Insights from the UK and beyond
On the frontline of the G20 summit
Ageing 1960s hippies and their youthful anti-globalisation descendants joined in an angry anti-capitalist protest at the Bank of England on Wednesday, waving placards and shouting slogans reflecting a common fury at perceived corporate greed.
With worldwide recession destroying jobs by the week, protesters at the G20 protest in the City of London demanded an end to what they see as a global, predatory system that robs the poor to benefit the privileged.
“Welcome to Pig City: One war — class war” was the placard held up by a masked man standing on the doorstep of the central bank.
As hooded protesters scrawled “Peace and Love” on the walls of the Bank, Drogo, an elderly man in flowing multi-coloured robes and carrying an orb on a wooden stick, pointed at staff peering out of the Bank of England’s windows and said:
”I am here to tell these fat bankers to get off their arses and save the planet.
“They have to do it because they are still in charge – for now. But of course capitalism has to go down. We have had enough.”
One man strolled along Threadneedle Street dressed as a white-faced corpse in top hat and tails with a placard round his neck that read: “Their greed is killing our planet.”
Some windows were smashed. Protesters hurled paint bombs and empty bottles and occasionally threw punches at police, who responded with baton blows.
Police said they had deployed one of Britain’s biggest security operations to protect businesses, the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and other financial institutions.
But the clashes were almost desultory, if briefly dramatic. There was no general looting.
This was not Seattle, 1999, when demonstrators successfully disrupted a World Trade Organisation meeting, or London’s anti-Iraq war demonstration of 2003, when hundreds of thousands joined together in an impressively unified march for peace.
The G20 meeting was due to take place several miles away in the Docklands area of east London on Thursday.
On Wednesday, there were just 4,000 demonstrators, and the range of causes they espoused was varied in the extreme, bringing together anti-capitalists, environmentalists, anti-war campaigners and conspiracy theorists of various stripes.
For much of the day the mood was carnival-like. The police managed to seal off the handful of streets around the Bank from the rest of the City, where workers went about their business normally.
A brass band played for several hours. And as the day wore on, protesters peeled away from the knots of angry young men taunting riot police to dance to a mobile disco set up on the steps of the Bank.
Above the disco, someone had fixed a large poster which read: “Hundreds of Architects and Engineers Demand a Real 9/11 Investigation.”
The hard core of violence-prone protesters were a tiny minority. Some masked and hooded young men belied their mysterious appearance by being friendly and talkative.
One, 19-year-old student Francis, explained: “Bankers have made bad gambles and we are all paying for it. They must take responsibility for that.”
There was even a good-natured counter-demonstration by pro-capitalists. One of them, Simon Richards, 50, from Gloucester, western England, said: “We have come to stage a counter-demonstration to show we are not intimidated by the terror tactics of these protesters.
“We are in favour of free market rather than state control.”
Protester Mia, 21, a student from Denmark, waving an anti-war banner, said the range of causes on offer was a strength, not a weakness.
She said she wasn’t just angry about international conflict.
“We’re here to protest about all of it. All these crises are linked,” she said.
“The U.S. has to borrow lots of money from China and other places to pay for all these wars, meaning they have less money for housing and other parts of their economy. It’s vital to demonstrate about it, provided it’s peaceful.”
Here are a selection of placards and graffiti seen at the demonstration.
”Capitalism isn’t working”
“Drop books, not bombs”
“Banks are evil”
“People will stop robbing banks when banks stop robbing people”
“Make love, not leverage”
“Resistance is fertile”
“Housing is a right, not a privilege”
“You can rent the house you used to own”
“Eat the bankers”
“Banker, rhymes with ?”