So you’ve probably heard about the chaos that’s descended upon London with the G20 summit going on – protests, riots, arrests, burning bank buildings, and leaders from the 20 most powerful nations on Earth at the center of it all, in the midst of unprecedented global economic crisis. You’re probably thinking, insanity, right? But it must be so exhilarating to experiencing all this, with the environmentalists and the anti-capitalists and the anarchists (yes, really, the anarchists!) marching through the streets by the thousands.
To put it all in perspective, here’s a breathless alert I received in my mailbox yesterday:
United Kingdom (Country threat level – 2): The London Summit 2009 will take place on 2 April 2009 at ExCeL London, an international conference center located in the city’s Docklands. Heightened security measures have been implemented in London due to concerns of a terrorist attack against high-profile participants, as well as because of violence during anti-globalization protests at summit meetings in the past. As a result of these concerns, thousands of additional police officers have been deployed in London, and the British prime minister has warned that police officials are taking a “zero-tolerance” stance against violence and threats to people or property. Security has been specifically increased at the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and other financial institutions, and reports indicate that many shops and restaurants have boarded up their windows in anticipation of possible violence. Individuals who are in London at this time should anticipate delays on public transportation and disruptions to street traffic due to increased security measures enacted for the event. This will include the closures of major streets and public transport stations.
Several large-scale demonstrations are taking place in London on 1 April. Protesters converged at the Bank of England in central London beginning at 1200 local time. Clashes between police officers and protesters have been reported near the Bank of England and the Royal Bank of Scotland, where protesters used rocks to smash windows. Meanwhile, environmental protesters converged at the European Climate Exchange in the Square Mile at 1230 local time to set up a “climate camp.” Organizers have urged participants to bring tents and food to establish a protesters’ camp in the Bishopsgate area. Protesters are also expected to gather outside of the ExCeL center between 1230 and 1930 local time, with a rally set for 1830. A protest will be held at the Mall outside Buckingham Palace beginning at 1700. Anti-war activists are planning to assemble at the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square at 1400 local time on 1 April for a march and rally. There is also the possibility of protests at the British Museum, where demonstrators are expected to gather at 1800 local time to protest a ceremony marking the centenary of the oil firm BP. Individuals traveling to London during this period should avoid protest actions as a precautionary measure. Additional large-scale protest actions are also scheduled to occur on 2 April, including a rally at the ExCeL center.
Holy shit, you’re thinking. This is about to get real. The tension is palpable – no one knows just what’s going to happen, how far things will go. I’ve gotten concerned emails from friends in the States and Scotland, warning me to be careful making my way home from Mayfair, and staccato updates on the situation while Kadinsky monitors the Twitter feed.
Even though the guys at work are trying to play it cool, they were nervously adjusting their ties on Tuesday in response to the warnings that individuals in corporate gear were at risk for assault. We calmly discussed contingency plans for work in case the transport system was shut down due to terror threats. I left my heels at home the last few days in favor of flat-soled shoes, in case I was swept up in a disorderly crowd on the street and needed to make a run for it. As casual and jaded as we’re pretending to be, inwardly, we’re riding that fever-pitch herd mentality that makes your guts curl into a lump of nervous excitement, ready to react, ready to fight.
And the reality is, well, I haven’t seen shit. I mean, really, I went out armed with my camera and this is what I have for you. Some boarded up shop windows:
Sure, there are protests happening, there are people rallying, there are scuffles with police, but I haven’t seen so much as a dude in a sandwich board with my own eyes. If you’re actually at home in Iowa watching the news, you’ve seen a lot more than me, because I haven’t bothered to turn on the television. This revolution is rubbish!
The real problem is that all the action has been happening southeast of where I live and work, and mostly during the day – when I’m stuck in my windowless cubbyhole. Even the march on the American Embassy, less than a mile from my office, failed to reach me. If I was a student I’d be in the midst of all of that, but I am a corporate drone and I have paperwork to do that’s not going to wait just because a bunch of pinko hippie liberals decided they were going to ride their bikes down the street in formation and pitch some tents in front of the Climate Exchange.
Yeah, I’ve seen the pictures online. And it looks awesome.
All this reminds me of how I used to feel in high school, when some popular junior was throwing a rager while her parents were out of town and my folks would make me stay home because I wasn’t allowed to go to parties. I’d stare at my bedroom ceiling, imagining I could hear the music, taste the beer, and worrying myself to sleep that the guy I had my eye on was hooking up with some other girl. I’m missing everything, I would think, shedding some self-pitying tears and punching my pillow, and the worst part was I’d hear all about it on Monday.
So, history didn’t come to me, and I’ve been too busy to bother seeking it out. Furthermore, taking a day off work to protest capitalism seems ill-advised when I sit ten feet away from our executive management team and my absence would be, shall we say, noted. It’s been anti-climactic (an understatement) compared to what I’ve been reading on the BBC website.
But I will say this: The last two days, walking home from work, there’s definitely been a buzzing on the streets. I’ve seen hundreds of people thronged outside the pubs, laughing and toasting like they haven’t a care. It’s 7:00 in the evening and still light outside, and there is an undeniable feeling of festivity. Suddenly, it’s so warm I’ve been throwing my scarf over my shoulder instead of around my neck, and I’ve been walking with a jaunty step, enjoying the lingering sunlight on my face, smiling and nodding at strangers. Maybe there is empowerment in the air – more likely it’s just that Spring has finally, truly arrived – but something’s changed, and it feels damn good.