Four days 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.

Ulster says No at the G8 protests in Genoa

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.

Riot police in Genoa


[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.

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?

View of the city of Genoa

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.

Sleeping in a table at the Genoa protests

Wednesday

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.

Meeting of Irish contingent at Genoa G8 protests

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

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.

View of Genoa Social Forum base

Genoa Social Forum

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

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.

Police van park

Pic: Police van park near GSF

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.

Pinelli

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.

Bikes at G8 demo in Genoa

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?)


On to Thursday: Migrants march at G8 protests in Genoa

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