Genoa demo - An Eyewitness account from an ISM supporter.
I've just come back from Genoa tonight and I'm really angry. So I thought putting a bit down on paper would help. Presumably people have seen the media, distorted as it is. The worst things were obviously the murder of a 23 year old protestor by the police and the brutal Riot Police assault on the buildings occupied by the independent media people Indymedia which resulted in virtually (if not completely) everyone in the building being hospitalised and/or arrested. Latest Ive heard is that one or two of them (one man/one woman) may be in a coma.
Anyway its hard to put a lot of this down on paper in a coherent way so I'll just do a bit of a diary.
Tuesday 17th July.
Arrive in centre of Genoa about midday after flight and bus. There I met this anarchist guy from Liverpool who was doing a great job looking after people who had arrived from abroad. He'd been there about a week and didnt feel much organisation was in place for them so he was helping out.
He was staying at the Carlini Stadium a couple of miles east of the centre. This was the main base for the Italian Ya Basta group, also called tutti bianci, meaning all white. They are basically led on the demo's by a group in white overalls. They seem to take a lot of inspiration from the Zapatistas of Mexico. They support a strategy of civil disobedience.
As far as the Genoa summit was concerned this meant they had announced their intention to try and dismantle the Red Zone fence which would be put around the centre of Genoa during the summit and therefore enter the Red Zone.
They do not attack the police but they make a lot of shields from Perspex and other materials. The white overall people at the front are specially trained and use body armour made out of thick rubber and such like, and gas masks. They were also going to use a vehicle and various implements on their assault on the fence.
Anyway, it's a bit of a problem staying in various camps and buildings that the police know about for obvious reasons, but with the number of protestors there is not really much choice. The guy from Liverpool said that the Carlini Stadium occupied by Ya Basta had already had the attentions of the riot police but it was better defended than other places. So I decided to go there. Ya Basta quizzed us when we got there. Basically they wanted people in their stadium who generally supported their strategy i.e. they didnt want anarchists who wanted to attack police in the civil disobedience march.
Generally the place was really friendly and at night we settled down to a good nights sleep after having to get up at 2.30am that morning for my flight.
Wednesday 18th July
However, I was woken up at 6.15 the next morning by the stadium tannoy calling on everyone to get up and rush to the main gate, as the riot police were there. At the gate we could see perhaps 200 or so riot police. At this point there were only 200-300 people in the stadium. The main contingents of Ya Basta and other groups who were part of the civil disobedience march were Italians arriving in the next couple of days. They were expecting 5,000 or so to be in the stadium by then.
Fortunately for us, Ya Basta were able to negotiate with the police who wanted to come into the stadium to search peoples bags for weapons. Eventually it was agreed that a group of 4 or 5 police (ordinary uniform or plain clothes not riot police) could come into the stadium and be escorted round by a delegation from the camp. They would have Ya Bastas weaponry (defensive and legal) demonstrated to them and they would be escorted round the stadium but would not be allowed to search peoples bags. Obviously the police visit was just part of routine intimidation rather than a full-blown assault at this stage.
Over Tuesday and Wednesday I was amazed at how much was going on. I had naively thought about a couple of days sight seeing before the first demo on Thursday wrong!! There was meeting after meeting taking place by different groups. After attending a few, I started to get a better idea of what was happening.
On Thursday there was to be a demo on asylum seekers. The intention was to be careful not to risk any clashes with the police as this would have consequences for the asylum seekers on the demo whos position in the country would be put at risk.
On Friday was to be the demo against the Red Zone which was considered to be a theft of public space to protect the summit. The co-ordinating group had agreed guidelines for this action. These were - no stones, no sticks and no fire.
There were various demos which had been allocated a space around the Red Zone perimeter. Different groups would therefore have related and co-ordinated actions on the day.
These were the Civil Disobedience march led by Ya Basta together with a coalition of other groups (not sure exactly who definitely included some young communist groups). This march would go straight to the main point of the Red Zone fence and attack it head on.
The militant trade union group COBAS had a march (not much detail on this or some of the others). So did ATTAC. The Black Bloc of hard-line anarchists complained they had not been allocated a space. They were the main group who had not been prepared to go along with the GSF guidelines.
The Pink group of mainly anarchists and various other people were also working out what they should do. This was a very creative group who either did not want to get into any violence or who were only prepared to use their own bodies (rather than stones, sticks and fire).
They used street theatre, samba bands, dancing and generally they wanted to have fun. They had very democratic meetings, arriving at decisions by consensus after sometimes very long meetings (the longest being 9 hours phew!) They eventually developed a plan to march around the Red Zone fence and to make an assault on it at an unexpected (for the police hopefully) point. The Pink Group are often led on the demos by the Pink Fairy who is an Irish women who I think got a fair bit of publicity on the London may day demo. She leads the demo with her pink heart shaped placard, wearing her costume and a long pink wig. This might seem a bit naff but it isnt. Its very effective and she can often do things in confrontational situations with police that others can't.
On Saturday there was to be a final united march of everyone on the protest.
Brilliant demo on asylum seekers. I'd guess up to 50,000 on this but its hard to say. Loads of music, samba bands singing, street theatre. Only one flash point I saw when the pink group were partying provocatively (you can imagine the police saying) in front of a line of riot police. A group of men from COBAS carrying big red flags formed a line between the street party and the police to make sure no one got too close to the police. Demo passed off peacefully and we hardly saw any police at all, apart from the odd line here and there at strategic points. Great fun. (Why cant we sing like the Italians?)
I was still trying to work out which group to go with on the demo. I wanted to go on the Ya Basta/Civil disobedience one (not too close to the front though). However, the main group of English people Id got to know were going with the Pink Group. I decided at the last minute to go with them because it would have been foolish to go on the Ya Basta march without anyone I knew. Our group of about 10 people partnered up into 5 pairs. Keep a special eye on each other and if the tear gas comes, grab each other by the hand and run for it. I was partnered up with a young women from London who had been on the same plane in.
We had some great fun on this demo too. Marching round the fence having a party. Then an opportunity arose to get through a line of riot police (Ill just say police in future as they were all in full riot gear) to the fence. This was a little earlier than had been planned and possibly was not the best point to have a go at. A banner was hung on the fence and a guy managed to attach 2 hooks to the fence despite being water cannoned by the police on the other side of the fence. The idea was to pull at the fence with wires attached to the hooks. This was never going to bring the fence down as it was too strong, but it was the attempt that was important. As people were trying to pull on the fence, the first tear gas arrived. We ran like hell up to higher points in the city and then found a square where it was possible to regroup. The Pink Group sat down in the square to discuss what to do next, but then about 10 people in a Black Bloc group came into the square. Then suddenly all hell broke lose as tear gas canisters were shot into the square. Witnesses said some were fired from one of the helicopters that had been tracking the movements of the demonstrators all day. If the police wanted to attack the Black Bloc they could have done it before or after the square, but decided instead to tear gas a peaceful meeting of people sitting down in the square.
We started to get information on what was happening elsewhere. The Black Blok had been initially trapped in the Berlinni stadium where they had been staying after police surrounded it early in the morning. They had apparently broken through and big clouds of smoke were appearing in the sky in several areas over the city.
Ya Basta/Civil Disobedience had been attacked by the police with tear gas before they had even got to the fence. Running battles continued to take place with the police managing to force Ya Basta back to their Carlini stadium base at one point. (Considering that this was 2 miles or so out of the city it gives you an idea of what was going on).
Back to the Pink Group. We had been dispersed by the tear gas in the square. We ran up steps higher and higher into the city. Eventually small groups found each other and the Pink Group reassembled. A meeting decided to make our way back down into the city. We marched back down, sometimes being able to negotiate safe passage with the police sometimes having to run from tear gas when they decided we were too much of a threat in a certain area.
We then got a rumour, then confirmed news, that a demonstrator had been killed. All groups had decided in the shock of this news to join up together at the sea front convergence centre of the Genoa Social Forum. It was touch and go getting back there as demonstrators chanted Assassini! (Assassins!) at the police whenever they saw them. Our route took us back by the main police station but they allowed us to pass by and the demo ended on the waterfront.
The final march was a massive 300,000 strong. We ended up in the middle of thousands and thousands of people from the Italian RC (Communist Refoundation). Despite being nowhere near the Red Zone this march was again tear gasses by the police as it got near the Convergence Centre on the waterfront.
The march broke up into smaller marches with big groups attempting to continue marching round the city. The marchers were obviously very angry, continuing the Assassini! chant at the police.
The march (marches?) eventually finished and the group of people I was with decided to go to the Indymedia centre for a meeting of the Pink group at 9pm that night. I couldnt face another meeting and walked back to the Carlini Stadium alone and then went to bed. I was woken up at 1am in the morning by people shouting that the police were on their way to Carlini and that they had brutally attacked the Indymedia Centre. People were quite scared by this as we were back down to about 200 in the Stadium as many of the Italians had gone home straight after the demo.
We had about 15 minutes to pack up our clothes and tents before leaving. I was very worried as the young woman I had partnered with on the Friday demo as well as another young woman from our group was believed to be at the Indymedia centre.
We packed up our stuff together with the stuff of the 2 missing people and followed Ya Bastas advice to move temporarily to a smaller stadium 20 minutes away on foot. (Carlini being a bigger target for the Police as Ya Basta were there). We stayed here till about 4am. Then busses arrived to take us to the Indymedia Centre. We were assured this was now safe.
When we arrived we were very relieved to find that the two young women from our group were safe and not injured.
The story we heard was as follows. 50 riot police had attacked the school that was connected to the Indymedia Centre. Part of the Indymedia operation was here as well as some demonstrators who were sleeping there having nowhere else to stay. The police had attacked the building with tear gas and then gone inside. Everyone was beaten up. Cameras were smashed and any film was taken. The people in the main Indymedia building had not realised what was happening. But then the Police smashed their way into the main building as well. Most went upstairs to work out what they needed to destroy in this building. In the confusion some of the people downstairs were able to contact the mainstream press and they arrived within minutes. This is the only thing that stopped the police in the main building. When people from the main building went over to the school where the police had attacked, they slipped in pools of blood on the floor. Blood was all over the floor and the walls. The doors of some of the toilet cubicles had been smashed in where people had tried to hide from the police.
The Police, Italian Government and of course Tony Blair seem to have a story that this building was a Black Bloc bomb making factory or something. The main reason for the police attack is clear. To destroy evidence of previous police brutality. That is why they went for cameras and film. They also smashed 3 computers to pieces including motherboards and hard disks. This was in a room where there were 5 computers. Two press computers were left untouched. The 3 computers smashed contained information for the legal support operation including details of people arrested, people missing etc.
I also spoke to a couple of Indymedia people on the plane back today. They told me that a couple of their people had been arrested at their hotels and had their cameras confiscated.
On a brighter note, the Pink Group had a meeting on Sunday and decided, despite being quite anxious, to organise a march from the waterfront Genoa Social Forum press conference to the spot where Carlo the 23-year-old from Genoa was killed. About a hundred or so came and brought flowers to lay on the spot where he died. This passed by peacefully and was very emotional.
Ps I forgot to mention. There is video and photographic evidence of Police dressed up as Black Bloc giving orders to other riot police.