This week's G20 summit meeting has put London on alert. City workers have been told to stay home or dress more casually to avoid being targeted by protestors, while police prepare for the thousands of G20 demonstrators expected to flood London's Canary Wharf. If you're seeing shades of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, where days of rioting resulted in more than 500 arrests and $2.5 million in damages to the city, so are the cops.
What Exactly is the G20?
The G20, more officially known as the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, includes banking ministers from 19 of the world's wealthiest economies, plus the European Union. The group's inaugural meeting was held in 1999 in Berlin, to strengthen international financial architecture and to foster economic development on a global scale. The member countries represent 80% of the world's trade, two-thirds of the world's population, and roughly 90% of the global gross national product. A few of the countries include the US, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Basically, the G20 summit gets all of the people who control economy in one room at least once (or in 2008's case, twice) a year, and asks them to make decisions about things. Whether or not that actually accomplishes anything isn't immediately evident. The existence of the meeting, however, provides a wonderful physical focal point for the masses of people angry at the current direction of the global economy.
The meeting on April 2 is expected to draw more demonstrators than London has seen in a decade "“ and everyone from the Salvation Army and Save the Children to the Stop the War Coalition and the British Muslim Initiative is getting in on the action. What these demonstrators want, they say, is a more equitable global economic system that will put the needs of the people and the environment before the needs of big business.
Already, cops are worried that protestors will find ways to maximize the chaos, including blocking roadways with truckloads of sand and hanging effigies of bankers from signposts. Which is why the more than 1000 bankers, diplomats, and world leaders expected in London will be brought in by a fleet of 40 armed convoys. More than 2500 officers have been called in and all police will be in London April 1, the day before the meeting when protestors will march on the Bank of England and the US Embassy, among other sites. Security alone for the two days is expected to cost upwards of Â£10 million and the head of Scotland Yard has said that this is the largest operation the Metropolitan Police force has ever dealt with.
The Calm and the Chaos
It goes without saying that this year's meeting comes at a particularly sensitive time for the world, and people want answers. The global economic crisis has led to volatile situations everywhere: This week in France, the French manager of a 3M plant was barricaded in his office overnight by workers protesting plans to lay off half the staff. Additionally, millions of Parisians took to the streets of the capital to protest the government's handling of the economic crisis.
Waves of social disruption have been rolling around the world for the past few months. Earlier this week, vandals broke windows at the home of former Royal Bank of Scotland head, Sir Fred Goodwin; the group taking responsibility for the act has threatened further violence against "criminal bank bosses."
Amazingly, thus far, tension is not palpable in the streets of London. I say this from the relative calm of my Camden Town neighborhood, barely a stone's throw from downtown London. But the potential for disruption is vast "“ train and tube services are expected to be impacted, major thoroughfares shut down, and parks closed. I haven't bought a flak jacket yet, but I can't say that I haven't checked out prices on line.