSF), the umbrella group of 700 organizations demonstrating against the G8. The issues they faced off against included global warming, nuclear war, privatization, racism, agribusiness and drug patents. Italians also marched against their far-right Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He was ousted from office last time by massive general strikes. Italian trade unions choose Genoa as the kick-off for the campaign to repeat that victory.

The dominant message was "G8: Assassini." The G8 are murderers. The crowd chanted it at every police line it passed. "Carlo Vive" and "G8: Assassini" was spray-painted everywhere. People wore it on signs around their necks. Written on banners, it billowed in the wind.

Marchers Don Bandannas and Gasmasks

The march headed off and turned onto Corso Italia beside the Mediterranean Sea. As the final third of the march - with many of the trade union contingents - reached the last turn before the rallying point, the police and Carabinieri attacked it, severing it from the rest of the march.

It was unclear to those in the back what, if anything, provoked the attack.

Many accused the security forces of using a small group of anarchists chanting "Assassinis" and throwing a few rocks as an excuse to attack the rest of the marchers. Reports suggest police agents had infiltrated that group. Teargas was hurled indiscriminately into the crowd.

The marchers fell back but refused to retreat. They donned bandannas and gas masks. Those at the front picked up the teargas canisters and threw them back at the security lines blocking the way to the remainder of the march. More teargas was fired, and the riot squads began to advance. The crowd fell back, but not fast enough for the security forces.

Two armoured-personnel carriers raced toward the crowd, pushing everything out the way, including cars. The riot squad advanced again. Teargas was fired deep into the crowd, which still hadn't fallen back far enough to satisfy the security forces. Helicopters swooped down on the march. A cyclone of blinding debris whipped against the demonstrators and herded them back to the march's staging ground. Fully one-third of the demonstrators on the legally sanctioned GSF march were prevented from completing the full route. Angry, frustrated and exhausted, many vowed to build demonstrations across Italy against the assassinis of Carlo Giuliani.

G8 Hide in the Rocky Mountains

Canada will host the G8 Summit in June 2002. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has chosen a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains for the site. This ostensibly to encourage a more scaled-down meeting of the G8 leaders. The more likely story is that it is probably the most secure location in Canada, besides the original proposal by some members to hold it in Nunavut.

Erin George is a recent graduate of the Ryerson School of Journalism, and former Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. She is a member of Toronto Mobilization for Global Justice. At CFS and Mob4Glob, she was involved in educating and organizing for the Quebec City demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

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