This year’s G20 Summit in Hamburg includes what we have come to expect from meetings of the global superpowers. Photo ops, posturing, pontificating, scoffing, and a healthy dose of protest.
The police prevented the protestors from doing any significant damage. The protestors flipped and burned cars, smashed windows and both sides inflicted and suffered numerous injuries. The protestors used catapults to launch rocks and cocktails (the flaming launchable variety) and some were armed with hand weapons intent on bludgeoning the police or hoping to return a previously received bludgeon. Thankfully there was only minor disruption to Melania Trump’s tour of the historic Hamburg harbor.
The G20 is always tumultuous. I recall the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto which was similarly contested. There was criticism of the Toronto police during that meeting as well, as hundreds of people, peaceful protesters, the not-so-peaceful, but also passersby were rounded up indiscriminately and confined. This technique—known as kettling or corralling—is effective, but illegal in that it violates the right to peaceful protest, not to mention the right against unjustified arrest. That’s no surprise of course, the most effective techniques are usually illegal. That’s part of what makes civilization so intriguing and fascinating as a pastime.
I question the wisdom and necessity of the G20 Summit. If the attendees weren’t government officials, imbued with actual political and legal authority, if they were say, comic book fans or members of house Gryffindor, then the word convention might be more appropriate, as opposed to summit. These leaders get dressed up, they take pictures with each other, they sit down to four hour dinners and argue about their own particular policy obsessions or dispute minor details of the historical cannon. Did Han shoot first or was it Bashar al-Assad?
The G20 Summit also makes a delicious target for any would-be world conqueror hoping to put the super friends in their proper place.
The event is for their enjoyment and I would be surprised if much actual work takes place. Considering the expense we little people must bear to conduct this extravagant event (the cost has already exceeded $1.1B), I would say these functionaries and dignitaries could more responsibly conduct their business through Skype. It’s only $13.99/month for unlimited calls to Europe, that’s actually not unreasonable considering two cocktails (the flaming consumable variety) at a club in downtown Hamburg for you and the Austrian Minister Plenipotentiary is going to run you about €18-20.
We don’t protest like this in the US—usually. Getting the people to go out onto the streets is a herculean logistical and organizational effort. Our society is designed to suppress these ostentatious displays of democracy. In the densest and largest cities such as New York, it’s more common, but still unusual. But it’s a very bad sign if people leave their suburban air-conditioned boxes, climb inside their Suburban air-conditioned boxes, somehow find parking downtown and begin to march. The American Revolution could be seen as a successful collaboration between wealthy property holders, the healthy and assertive middle-class and those who were truly in poverty. It takes a village to overthrow any government, and during the revolution all interests eventually aligned behind the idea of violent opposition to the legitimate authorities and the movement for independence. The British government then, lacked the institutional agility to respond to grievances. Whether the US government today—embodied in ambulatory boardwalk caricatures such as Donald Trump—possesses the institutional flexibility and resilience to survive remains to be seen.