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The Voices and the Violence in Auchterarder

Tom Allan | 08.07.2005 01:28 | G8 2005 | Analysis | World

When I began to write the day after the march in Gleneagles, it was the violence that griped my mind, that formed the words. I, unlike many of the people I spoke to on wednesday, had been drained by sight of it. I felt the moral force ebb away from our protest even as it happened, and it was my sincere wish to be somewhere else. But there are many other stories of that day, and I shall begin with them, because the worst effect of violence is that nothing else can be heard above it - no other voices find their way through. The issues are forgotten, even if the violence is short lived.

Audio Welsh Reading from Lydia's Agenda - mp3 961K

No borders? Us and them?
No borders? Us and them?

A cold carnival....
A cold carnival....


The Voices and the Violence in Auchterarder

When I began to write the day after the march in Gleneagles, it was the violence that griped my mind, that formed the words. I, unlike many of the people I spoke to on wednesday, had been drained by sight of it. I felt the moral force ebb away from our protest even as it happened, and it was my sincere wish to be somewhere else. But there are many other stories of that day, and I shall begin with them, because the worst effect of violence is that nothing else can be heard above it - no other voices find their way through. The issues are forgotten, even if the violence is short lived.

During the first half of the march, I interviewed many people for the G8 Radical Radio. I spoke to a couple of different families from the area whilst we were gathered in the park awaiting the start of the march. They expressed general support of the march, but hoped that no violence would occur. I interviewed a group of Congolese Africans who were seekig to draw attention to the war they have suffered as a result of their mineral wealth,

A group of Congolese Africans were at the protest to try to draw attention to the situation in their country, which they felt was being ignored, despite all the apparent focus on Africa. According to Mr.Eci Fumbundo, the British and American Governemts are pushing for elections to go ahead in the Congo - despite the fact that their country is occupied.

"We want all these people who have blood on their hands - Kabila, Ruberoir, Kagami in Rwanda, and Museveni of Uganda, to get out of Congo, and there should be an immediate end of occupation, and that these people they should face the International Court of Criminal Justice, because they have killed five million people."

The conflict in the Congo is of such a scaler that it has been described as Africa's first World War. According to Global Issues, at least 3.3 million "mostly women, children, and the elderly," have died as a result of th conflict, moistly from hunger or disease - at least 2.5 million have been driven from their homes, since the war began in 1998. It has involved seven nations in total. has been fueled. The conflict has been fueled by competition for the great mineral wealth of the Eastern region of the country, which is were the majority of the fighting and the atrocities have taken place. The alliances and leaders have changed during the course of the conflict, but the battleground and the spoils have remained the same.

Now, a question; how many of you own a mobile phone? How many a laptop? One of the most valuable minerals in the region is called coltan, and it is an essential component in these products. The region is also rish in cobalt, copper, gold and diamonds. It is a rich country, but that wealth is apparently a curse.

Many multi-national companies have been censored for their part in helping to finance the conflict by purchasing mineral resources from the warring factions. 85 companies in total were charged with violating international norms by such trading. For example;

"Eagle Wings had received privileged access to coltan sites and captive labor through its contacts with the Rwandan military, which controlled coltan mining areas in eastern DRC during much of the war. "

For more information and historical background, please go to

I asked Eci what he thought of the offers of more aid to Africa by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. "No, you can't increase, that can't help these people. These people have fertile land. This is politics." His friend, Omar Sharif, cut in. "I think they have very very good rich countries in Africa. Everywhere there is diamonds, there is gold, there is coltam, there is uranium, there is oil, there is copper. People, they don't need to have any aid in the Congo. But they should give us a time of free and fair trade. When there is free and fair trade I will not be here because I will go there and dig gold myself. The British public should know that we are not here because we like to be here."

Lydia Bulman from Aberystwyth, who cycled around Wales on her own for three months on "the blossom bike tour." "I cycled around over sixty towns and villages across Wales collecting the opinions of the Welsh people, which I gathered together to make this Welsh agenda."

The large black bound agenda was full of hand-written comments. The most common comments, apparently, were about clikmate change and environmental issues. "They feel that the talks currently happening at the moment within Gleneagles are just a farce, and not actually addressing the proper issues. They want there to be more investment into renewable sources of energy. And that is not nuclear power that they want, they want wind power, solar power, wave power - and they don't want concentration just on the wind farms."

Lydia read out a comment by Moff Foster from Aberystwyth.

"Dear leaders of the G8. We need sustainable development, not just development. We need to stop the planet from over-heating. Action must be taken to reduce and even stop emmissions of greenhouse gases now. Adopt contraction and convergence as a mechanism for controlling greenhouse gas emmissions. This has been developed by the Global Commons Institute, and is accepted by many around the world as the only acceptable system for tackling climate change."

Contraction and convergence was developed during the nineties as a possible formula for overcoming some of the international political barriers to action on climate change. It is based on "caution and equity," meaning that it aims to avoid dangerous levels of climate change whilst recognising that industrialising countries will ineviatably produce increased carbon emmissions. The burden for reducing global emmissins should therefore initially be heavier on those countries that have already industrialised, whose emmissions are and have historically been far greater, and who have the resources to adopt more expensive and cleaner forms of energy. "Convergence" would see the different countries move towards an equitable share of global emmisions per person. For more information, please see

Lydia felt that Wales could offer a unique contribtuion because of its history of exploitation and cultural repression - the Welsh language was suppressed by the English, and is only now enjoying a resurgence. But Welsh is the first language of twenty percent of the poulation, making it far more prevelant than Gaelic in Scotland. Though the comments were mostly written in English, we found one in Welsh. Lydia herself does not speak Welsh, but luckily we saw a woman wearing a Welsh flag nearby, and asked her to read it out.

I also met a family from Brighton, who had taken their children, three year old Zed and seven year old Tanika, out of school and brought them up for a couple of weeks. They'd been on the Make Poverty History march and they wanted to be there too. I aksed their parents if they hadn't been put of by all the press coverage and the violence on monday.

"No not really" their mother replied."this morning we were a bit worried after you saw what happened in Stirling, but we still decided to come up. I think we went through about five checkpoints with police telling us to come back." Her partner "Telling us the march was of and that demonstrators had blocked the road - every excuse not to let us get here really." "We had to walk the last mile into Auchterarder. The police advised us not to do it with the children, but we said they had legs so they could walk. I must admit that its a lot friendlier, more of a carnival atmosphere, than what there showing on the television at the moment."

The crowd were singing, "Auchterarder, come and join us,"and, to the tune of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland," "For a year, they tried to stop us - for a year they tried to stop us - What a wonderful way, to spend the day, we're walking in Gleneagles anyway." It was a carnival atmosphere. The crowd was a beautiful mix of different ages and groups, different colours and clothes. There were many banners, the Infernal Noise Brigade was there, and the pedal powered, environmentally friendly Rinky Dink sound system, with a masked Tony Blair and George push sweating on the pedals to keep the tunes pumping out. We'd set of from the park late, but whooping and cheering, and walked for maybe thirty five minutes.

We were coming close to the hotel, and there was a bottleneck in the road. The march had been turned of to go past the a large field. But at the narrow corner before that, where the road continued up past the hotel, a double line of riot police stood behind a double line of fences, with mounted police behind them. Though the stewards asked everyone to keep moving, people began to cluster near to the fence. Apparently, from reading another account on indymedia, there was a hope that enough people would stop there to enable the fences to be pulled down:

"Eventually we got to a point where the march monitors (stewards) were trying to herd us all to the right, but if we went straight we would walk right into the fence that was protecting Gleneagles and the G8. In the spirit of direct action, many of us stood in front of the fence. We hoped that enough people would come together so that we could attempt to pull down the fence- and I intended to get photos of it! Well, we were there forever, and march monitors kept trying to get us to move on to the right. This was an aspect of very poor planning on their part-- of course people would want to get as close to the fence as possible- getting through the fence was our only hope of getting our messages heard! At one point I saw that the march was only two people wide getting through that area." [Extract from posting by Mahtin.]

Another posting also describes how the violence began.

"The police were mob-handed.
Tensions grew - some protesters breached the fence at this point, and threw it at police who instantly responded, calling up more riot cops and swinging out with their coshes.

Organisers urged us on through the bottle neck:'This is a peaceful demonstration, come on, keep moving, the eyes of the world are on us, you're doing great'. I felt like I were giving birth." [Extract from posting by angelwings]
Finally, this is the description given by the Indymedia timeline:

16:00 Just before 4pm, the march had gone down a road with houses on either side. The road was suddenly curtailed by fences, so the demo turned right in between 2 houses. Some houses are inside the protected zone. After the rallies, the march doesn't move, people were crammed in near to the fence, people see a low fence to climb over and a gap and a big field to run into, which they do.

15.30 Gleneagles march has reached the fences. There are 6 lines of yellow jacket police, behind them more police on horses. The atmosphere is tense but calm, with occasional cheers. People are staying and not moving on.

[for the complete timeline please go to]

I feel a little more detail is required for a proper picture. My own recollection is that the violence began with various items being thrown over the fences at the police - mostly small items, like pieces of wood, but at one point one of the metal supports that held the fences. As the numbers of those gathered grew, the crown behind was increasingly unable to move past - a factor worsened by the curiousity of many who wanted to stick around to find out what was going to happen. They naturally gather to the right, beyond the bottleneck, in an area which was close to the action, but with a safe escape route. The bottleneck was also worsened by the large number of media, who, like myself, were intent on seeing what happened and recording it. I was asked to move on by a steward, for example, but refused. Those who were gathering to fight were a very small number, perhaps fifty in total, mostly masked or disguised.

The stewards principle concern was, I believe, to avoid the large body of the march being caught up in a violent confrontation in a narrow street.

As the numbers of these people near the fences, grew, the situation escalated. From time to time the fences rose and bobbed as people tried to lift them. But then, suddenly, they began to come down, one after the other, pulled out of their moorings, and dropped flat onto the ground. The riot police maintained their positions. I did not see any use of batons at the point. There was something surreal about watching the fences be dismantled, quietly and methodically, without fighting begining. It had a feeling of inevitabilty, whilst in the background the stewards asked people in vain to keep moving.

Then the fences were down - there was a gap. Nothing but air stood between the two groups, but there was still an invisible barrier hanging in the air, of caution, of fear, as the masked protesters edged closer. The riot police looked edgy, scared, bracing themsleves and shuffling. A lone individual, young, lanky, edged closer than anyone, seemingly ready to attack.

I think there was a brief scuffle at this point. But the confrontation did not continue, because a women dressed in white suddenly ran between the two groups, and stood there in the way with her arms stretched out. She was slim, with dark hair, perhaps mid thirties. She had to stand on the levelled fences, and she shook her head, saying no to the masked people in front of her, who hung back some metres. Was this a barrier that would hold? She was determined, and there seemed no way that they would attack whilst she stood there. As slim barrier to keep the peace, like a single finger plugging a hole in a dam, had been erected. But the spell was broken by another piece of wood hurled over, but close to her head. She ducked out of the way, the barrier was broken.

I become uncertain of my chronolgy here. Was this when the fighting really began? Was this when the fences began to be picked up, and used as weapons? But before that, other peacemakers stepped forward from the crowd. There was the tall black man who called out "no violence," a call with was taken up by a number of others. "You see, the devil at work" he said, gesturing to the fighting, in a quiet voice. Some tried to argue with the fighters. Two men argued passionately that it would accomplish nothing. "Your making yourselves the banner headlines, you're letting yourselves be used!" he said. Some just dismissed them, telling them they should be on the other side of the fence with the riot police - one man explained why he felt they should fight, though he himself was not part of the violence. " They have to know that there not safe" he said, meaning the G8 leaders.

In the end the discussions became futile, and the fighting began. A very large section of the march was still effectively trapped behind the scene of the violence, whilst those had had passed through the botleneck were still nearby. Fences began to be picked up - and groups charged at the riot police with them in front of them. The police line held, batons came out - they were used to hit the hands of those attacking, and to poke through the fence. I saw one hit in the face, perhaps in the eye.
I don't know how long this went on for. Some of the fences thrown on top of the police were cleared of to the side. The police line stayed in position, and did not attack. But suddenly there was some panic, as police, not wearing riot gear, came up through the crowd and forced the fighters back. Then the police began advancing, clearing the area, methodically.

I cannot say what happened at that corner after that point, as I, with most other people, left and went further down the route of the march. As we did, there was an incredible sight - the field ahead, alongside a huge expanse of the perimeter fence, was full of protesters, hundreds of them. There seemed to be no police in sight, and an improptu march and carnival was taking place, with the infernal noise brigae leading the way, through the waist high crops. A large part of the march was also watching this spectacle from the road that was the area of the designated march.

It seems to me that there were three marches that day, three sentiments. Perhaps these groups overlap, perhaps you found youirself in two of them, but probably not in three. There were those that came there to march peacefully, to be counted, and who had no wish to be caught up in violence. Many of them probably would not have come if they had known what would occur. Some may have been hurt - certainly one of the peace makers was hit and hurt by the police as he attempted to stop the violence. But most just watched the events unfold.

There was a small group that came with the intention of violence. They came prepared to disguise themselves, and they were not swayed by the pleas of the stewards, or the other marchers, to keep the peace. They were apparently willing to risk the safety of many people who had no part in their fight. They were a small minority among a peaceful majority, using violence to try to achieve their aims, and just like the men that sat inside that hotel discussing their plans and interests, they appeared comfortable with the use of that violence. Just like Bush and Blair, they argued that no other langauge than violent confrontation would work. And like Bush and Blair, they are wrong. Who will remember the voices of the Congolese Africans who marched that day? Who will be intersted in the words that hundreds of people from Wales wrote in Lydia's agenda? What will the families and the children in that march think of political protest now?

And there were the many people there that, though peaceful, wanted to seek confrontation with the authority behind those fences - that walked through those fields, that sat down and refused to move when the police backup arrived. They were not content to just march in a circle, obeying the instructions of the police or the stewards. They wanted to push the boundaries. But they wanted to cross those fences, not tear them down and use them as wepaons against the police. Like the groups that engaged in non-violent direct action in the morning, and closed down the roads and the railways, they know that sometimes you have to break the rules - but with the intention of achieving something, not of destroying.

I know that there was some violence in the field as well. Perhaps I am making false distinctions - maybe there were just individuals who made their own choices. But we all make sense of our world by creating stories. That is my story of the day.

Tom Allan
- e-mail:


Display the following 7 comments

  1. Bravo! — michael
  2. Excellent piece Tom — Main Street
  3. Caution — @merican Wherewolf
  4. because of a few... — mk76
  5. A different view — Marion Delgado
  6. Clarification... — Marion
  7. No right, no wrong: no protest. — michael
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