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Discussion document on Evian

Matt S | 30.07.2003 14:43 | Evian G8 | Analysis | Globalisation

This is a brief discussion document on the events around the Evian G8 summit, written by various Oxford activists. To give your feedback or ideas, please post at

Summit Up


Reflections on the anti-G8 actions in Lausanne

This analysis is being written from the perspective of several members of an affinity-group of anti-authoritarian Oxford activists, many of them students, which grew out of the anti-war struggle in the town. Our group was made up of people with widely differing levels of experience, but all of us had some experience
with direct action tactics and wanted to contest the legitimacy of the G8
summit at Evian. On examining the strategic situation we took the decision
to go to Lausanne, as we were interested in directly confronting the
delegates, not simply marching. We also took upon ourselves to write and
promulgate the call to action for the Lausanne Pink/Silver bloc:

Several of us arrived a week before the beginning of the summit in an
effort to help prepare for the blockades on June 1st. The aim of this brief
analysis is neither to point fingers at anyone nor to provide an
opportunity for mutual back patting, but only to try to provide a reasoned
summary of our feelings about the week or so we spent in Lausanne.

Most people seem to have come out of the mobilization against the G8 summit
in Evian with positive feelings and renewed energy. Certainly, in Lausanne,
the feeling was that for our small numbers, we had achieved something quite
special. In particular, the solidarity shown between demonstrators of all
blocs and political affiliations in the face of police repression was
something to be proud of. As several communiqués from different political
affiliations have pointed out,
the solidarity on June 1st was inspiring to see. For a day, at least, we
managed to escape from the stifling dichotomy between 'bad' and 'good'
protestors (maybe all the 'good' protestors were marching about in Geneva)
and just support each others struggles. We will not soon forget the feeling
of the Pink/Silver bloc marching towards the massed ranks of the Grey/Black
Bloc on Thursday and being greeted with cheers and raised fists. Neither
will we forget the solidarity among the 400 to 500 protestors trapped in the
Bourdonette camp by the police; the interchange of anti-police slogans in
five or six different languages was empowering and educational at the same
time. As well as the solidarity between different tactical approaches, the
shared desire to DO SOMETHING about the G 8 was at
the c'village or Bourdonette wanted to march around ineffectually; everyone
wanted to shut the summit down, no questions.

However, despite the many positives that emerged from our shared experience
in Lausanne, there can be no doubt that there were also problems, some
serious, which need to be addressed if we are to move forward effectively
and build the new world that is so desperately needed.

One of the main problems in Lausanne was that (it seemed) there had been
very little work on any kind of tactical plan for blockading the G8,
despite the fact that almost everyone who came to the city came for that
reason. Understandably, the local activists had spent much of their energy
establishing and defending the squatted "c'village", and as a result there
was very little idea of how the G8 would be confronted or what options
existed for new arrivals. This problem was exacerbated by a schism within
the Lausanne activist scene. The OSL (libertarian socialist organisation)
had essentially decided a few weeks before the G8 summit that it would
entirely dissociate itself from illegal protest (including the blockade of
the summit) due to worries about police persecution after the event. This
put even more organisational pressure on those Lausanne activists who did
favour blockades, as they were now responsible for defending an illegally
squatted village AND blockading the delegates. While the attitude of the
OSL can be explained by an understandable desire not to be smashed by the
authorities, it again points to the fact that it is difficult to trust any
organisation/social forum/established union that has something to lose. We
have to be prepared for these sorts of retreats to occur, and not let them
destroy our entire capacity to organise.

This problem extended into the village itself, which sometimes displayed
difficulties in realising the laudable concept of self-organisation. There
has to be some kind of existing structure for new arrivals to plug into; at
the very least a scheduled camp meeting once a day and easy routes through
which to getting involved in organising. As it was, the 'self-organising'
concept turned into an informal hierarchy of the most informed and most
confident; not something that we should be encouraging. This is not, of
course, to suggest that self-organisation automatically leads to either
hierarchy or chaos; only to point out that in such situations, if no effort
is made to include new arrivals then anarchy can rapidly deteriorate into
oligarchy. It seems that it is time, once again, to direct people to "The
Tyranny of Structurelessness" as an object lesson in why disorganisation is
not the same as non-hierarchical organisation.

As it was in the village, so it was in the tactical organising.
Unsurprisingly, when confronted with the lack of any coherent plan for
blockading the G8, the most well-connected and energetic activists hurled
themselves into formulating one. However, due to the lack of any defined
method of getting involved in the planning, most people in Lausanne found
themselves entirely in the dark as to what was going to happen on the day
of blockades (June 1st). It was only on the night before that people found
out that there was any kind of plan at all, and by that time many had
already left in confusion. The confusion and paranoia over who was to be
trusted led to only those people who had been actively involved for several
days and who were confident enough to thrust themselves into organising
roles being consulted. This process reached its pinnacle (or nadir,
depending on how you look at it) with several 'secret' evening
spokescouncils on the days leading up to the blockade, which brought some
of the more solid affinity groups and blocs together to hash out a tactical
plan for the city. Needless to say, this kind of organising is NOT the
ideal for an anti-authoritarian movement, and led to many people feeling
either alienated or simply being unaware that there was any planning going
on at all.

The problem with tactical planning was not caused, however, by the
ill-intent of those hard-working people who threw together a plan and did
their best to include others. It was mainly caused by the fact that the
organisational process that was used didn't take into account the fact that
most of the people wouldn't turn up in Lausanne until the day before the
blockades. In this circumstance it was simply impossible to include everyone in
the sort of planning that was used, or even to make everyone aware of what the
plan might be. Most people just ended up following the largest bloc, having had
no part in formulating its principles of unity (in many cases, not even being
aware that it was a coherent bloc or that it HAD principles of unity). Forms of
organisation such as spokes councils, which require strong affinity groups
and prior training to work effectively, were extremely difficult to run on
the ground, due to the impatience of people who were not included in the
process or didn't see the need for it. If we truly want to be inclusive and
democratic, we need a different tactical planning and organisation process
that takes into account the inputs of the people turning up the day before
the demonstration. We cannot base our planning process on the assumption that
people will come a few days in advance, since we realized in Lausanne that this
is simply not the case. We can indeed encourage people to come in advance,
but we also have to define new processes that will not use this assumption as
a starting point: this is a great challenge for non-hierarchical
organization, but it is a fair challenge that should be addressed with
concrete proposals.

The lack of numerous strong affinity groups led to a real problem in the
Pink/Silver bloc; several affinity groups that were TOO strong. We are
willing to hold our hands up and admit that the Oxford affinity group drove
a lot of the decisions that were taken in the days leading up to the
blockades; we facilitated a large number of the meetings, we drafted the
principles of unity, we suggested roles for others to take up. We even
facilitated the creation of other affinity groups, to a large extent! We
would have been much happier if there had been several other strong
affinity groups present in the week leading up to June 1st. It would have
helped spread responsibility and would have made the Pink/Silver bloc much
more pluralistic, as well as enabling us to get some much needed rest!
Unfortunately, as the planning process relied exclusively on the people on the
ground and that most people didn't arrive in Lausanne until the day before
the blockades, we were forced to take on a leadership role that we
would have rather avoided.

But again, the problem was not only that there were not enough strong
affinity groups (although it would of course have helped if there had been), but rather that the
way the organisation worked wasn't adapted to the fact that people wouldn't
come in strong affinity groups. While we can encourage people to come in
affinity groups, we also need to define and implement non-hierarchical
structures and communication tools to disseminate information and empower
people who are less experienced in organising protests; and these structures
should not be based on the assumption that people will come in strong affinity
groups, which is simply not the case presently. As a result we can infer that
a planning and organisation process relying only on a spokescouncil structure
is not adequate to the present situation and should be refined to be more
inclusive and democratic. If we want to make horizontal organising more
effective, we have to provide new non-hierarchical structures and processes
to make sure that the differences between individuals (differences in
personalities, experiences and concrete situations, like being part of an
affinity group or not at the start) are not increased by the very process of

Another example of this problem arose on the day of the blockade itself.
The enthusiasm and energy of the bloc was augmented to a great extent by
the London/Amsterdam samba band, who provided great rhythm and drive
throughout the day. Unfortunately, however (and this should not be seen as
a criticism of individuals, it's just what happened), the samba band had
arrived the night before the blockades and had not been involved in the
formulation process of the Pink/Silver bloc. It already had its own
decision-making processes and spokes council, and apart from one liaison
member (who generally told the P/S spokes council what had been decided by
the samba band, and didn't take part in the P/S spokes council), didn't
take part in the Pink/Silver process. Of course it is every affinity
group's right to make autonomous decisions, but it becomes more difficult
when that affinity group is the samba band. As everyone knows, the samba
band is the force on the ground that everyone follows...if it is making
its own decisions about where to go without consultation with others, then
any other form of spokes council is rendered pointless. Essentially, the
samba band became the sole decision maker for the Pink/Silver bloc, and
short-circuited the input of all other affinity groups. This was not their
fault; it arose because we had designed the decision-making processes of
the Pink/Silver bloc without input and knowledge of how the samba band
wanted to operate. It comes back to the same problem as above: our
planning procedure must take into account the input of everyone willing
to be involved in the organisation of the demonstration, not only of the
people there on the ground a few days before. Democracy and efficiency
require this.

The frustrating thing about so many of these problems is that they did not
arise because of bad intentions or political differences. They arose,
simply, because the planning, organisation and decision-making processes were
not adequate. This inadequacy, again, allowed those with the most information
and drive on the day to dominate decision making processes; not because they
were somehow trying to dominate, but because _somebody_ needed to take

Of course, we should not forget the positives that came out of Lausanne.
The energy and desire to change the world that we felt during those days,
and especially on June 1st, will stay with us for a long time. It is that
shared desire to do something, however, that prompts the criticisms we have
made above. We cannot cede this movement to authoritarians and passive
liberals; the causes we're fighting for are too important for that. The
only way that we can keep the anti-authoritarian, militant approach to
politics alive is in making it easier for people to get involved. To drop
cliquey, 'who you know' politics, and to do our best to include everyone
who wants to make a difference. This doesn't mean abandoning
non-hierarchical approaches, it just means making a constant effort to make
them work better. Similarly, those people who want to get involved are
going to have to devote the time to do so; we cannot outwit thousands of
police armed with teargas and tanks with a couple of hours planning. If
we're going to continue to contest these summits of the rich and powerful -
which we think is important, alongside local grassroots action and
alternative building - then we should do it properly. There's nothing worse
than feeling that you can't win even before you start. There is nothing
shameful about organisation or efficiency; it's the only way to provide for
everyone, and not just the most confident or most connected.

The suggestions below aren't complex or world shattering; they are mostly
common sense. The idea is just to have concrete proposals to be refined,
improved and discussed indeed.. We're aware that many of these things almost
always do occur.... so view them just as reminders

(i) At the camp level, institute a few basic routines and schedules. Have
at least one camp meeting a day, which is open to everyone and run on
consensus. Make it very clear what the structures of the camp are, when and
where the meetings are and how people can get involved and help out.

(ii) If possible, try to come at least three days before the summit begins.

(iii) The planning process should be inclusive and not exclusively rely on the
people on the ground. A possiblity would be that the process starts a long
time in advance, say one month before the summit, through local face-to-face
meetings and web-based inclusive participation means. The first part of the
planning process could used web-based decision-making procedures, similar to
the functioning of many indymedia centers. The big issue with this is to
ensure security in the web-based part of the planning process. New means and
ideas of communication through the web, which would be entirely secure while
still user-friendly and accessible for all, have to be clearly defined.

(iv) If it becomes obvious that setting up the camp and legal aspects of
the convergence are going to take up a lot of the local activists' time, at
least set up process and procedure for tactical planning. Provide the
basic information with which people can make tactical decisions.

(v) Take regular soundings of what people are feeling. Provide a space at
which people can make their complaints without having to direct them at an
individual in a personal attack. If this had happened in Lausanne, many of
the people who left thinking that nothing was going to happen would
doubtless have stayed.

(vi) Implement a concrete non-hierarchical structure to disseminate
information and empower everyone willing to help so that no informal
leadership of the more informed and more confident occurs. An idea could be
that the planning process is divided in some general "themes" defined
beforehand (maybe through the web-based decision-making procedure, say
process, strategy, communication, camp, prop making, etc). Then, in the
convergence point (the camp for example), each "theme" has its own
convergence point (a tent) where an "info person" is *permanently* there (all
the roles should be rotated between volunteers already involved) to explain
what the "theme" really is, what has to be done, and how to be involved.
There would also need to be a "welcome point or tent" with a "welcome person"
*permanently* there (again in rotation) giving a brief summary of the
situation to new people, explaining the different themes of the planning
process and directing new people to the tents of the themes in which they are
interested in. In this way the information wouldn't stay in the hands of a
few people and it would be very easy for everyone, even for the
non-experienced and not-very-confident, to get involved and to get the
information they want about whatever part of the planning process they are
interested in. It would also give the possiblity for everyone to have a rest
(during the time spent at the info tents) while still being very useful to
the whole planning process.

(vii) The 'theme' tents and 'block' tents would be responsible for providing a summarry of who they are and how people can get involved, which would then be placed on a regularly updated information board in the main welcome tent.

(viii) The above ideas can, of course, be modified and refined to take into consideration any security or transparency concerns which may arise. We only want to start a discussion on how we can best involve everyone in the organisational process.

(ix) Another issue is how to balance security concerns with transparency.
This is doubtless much MUCH easier when people are formed into affinity
groups with people they trust. Do your best to come in an affinity group,
and participate. In this way we can eliminate the kind of 'secret' meetings
which occurred in Lausanne and which we would do well to avoid. However, the
planning process should not rely on the assumption that people *will* come in
affinity groups.

If the above suggestions seems obvious, then it should be remembered that we are only making them because a lot of this DID NOT happen in Lausanne. As a result, we simply did not involve the majority of protestors in any kind of decision-making process. This is not good for democracy and its not good for empowerment...we need to keep pushing forward and trying to do better, if we're going to win.

With love,

Various members of the Friends of Phil and Toby affinity group

P.S. Please contribute to this discussion by posting your ideas, reactions,
experiences etc on the forum at

Matt S

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