When news of the G7’s imminent arrival in Cornwall was announced, there was an outpouring of support from the media and various NGOs. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, UNITE also issued a statement in support of the opportunities the summit will bring.
I live about a fifteen-minute drive from where the G7 summit will take place. My dad, a musician when such things were possible, has played gigs in the rooms where world leaders will be meeting.
And like lots of people I know, I was angry and upset about the news. Not just because of what the G7 stands for. But also because of the massive police and security operation it will mobilise, and the disruption to our lives this will create.
Unlike the majority of people, I’ve had direct experience of several G7 and other global summits over the last 20 years. And sadly, I think many people in Cornwall are in for a nasty surprise.
Opposition to the G7
Global summits such as these have been the focus of mass international protests since the late 1990s. The G7 is made up of the UK, US, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, and Japan. As Tom Anderson reported in The Canary:
It’s a meeting of the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, designed to maintain our unequal global capitalist system, where a handful of leaders in the Global North dominate the Global South – as well as the rest of us.
Meanwhile, Cornwall is supposed to be grateful for the supposed £50m of investment that the summit will bring to the region. But what this will look like, and who will benefit, is another matter entirely. As accommodation bookings soar, how much of the money will stay in the area is questionable. How much will actually be invested in services that people need? Or are we just supposed to be grateful for the minimum wage jobs created to serve the rich and powerful? We can beg for crumbs at the master’s table, while they lap up the luxury of a resort that most locals could never afford to visit.
Because while Cornwall is stunningly beautiful, it is equally stunningly poor. Cornwall faces some of the worst poverty in Europe. Prior to Brexit, we received European funding due to the levels of deprivation residents face. Meanwhile, local people are priced out of the property market due to the prevalence of second homes and holiday lets. In fact, Cornwall has the highest number of empty and second homes in the country.
Accompanying any global summit is a massive police and security operation. As Anderson reported:
The 2005 G8 (which was the current G7 plus Russia) summit at Gleneagles in Scotland cost £90m, with £72m spent on a massive police presence at the event. 10,000 police officers from all over the UK were drafted in to provide security for the event. The military was deployed too, with riot police flown in on Chinook helicopters. Undercover police were deployed to spy on anti-capitalist protesters.
Similarly, the 2013 G8 summit in Northern Ireland saw 8,000 police officers deployed, together with mobile water cannons. A four mile long fence was erected around the summit venue. The costs of the 2013 summit totalled £82m, less than half of which was spent within the local economy.
These numbers are shocking by themselves. But it’s hard to imagine the impact unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. Summit policing is in a league of its own. And it doesn’t and won’t just affect protesters – it will impact local communities. Whether that means exclusion zones, being stopped more by police, or just the sheer number of police officers from all over the country in the area. It’s also likely to hugely impact on young people; people like my 17-year-old child who already gets hassle from local cops just for being a teenager in a small town. For anyone living nearby, the police operation will be impossible to ignore, whether or not they want to engage with the summit.
Policing and protest
But for anyone who wants to oppose the G7, these problems are amplified. At previous summits, cops approached owners of venues booked for meetings, warning them that they shouldn’t host protesters. Other people have been doorstepped by counter-terrorism officers, trying to get details of protests. Anyone who says publicly that they’re opposing the G7 or joining protests will likely come in their radar. Anyone publicly organising anything that opposes the summit will inevitably face harassment and intimidation for daring to put their head above the parapet.
During the G8 in Scotland our minibus was stopped regularly, and we were searched and followed by Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) officers. 18 undercover cops were deployed to infiltrate the protests. I knew several of them. My experience of policing in Scotland culminated when our minibus, containing two undercover cops, was surrounded and we were all arrested. As I previously wrote:
We had left Glasgow in the early evening, intending to travel to Stirling where there was a large camp for protesters. After having been on the road for about ten minutes, we were suddenly aware of lots of police activity, leading one of those in the van to joke about what was happening now we were leaving Glasgow.
However, the intensive operation was designed entirely to shackle us. Our minibus was stopped by several police vans. A helicopter hovered overhead, and fully kitted riot police ran out, surrounding the van and slamming their shields into the windows. Other riot police with dogs barking stood in front.
We weren’t doing anything illegal. We were simply driving people from one camp to another.
But it didn’t end there. After a night in the cells, we were released without charge. We believe this was due to the presence of the undercover cops arrested with us. We went to a local pub with various friends who’d come to court to support us. I remember watching the news. It was the day of the London bombings, and many of us were worried about friends and family in London. Suddenly and unprovoked, cops invaded. Aggressive and without warning, they arbitrarily arrested another two people. There was no reason for their actions other than intimidation and harassment.
Not an exception
It might sound extreme, but this type of policing isn’t exceptional for summits. I spoke to some people involved in organising in London against the 2013 G8 summit.
One person described what happened:
The UK government announced it was hosting the G8 at an undisclosed location. So a group of us hosted monthly meetings, open to anyone, across the country to organise against it. Quite late on, the government announced it would be in the north of Ireland, so we planned a mass action in London, and were ready to support any resistance that our Irish comrades would also organise.
We planned a few actions, including a main march through the West End, paying a visit to all the offices of corporations wreaking the most destruction.
For our days of action, some squatters gave us their already-squatted empty police station in Soho to use as our convergence centre, after the police had foiled all our previous attempts at squatting buildings.
Hundreds of us from all over Europe squatted the space right in the centre of Soho. But in the early morning of our main day of action, which was to be a march through central London, hundreds – or maybe thousands – of police stormed the West End. They surrounded our squat, abseiling down from helicopters to get onto the roof. They kicked the doors in and used brute force on the people inside the space.
Meanwhile, on the main demonstration, police quite clearly picked out who they thought were key organisers, and arrested them violently at the starting point of the demonstration. A friend was assaulted by three police officers using all their force by bundling on top of them. They were violently arrested and detained for 48 hours. A few years later, they won a pay out for wrongful arrest.
Later on that same day, the police continued to block off most of Soho, as they made more arrests, searched activists and assaulted more people.
It is clear the police used intelligence gatherers – probably undercovers – to keep tabs on the planning meetings and to target activists they saw as the most threatening to corporate power.
Another person sent The Canary a copy of their police file from the time. They’ve never been convicted of a crime, yet their file details G8 meetings they attended, including a photograph taken outside a meeting, and lists them as a “key organiser”. They were arrested within an hour of attending the protest but never charged with an offence.
Don’t get scared! Get organised!
This article isn’t intended to scare anyone from protesting or organising opposition to the summit. I’m not going to deny that facing a policing operation on this scale is frightening. But it’s vital that fear doesn’t smother us.
It’s also equally vital that everyone is aware of what summit policing entails, whether or not they plan to actively oppose the G7. Even without a global pandemic, and for various reasons that would take a whole other article, the global anti-capitalist movement doesn’t exist in the same way that it did even in 2005.
But while this may be reflected to some extent in the policing operation, it would be utterly naive to believe that some of these excesses of state interference won’t impact anyone living near the summit. Let alone anyone who has the audacity to protest it. Even my local Tory MP has admitted that:
it will be very much like another lockdown, but maybe very different.
Even under this Tory government, opposing the G7 isn’t illegal. But legality doesn’t often matter when it comes to summit policing. Take, for example, the COP15 climate change summit in Copenhagen in 2009. Thousands of people were arrested just for protesting. I was there to monitor policing and to write a report on comparative policing, but as I wrote at the time:
I was near the back of the march. There was a large contingent of people wearing black hoodies, some anarchist flags were waving, but where I was, there was no trouble. The atmosphere was good, and my friend and I commented on how lovely it was to see so few police officers on such a large demo.
The change came suddenly – I saw some people running forward, and in the time it took to turn round to see why they were running, the police had used the grid system of the roads to kettle the march into several sections by driving vans through it, and deploying riot police to stop anyone leaving. The kettle was tight, and it was an effort to walk from one side to another. The mixture of people ranged from parents with children, Hare Krishnas, socialists and anarchists. All had one thing in common – they had done nothing other than join a demonstration.
We tried to leave the kettle through an open apartment block. However, this led only to another road full of handcuffed people sat in lines. As soon as the police saw us watching this scene, we were also grabbed, thrown to the floor and arrested. We later learned that all the people in the kettles were also arrested.
Resistance is fertile
Local people are organising and the G7 summit in Cornwall will be resisted. What that resistance looks like will be pandemic dependent, especially given how we’ve recently struggled with increased coronavirus (Covid-19) numbers. This will have to be a major consideration in any mobilisations.
Through solidarity, we can also build effective mechanisms for resisting excess policing. We can monitor police actions, organise know your rights trainings, and, through acting together, support and deter the police from targeting individuals.
We can also build a legacy for Cornwall. Not the legacy being touted in the media, but a legacy of resistance and community action. We can use this to bring groups together, working to make our home a vibrant place for us and our children to live – not just a playground for rich tourists and second homeowners. We can demand more than doffing our caps and begging for the scraps of money tourists give us. Protesting a summit alone won’t do this. But we can plant the seeds.
However, we need to do this with our eyes wide open. Because as things stand, many people, whether supportive of the G7 or not, will be in for a nasty shock when the summit lands on our doorsteps.
Featured image via Emily Apple
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