An Irish anarchist on the Black Block in Genoa


Friday

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.

Police helicopter and crowd at G8 protests in Genoa

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?


[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.

This is part 3, preceeding this report are on the migrants march, Irish anarchist reports from Genoa


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.

Part of the Black Block in Genoa

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).

Black Block and smoke in Genao

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.

Fists in the air at Genao

Pic: From Saturdays demonstration, see next section

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

Smoke at the G8 protests in Genoa

 

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.

Faceoff at the G8 protests in Genoa

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.

Carlo Giuliani, anarchist killed at G8 protests in Genoa

Pic: Carlo Giuliani

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.

Painted hands at the G8 protests in Genoa


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July 20th - Saturdays demonstration against the G8 in Genoa

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.

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