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Why Protest the G8 and G20?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Christopher Cohoon
Christopher Cohoon

Most people, even those of us who don't know squat about the mechanics of the global economic system, find the whole set-up of the G8 and G20 summits distasteful: economic big-wigs from the world's richest regions will descend next weekend into military zones built by our government, and these rich and powerful men (they're mostly men) will meet and make policies that will affect you, me, and the whole wide world.

Yuckier, though, is the content of those meetings. And certainly very, very nasty is the way in which the meetings shake down, with big decisions made in secret by a few powerful people who don't have to be accountable to – or even consider the needs and desires of – the rest of us.

In response to the G8 and G20, people do diverse and interesting things. They too gather at G8 and G20 summits, in huge numbers and from all over the world. They march in the streets. They dress up in funny outfits. They shout things like, "capitalism is broken," "smash the state," "Indigenous rights now," "we want climate justice," "we love our public services," and "no one is illegal." They organize their own summits and talk about the problems of poverty and homelessness, resource extraction and pollution, climate and migrant justice. They break windows and capsize mailboxes. They dance. They play games. They camp in parks and crash on each other's floors. They climb tall buildings and bridges and let loose big colourful banners. They yell at cops.

The people say they are doing these things to draw attention to the fishy things they notice about the G8/G20.

Fishy thing number one, they say, is the undemocratic nature of the G8/G20 meetings.

Fishy thing number two is the single-issue agenda of the G8/G20: to further the wealth of the wealthy.

Fishy thing number three is the public resources spent on having the meetings take place at all.

Why do people protest the G8 and G20? Let's take it from the bottom.

FISH #3: "SECURITY"

The really, really fishy thing about the fact that Canadians have blown their load on the G8 and G20 summits is what we've blown our load all over.

We've spent a billion tax dollars on security for a 72-hour event.

Officials say it's to prevent a terrorist attack.

(CBC ran a scary story today about the Toronto 18 and their foiled Canadian terror plot. It almost made me feel ok about all that money spent during the G8/G20 on police, military, private security, cameras, intelligence, guns, sonic cannons, water cannons, tasers, fences, snipers, helicopters, armour and whatever else is needed to keep the true north strong and – er – safe.)

But a lot of people say Canada broke the bank on security so that when people – this month it will be mostly Canadian tax-payers – dare raise their fists too close to the faces of power, those tax-payers will be told their dissent is not acceptable – with billy clubs, tear gas, water cannons and bullets (paid for by their tax-dollars).

A lot of people go farther, saying the enormous security budgets this year (a billion on the Olympics, a billion on the G-summits) are part of a system of fear and militarization – that the point of hundreds of riot cops taking on a few unarmed young window-breakers is not to secure but to scare: to scare those who raise their voices into shutting up, and to scare the rest of us into supporting that shutting up. We've spent a billion bucks to "secure" ourselves from our scary selves.

(CBC ran a story this morning on the arrests made "in connection with the fire-bombing" of an RBC branch last month. No names were released, and the article ended by reminding us that the FCCC – the group claiming responsibility for the fire-bomb – would be present at the G8 and G20. It almost made me think all the extra security was maybe a good idea.)

Nevertheless, some people will protest the G8 and G20 because they think the militarization of our streets and our country is a really bad idea.

And some people will protest the G8 and G20 because they simply believe their money could be spent on more useful things than providing a few security companies and arms manufacturers with sweet contracts.

FISH #2: ECONOMIC POLICIES

The G8 and G20, operating within a framework that prioritizes capital, is focused on securing wealth with the wealthy. The capitalist economic system – the one that suffered a recent global break-down – devalues things that a lot of people hold dearer than cash, such as education, clean air and water, dignity, fairness, compassion, dialogue, love for neighbours and respect for those who are different. A lot of people will therefore protest the G8/G20 because they want their elected representatives to pay more attention to the ways in which the capitalist framework harms the things they care about, and distracts people from the things they value.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it is actively encouraging the commercialization and privatization of education and research. Some will protest because their schools and universities had to close while the G8 and G20 is in town.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it pushes trade policies that make small, local business difficult.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it is pushing to create the carbon market, making environmental prudency a commodity that can be bought, sold and traded, and conditioning us to ignore the inherent value in our health and the health of our earth. Many people will protest the idea that the market can best take care of us.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because its policies encourage the privatization of public services.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it works under the assumption that businesses and banks have a greater right to exist and to flourish than people do.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because cutting social programs takes away space for gender justice, queer rights and disAbility rights. Most of those people will also protest because the G20's top-down decision-making on economic issues represents rigid and oppressive governance.

The G8/G20 also uses – explicitly or not – the left-over mechanisms of colonization to enforce and extend its influence. Colonialism – the siamese twin of capitalism – works to concentrate power with the powerful.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it demands control over and the commercialization of natural resources, ignoring international and domestic treaties and laws, particularly those laws concerning Indigenous people and Indigenous territories. Lots of people will protest because G8 and G20 leaders will make decisions that are especially harmful to Indigenous ways of life, and they will make those decisions on land that was stolen from Indigenous people.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because it sets up rich countries to exert excessive control over their borders, placing tight constraints on migrant workers – paying them very little, refusing to recognize their inherent rights as people and creating crimes for them to commit. Lots of people will protest because the G20 countries spend so much money (way over a trillion dollars last year) on war.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because of its slow progress on "forgiving" the debts of countries whose resources the G8 countries screwed them out of in the first place.

FISH #1: NON-TRANSPARENCY

Little about the G8 or the G20 makes their proceedings democratic. People with the most control over the most money make decisions about how the rest of the world's money should be spent. The people in G8 and G20 meeting rooms are subject to no accountability mechanisms. There is no impetus to consider input from people outside the meetings. The G8 and G20 summits do not have to result in any kind of report to the public.

Pretty fishy.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because they think the richest and most powerful people in the world should not have the only say in who gets the world's riches.

In fact, some people will protest the G8 and G20 because they feel they should be in charge of making decisions about how their money is spent. They think they are in the best position to build economic policy for their communities and their countries.

Some people will protest the G8 and G20 because they already have gotten together and they already have made decisions and created policy and built solutions to economic problems they live with – problems from which G8 and G20 reps, by their very participation in the G-summits, are isolated.

Most people will protest because they feel they have a right to be heard.

Author's note: Please add to this article. Why will you protest the G8 and G20? Add links to articles and websites that talk about why people should protest the G8 and G20.

For stories of past G7/G8 summits and protests, see Amanda Wilson's series on G-summit briefs in The Dominion.


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