Republished to mark the 10th anniversary of the Genoa G8 summit protest these are the recollections of a WSM member about the days running up to the protest and the main event itself. Ho took part in one of the Genoa Black Bloc's. It includes about 50 photos taken in Genoa.
Myself and Conor, another member of the Workers Solidarity Movement, arrived in Genoa at about 2 o'clock on Wednesday morning. We'd known that Genoa airport was going to be shut down for a few days (as it turned out, it was open on the days we were travelling) so thought a less direct route was better. We'd expected to get some hassle from the police as we travelled - as we went through Turin airport and train station I sometimes felt like we were being followed by a giant neon sign that we were anarchist troublemakers, and should really be arrested immediately - but our only contact with officialdom was when we had our passports checked at the airport. When we arrived at Brignolet station, one of the main train stations in Genoa, we expected lines of police, cameras, sniffer-dogs - something! - but the place was deserted. Maybe we had the wrong week?
We'd met some friends as we travelled, and they'd just gotten a call from another bunch of Irish people who were holed up in a café/bar, and wanted us to join them. We set off to find them, and that's when we discovered why we hadn't seen any police yet - they were all here.
There were large groups of carabinieri standing around at the major junctions (we were on the Genovese equivalent of O'Connell St), and smaller groups dotted around the streets. Every few minutes a small convoy of police vans or cars would pass us, fuck knows where they were going. This was, after all, two in the morning, days before the summit was due to start, when most of the protestors were nowhere near Genoa.
Eventually we caught a cab, to bring us to Via Balbi (near Porta Principe station), and the promise of a few drinks. This cab journey gave us our first glimpses of the city, in particular the hill behind the old city that divides the east and west of the town. Many of the main roads that lead into the old city were being sealed off, so we had to work our way around the hairpin bends climbing the hill (streets we'd be returning to in a few days time) to get to the other side of town. As we were driving around these backstreets, we turned a corner to see a group of at least thirty carabinieri, just standing there, doing nothing, on a street miles from anywhere in the middle of the night?
Pic: A View of the city of Genoa
We also got to see some of the fences that were going to protect the Red Zone being put up. They looked pretty tough - the fences were sunk into concrete blocks, wedged (the ones I saw at least) behind the junctions, making them harder to pull forward, and buttressed behind with supports bolted to the concrete, to stop them being pushed down. I didn't get any photos - we'd heard the police didn't hesitate to seize your camera if they saw you taking photos of the barricades, or any of their defenses, and we weren't taking any chances.
We got to the café anyway, had a few drinks, and found out what had been happening over the past couple of days, but eventually decided we'd better see about finding somewhere to sleep, so myself and Conor started heading back to the Genoa Social Forum - the only protest-related site we knew how to find. We'd only been walking for a few minutes when we were stopped by a group of carabinieri. It was the middle of the night, and we were exhausted - we were also very close to (or even in) the Red Zone, and would have had to be completely insane to be carrying anything illegal, but no matter.
They were obviously bored, and wanted to mess with some protestors, so they made us unpack all our bags so they could check our stuff. After about five minutes of half-hearted poking and prodding, they decided we'd understood who was in charge, and let us go.
A few minutes later, we caught a cab down to the Social Forum. There were no maps there to let us know where the campsites were, so we decided to get what sleep we could on the tables there.
Our first priority on Wednesday morning was to find the rest of the Irish contingent, so I wandered off to find the Indymedia Centre. Though the centre hadn't opened yet (police had raided one of the campsites during the night, and many of the Indymedia volunteers had gone out to help and were now catching up on their sleep), I met another protestor there who told us there were some Irish anarchists in the Albaro site (a tricolour with a circled A on it sounds weird, but who else could it be?). Half an hour of wandering the streets later, and we'd found them.
The campsite was great, the best of the sites from what I heard of the others. It was in a small park (about the size of the Garden of Remembrance), beside a tennis club. It was smaller than some of the other sites, but it was the closest to the city centre, about half an hours walk from the Social Forum, and nicely wooded. The tennis clubhouse also had showers, with hot water - much appreciated after a couple of days. On the other hand, there was a police station just around the corner.
We arrived at the site just in time for a meeting of the Irish contingent. The main news was that already some people had been arrested - an American woman staying with the group had been picked up by the police just around the corner from the site. For the crime of carrying a penknife she was, stripsearched, and held for hours in a cell with no toilet. Some people wanted to organise a protest at the police station, but others had spoken to the Genoa Social Forum (GSF) who said they didn't want any 'confrontational' actions before the main protests began, and so the plans were shelved.
There was also a brief discussion of the security arrangements for the campsite. Each morning there was a general campsite meeting, with representatives from each of the different groups there, to discuss stuff that affected everyone, and the possibility of a police raid was obviously a major issue. There were two entrances to the site - one near the sea (and police station), the other up a long flight of steps at the other end of the site. It was decided that volunteers would meet up each night, and draw up a rota of people to watch the entrances, and lock the gates and sound the alarm if the police turned up. Even this early in the week most people thought there was a pretty good chance that we'd be raided some time in the nights to come.
After the joint meeting, there were meetings of the different affinity groups. There were three types of groups, black, pink, and red. The pink group planned to use peaceful protest tactics on Friday. Gluaiseacht, the environmental organisation, were the largest group in the Pink block - some of them had been on the Faslane protests, and they were committed to non-violent action. The Red group was mainly made up of SWP members and supporters. They also intended to use NVDA, but planned to be more confrontational, and had perhaps a looser definition of 'non-violent' than the Pinks. Their plan was to try to push their way through into the Red Zone.
We joined the Black group. Our attitude was that we were going to try to get into the Red Zone and close down the summit, and to that end we were going to use whatever tactic was most effective. As it happened, we decided that our particular group would focus on providing support for others - we would bring water, vinegar-soaked bandannas for breathing through teargas, and a water/Maalox mixture for washing out teargas - rather than leading any charges. But we were generally comfortable with the idea of fighting back if the police attacked us, or destroying some property if that's what it took. Our own small group wasn't equipped for fighting, and we didn't think that should be the purpose of the protest, but we realised that we'd be in a part of the protest that could end up fighting, or destroying property, and accepted that as a part of the attempt to shut down the G8. After our meeting, a few of us went down to the Social Forum, which had opened up since the morning and was starting to fill with people.
The GSF was set up in a large car-park on the seafront. At one end was a stage, where there'd be a gig on Thursday night. The other end was nearer the Red Zone, and would be sealed off with shipping containers during the week. A few hundred metres past the containers was a police staging area, filled with armoured cars. One side, the city side, of the GSF had a line of small stalls set up by some of the political organisations within the GSF (most noticeably the Italian CP, the SWP and Globalise Resistance, and some other Trotskyist groups), and past the stalls there was a large marquee were caterers had been brought in to sell food and drink. Opposite the marquee, beside the sea, was another row of stalls, run by the GSF itself. They were giving out free sandwiches and bottles of water during the week, and had also set up a stall to provide legal advice.
Pics: Views of Genoa Social Forum
This early in the week, the GSF was half-empty, but it was to get pretty crowded as the days went on. There wasn't all that much to do there, besides eat, but it was a central meeting point, and quite near the Red Zone. A couple of groups did hold meetings there, including the SWP, and the Pink Block, but there were too many people milling around to make it a good venue for meetings.
We stayed for a while, and got some food, but then went up to the Indymedia Centre, where some training on Non-violent Direct Action was to be given.
The IMC had been set up in a sidestreet about ten minute's walk from the GSF, heading away from the Red Zone. It supplied computers and phonelines so the alternative press could send out their coverage of the protests, hosted GSF press conferences, and was an information point for the mainstream media. It provided some accommodation at night, and during the day meetings were held in some of its rooms. But for all of these things, demand _far_ exceeded supply. Even on Wednesday, when most people had yet to arrive, the IMC was overcrowded. Later in the week it would be packed from morning through to the middle of the night.
(On Saturday night the police attacked the IMC in a brutal raid, hospitalising some and imprisoning many. They said they were looking for the Black Block - a ridiculous story. The Black Block had generally stayed away from the IMC. This was partly because of the bad feeling between the Black Block and the GSF, but mainly because the IMC was full of journalists. The Black Block had made a point of avoiding journalists, and cameras in general - the IMC was the last place they'd go. Far more likely is the idea that the police raided the IMC to seize any evidence they had of police attacks on protesters, or infiltration of the demonstrations.)
We went to the non-violent direct action training, but I can't say I found it very useful. The situation wasn't ideal anyway - there was a large crowd of people speaking a lot of different languages, with camera crews and others wandering in and out all the time - but even if the training circumstances had been better, I don't think the training we got would have been useful. Submissive postures and non-threatening gestures may work well sometimes, but they don't stop teargas, and don't help against a baton charge.
The funniest moment of the training came when the trainers were asked how to deal with a baton-wielding cop. They got a few volunteers together, and tried to demonstrate a technique which involved basically jumping on the cop and bearing him to the ground - in a non-violent way, of course. Unfortunately for them, the volunteer playing the cop was quite fast on his feet, so while they ended up in a heap on the ground, he was able to continue beating them with his rolled-up newspaper. I decided that was enough of the training for me.
We spent the rest of the day shopping for food and other supplies (goggles, Maalox, vinegar), and in the evening went to meet up with the anarchists. The anarchists had been noticeable by their absence at the GSF and IMC, but every noticeboard we saw announced that the anarchists would be meeting in the Pinelli centre, and that there'd be a specifically anarchist campsite at Sciorba nearby. Unfortunately both of these were some distance away - about 20 minutes from the GSF by bus, maybe an hour's walk.
When we arrived at the Pinelli centre the meeting to discuss Friday's actions had already started. Coming from Ireland, where there are only a handful of anarchists, I couldn't help but be impressed. There were anarchists there from all over Europe (and the US), about 100 taking part in the meeting over the evening (many of those were speaking on behalf of affinity groups or organisations), and many more just wandering around the centre. Every speaker was translated into Italian, French and German. Although things got heated occasionally (it was a long evening) for the most part things went smoothly - people waited for their turn to speak, waited for translation, and generally respected the rest of the meeting.
(The only time people got really angry was when a guy suddenly started taking photographs of the meeting. He didn't ask permission, and though people immediately shouted at him to stop, he went on to take several more pictures. Given that many of the people at the meeting planned to take part in illegal activity, didn't know who this guy was, and knew that even the most sympathetic photographers could have their photos seized by the police, it wasn't surprising that this guy's film was destroyed. He was lucky to get out in one piece himself, and with his camera (as far as I know) intact.)
While the meeting continued, food and drink were available in the centre - for a suggested donation, but nobody was turned away. This was all voluntary, of course, in marked contrast to the hired labour and overpriced food at the GSF. It was a great reminder of anarchist self-organisation. I wasn't surprised, but it was just to see my expectations confirmed. Unfortunately, for all the goodwill at the meeting, it was proving difficult to reach any agreement. There were a number of problems. The first was about what we should be doing on Friday. The general GSF timetable was that Friday was the day for direct action, and Saturday was to be a peaceful demo (with possibly more action later on). But also on the Friday a group of striking workers from Genoa and nearby had planned to march into the city. The Italian anarchist unions had built close links with the workers, and planned to march with them, but the march would have to be peaceful, and wasn't going to attempt to get into the Red Zone. This meeting at Pinelli was the first I'd heard of the march, and I think a lot of other people only heard about it when they arrived in Genoa, so it divided the meeting, between those who wanted to march with the strikers, and those who were committed to trying to get into the Red Zone.
Related to this, quite a few people wanted to make a point of refusing the GSF timetable, and launch the main attack on the Red Zone on Saturday. I don't know whether the anarchists had refused to join the GSF, or if they hadn't been invited in the first place, but there was a lot of bad feeling between the two. (The anarchists weren't the only ones annoyed - the Tutti Bianche and COBAS had apparently had major disagreements with the GSF, and COBAS has stopped attending their meetings). So a lot of people saw no reason to accept the timetable the GSF had drawn up - on the contrary, Saturday, when the police where concentrating on the peaceful demo, might be the best time to attack the Red Zone.
While these were good points, it seemed that this week was the first time a lot of people heard them. By now, most people had pretty much accepted the GSF timetable - not as a political act, but because some timetable was needed - and had made their plans around it. To many it may have seemed a little late to change plans, especially since many protestors were still arriving, and would have to be factored in to whatever decisions were made.
A second question was the route to take. The Red Zone covered a reasonably large area, and had a long perimeter. Where should we attack, and how would we get there? There were two main suggestions, to attack from the north or from the east (the workers march was approaching from the west). At this stage, we reckoned that most protestors would be going from the east, as that's where the GSF was, and that's the approach the Tutti Bianci were taking. The advantage of the north then, was that other protestors would draw the attention of the police, and maybe leave us with a softer target. On the other hand, maybe an attack from the north would be isolated and easier to break up.
There were a lot of complicating factors to consider. One was getting to the Red Zone. The Sciorba campsite was north-west of the Zone, Almaro directly east, and others scattered between the two. Where would we assemble? And where would everyone else be? The only group to have declared their route were the Tutti Bianci - there would be at least two other marches on the Zone, but from where? How could we decide where to go, without knowing where everyone else would be?
There was also the mater of getting to the Red Zone. We could assemble some distance away, but we didn't want to be isolated on our way, we wanted to march with another group. Not to use them as cover (a couple of people did suggest this, but the overwhelming majority of the meeting disagreed with it), but to make sure that we each got to a point near the Zone, before we split off to make our own attacks. The two suggestions were the Pink Block and the COBAS march. These had been discussed at Tuesday nights meeting, and people had been sent off to discuss the idea with each group.
While we were having our meeting at Pinelli, the Pinks were meeting at the GSF, and their reaction to our suggestion was interesting - they split. One section of the Pinks didn't want anything to do with us. This section included the most militant pacifists, who didn't seem to be happy that we even existed. The rest of the Pinks agreed to march with us - they didn't necessarily agree with our tactics (nor we with theirs) but had no problem marching with us for a while, until we'd each split off to do our own thing. Unfortunately, we found out that the Pinks had a blanket ban on political banners and symbols in their section. It tied in with their generally 'frivolous' approach, but wasn't something we could accept.
(This exchange is worth mentioning because one of the things thrown at the Black Block is that we set out to hide behind others, and infiltrate peaceful demos. What actually happened was very different - we talked to another section about marching with them, they agreed, but in the end it didn't happen for other reasons.)
The other alternative was to march with the COBAS, a radical trade union grouping. While we had political differences with many of them (I can never keep my anarchist and communist unions straight, but I think this COBAS section at least was Marxist) there was also some mutual respect and tactical agreement, at least about this kind of activity, between them and some of the Italian anarchists. We learned that they were happy to march with us on Friday, and so some more discussions went on with them about the route to take.
In the end, there were too many disputes and problems to overcome, and so it didn't look like there was going to be a single anarchist contingent on Friday. At the same time, the discussions did help clarify a lot of positions, and I think a lot of subgroups formed out of the meeting, and these subgroups were important in organising some of the actions over the next few days. For myself, it was an interesting evening, and a chance to meet a lot of people (including a comrade from Belfast who'd come to Genoa on his own, but came back to Almaro with us.)
(Disclaimer - This was a long meeting, and I wasn't taking any notes. I've tried to represent all of the positions as best I could, but there are bound to be mistakes and inaccuracies?)
Thursday The major event on Thursday was the migrants march, organised by the GSF in support of the rights of refugees and immigrants. The march was starting quite late in the day though, so we still had some time before we had to make our way down.
We spent a while in the morning talking about what we could expect to happen on Friday, and coming up with some ground rules for our affinity group. For example, we made it clear that we'd all pull out of an area if some people were worried about their safety - nobody would be sent back on their own, or made stay somewhere when they wanted to retreat. Since we didn't plan to be right at the front of any actions, we agreed it was important that we kept an eye on sidestreets and avenues of retreat, to make sure the Block wasn't cut off. We also discussed rock-throwing, and thought it was often a bad idea, for the simple reason that often its more dangerous to other demonstrators than to the police. Finally, we practiced forming and moving in lines, and made a list of stuff we still had to buy, before going on one last shopping trip.
We gathered at the GSF that afternoon, and made our way from there to the assembly point for the migrant march. It was about a mile away, and there was an almost solid line of demonstrators strung out between there and the GSF. There were a few thousand people around the piazza when we arrived, but it was clear that things weren't going anywhere yet, so we joined up with some anarchists we'd met in Pinelli, and went down a street to a spillover from the assembly point, where we found a group of anarchists. The march started off maybe forty minutes later, but our reward for turning up on time was to end up near the end of the march. In other circumstances this would have been a minor irritation, here it meant that we didn't leave the assembly point for at least another hour. But at least we had several hundred anarchists chanting "No Justice, No Peace - Fuck the Police" and "Viva, Viva, Viva l'Anarchia" to keep us company (apparently there was another anarchist section nearer the front of the march, made up of people who'd arrived later. The march was more than long enough to have held two anarchist blocks, each unaware of the other).
The atmosphere on the march was upbeat, and very relaxed. The weather was good, and there were no expectations for the march, so people just took the opportunity for a stroll through the streets of Genoa. There was the usual fun and games - groups of people stopping for a minute to let a break in the march open up and then charging into the gap, banging on the walls and shouting when we passed through a tunnel, or alongside a row of shipping containers - and no real anger. The aims of the march were vague, there were no obvious targets for the protest (like a government building or detention centre), hardly any migrants had turned up, and there certainly wasn't any direct action taken. So it was all a bit Grand Old Duke of York-ish, but given what was to happen over the next couple of days it wasn't too bad, and besides, 60,000 people on a migrants march, however uncontroversial, is always a good thing. There was only one incident during the march. At one stage the march turned a corner at a junction, and someone threw a stick (or a bottle) at the lines of police sealing off the other road. The reaction was immediate - people scattered from the flashpoint, started shouting "no violence", and then a line of anarchists ran up to form a line between the march and the police. It was a great example of self-policing - we'd all agreed it wasn't the right time or place to start a fight with the police, and acted quickly to make sure that decision stood.
Eventually the march passed near our campsite, and since it was now about 7 or 8 in the evening we decided to break off, though not before arranging to meet with some other anarchists that evening to discuss Friday. The Pinelli centre was being used that evening for a gig, and after running through some other alternatives, some groups decided to meet up in Almaro.
Not long after we got back to the campsite though, it started lashing rain. It turned into a full-scale thunderstorm, and a lot of plans were messed up that night. The campsite meeting was impossible, but some of us did get together for a few minutes to find out that the COBAS march would be passing near the site in the morning, and that we could assemble there to link up with them. (We later heard that the Tutti Bianci had to cancel their planned training session that evening, and hold it in the morning instead, which can't have helped their organisation. I'm sure everyone else was equally thrown off by the weather)
We spent the rest of the evening in the café just outside the campsite. The owner must have made a fortune that night, it seemed there was over a hundred people there, jammed into the shelter of a tiny café to drink the place dry and bum cigarettes off each other. It was lucky we went there though, because that's where Joe met Marco, a Genovese guy who worked in the garage across the road, and who would be a great help to us over the next few days?
Friday was the day set aside by the GSF for direct action, and most groups would be trying to get into the Red Zone, or at least protesting outside. The protests were supposed to start (again, according to the GSF) in the afternoon, but most groups had other plans. The Red and Pink sections of the Irish contingent had formed up and left well before 11 - the Pinks to assemble at the GSF, the Reds to join the other Globalise Resistance/IST groups and march with ATTAC to the Red Zone. We were waiting in Almaro, to gather with the other anarchists there, who had doubled or trebled in number since Thursday and join COBAS for the march to the city centre.
Last minute preparations were going on all through the site. We checked our bags, each of us was carrying a couple of litres of water, a Maalox mixture, and half a dozen vinegar-soaked bandannas, as well as other first aid stuff. We also carried our passports and E11 forms in case of arrest, goggles, our own bandannas, and in spite of the heat wore long-sleeved tops and trousers, to protect our skin from gas. A nearby group of Germans had brought foam padding and sheets of underlay which they used to make crude helmets and armour. When they'd finished we used the leftovers to make some protection for ourselves, not a lot, but maybe enough to save a bone from being broken. So much for travelling light.
By 11 o'clock, everyone was ready to go, and lined up through the campsite waiting for COBAS. We joined up with a group of Americans that we'd met on yesterdays march, and we decided to stay together during the day - if we ever got out of the campsite that is. The other march was running late, and things were getting tense - helicopters were flying overhead every few minutes, and must have gotten a good luck at us by now it wouldn't take many carabinieri to seal off the main exits from the campsite, and we were feeling more and more exposed. Where were COBAS?
Around 11.30 some people came round, they'd heard COBAS had been stopped by the police, and we needed to decide what to do, so each group sent a delegate up to a meeting. There wasn't much to discuss we couldn't wait much longer for COBAS to arrive, we'd have to move on our own. But, when we thought we'd agreed, there were more delays we weren't supposed to meet up in the city centre until 12. That was only five minutes walk away, if we got there too early we could be as exposed there as we were in Almaro.
Finally, around ten to twelve, enough of us decided we'd had enough waiting, and started moving in enough numbers to drag everyone else along. We went up the steps at the back of the site (away from the coast and the police station), urging those behind to hurry up, and got out onto a main road. At least now we wouldn't be easily surrounded if we were attacked, but we still wanted to push quickly on to the city centre. After a few minutes walking we got to a small hillside green, and went down beside it, past a split level piazza, and into the city.
The streets of the city were pretty crowded with demonstrators, and it was often hard to tell which marches or groups they belonged to. Some sections of the crowd were moving, others seemed to be waiting for something, and in the meantime part of our Black Block attacked their first bank. After a few minutes, the Black section of the crowd started to move down the main street, I think towards the coast. We moved with them, trying to keep our affinity group together in the crowd and get our bearings in the city.
The next few minutes were confusing. A couple of hundred metres down the street we reached another major intersection, and some people started moving down one of the intersecting streets, but then (still around the corner from us and out of our line of sight) ran into a detachment of police. The first we really knew of it was when protestors started jogging back towards us, followed by a cloud of teargas luckily we had enough time to put on our goggles and bandannas.
We moved away from the intersection, up the road directly opposite the police. As we moved, demonstrators pulled metal dumpsters out into the middle of the road, overturning or setting fire to them to slow down pursuit. Soon the road opened out, and we were able to move back towards the streets were we'd arrived. We returned to the square with the fountains, and joined the people walking up to the higher level to try to get a better view. I think people were a little surprised to run into the police so soon, when we were a long way from the Red Zone.
From what I could make out, there were now two police groups on the lower level, one on either side of the square. So the march started moving along the road on this higher level, to try to circle around those police groups. I didn't realise it at the time, but at some stage in the last quarter of an hour the Black Block had been split in two. While we were moving west along the hillside, another BB section was below us, moving south towards the coast. Even so, our section was considerably larger than the one that had left the campsite, because of the people that had joined us in the city. The political composition of the Block had also changed. Most marchers didn't have any political insignia, just the black clothes, but we knew that the group leaving Almaro had been anarchist, while now there was a group of Maoists on the march, and who knows what else.
We circled around for about half an hour, meeting the railway tracks and following them back down, until we reached a point directly to the east of that first smashed-up bank. From there we could look back towards the assembly point, where there still seemed to be some fighting going on. After a few minutes of indecision we turned west again, and passed through a short tunnel. Once through, we continued around the corner to the banks of the river. Just past the tunnel was a boarded-up bank, which was attacked by some demonstrators (at least partly to get the boards).
On the corner between the tunnel and the river was a small supermarket. As we passed, some demonstrators (I didn't see who) broke into it, and so the march stopped for a while as it was looted. The next 20 minutes or so were an unofficial lunchbreak, as people went in, got whatever food or drink they could, and came back out to pass it around. (I saw one couple walking along a few minutes later with a shopping trolley filled with food and drink. Others made presents of bottles of wine to passing Genovese) We all took a break, at least partly because none of were sure where we were or where to go from here. The maps of Genoa we had were terrible, the GSF map had little detail, and the only proper streetmaps we found only covered parts of the city, and we spent very little time in the areas described.
The looting of the shop marked a turning point in the general attitude of the march. Up until then, the only property destruction I'd seen had been of banks, but from here on the destruction was more general. Wheely bins were overturned or lit for no reason (unlike earlier when it had been a defensive measure), fences were pulled down, some cars, traffic lights, and even bus shelters were trashed. This was probably partly due to mounting frustration, at being driven away from where we wanted to go, and the general sense of disorganisation that came from being unsure where to go next. The shop was also psychologically important, breaking a taboo, and from that point on capitalist society itself became more legitimate a target, rather than just the summit meeting. Alcohol may have played a part, since most people had some wine or beer from the shop, and of course there may well have been some provocateurs in our midst, but their influence is impossible to measure, they may have just speeded up a process that was already in train.
Anyway, we started to move on from the bridge. We had three option we could follow the river into the city, but that passed through a tunnel some distance away, and we weren't sure where we'd end up (looking at a map now I think it would have brought us to Brignolet station). There was a road going up the hill directly in front of us, but though that might have been the most direct route to the Red Zone, it was also a narrow, steep, and winding route, and not somewhere we'd want to fight. So we followed the main road to the right, in the hope of finding a wider road that would double back to the Red Zone.
After about twenty minutes of walking we were having second thoughts about the route, because we were moving further from the red Zone and hadn't seen any sign of a road that would take us back, so at the next staircase we found we decided to climb the hill. As we started climbing (at least 6 storeys worth of stairs), some of the rest of the Block spotted that a nearby building was under police guard, and realised it was a prison. So as part of the march was making its way up the stairs, another section was attacking the prison. (From what I could see it was a pretty effective attack, though the prison turned out to be empty) The rest of us continued to climb.
After a few minutes rest at the top of the stairs, and while there were still a lot of people fighting below or climbing the steps, we started moving off. It meant we were getting strung out, but we had to get moving again. After a few minutes walking, we could tell that we were back on the right track. We were still too far north, but not by much, and we'd made it far enough west the hill that we were on was directly above the Red Zone, we just had to find the right place to go down.
We knew we were almost at the Red Zone when we rounded a corner to find a large contingent of pacifists gathered in a square. There were a lot of suspicious looks thrown at us, but we didn't care, we just wanted to sit down for a few minutes. The prison and the stairs meant that the block had gotten very stretched out. We were near the front of the march, following an anarchist marching band of Germans and Americans (these guys were very impressive, with costumes, big black flags, and drums, and they did a good job of keeping the march moving, and providing a focal point.) and we wanted to take a break, let everyone else catch up, and decide where to go from here.
As more Black Blockers arrived, the pacifists got more tense, especially since the later arrivals were taking time for property destruction on the way, and the pacifists didn't seem too happy about it. But before things could move to a confrontation, and before we sorted out where to go, the carabinieri intervened. Whether it was the attack on the prison, or just the general property destruction, the rest of the Black Block had attracted the attentions of the police, because they came up behind us and started firing teargas into the square. As usual, they were completely indiscriminate, hitting both Black and White blocks. Our block ran off to the right along the hill, spilling dumpsters in the streets behind us, leaving the pacifist to go further into the square.
After a few minutes we opened a gap between us and the police, and we started to regroup. The road we were on seemed to continue on roughly parallel to the Red Zone. As before, the only way to change levels was a narrow staircase, but at least here there was only a height difference of about two storeys, so there was little chance of getting trapped. Another couple of minutes walk and we found some suitable steps and went down.
After all our wandering, wed finally found a road that we could see led straight to the fences of he Red Zone. As we walked towards it we passed a group of pacifists, arms aloft, in a sidestreet. (I went over to tell them the police were close behind, and this wasn't a good place to be) We passed them, and followed the gently sloping road down towards the fences. They were now only a couple of hundred metres away but at the end of the road, right in front of the fence, was a group of pacifists sitting on the road
Some of them ran up the road to meet us, to try to persuade us to move on somewhere else. Even before they got to us, the marching band and the front of the march seemed to decide to look for another opening, and started down a sidestreet parallel to the fence. We started moving with them, but the rest of the march had other ideas. A lot of people seemed to feel that they'd marched for far enough, and weren't going to go wandering off again. I can't say I blamed them - it had already been a long, frustrating day, and we'd had enough trouble getting this far, so it was annoying to be told to move on because some people wanted to sit in the road, doing absolutely nothing (we could see) to try to get past the fence.
Some more of the metal wheely bins appeared, dragged into the road and set on fire, but now they were being pushed slowly downhill towards the fence. People started banging on the sides of the bins and the walls, getting closer and closer to the pacifists. But before we found out who would blink first, the teargas came in. It was the first time I'd actually seen it fired - it seemed to fly very slowly, and it took a second to register what it was - and then you'd realise, and also realise that it was going to land right beside you if you didn't move fast. That was the worst dose of the gas I got, because instead of having it blown towards me I was right in the middle of where it was landing, and I hadn't had time to get my goggles and bandanna on (I think I was too absorbed in watching the pacifists to pay much attention to the police), and I was amazed at how quickly it incapacitated me. I didn't notice it particularly effecting my breathing, but within seconds I could barely see and knew I had to get out of the cloud.
We pulled back around the corner, and onto a parallel street. The last of our Maalox and water went there, as a lot of people had caught a strong dose of the gas. (One guy from the Irish group picked up a cannister and threw it back at the police - we expected his hands to be burnt, but they were fine, his eyes and throat were something else). Our affinity group got itself back together, and moved with the block back up the hill. At the top of yet another flight of steps there was a small park and a water tap, and we stopped there for a while to catch our breath and get a drink.
At this stage I noticed that the Block appeared to be shrinking, it looked like only half of the people who'd been at the shop were still with us. Our affinity group talked about the situation for a few minutes, and decided it was time to split off from the Block. It was getting too small, and didn't look like it could mount a serious attack on the fences, even if it tried - mounting frustration (and maybe the departure of some of the Block) meant that more time seemed to be spent on attacking property, especially cars. We were worried that if we continued we'd end up wandering across the city, accomplishing nothing, and making ourselves an easy target for a police mopping-up operation. (We were very conscious of what we'd heard about Prague, most of the arrests and police attacks coming in the evening, when protestors had stopped trying to get into the summit and were just wandering the streets.) We reckoned that, from where we were, we'd be able to circle around the contested areas and avoid most of the police presence. So we ditched anything that looked incriminating (padding etc), and sat down to have some food ('liberated' earlier from the shop) before heading off.
Just as we started getting ready to go, some of the Black Block started coming back down the street, and explained that there was fighting going on at Brignolet station. Some of us still wanted to go back to the campsite, but others wanted to see what was happening, so we went in that direction rather than split up. We ended up retracing some of the route we'd taken earlier, and got to see some of the destruction - mainly burnt-out cars - that had followed us. There was lots of stuff still left untouched - but there was never any doubt which way we'd come.
We returned to the square where we'd met the pacifists, and there were still hundreds of them there. As our small group (less than a dozen people, unarmed and unmasked) started crossing the square we were obviously recognised as Black Blockers, because the crowds parted in front of us and they started applauding us, sarcastically of course. One guy even ran up behind me and started walking along, clapping his hands right beside my ear.
It was a crazy response, but it wasn't the first time we were to see it - when the police appeared (you know, the people who were actually attacking demonstrators and using teargas to protect the G8 meeting), some pacifists would sit on the ground, wave their hands in the air, and generally act 'nice'. But these same people would hang on to their anger, waiting to release it on Black Block members - civilians, like them, who were trying to stop the summit, and were getting gassed and beaten beside them. This goes beyond a disagreement over tactics, it's just screwed up. (Not all of the pacifists were like this, of course. Many may be vocal in their disagreement, but they can tell the difference between an armed and armoured riot cop and a demonstrator, and know which side they're on.)
As our small group went on, we ran into a group of people outside a local train station who'd been on the Pink section of the march, and swapped stories. They'd had a pretty good day, on a 'frivolous' section of the march, but had also suffered from the police. They'd been gassed twice in quick succession, once when they were trying to pull down the fence, and again a few minutes later, when they'd pulled back to a square and were just dancing. We also heard some news from the other sections of the march - apparently nobody had managed to get past the fence, and the Tutti Bianci hadn't even got near it, but had been pushed back almost to their campsite. We also heard the first rumours that someone had been killed by the police.
We wandered on, and eventually found our way back to the streets by the river. The area around the bridge had been trashed, but now the police presence had been stepped up. A section of the Pink Block appeared, with people we knew from Gluaisteacht and the Irish group, so we decided to join them rather than try to get back alone and risk getting pulled. The Pink section was quite slow moving, and we ended up waiting by the looted shop for about half an hour while they tried to get permission from the police to use some streets, and avoid the fighting that was still getting on, but it gave us a chance to find out how everyone had gotten on during the day (and hear the first complaints about the Black Block)
After a while, we passed through the tunnel again, but instead of retracing the mornings route we went straight through the city centre. It was certainly impressive - full of graffiti, and broken windows, and with a burnt-out police van in the middle of the road. This was where the main fighting had been going on, with the other section of the Black Block, some Tutti Bianci, and lots of others. It was also near here that Carlos Giuliani had been killed.
We made it back to the GSF without any real trouble from the police, and set about finding the rest of our affinity group (the ones who'd gone to Brignolet), and the rest of the Irish contingent, and to find out what we could about the events of the day. The story circulating at the time was that two people had been killed, but everyone had a different story to tell, and nobody was sure what was really happening. The Globalise Resistance bus, that was supposed to arrive first thing in the morning, had turned up late, and its passengers had been dropped at the GSF in the late morning, when everything had already started. The Red group (the SWP wing) had apparently gotten close to the fence, but had been beaten back (literally, they'd been baton-charged) and had had to retreat back through police lines.
After a while the whole Irish contingent got together to decide what to do. A lot of people were very worried about the situation - they hadn't been expecting this level of violence, didn't want to go back to the campsite in case it was raided (especially since so many Black Blockers had been there that morning), and definitely didn't want to venture back out onto the streets, which meant staying in the GSF that night. I didn't like the idea - there were too many people in the GSF, and the situation was too tense. between the noise of tens of thousands of people, and the helicopters flying over every few minutes, it looked like it would be impossible to sleep. More seriously, if any trouble started here (they were still selling drink) the GSF was the last place I wanted to be, there was nowhere to go if the police came in. Nobody was convinced - they just didn't want to go outside again.
Towards the end of the meeting we realised that _someone_ was going to have to go out. Some people had been left at the campsite in the morning, and someone else was at the IMC. We didn't want to leave them on their own, so some of us volunteered to go get them. Someone went off to get GSF lawyers to escort us, and we agreed to collect as many sleeping bags as we could carry, and bring them back down, and then we set off.
As soon as we left it became obvious that the danger had been overestimated. There were people gathered all along the main road, smoking and drinking and generally relaxing, and no sign of the police. But we went to the campsite anyway (it was half-empty, a lot of people were getting out early) and collected everyone and everything (and waited the inevitable 20 minutes while people ran in and out for last minutes errands). From there we went to the IMC, which was completely packed with people, and waited another 20 minutes as people ran in and out. On our way back to the GSF we met our first bunch of carabinieri. The lawyers talked us through their lines (though to be honest we could have just walked around them), and then we were back. I only stayed a while. A group of decided to head back to Almaro (and another group went off to the IMC which they thought would be safer), and walked back up to get some much-needed sleep.
Saturday started off great. The weather all week had been hot, but cloudy, on Saturday the sun finally came out. The half-empty campsite had been quiet for once, so I actually got a good night's sleep, and yesterday's action seemed further away. Carlo Giuliani was still dead, of course, but that didn't really sink in for me until I'd left Genoa, and saw the photographs in the papers. Genoa, while I was there, seemed part of a different reality - things could happen there that would never happen in Dublin, but that meant things weren't as real as Dublin.
A few of us decided to go for a walk, to try to find some shops and get some food. We walked away from the city, and found another shopping district were there were still some open shops and few signs of the demonstrations, before walking down to the coast road. There we found an open café, with hundreds of people sitting around outside eating. On the road itself, groups of people were already starting to go by on the way to the assembly point for the main march. We were happy to sit in the shade beside the people playing football, and watch them pass.
After a while we decided it was time to get moving, and walked back up to the campsite. The rest of the Irish group had been busy, and had made several banners for the demo. The SWP in particular wanted everyone to stay together on this march, rather than break into political sections - we weren't as enthusiastic, and planned to join any anarchists we met at the assembly point, but we'd march down there with the others. We got moving eventually, and on our way met up with some of the Americans we'd marched with on Friday, and decided to march together again. Since we were planning only peaceful actions today, we weren't too worried about staying together, so when I left there were still some people in the campsite preparing food, or getting stuff together, who planned to catch up with us when they could.
When I left the campsite then, it was with a mixed group including most of the SWP / Globalise Resistance / Gluaisteacht people. It was far too late to get to the assembly point, and when we got to the coast road the main body of the march was already approaching, so it was a question of picking a spot and joining in. The next step was predictable. After a few minutes waiting, we saw the banners of Globalise Resistance (UK) approach, and the SWP members began to join up behind them, bringing everyone else with them. Some people hesitated for a minute, knowing that the British GR is completely run by the SWP, and seeing that right behind GR were dozens of SWP/International Socialist Tendency banners, but by then it was too late to discuss it - most people had already joined the march, so they had to join up or be left behind. So the SWP got another bunch of people to march behind their banners on a demonstration - and in doing so lost a lot of trust, and added to a reputation for being manipulative.
We had always intended to join an anarchist section, so our small group stayed by the road and waited for an anarchist section to join. And waited. This was a huge march - almost two huge marches, in fact, because the road was divided in two by a central, grassy strip, and each side had a different group on it. Sometimes there was a trade union on one side of the road, and Greens on the other, or pacifists with their white-painted hands held in the air alongside the red banners of the communists.
That was one of the more noticeable aspects of the march, the number of CP members it contained. In Ireland, the CP are a group of pensioners, wheeled out for their traditional couple of demos each year, but here there were half a dozen varieties of CP, and together they were one of the largest contingents on the march. They dwarfed the Trotskyist groups, which in Britain and Ireland are usually the most numerous representatives of authoritarian 'socialism'. Of course they were still very much a minority on the march, which contained so many different shades of opinion, but for me they stood out. It was like watching a military parade and seeing a regiment pass by armed with breastplates, bows, and spears.
The second striking thing about the march was the atmosphere. Although this march was supposed to be completely non-confrontational, and in spite of the relaxed mood of the morning, there was a lot of tension on the march. As well as the sizable numbers of people with white-painted hands, there were a lot of people carrying sticks. Many sections sealed themselves in behind lines of stewards who marched with linked hands, behind ropes, or holding sticks between them. Most of all, every time a police helicopter flew overhead (at least every five minutes), the chant of 'Assassini' would go up from hundreds of voices, and a wave of arms would go up to give the police the finger.
Really though, the most memorable thing about the march was its sheer size. I stood for a while, taking photos of the banners every now and again, and it kept coming. We sat down and smoked, drank some water and baked in the sun, and it kept coming. There was just no end to it. We watched the march pass for almost two hors before we joined in, and even then we were far from the end. It was impossibly big, with all sorts of people, from all over the world. The largest demonstration I'd been on up to now was for the 'X' case in 1992, when about 10,000 people had marched through Dublin, but this was like watching an entire city on the march.
A small FAU section passed us after about an hour - we talked to some people we knew, but decided to wait for a larger anarchist group, and eventually a several-hundred strong section turned up. It contained a fair mix of people - some had their sticks and gas masks ready, and were obviously prepared for a fight, others were equally obviously (and I think deliberately) unprepared. I think most were like us, not really expecting any trouble but with out stuff along just in case. The anarchist group was also much smaller than we'd expected - it looked like a lot of people had already left town.
We hadn't been very far away from the campsite, so after a couple of minutes walking we were almost at the police station on the coast. This had already been a target for angry demonstrators, and a couple of windows had been smashed since yesterday. As we approached, in the outside lane, the pacifist demonstrators on the inside lane formed a cordon around the station to stop it being attacked again, and there was a few minutes of ritual confrontation when some few anarchists wanted to attack it. It was a bit of a waste of time, on both sides, because the station itself was built into a steep hill, and was a natural fortress - there were a couple of windows near the ground, but there was absolutely no chance that anything else would be damaged. Both sides were arguing over something completely pointless - since there were more pacifists, and they were making a bigger deal over it, I think they succeeded in being the least relevant.
The next mile or so was fairly uneventful. We were making good time compared to the other sections of the march, at least partly because they seemed to think it was necessary to 'protect' stuff as we passed, but it was still a good distance to the GSF. Then, as we reached the corner of the hill overlooking the GSF, the march stopped, and then surged backward for a second. Nobody was sure what was happening, but all around us the goggles and bandannas started coming out. There were no police in sight, but we had passed some on a sidestreet not too long ago, and after yesterday there was always the possibility that the helicopters would drop gas on top of us. It was another few minutes before we found out what was going on. The march was supposed to continue down the coast until it reached the city center, and would then turn up one of the main streets and continue to the north (staying well away from the red zone). Down at the GSF the carabinieri were out in force, making sure that the march turned where it should, instead of carrying on towards the Zone. But as the march turned into the city, hundreds of people started splitting off to attack the police lines. It quickly developed into a pitch battle, with teargas filling the street as more and more people joined the attack (though the largest section of the march continued away from the GSF, away from the fighting).
Down at the GSF the demonstrators were slowly being pushed back the way they came (I think that may have been what stopped our part of the march - the people in front of us might not have had anywhere to go). We had a quick discussion, and decided we weren't going to get involved. The four of us didn't feel we'd come prepared for that level of confrontation, having had enough of it on Friday, so we distributed the stuff we'd brought and then went back to the campsite.
There were some people back there waiting for us, with bad news - shortly after we'd left the site that afternoon, John from Belfast had been arrested. Himself and Conor had left a couple of minutes after us, and were unlucky enough to run into a group of carabinieri. John was carrying an anarchist flag, which was enough to get him arrested, and Conor would have been arrested too, but Marco, the Italian guy who worked in the garage across the road, saw what was happening, and was able to run over and talk them out of it (he was almost arrested himself for his trouble). But John had already been bundled into a van, and they wouldn't let him out, so he was driven off to jail. Some people from Gluaisteacht were staying in the site, and had contacted the GSF lawyers and passed on John's details, but we hadn't heard anything back yet.
We spent the rest of the day sitting around, finishing off what was left of the food and drink, packing up our stuff, and wondering how everyone else (particularly John) was getting on. A couple of hours after we got back what was left of the fighting passed by the campsite. A couple of hundred people ran through, followed by drifts of smoke and gas, and were gone. As evening fell, more and more people returned, some having marched through half the city. A few had had narrow escapes, but there were no injuries, and John was the only one arrested that day.
That night, Marco gave myself and Conor a lift to the town of Allesandria where he lived, further along the railway line to Turin. We had to be in Turin early to catch our flight, so we caught a train (after being stopped by police at the station and having our passports checked over the radio) and traveled through the night, and spent most of the next day sitting around in airports, reading the newspapers. As we waited in Stanstead we heard from Ireland about the brutal attack on the IMC on Saturday night, and then heard from Italy that Joe Moffatt, a friend who'd marched with us on Thursday and Friday, had been arrested - like John, he was picked up outside the campsite for no good reason.