The following originally appeared in Black Rim #1
In some ways the G8 protests in Japan this summer were very successful. For me at least, all that was expected of the protests was that I would have a chance to meet and network with comrades from other countries, especially those in east and southeast Asia. Shutting down the G8, since that feat always seems nigh impossible, was just a secondary concern of the protests. As a movement, our real test was whether we could organize ourselves autonomously, freely, and dynamically.
Japan might be the host country for the G8 that experiences the least amount of organized resistance, so it was inspiring to see travelers from many different parts of the world come together and work alongside brave local groups to fight the G8 and its policies of economic neo-liberalism. What we lacked in numbers, we surely made up for in spirit. The Japanese activists were welcoming and supportive of the “internationals” as they were called, and the protests went off without a hitch.
However generous the locals were to the travelers, I have to point out that the formal distinction between the two groups (Japanese and non-Japanese) did not serve any of us too well. There are a couple explanations for the division, which I will briefly discuss. The first is that the language barrier made communication between the two groups cumbersome. We lacked a common language and our small team of translators were working too hard already. Thus, separate meetings were scheduled for English and Japanese language groups.
The second rationalization was cultural. This argument stated that international activists worked differently than Japanese ones; owing to legal and cultural differences, there were different expectations for how to run things. Some believed that Japan is not as militant as Europe and so the local activists did not want to earn a reputation in Japan as being violent extremists. Other explanations cite the host/guest dynamic prevalent in Japanese culture. Whatever the reasoning, the effect was that it seemed like a small, informed group of activists, mainly Japanese, were making decisions for everyone else.
By the time the G8 summit was starting and we had made it to the camps in Hokkaido, many of us were dislocated from the decision-making process and each other’s plans. Our lack of communication precluded a heuristic collective learning process that is sorely needed in international organizing. From the lack of transparency, many of the internationals were left to ask, “Who is our host, anyway?” The factionalism within the Japanese contingents resulted in a slew of mixed and contradictory messages descending upon the internationals. Some were told that militancy was encouraged, some were warned that if they were arrested there would be no legal support for them; sometimes the message was that the protest’s true strength was in creativity, at other times the message was that the action groups would renounce any responsibility for spontaneous actions.
Illustrative of the problems we faced because of the needless divisions is that there were three organizing camps near Lake Toya and I don’t know who organized each one. The G8 is a big-tent affair and the groups who show up to the protests are diverse (Socialist parties, NGOs, Ainu Rights groups and Esperantists, and the anarchists were all present), and understandably we’d want to distance ourselves from some of them, but within our own anarchist contingent it seemed that we had a split that resulted in some people leaving for another camp. These things happen, I know, but the truly regrettable aspect of the situations was that there was not enough straightforward communication to the non-Japanese speakers and thus we felt torn between two sides of an issue we didn’t have any way of resolving. Not only our sleeping situations, but also our plans were set askew. Hopefully oppressive institutions like the G8 will be obliterated by the time we confront them again, but until that time, we’ll need to improve our methods of internal decision-making and organization. Next time we should sleep together!