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Shut Them Down!: The G8 Gleneagles 2005, and the Movement of Movements

Jacob Blumenfeld
Date Published: 
October 01, 2006

Every activist nowadays loves to hate “summit hopping”. Its classist, racist, ineffective, and boring. It’s too liberal, too white, too violent, or too peaceful. The movement that emerged through such massive convergences has come to a self-conscious critical perspective on its origins: we cannot just demonstrate at summits anywhere, we need to organize in our towns, cities, and everywhere else.

In a surprisingly engaging, intellectual, and clear manner, Shut Them Down! speaks from within the specifically anti-authoritarian networks of resistance that organized for years building up to the G8 summit of world leaders meeting in July 2005 in Gleaneagles, Scotland. Against the standard cheerleading style of post-summit reportbacks written by a few participants and many observers, Shut Them Down! is written almost exclusively by individuals and collectives who participated in the building, organizing, demonstrating, and supporting of the protests. Unafraid to be brutally self-critical, honest, and hopeful, the various essays cover the spectrum of strategies and tactics used in Scotland in excruciating detail. What results is sometimes a DIY manual for organizing mass anti-capitalist networks, sometimes a comic book and sometimes an academic journal.

Inside, the Free Association captures the flexibility and commonality of desire and life that hits the root of why people mobilize in the first place. Kara Tina’s story on the “suicide march” is a hilarious tour through the greens of Scotland with German anarchists taking the roads. John Holloway describes the cracks of rebellion we create through space and time when we mobilize anti-capitalist convergences. George Caffentzis lays out the neoliberalism of famed economist Jeffrey Sachs and the false hopes of the entire “end of poverty” scheme.

Local Scottish activists describe their frustration with international activists in their towns, while international activists reflect on their attempts to respect the local communities they inhabited. Permaculturists explain why and how they built a community garden in a vacant lot at the Cre8 Summat, and labor organizers describe the “Carnival of Full Enjoyment” that hoped to bring local UK workers right into the global context. The Trapese collective recalls the trials and tribulations of the popular education caravan they took across Europe, while the CounterSpin Collective illustrates why they became media liaisons after so much controversy and how they handled mainstream media in a transparent yet strategic manner.

Unique event

Starhawk’s stories of compost toilets and Morgenmuffel’s comic strip about the kitchen collectives beautifully capture the day to day shit work of creating the “Hori-Zone” eco-village in Stirling, which sustained thousands of activists for a week. Stories abound from jail support to activist trauma, “Brat Blocs” to social centers, info-lines to state repression, rebel clowns to terrorist bombs, and plans for the summits to come. While the initial exuberance of collective struggle in these essays becomes inevitably repetitive, a few stories stand out as exemplary.

Such reports are Hewson’s sharp critique of the lack of firm politics in the anti-G8 organizing (which allowed for Geldof, Bono, Live8 and the “Make Poverty History” NGO’s and liberal groups to effectively “hijack the anarchists’ event”, as the Guardian reported), the story of the infamous Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army as reported by numerous colonels, generals and majors, and finally, Rodrigo Nunes insightful critique of horizontalism, openness and networks in his “Nothing is What Democracy Looks Like.”

For US based organizers, the difficulty of the book lies in its application here. Is Dissent! a model we can try out in the States? (supposedly, it’s in the works) Can the red and green solidarity in Dissent! work in a country whose Left is as fragmented as ours? Can a mass network strategy based on autonomy and horizontalism work without a solid activist infrastructure, like the one built up in the UK and Europe over decades? These questions constantly plague our movements here, and yet, we still look to Europe and Latin America for hope and inspiration. How do we digest stories of resistance abroad while not misrepresenting our situations right here?

Shut Them Down! might lead one to try out tactics which just don’t fit here (clown armies have sprung up in numerous cities however), yet the layers of critique coupled with the stories of struggle should remind all readers that every mobilization is a unique event and every struggle must remake the world anew. In 2007 when the G8 meets in Heiligendamm, Germany, a new Dissent! will try just that: to remake the world in another way, again and again.

Dissent! and Autonomedia, 2005