Saturday’s events in Tokyo
On the first full day of anti-G8 action in Tokyo yesterday, there were workshops held throughout the city from 1pm, consisting of various “working groups”. These were then followed by a General Meeting at 6pm, which I attended. The meeting was held in Bunkyo Kumin Center near Kasuga station and the main speaker was Susan George of ATTAC France and Transnational Institute. She is a long-time activist and the author of a number of books on poverty including How the Other Half Dies (1976).
The first hour of the meeting was given to introductions and the reports by the “working groups”. These groups covered issues such as trade, sexual discrimination and American bases on Okinawa and Guam among others.
As I was not able to understand much of these reports, I had time to scan the crowd. People kept arriving until 6:30pm and all of the chairs were eventually used. There were probably about 500 people altogether.
Most of the attendees seemed to be in the “greying” age category, with very few youths evident. Also, I only saw about 10 or so other non-East Asian people present.
Towards the end of the reports one man told a story about how a demonstration of 80 people was greeted by 200 police officers, and this drew a laugh from the crowd. The next and last speaker was from Hokkaido and he said that the police presence there was increasing noticeably.
At 7:10pm, Susan George took to the stage to make a speech entitled “The G8 summit and neo-liberalism”.
She began her talk by mentioning that she had been held by immigration for 7 hours earlier in the day and so was very tired. It was interesting that she made no further comment on this, but she was to return to it later in the evening.
She gave a brief overview of the G8, linking its conception as the G6 to the first oil crisis in the early 1970s.
The key point that she wanted people to take away and to use was that the G8 are illegitimate – having only been elected by 14% of the world, they have appointed themselves to govern the planet in order to ensure that they hold on to their military and economic dominance.
She asked how many of us had read one of the communiques released after a G8 meeting and she was not surprised that only one person in the room put up their hand; she said that “they’re totally uninteresting”.
“To govern is to foresee”
George quoted this French saying (“Gouverner c’est prévoir” – Emile de Girardin), and pointed out that the G8 fail utterly at foreseeeing and so fail to govern effectively. They didn’t foresee the climate crisis, the Asian financial crisis or the current financial crisis. They are only just beginning to talk seriously about climate change, even though it has been known about for over 20 years.
She suggested that the key to combating this is to get the world financial system under control, but that unfortunately the G8 has been deregulating this same system for the last 20 years. We are now beginning to see the consequences of this action but its full effects have not yet made themselves clear. She stated that this is the “most series crisis certainly since World War II”.
With regards to the current food crisis, with 150 million more people thrust into dire poverty and hunger because of food prices, she criticized the international support for turning food production into agrofuels which are “not even ecologically sound”.
“The only good thing about the 2008 G8 summit is that it will be George Bush’s last”
The goal, George suggests, should to make this the last G8 altogether.
She said that we cannot trust “these people” as they have failed to deliver on their promises such as those made in Birmingham in 1998 and Gleneagles in 2005, where they promised respectively to cancel debt and to increase African aid.
As problems such as climate change and speculation on food prices are global, George is calling for global democracy to combat them. She believes that the movement started in Seattle in 1999 has international and democratic solutions to these problems.
Their three main aims should be to: tax internationally and redistribute the wealth, cancel crippling debt and to close the tax havens all over the world.
“What I want to say is we are the serious people and they are the clowns.”
George’s proposal is that we all sit down and laugh at the “pitiful and ridiculous people” in charge of the G8, because “from a policy point of view, they are totally incompetent”. She said that while she understands Japanese people are respectful, she hopes that they will make an exception in this case.
She then summarised the positives of the anti-G8 movement:
- Most people agree with them.
- They have good ideas and proposals.
- They have energy and people working together, including many young people.
- They have achieved some important victories – the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been blocked for two years, partly due to their protests. They have also helped in discrediting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
- Their critique of neoliberal capitalism has had influence in universities and in publications.
- They are better at building coalitions. For example there were 50 different organisations present at the meeting.
Her “one word of caution” was reserved for her hope that the movement remains absolutely non-violent. The movement, she said, has the advantage of having good things to say to the media and to the world. Even though the G8 is illegitimate, it does draw a big media attention and thus provides a built-in audience.
In Evian in 2003, she said, there were 80,000 on a protest march but some “inexperienced kids” broke the windows in a petrol station, and the New York Times reported nothing else about the week of protests.
She warned that due to the media ownership structure in Europe and the United States, they are always looking to “trash people” who don’t agree with neoliberal capitalism, and so she begged the audience not to give them that opportunity.
She summarised by saying that she hopes the strength of laughter and singing, with various coalitions coming together, can show that this should be the last G8; “Japan is going to make the tombstone for the G8”.
There was then a brief break before a question and answer session. I walked around, browsing the various stalls, and was impressed by the trees-worth of flyers and leaflets available.
Q and A
I had submitted a question about oil prices being at $140 a barrel and the related riots and strikes. I asked what this meant for the anti-G8 movement; how should they respond to this upsurge in anti-government feeling? I also briefly expressed my worries from my last post, regarding the rise of right-wing sentiment.
Alas, only three questions were chosen and mine was not one of them. The first question was the most interesting and so I will leave it to last.
The second question was about how to regulate the transnational corporations (TNCs) with regards to speculation. George gave the example of Niger as a situation in which various privatisations and deregulation has impoverished people and helped to cause a famine.
She admits that this is a difficult problem to solve as the banks are protected by governments who benefit from their comparatively high profits of 20%. The banks want to regulate themselves, and as has been seen (with the bailouts in Europe and the US), want to privatise the profits in their industry and socialise the losses.
The third question was regarding what structures could be put in place after the G8 is shut down. George suggested strengthening the UN and taking it out of the zone of American influence, for a start. She also suggested looking at Keynesian economics again, regulation to prevent huge trade surpluses and deficits, and further regulation with regards to labour, human rights and the environment. She noted that she was not advocating a Soviet-style state socialist model and ended with “onwards to a practical utopia.”
Immigration just pointlessly bureaucratic? Surely not..
The first question was about her immigration adventure early in the day, and why she was held for so long. George took this as an opportunity to revisit her “note of caution” from earlier and this time to criticise the anarchist Black Bloc by name.
She said that she did not know why she was held for so long. She suggested it could have been just “bureaucracy”, and that it was ironic because she always speaks out against violent protests. I’m not sure if she really believes that, but if so it seems very naïve. The government have shown (with various incidents throughout the year) that they are keen to deal heavily with foreign and domestic activists, no matter if they are non-violent.
Saturday’s Japan Times reports on a recent example of this. Cheong Ui Heon, a South Korean labour activist was refused entry into Japan on Wednesday. Jun Yamamoto, secretary general of Asian Wide Cooperation Kyoto, an anti-G8 NGO, had the following to say:
The G8 summits have provided a dangerous pretext for the authorities to use preventing terrorism as an excuse to violate the constitutional rights of Japanese and the human rights of foreigners entering Japan. As bad as the security in Kansai was, it’s going to be worse at Hokkaido next month.
“Diversity of tactics”
George started to talk about the Black Bloc and said that her opinions on the violent demonstrators can make her unpopular in some circles. She doesn’t like the violent “diversity of tactics” employed by the group and she doesn’t want to embrace them. She views it as an undemocratic spoiling of a lot of other people’s hard work.
Having a Quaker background I believe strongly in non-violence and so agree with George on her main point, but not for the same reasons. George feels that the media will for some reason take more notice of them if there is nothing negative to report. However, there is nothing stopping the corporate-owned media from either ignoring them altogether or of portraying them as idealistic dreamers.
The world media are present at the summit to focus on where the power is, with the leaders of the G8. It is highly unlikely they will suddenly start reporting on peaceful demonstrations in a comprehensive manner which would have a discernible effect on their viewers.
I’m concerned about stances like George’s because I view it as a failure to recognise the anger spreading throughout the world. Putting yourself on the side of civil obedience is all well and good until the rest of the world becomes disobedient and are looking for alternatives. Describing the people in Evian as “inexperienced kids” just after applauding the willingness of youth to participate in the movement is also slightly patronising I feel.
Once again, I do not condone violence in any, way, shape or form, but but it must be recognised that non-violent peaceful marches are not the only protests we are going to see. The European strikes and the fuel and food riots around the world have already shown that.
The final talks were regarding future events. There were speakers from the camp and media centre groups and finally a man talking about the Sound Demonstration near Shinjuku today (Sunday). He said that it was forecast to rain and he didn’t like that, but he still seemed very enthused. As I write this it is bucketing it down, but it is only a short walk from where I live…
One of the other speakers had told us that the police have been saying that they think there will be a “battlefield” in Tokyo. This might explain why every officer I have seen recently has either his baton drawn or an even larger stick-like weapon at the ready. The headquarters of the riot police is in my local area and on my way home last night I noticed six police officers standing outside.
With regards to my questions on how the anti-G8 movement will deal with the fallout of Peak Oil, I guess I will have to look further for answers. George’s talk was useful for an optimistic overview of what can be achieved by means of reregulation of the banking system, but she admits herself that this would be a difficult challenge. The talk was not useful for an idea of what would happen if the world enters a serious economic downturn in 2008/9 and those banks collapse completely.
I agree with her that the G8 have failed to foresee the consequences of unlimited growth and deregulation, but think that she is in danger of making the same mistake with regards to the fallout. Yes, she admits that we are yet to see the full effects, but in the end these will probably not be what she expects.
In today’s Japan Times is the news that four Asian unions representing tuna fishermen have decided to ground 30% of their long-line fishing boats because of the fuel costs. While this may be good for the fish, there’s going to be a lot of angry and hungry people in the world very soon, and they won’t all want to just rely on reregulation of the banks and sitting down to laugh at the G8.