Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Interview with G8 Activist Wu Ming

Wu Ming (无名) is an activist from the Seattle-Tacoma area who was at the 34th G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan, a rural resort area on the island of Hokkaido.

Read this year's summit statements for the states' perspective on what had been accomplished this year. Hundreds of NGOs and a greater number of individuals signed the "Challenge to the G8 Governments" which claimed that the states themselves were responsible for the climate crisis, and the debt crisis. Other groups who arrived in Japan made plans to hold their own Summit too, calling it a "People's Summit". Wu Ming tells us what it was like engaging in autonomous actions against the G8, and what the political atmosphere of the G8 was like for activists.

This video is my own brief introduction to the G8 from an activist's perspective, in which I use submitted videos from Spanish and German activists.

Joe La Sac: Have you noticed that the opposition to the G8 has grown over the past eight to ten years, and why do you think that is so?

Wu Ming: It's really hard for me to tell. There are a few reasons for saying that the opposition has grown, however. I can tell you that, from my experience, the vast majority of the protesters who I've met were not involved in any sort of organized resistance to the G8 eight years ago. I, for example, was not even aware of its existence until I became politicized against it around the time that I came to college. (Because I lived in Seattle in 1999 I knew about the WTO, but not the G8.) It seems like many of the people who now "summit hop" or even work on solidarity work at local level, even when they have been activists for ten years or more, haven't been protesting at G8 conferences for more than a couple years.
Of course there are a few exceptions to this, especially among the older activists. And I think one problem with jumping to the conclusion that opposition has grown based on the above observation is that many of the activists of eight or more years ago may have moved on to other things. This is reflected in the relatively young demographic that shows up to protest the G8.

Ultimately, though, it seems to me that there has been a general increase in opposition to the G8 over the past eight to ten years.

JL: Which opposition groups were the most active at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido and what sorts of things did they do?

WM: I spent most of my time working with the anarchist-leaning 'No! G8 Action' group, but a full representation of the range of opposition groups would include various the Japanese communist, socialist, and green parties, progressive NGOs, cultural groups, and local peoples' organizations that made it up to Hokkaido. While there are many ideological and political differences between these groups, they all seem to have a basic tactic in common -- that is, they all march. Truthfully, the anarchists didn't act much different than the Trotskyites and the Liberals when it came to action. I think this is because the police-state had everyone monitored closely and was willing to enforce any and every law, regardless of how arbitrary and constrictive. For example, every single overt political activity that a protest group may chose to do, be it walking three abreast down the street or whatever, must be registered with the police beforehand. This policy is obviously very stifling to autonomous actions and tactics. But not only do the police enforce compliance, it gets to the point that because of the force of the state opposition groups tend to police themselves, prohibiting and even intervening in any unplanned action!

I may suggest one small, but significant difference with the anarchist organizing against the G8: many of us realized very quickly that autonomous actions of 'protest' were going to be radically ineffective (there were 20,000 police and 3,000 protesters) -- both because we would risk a lot of jail-time and because we don't like asking people in power to do anything in particular for us (unlike the NGOs) -- and so were focused on what can be called 'prefigurative politics'. That is, we tried to build the new world in the shell of the old. The camps were the main venues for this. It happened when we planned actions, no matter how inane they may have seemed, and it happened when we did the dishes. From my point of view, experimenting with prefigurative politics was the real point of being in Hokkaido.
Besides that. like I said, I was not active in too many different groups, so besides the lowest-common-denominator protest march, I don't know what everyone 'did'.

JL: It seems to me that there are two basic kinds of protesting at the G8. One group of people says the G8 has noble goals and an admirable mission, like giving aid to Africa and partially writing off debt, but that the G8 needs to held to these promises and goaded to action. Another group is saying that the entire mission and purpose of the G8 is deplorable and that is function in global politics is harmful to democracy and economic development. How do these groups reconcile their differences at the summit, and which groups are more effective? How do you measure this?

WM: Um, I guess you could divide the basic outlooks among protesters into these two groups. However, since we were all so isolated from each other to begin with, we never really had to reconcile these two positions. I suppose I was so far into your second category that I lost sight of the G8 altogether and decided to construct something positive in spite of it. That's what the camps (mentioned above) were there for. As for effectiveness, I was satisfied with the performance of my network of new friends in creating an autonomous, free, and lively space for democratic, anti-fascist living.

JL: Why do they meet some place physically at all, why not just pick up the phone? If the G8 were to stop meeting annually do you think this will help at all?

WM: Sure it would be nice for the G8 to stop meeting. But it's not like any real problems would be solved if the G8 simply stopped having physical meetings. There would still be neoliberal economic policies containing people within police-states economies and there would still be undemocratic political orchestrations at the highest level of government of the world's most powerful nations. You see, the problem is not that the G8 have a tea party every year; the problem is that they are a group of callous technocrat statists who enforce their will on people all over the world.

One can even say that the problems go even deeper: our present world, in many ways, works on a precondition of obedience to illegitimate authority. Once (and only after) we start challenging authority in our daily lives as well as at the world-political level, I believe, we will have some positive change, regardless of who meets in a hotel room with whom.

JL: What was the most important thing you learned by actually being at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido?

WM: I learned that it is important to speak multiple languages if you want to work internationally.

The 35th G8 Summit next July will be held at another tourist center on the island of Sardinia, off the Italian mainland coast. The g8 Summit will not make it to the United States again until 2012.

1 comment:

Muser said...

Nice interview. Thanks.