I was going to write something about the G8 protests happening in Edinburgh this week, but Abi has already done an excellent job of it over on her blog. Yes, there have been protests; no, there hasn’t been any full-scale rioting.
Not that that has stopped the media from trying to hype up even minor kerfuffles. The most egregious sensationalism probably came from today’s (Tuesday’s) Evening News. “THE NIGHTMARE COMES TRUE” reads the garish headline. “We prayed it wouldn’t happen but yesterday the city erupted. The day that rocked the Capital: Pages 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 12”
And yet they couldn’t find anything more shocking to show on the front page than a close-cropped photo of a few police officers pushing back two protesters? Give me a break.
When I cycled along Princes St yesterday afternoon, the riot police outnumbered the revellers/protesters. And in many places, the press photographers outnumbered the riot police.
The unfortunate thing is that it’s in the interests of everyone involved to make the most out of every little scrap and scrape:
- The protesters want the publicity of defeats in minor incidents to show how strongly they’re being oppressed, and how disproportionate the police response is
- The police want the publicity of victories in minor incidents to demonstrate how firmly they’ve got the situation under control
- The media want the publicity of minor incidents, because, well, they don’t have any major ones to report on. They’ve got all these reporters, photographers and camera crews on site, and they damn well want to get their money’s worth. “G8 protests uneventful” doesn’t sell newspapers.
- The people of Edinburgh want the publicity of minor incidents so that we can tut-tut disapprovingly in public (while breathing sighs of relief in private), and generally maintain a air of superiority over Seattle and Genoa, while still appearing sympathetic to their plight. Edinburgh is far too civilized for all-out street warfare, don’t y’know?
- The politicians are just happy for any kind of publicity at all.
(Of course, this may all change tomorrow.)
I have to say that I’m terribly cynical about the power of the Make Poverty History movement, the Live 8 concerts, and the G8 protests. It’s feel-good activism. I’m not belittling the goal of abolishing poverty (I am a socialist, after all), but it’s a bit like praying for rain in Glasgow, and then believing that God has smiled on you personally when it starts bucketing down.
The G8 leaders must think that Christmas has come early. Here is this massive popular movement, demanding that they take action over a hugely emotive issue. How much will cost the G8 nations to write off Third World debt? Peanuts. Shave a tiny percentage off of defense budgets, for example, and you’re practically there. When else in history have politicians had it in their power to satisfy so many voters by doing so little?
There will be a press conference, and a few well-photographed handshakes. Job done. Everyone wearing a white armband can smile in satisfaction that they helped make it happen! and go back to not caring about more complex issues affecting the world, like climate change, religious conflicts in the Middle-East, and the slithery tentacles of corporatism. You can’t be expected to solve all the world’s problems yourself, can you?
On a vaguely related topic, I am absolutely in awe of the police’s ability to keep their cool around so many clowns. It’s not that I’m afraid of clowns per se (sinister though they may be), it’s just that anyone who chooses to dress up like that and parade down the street, taunting bystanders with a “look how alternative I am!” attitude, is in clear need of a damn good kicking.