Monday, June 25, 2007
Rostock, Heiligendamm and the G8
Saturday June 2nd
6.30am - the skip bloc arrives at the union offices to get our bus to Rostock. Around 7.30 the 15(!) or so buses head off, after almost a month of travelling I'm finally on my way to the G8
We arrived in Rostock around 11.30, passing hundreds of police vans, cars, helicopters, tanks(!) and riot cops. It was going to be an interesting time, and the police had stated they would have 16,000 cops ready to go. Thankfully we passed over 100 charter buses that had transported protestors up, and that was just those who had come by bus.
Around 1pm the first big protest (well there were two starting at different points and converging at the harbour at 4pm) set off, with probably 5000 or more people. Within 3 minutes I'd already had an undercover cop ask me some questions, but I caught on quick as to what was going on.
The beginning of the west-bound march in Rostock
The Black Bloc had a large presence in the crowd, a few hundred at least, and quite the spectacle to see 100s of entirely black-clad protestors. Though it is illegal to mask your face in Germany, they were able to get away with it.
The march comprised a myriad of political affiliations and beliefs, and was heavily patrolled by the 1000s of police. The march weaved its way into the historic town of Rostock though it was questionable as to how many people were left in the city. Many stores were closed or boarded up. However, some stores, instead of boarding up, wrote signs saying they were in support of shutting down the G8, which worked it seems to stop them from getting attacked
The boarded up stores (dissentnetwork.org)
Eventually the march converged with the other march that had come from the opposite direction, and the 1000s of protesters all joined together along the harbour of Rostock. A huge stage had been set up for speeches and live music, and there were a bunch of tourists about too.
The view from above of the protest converging at the harbour (dissentnetwork.org)
Just some of the police vans at the harbour
Before we knew it the Black Bloc had launched into action, digging up pavement to smash into projectiles to throw at the now 100s of riot cops. For the next two or so hours a continual back and forth of Black Bloc vs. riot cops occurred. The cops would surge forward at the protesters, and then retreat as the bloc surged back at them. Its legal to drink on the street in Germany, so there were plenty of empty bottles being thrown, and the sound of police stomping on bottles to reduce the amount of materials the bloc had to throw.
Digging up the sidewalk (dissentnetwork.org)
Eventually the police fired tear gas into the crowd and things started to get more and more out of control. A car was set on fire, leading to the water cannons being brought in to control the bloc. Unfortunately the German police also like to mix tear gas into the water cannons, making people not only soaked but also burning in pain.
The water cannons in action (dissentnetwork.org)
After awhile we decided it was time to get out as the barricades began to get built and more water cannons came in. This was definately going to up the ante for the rest of the G8 protests, and there was a feeling of unease about how the cops would use this to justify any actions they took from there-on-in
A few more spectacle shots of the Black Bloc. Though I hate that the media usually chooses only to show these actions in the newspapers etc, when much more happened at the march, I plead guilty to the enjoyment of the spectacle, regardless of whether I agree or not with their tactics (and it makes my blog more interesting...)
(all from dissentnetwork.org)
We caught a train from the city center out to one of the three campsites for the protesters, which held around 5000 people each. We were in the Reddelich camp, which was divided up into different "barrios". The Skip Bloc had decided to stay in the queer barrio, but there was also the anarchist, Ya Basta!, anarchist teapot, interventionist left, and other barrios. There was also a "conceierge", showers, media tents, info tents, and a kitchen in each barrio cooking food up for everyone. Most impressive was the giant bar, easily the biggest structure in the camp. This all led to a very rock concert cross protest feel.
An aerial view of the Reddelich camp, well some of it (dissentnetwork.org)
Sunday 3rd June
Today was the immigration organizing day, so I headed to the Rostock Convergence Center, a few train stops out of town in a 5 storey squatted school. Thankfully the rail company had been kind/smart enough to run a train once an hour from the campsites into the city.
The Convergence center/squatted school (dissentnetwork.org)
At midday we had an all in meeting, comprising of maybe 300 or so people concerned with organizing around issues of immigration and global apartheid. The meeting then split into a series of 5 or so workshops, and so I attended the No Borders workshop, facilitated by some London No Borders activists I'd met a few weeks ago, and memebers of No Lager from Bremen (http://nolager.de/). About 50 or so people attended the workshop, including a number of migrants who were able to attend who had been self-organizing from within the detention centers. Myself and Onto were able to give a quick run-down on the actions taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The workshop went well, and I think for only 5 hours, we were able to develop a lot of contact information, and info swapping. The need to translate in 3 different languages slowed things down a lot but was necessary. Unfortunately by the end there was some tension over the lack of supposedly concrete proposals achieved, but I think this was unrealistic given the time frame. Following the workshop was a closing all-in meeting but by that stage I was too tired.
You can see the program and the special newspaper produced for the G8 concerning immigration in English and in Dutch at http://www.noborder.org/
A few of the Skip Bloc hung out at the convergence center to eat, and some headed to a nearby holding center to do solidarity actions for those that had been arrested during the day at the agriculture related protests. After that it was back to the camps
Monday 4th June - Migration Action Day
Today was dedicated to migration related actions, and for my research and participation, I felt was most important.
We left the camps early to get to the first action. The train was incredibly full, and after it announced it would be delayed at a station for 20 or more minutes, the call was made to get off and start a flash march to the main action. The march was fun as it was totally unexpected, and there were barely any police in sight as they were unaware of it happening.
We converged with the main demonstration that was being held at a reporting center in Rostock. Reporting centers are used to keep a tab on migrants who are not being incarcerated in a detention center, but who's status is still being determined. Migrants must report weekly or monthly to ensure the government that they have not fled to another city or country. Unfortunately many are deported directly from here without any warning. Once the protest converged at the center, a number of speeches were given by migration activists and migrants residing in Germany.
Shutting down the center
There were two more demonstrations planned for that morning, one outside a LIDL supermarket, and the other as a memorial to the 1992 pogrom in Rostock, where neo-nazi's and other fascists burnt down public housing for migrants in the city. As we were about to leave we met up with some friends from Holland who were in their media-bus and offered us a ride.
Unfortunately a large bus full of activists draws attention, and we were stopped almost immediately by 30+ police vans. From there we were held on the bus for 3 hours, as they searched the bus, and then one-by-one took us off the bus and searched us. A few were arrested for having things like bandanas(!) in their bag (this is counted as passive armament against the police). The entire ordeal wore us down considerably, and the police achieved their objective of stopping us getting to the next action.
Being detained on the bus (this is also when my camera finally died)
Afterwards we drove to the make-shift prison where the people arrested from the bus were being held to do a solidarity action, and then it was on to final march of the day, which had began at a migrant detention center just outside of Rostock (and conveniently near the city's zoo!).
After hanging out for about 2 hours, as the police would not let the march leave as they believed there were "violent elements in the crowd", the march finally left and headed towards Rostock. On the outskirts of the town the march was stopped again, and we were met with 8 or so water cannons, and 1000s of police, who had said we only had a permit for 2000 to march, and they estimated 10,000. Eventually it was decided it would not be possible to march so we had to disband.
(all from Indymedia.de)
A few of us walked back to the harbour and I headed to a panel session on migration organized by Block G8. Though interesting, as it comprised migration activists from the U.S., Africa, Germany and the Ukraine, I was too tired to stick it out till midnight. There was also an art show on by the harbour which I checked out, and had some interesting stuff regarding borders. Though the more impressive art was seen around town, created by the group Holy-Damn-It as part of the lead up to the G8
One of the 8 posters designed, and definately the best
Tuesday 5th June
Today most of us decided to take a break and hang out at the camp a little more. We also attended 'blockade training', possibly the most fun training one can be involved in. Some folks had organized a number of blockade trainings for the upcoming days of blockading the roads into the G8, so we headed into a big field near the campsite to learn effective techniques. About 100 of us acted as protesters, and the other 100 as police, and we went through some techniques including the much-hyped "finger approach", where the mass of protestors breaks off into 5 'fingers' at the last moment in order to force the police lines to break up.
After that I headed into Rostock to buy supplies for the next few days and did an interview for the Future Archive (http://www.futurearchive.org/archive/play/26 if you want to watch me drone on for 10 or so minutes).
About 3am that evening I was awoken to the sounds of people running past my tent yelling "POLICE RAID, EVERYONE UP!". There had been concerns about Nazi attacks, and moreso about police raids (police were always sitting outside the camps), so there was a 24 hour watch on top of the silos next to the camp incase of a raid. We all got up, but as it turned out the cops were just messing with us, along with hovering a police helicopter above the camp for an hour. All this as a strategy to make the protesters sleep-deprived and on-edge constantly
Wednesday 6th of June - The G8 blockades begin!
Today was the first day of blockades, as the G8 summit was beginning and the delegates (Bush, Blair and so on) were arriving. The summit was being held only a few miles from the campsite, but was fenced off by a fence that cost $13 million, and was surrounded by a "red zone", an area deemed illegal for protest
A map of the red zone and the inner-zone that housed the G8 conference (the hotel was right near the water, an ex-Nazi occupied building that was never returned to its rightful owners). Rostock is just to the east, and our camp is where it says Reddilich
Some of the fence after protesters reached it later in the day (dissentnetwork.org)
A few of the Skip Bloc set off to walk the 4 or so miles to the first round of blockades. Other blockades had headed to the airport so that delegates could not be driven out, and were entirely successful, forcing all delegates to be flown in by military helicopter, or brought in by boat. The blockade we were involved in comprised of approximately 3000 people doing a sit-in on a major road into the summit area. We set off around 10am from Camp Reddilich, and about 0.5 mile in we encountered the first police road block (though they effectively did our job of blockading). No problem, we will just take to the forest!
The blockader's encountering the first police block just before we headed into the forest (dissentnetwork.org)
After 30 or so minutes of trapsing through the forest we came out into a big field, only to see 10 or so military helicopters shuttling in delegates and other staff/media/etc for the summit, so we knew the airport blockades had been successful. We congregated on a hillside until the other blockade coming from another direction could meet up
Coming out of the forest and heading through the fields, I'm in there somewhere (dissentnetwork.org)
From there another hour or so running through fields of rapeseed (seemingly the most popular crop for northern Germany) until the road came in to sight. The police had caught on but were mostly watching as they had decided to let us take part in the road blocks. Across the train tracks and onto the road, 3000+ people hit the road and began settling in for the long haul
The blockade settles in behind police-lines (dissentnetwork.org)
Though a 'peacful' action the black bloc were still about, theres just something so unnatural about this photo...
The 6 military helicopters that landed next to the blockade but then took off soon after, I guess as intimidation (dissentnetwork.org)
The Skip Bloc sat-it out for a few hours, but some of us had to return to the camps to ready for tonight's action, so we headed back through the nearby town of Bad Doberan on way back to the camp
Midnight, Thursday 6th June
Though there were many blockades going on, Skip Bloc had been invited to take part in a smaller autonomous action. Two days of meetings (and apparently a year of pre-planning) involved 27 autonomous groups, 2 delegates from each (to reduce the likelihood of police informants being involved) to plan out the action. Our two delegates were able to take part but only to a small extent as we were invited in late into the planning. So 9 of us decided to take part.
We met with one other small group of 3 at 12.30am at the camp, and then set off. We would have to walk for approximately 4 hours through fields to get to the part of the road we were intending to block, but it was necessary to walk and stay off the roads as to avoid police spotting us.
The second we entered the first field, I realized everything was wet, and 2 minutes later my feet were soaked. On the other side of the field was the train line, and so we crossed, but as soon as we hit the tracks we realized a train was coming round the bend, "TRAIN!" as everyone dove off the side of the tracks and laid against the rocky embankment so as not to be spotted. A close call with death after 10 minutes.
We continued on for another hour in the fields, tailing the smaller group so as not to draw too much attention. But it turned out we had done one big loop and were back near where we started. After consulting the map we decided to take some small lanes and so we set off again. All was fine for an hour or so until we hit a road heavily patrolled by cops. 4 times we were forced to dive into the bushes as cop vans came down the road, alerted only by their headlights. This resulted in a few nettle stings, and for G, a meeting with an electric fence (though this wouldnt be his last).
Eventually we got off the road and hit another patch of forest, and after a short break continued through until we hit the edge of a giant field. We set off through the rapeseed crops, but as the sun had come up (it gets light at 3.30am) we had to hide in the field as another train went by. The second we got through that field and into a plowed field a military helicopter showed up and started circling nearby. With no-where to hide we thought it was all over, but we managed to run to a fence that had some long grass growing along it, and were able to hide before we were spotted. 15 minutes later the helicopter finally stopped circling and we were able to make it into the next patch of forest before it came back.
So we were about 1 hour late, and as we arrived in the patch of forest beside the road we would block, about 50 or so others appeared from out of the trees (another 100 or so were elsewhere ready to construct the inner, more fortified, road block, our job was to build a temporary outer block to stop traffic and distract the police).
5 minutes later it was time to go, and though it was supposedly a 'peaceful action' (only paint bombs and smoke bombs to be thrown at cops) everyone began to mask-up...shit. People grabbed logs from the bountiful forest floor, and some grabbed an entire rangers tower and began to carry it towards the road. We broke out onto the road as cars came to a screeching halt and began to construct the outer road blocks with logs and branches. A semi-trailer driver decided he wasn't having it and attempted to ram the blockade but was stopped by protestors.
About 10 minutes in, seemingly out of nowhere, the riot cop vans showed up, and police in full riot gear were running at us, one announcing over the loudspeaker in German-accented English, "Stop, you are all under arrest, stay where you are". Nuts to that. We dropped the branches and abandoned the blockade heading into the forest. The plan was to head back to the inner blockade and help hold it, alas we had arrived late and weren't exactly sure where it was. So into the forest! Unfortuantely there was a large river only a few meters in, so people were forced to run through it, but that didnt stop the cops, many of which were supposedly trained for forest combat, great. I decided to run alongside the river with two others, and looking back saw a group of 10 or so riot cops following, so I headed back into the dense forest beside the road and proceeded to hide for the next two hours.
I could just see the road from where I was hiding, and could see the 40 or so police vans racing back and forth, while 2 helicopters circled overhead as they rounded everyone up. Turns out about 80 people were arrested, but only for a few hours. So with nowhere to go, I hid out, only to be confronted by a large deer! Turns out it was more scared than me, but only just, and it took off
Eventually the police seemed to take off, and so I came out of hiding onto the road, and proceeded to walk back, past the police road block, which didnt seem to notice me, and was helping our objective of blocking the road. I later found out the main block held for about 3 hours, so was largely successful.
Not our road block, but one that looked something like it (dissentnetwork.org)
With no idea where I was, I soon realized I was on the edge of Bad Doberan, so was able to get back to the train station. To my surprise and relief, 7 or the other 8 Skip Bloc where there, they had all escaped arrest after running through the river. Only Simmo was missing, and we later found out she was arrested after hiding in the forest for an hour, but stood up to see if the coast was clear...it was not
Back at the camp we all took a well-earned nap, and then decided to head to the beach, at the end of the trainline. A week of ongoing jokes about protesting Bono, who was due to appear that evening at a very expensive "anti-G8 concert" were soon realized, as when we got off the train at the bourgeis little sea-side town, Bono and 10 of his P.R. crew walked by. A few of the bloc realized this was our chance, and proceeded to chase him down, chanting "Starving children help sell records!", he didnt take to this too well, and a short argument between Bono (and his P.R. crew) and the Skips broke out. Soon after the riot police came skidding to a halt to come protect Bono, but by then we were done.
For footage of this head to http://www.engagemedia.org/Members/skipbloc/videos/bonog8.ogg/view
It was definately a surreal day.
Friday 8th June
The last day of the G8. The Skip Bloc packed up and headed for Rostock where the final march was to be held. I stayed and minded everyones bags near the station, but apparently I didnt miss much at the march. Everyone was protested-out, and it was hot. Most said their goodbyes, but I was staying one more night at the camp. I had a few drinks at the bar in the camp with the remaining Australians, and some of the Dutch crew, before sleeping outdoors (all the tents had left by that stage).
Saturday 9th June
Up at 6 to get the train to Rostock, then the train to Hamburg, which involved 3 hours of sweating to death. Nice trains in Germany, no air-conditioning. Then it was a train to Lubeck which I managed to avoid paying for, and an hour bus to Lubeck airport, damn you Ryan Air. The airport was some ex-military airport, so the terminal was er...rough. A short flight back to London, and back to my friend's house in Hackney for a much needed shower, and real bed, the first in 3 weeks.
Sunday 10th June
We went to the Brick Lane markets for lunch, one of the most impressive markets/outdoor events I have seen in a city in a long time, if only the U.S. understood. Then it was on to the bar/s for some substantial drinking.
Monday 11th June, 5am
Still drunk. Pack and head to the bus in the rain, and then catch the train to Heathrow. 11 hours flight to LAX. Arrive at LAX, and am denied entry into the country, as my I-20 form (a new form brought in after S-11 to ensure students aren't terrorists) had gotten wet whilst running from the police in Germany. It was somewhat interesting hanging out in the immigration check-point room, though the 3 hours wore on and I knew Laura and V were waiting to get me from the airport. Of course having the priviledge of being white, and with correct documentation (albeit, kinda destroyed) meant I knew I was getting out. The 30 or so Chinese nationals awaiting the immigration's decision, probably didnt find it so interesting.