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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, June 04, 2005
    Outside the Free Speech Zone
    We're running a coach to the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh; and it's oversubscribed. While I'm glad its going and hopeful that it may energise and galvanise us locally, I admit to feeling less enthusiastic about this than about any other rally I've ever been on.

    Maybe that's because of the vagueness of the campaign - and the impossibility of its headline aim. Before we go we already know that we will not Make Poverty History, even if the world's most powerful turned themselves around to operate with the best will in the world.

    Maybe it's because of a feeling of the protest being corralled into something so safe that it's bound to be ineffective. That's partly to do with the politicians adopting the protesters' rhetoric early on, to sound like they're already onside, an obvious blocking tactic. And it's partly to do with something more subtle - a growing trend for governments to use legal mechanisms to contain protest within boundaries they set.

    In Mute 29, in an article titled Free Speech Zones and Preemptive Detentions, Daniel Berchenko details the use of the Free Speech Zone at the Democratic National Convention. It was an area bounded by high fencing and coiled razor wire, and protestors were expected to voluntarily confine themselves there.

    The Free Speech Zone was a 'state of inclusion' where citizens' rights of representation were in force. You could protest in there, behind the wire. But their fundamental significance was that everywhere else became a 'state of exception' - where normal rights to protest were suspended and indiscriminate arrests took place. I just have this niggle that Edinburgh is our Free Speech Zone this summer, and that if you want to protest poverty issues anywhere else - however peacefully - you'd better watch your back, you're liable to be nicked.

    If you think this is barmy flick through a few back issues of SchNEWS. For the past 500 issues they've been able to itemise a Crap Arrest of the Week. This week's is instructive:

    Crap Arrest of the Week - For not wanting to fall off a cliff!
    At the demo against Brighton arms manufacturers EDO this week police corralled 50 people into a thin strip of land between a road and a crash barrier in front of a 50 foot drop onto a railway line. Anyone daring to step into the road was arrested for breaking an injunction, police also pushed people back towards the cliff!

    My strategy to get myself excited about Make Poverty History, is to focus in a bit. They have three areas of concern - trade, debt and aid. I'm going to focus on trade - specifically, the arms trade.

    CAAT's G8 briefing is instructive:

    The G8 represent the world's eight most advanced economies, an exclusive club which meets every year to develop a common agenda in global politics. Yet most of those countries also rank inside another group of eight; the eight biggest arms exporters in the world. In fact of the G8 countries, only Japan fell outside the top 10 exporters of major conventional weapons in 2003.

    In that year, the G8 countries exported arms worth in excess of US$24 billion. Whilst some of these exports were to other G8 or developed countries, more than half were to the developing world. Furthermore, the US Congressional Research Service estimates that of arms transfers to developing countries in 2003, around 89% came from just 5 members of the G8: the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany.

    If you're selling guns to people who are short on clean drinking water then you're keeping them in poverty, and if your government heavily subsidises your trading, as ours does, then there's a lot of talking to be done. Inside - and outside - the Free Speech Zone.