Did the protests at the G20 in Hamburg make any difference?

Why would you go to a protest? What if you are not a radical, but just want the world to be a fairer, safer, happier place? What if you are from a privileged background and have benefited from it all your life? How do you get over all the obvious hypocrisies that stop so many people doing anything at all about the world's problems?

In July 2017 the leaders of the worlds richest 20 nations met in Hamburg, Germany to discuss how to solve the biggest problems facing humanity.

My reason for going was simple— I expect more from the world’s leaders.

This is a recount of my 24 hours at the protests of the G20 conference.

Saturday 9 am: From my host’s balcony I saw a swarm of helicopters, a line of police vans and riot police preparing for the day — I was in my pyjamas and they looked ready for a war. Sirens were humming in the distance and I hadn’t even finished my coffee.

Good morning Hamburg

11am: I left the house to attend the main peaceful protest with 70,000 others.

For 6 hours, surrounded by riot police on either side, citizens of all backgrounds came together, all chanting against capitalism, in-action on climate change, war, borders and fascism…everyone knew the words. No smiling, no selfies, just a lot of pissed off citizens.

Photo of tank
Sitting in a park after the march, local doctor and fellow protester Johannes tells me he’s still upset because, “tomorrow everyone goes back to this shitty unfair world and has to put up with capitalism, patriarchy, borders, war and all this shit…so a few more days of protesting would be good for the people. I want more of it”. I turned to my left and have a similar chat with someone else, all feeling like the rebels in Star Wars. The mob mentality kicks in fast and hard, your blood is pumping, you know it’s going to fade but when you are in the thick, your mind is totally open.

10pm: The march is over and the sun is setting…black army helicopters without any lights swooping in, tear gas everywhere, water tanks, non-stop sirens and endless tightly huddled riot police squads …you can see the TV reports for yourself. I wasn’t close at all to the violence but even just watching it from a distance I felt that I was condoning it, so I went home.

Definitely home time now

11pm: It wasn’t the fighting that left it’s the strongest mark on me, it was the long walk home at night that was the most confronting. Away from the action along quiet streets, passing sporadic police controls amidst shattered glass and a haze of smoke giving the strongest dystopian feeling I’ve ever experienced.

Sunday 10am: I brush my teeth, have some toast and walk through the rubble to get the train back to Berlin…and like everyone else, adjust back into everyday life.

Did my presence make any difference to the G20 summit? No

Am I still glad I went? Absolutely

I spoke with my friend Kate back in Australia who is ambivalent about protesting. She feels that because it’s allowed by the State it’s still on their terms and therefore within the rules of the capitalist system.

She says a protest is just “a bunch of people who aren’t happy about something, who meet in a street allowed by the State — they shout for a few hours, let off steam and then tomorrow go back to their daily life, allowing the clamp of capitalism to tighten”.

She told me about Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory ‘Carnevalesque’, how the Feudal Kings in the middle ages would give the people two days of complete debaucherous carnivals where they could do whatever they want. It was a reward for their servitude in horrible conditions every other day of the year. Is State sanctioned protesting within a capitalist system a similar strategy?

How do we make every day a protest for the world we want? How can we live a political life without having to wait for permission to march on the street?