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The Peace Tax Seven

Edinburgh 2nd July 2005

We had a busy week for G8. The Peace Tax Seven banner flew at the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh on Saturday July 2nd, courtesy of Robin, Simon, and Nicola. Ellie the Peace Dog, honorary eighth member of the Peace Tax Seven (though not currently a taxpayer), attracted most attention with her impeccably on-message "K9 not G8" banner.

The march itself was truly spectacular. Planned to set off in timed stages on a circular route from the Meadows along Princes Street and back, it attracted such a vast turnout that most marchers seemed to spend the afternoon motionless in the park, queuing for the bottleneck at the park exit. We passed the time hanging around the Conscience stall, which was doing a roaring trade, with a large number of standard letters going off to MPs.

On Monday Simon, Nicola and Ellie were flying the banner at the Trident Ploughshares Faslane blockade. Hundreds of people closed down Britain's weapons of mass destruction for the day in a good-natured and entirely peaceful action. We wowed the crowd with an impromptu address and collected several pages of petition signatures. It is a constant surprise how many people have never even heard of conscientious tax objection even when they are active for peace in other ways.
On Wednesday we looked in briefly at the Gleneagles hotel, but missed the actual mayhem. The Scottish media were fairly even-handed, but when we got a chance to look at the English news, we hardly recognised it. It was full of the fights in Edinburgh and the breach of the fence at Gleneagles. And that's all. There wasn't much about the road blockades or the disruption which this occasioned to the warmongering going on in the distant hotel. There wasn't much about why the protesters were bothering in the first place. And there wasn't a single word about the fact that a large, peaceful crowd had completely closed down the nuclear "Auschwitz-on-the-Clyde" without any violence of their own at all. From my viewpoint as an ordinary participant, the whole thing looked like a big, well-informed, well-organised, committed, effective, nonviolent political action by a huge number of largely good-natured people up against some very nasty business indeed. What the English papers reported was a vague carnival with a series of small, random-looking punch-ups. Huge gaps were left in the picture.
As we walked away, we met a reporter and all he wanted to know about was what we thought about the violence. Well, friend, here's what I should have said. Firstly, all violence is, of course, wrong. Secondly, I'm not sure it is violence to push over a panel of Harris fencing which shouldn't be there. Thirdly, all I saw in the way of violent protest, before we skedaddled, was a few anarchists armed with, er, T-shirts and bandanas. On the other side were ranks upon ranks of armoured police and a sky-full of hardware, and a sophisticated police operation which ignored basic freedoms of expression in order to protect a three-day conference the purpose of which was to inflict structural violence on populations of millions by maintaining the inequalities and injustices which lead to war. So what I think about the violence is that, on balance, the people who pushed the fence over were out to stop it. Perhaps, some of them had decided that, in the process, they were prepared to dodge the batons and hooves and even land the odd bare-knuckle punch on the odd heavily armoured police officer. This may or may not be the best way to publicise a cause and bring change. But if it isn't, what's that by comparison with the violence they're against? And, more to the point, why make that the main news story, when 99.9% of the protest activity is trying to achieve the same ends by more acceptable means? If you ignore a murmur, why complain when people shout?