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Saturday Report Back From Edinburgh MPH Demonstration
international | summit mobilisations | feature Sunday July 03, 2005 01:21 by IMC Éire foreign correspondent
Large But Quiet and Sedate Demo.
A report from Edinburgh and a few pics lifted from film work in progress.
Got into the city this morning early enough, yet there were still loads of people streaming towards the Meadows, a large green space in the south inner city of Edinburgh, hours before the demo was due to begin. I popped into the Indymedia Centre which is open up above the Forest Cafe on Bristo Place, near the University. They have a good setup there - roughly 25 computers running Knoppix, which is a variant of the GNU/Linux operating system. All are networked together and the place is wired for broadband. The radical radio people also have their equipment set up on the upper floor and will be starting to stream audio from this evening.
There were thousands of people heading to the Meadows around 9.30am, still a good bit before the scheduled kick off. The usual gauntlet run of flyer-handers, paper sellers, petition urgers etc had to be negotiated on the slope down to the convergence area.
A few minutes before the march was due to kick off, a crew of roughly 80 (seemingly comprised of many Irish Dissent! people) poured down the incline, masked up and dressed in black, visibly adrenalised, and shouting obscenities within earshot of many young and old sensitive liberal ears. "Commandante W" as I belief he is referring to himself as was in flying form, obviously in his element! They had been tailed for a while and the spotlight was on them, they disappeared around the corner towards the entrance point and that was the last I saw or heard of them until later in the afternoon...The demo managed to get moving just after the appointed time of 11am. It was being led by a black samba band and some 'dignitaries' types who I did not know, one of them had mayoral chains on, so possibly the Mayor of Edinburgh? Who knows, if Gordon Brown was invited along then its quite possible. The media scrum was incredible. Every photographer, video crew, audio journos were falling over each other to document what was happening.
As the march reached the turn of Bath Street, there was a slight commotion straight up ahead and the police radios, which had been silent up until this time, crackled angrily into life and the luminous yellow jackets were running up to the front of the march. The media scrum had moved too, flashing and pointing at the percieved 'trouble' (and yes, I too was admittedly following it...)
A group of "pro-capitalists" had assembled in front of the head of the march, and had signs emblazened with slogans such as "Blood For Oil" and "Make Poverty Permanent", and were chanting slogans such as "Free Trade not Fair Trade!" and "Down with equality!" The Police initially did not seem to get the joke, and there appeared to be a bit of scuffles between some of the creative/subversives and stewards trying to clear a path for the march. Eventually they seemed to get the joke, people were only dressing up in suits and chomping on cigars as a pisstake; nevertheless the Police kept an eye on them and escorted them all the way up Princes St. Princes St is one of the main 'high street' shopping malls in the city, many premises were boarded up but bore signs saying 'open for business'.
The march came in waves and waves of people. To be honest I was a bit disappointed with a) the crowd, and b) the lack of creativity. Possibly a and b are related. The crowd was announced later on in the meadows as 200,000, no laughing matter but well short of Geldof's million. Maybe they are due on Wednesday. The reason for my lack of enthusiasm for the march was the non-diversity of the participants. It seemed to be mostly people out for the day with their young kids. Not that that's a bad thing - but it just meant that the march was deathly quiet for very long periods, and everyone was holding generic placards thrust into their hands. Distinct, individual creations (which are always, always much better) were thin on the ground. There wasnt much representation from unions or refugees, or not visible at any length. There were no 'blocs'. Certainly a very different demographic from say, the Saturday march in Genoa 2001.
Many of the people I spoke to were quite bubbly and happy with the day. They all spoke of how deaths in Africa were terrible and how they should stop. My cynic motormouth almost jumped at the question "well how do you think marching around is going to achieve anything?", but today I kept shtum and tried to soak up some of their optimism, if naive in my eyes.
The sun was baking me and I was nearly at the end of the march already (a short enough walk for a march of many thousands, comparable to Parnell Square to Merrion Square), so I strolled back the way I came to check out more people joining in. A good bit back the way, a big pink/radical cheerleader/samba group appeared. Possibly one of the biggest samba groups I have ever seen. The noise was chest-pounding. (Painful) Memories of Genoa came flashing back briefly acid-style, where every idiot with a bongos and a spliff in him would crack the fucking thing out at 1am and continue to hammer out an arhythmic beat for hours until his inner child had been palm-beaten out of him... but this was different. They had class - and practice. It was all in time, the dancers knew their steps, they were working the crowd around them up into a sweaty frenzy. The bass (lambeg?) drums were pounding, and instead of the usual one or two, they numbered maybe fifteen or twenty. I glued along with this for a while before moving towards the back again, mostly to get out of the sun which was now creating a nice Oirish farmers tan for me...
Back into the Meadows just before 3pm, and there were still thousands of people queueing up to leave the place and march the route, obviously determined to walk the Queens Highway. There were 3 stages erected, where comedians and musicians were telling bland jokes and playing even blander music. At 3pm, the entire site fell silent for a minute, as the MC said "13 children will die in the next minute" and then started the clock on the screen. At 3:01 there was a huge roar, as if somehow this had made poverty history... the bands started up and played music, and then of course another 13 children died in that minute too, but it was as if somehow the simple act of sitting silent for a brief moment made people happy in their hearts. Sorry to be a cynic about this but I cant help it when you see the likes of Puff Daddy et al supporting this initiative. 20 years ago people probably held a minutes silence for the dead in Ethiopia as well when Michael Buerk's BBC report shocked them into "action", yet all these years later very little has changed...
Around this time the small anti-authoritarian/black bloc was being hemmed in by the Police. They had assembled in the Meadows, numbering between 250-300, before 2pm. Like everyone else, they had to wait for an eternity to be squeezed through the bottleneck where people were popped out into the march route. Reportedly they got frustrated and made their own exit via a newly manufactured gap in the fence. This was where the Police surrounded them, and when they tried to escape the policing, the group was split up into smaller fractions. After a standoff, eventually things wound down and people just splintered off home or back towards Bristo Place in groups of 3 or 4.
And that was about it really. I hung around the Meadows for a while, just resting my feet and reviewing footage... Its hard to tell if there are going to be enough people around for the Wednesday blockades. There certainly didnt seem to be enough of a 'left' contingent on the march, but maybe today wasnt about that. We'll see what happens. Keep you posted.