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Genoa: Pink and Silver on 'actions' day - report

by the colour pink 9:30am Mon Jul 30 '01

This is a pers account of the civil disobedience day in Genoa (friday July 20th). Thre may be mistakes and it won't be the whole story by any means because it comes from one persons experiences - 100ft away in the streets the truth may have looked very different.

Pink and Silver was a group that came together in the last days before the protests. It was a bloc made up of internationals who decided they wanted to do something which did not fit into the already organised marches. Text transciption of Pink and Silver poster explaining the plan and tactics is available at

Given the working name 'Tactical Frivolity' people decided they wanted to do something characterised by music, dance, creativity, mobility, organic structures, group decision making, theatre - a carnival like colourful parade which would seek to minimise violence and aggression, but which would also be confrontational.

People decided that this approach did not fit with the white overalls march or any of the other groups (eg the Italian pacifist groups or trade union groups) and thus a new march/action group was born.

Several open public meetings were held to develop the ideas and plans. Prop making was a problem given the shortage of time and money and the fact that many shops were already closing in Genoa. So materials were gathered for recycling into props - the band which formed to provide music made drums out of buckets and old olive oil containers, shakers were made out of old plastic bottles filled with pasta or small stones and old bits of fabric and ribbon were collected to inject some colour.

On the direct action / civil disobedience day people gathered at the convergence space by the seafront (right next to the police depot) where many other groups were meeting to set off - other groups met in different locations to start their march into what had been the yellow zone and towards the fences of the red zone.

The Pink and Silvers set off at around midday in a riot of colour and drumming to huge cheers from the assembled crowd with noise and high spirits and dancing. Moving slowly with around 500 people (though I've no idea of actual numbers really) the march headed north towards the main train station passing several side streets on the left which had been blocked by shipping containers or police. At several of these some of the crowd danced right up towards the police in a show of defiance asserting the right to demonstrate. Some of the side streets were already full with protestors from other groups and in areas the atmosphere was already tense.

The carnival like spectacle was greeted by many passers by, car drivers and people viewing from their windows with smiles and waves. The route chosen then took the Pink and Silver march heading north to the east of the train station through several small winding back streets, heading uphill. With a few tactical changes of direction to avoid larger groups of police (one in particular armed with semi automatic weapons) the group continued to climb higher above the station. At this point the group could now see much of the town below with a haze starting to build up in some areas - tear gas. Word soon came that the first clashes with police had occurred and climbing higher more gas and smoke could be seen rising from the area to the south of the train station.

Having navigated the small streets the Pink and Silvers emerged onto one of the main roads with the red zone fence just a small distance away to the left downhill. At the same time a large number of assorted Italian pacifist groups were coming down the main road also heading for the red zone fence. Huge cheers rang out as the two groups greeted each other. The other coming down the hill were made up of women's groups, religious groups, fair trade associations and many many more. With huge balloon sculptures, banners, theatrical props and costumes they looked a fine sight. The head of their march arrived near the red zone fence where a number of riot police had formed a block well infront of the fence - people sat down. Over the next hour a variety of theatrical dances, ceremonies, prayer sessions and speeches were made. A delegation negotiated with police to be allowed to go right up to the fence to lay flowers, sing and pray. With the street full of people obviously staying put for some time longer the Pink and Silver moved off to another location...

This was not far away! Crossing the street into a small square with another section of the red zone fence people danced right up to the fence itself with the band drumming loudly and huge cheers. After a short time with the crowd in high spirits a few people began to scale the fence, some threw flowers over the other side while other danced ontop of the G8 border, the crowd cheered even louder - the symbol of division was being subverted. A small number of riot police were in the street retreating slowly away from the fence, some in normal uniform constantly talking into radios - they were unsure how to take the smiles from the crowd, looking confused/bemused and worried, a few returned nervous smiles. Then from the crowd a tether was thrown up ontop of the fence and someone clipped it on - it wasn't strong rope but was strongly symbolic. People tugged at the other end and the crowd cheered yet louder. The police started firing water directly at the people on the fence - a few came down but some stayed firmly ontop as the water hitting their bodies directly head on sprayed out in all directions making an exploding star shape! The tether snapped, not strong enough - the fences were securely based in huge concrete barriers.

Some more riot police entered the square from the side street connecting the pacifist groups and were immediately met by people sitting down and trying to calm the situation. At the front of the fence some people were now hitting it with plastic bottles and kicking against the metal, and so came the first volley of tear gas to be fired at the Pink and Silvers. People scattered as the police in the square retreated around the square to the northern exit street with folk peacefully following. A few more canisters of tear gas landed in the square and people ran out through each of the three other exits, eyes streaming, crying and coughing. A few moments of panic and immediate medical attention for those with the worst effects, people helping each other with water and swabs.

Then a quick return to a calmer mood as people filtered back into the square. Where the police were lined up people were able to pass on one side back into the square, the band began to play a wicked rhythm and people immediately started to sit down in front of the police while many began to dance right next to their riot shields. For a few minutes it looked like the situation would be calmed with some fine Tactical Frivolity as girls in sexy outfits wiggled their hips next to the small police line and the atmosphere became less tense, more people began to dance and whoop and clap. Then suddenly tear gas was exploding to the right and left and amongst the dancers - many ran backwards but most of the dancers and the band stuck to their tactics and calmly walked/danced through the billowing gas following the police who were retreating north up the street - amazing. The three or so police vans began to retreat too. I guess this was not in the police's plan so less than a minute later as the roof top trap doors in the vans were flung open and police with guns popped out a larger volley of tear gas was fired at people and into the square. This was a lot more gas with some canisters flying right close overhead others arching in the air to land all around - this time people really did scatter in confusion and many more were caught badly by the effects of the gas.

Coughing, spluttering, crying people did not know which way to go, gas drifting up the side streets forcing residents indoors and just confusion and a little bit of fear/panic. I can only relate what I saw after this point because the group was now dispersed.

Many people ran around the back of the police through a side street (many holding their arms aloft as they skirted the police) back into he street heading north. What looked like a dead end was in fact an escape route - through a missing section of corrugated iron people were able to access a large stone flight of stairs and climb up to the higher level of streets. Others chose to escape to the right and left of the square below. After a few minutes many people has climbed out of the area of police confrontation. Others not being quick enough to exit the side streets were caught and beaten.

Later many people began to regroup in a square which was at the top of the street occupied by the pacifist groups. There were all sorts of people here including some black block. Those who had regrouped from Pink and Silver started to hold a spokescouncily type meeting to work out what to do next. Elsewhere I heard one group of Black Block recounting how they had split from a larger Black Block group after attempts to argue about the tactics - it seemed the group in this square had tried to stop others in the larger group from engaging in indiscriminate property destruction but had had no success. They complained that some of them were just mad, trashing anything and everything and that there seemed to be no political motivation, they said many were young and some of the older types just seemed intent on destruction for its own sake. They said they had left that group to find something more constructive to do. At one point a small group of black blockers tried to pass down the street full of pacifists but were stopped by people holding up their arms - a discussion ensued and after a minute or so the black blockers walked away.

Not long after this I saw clouds of gas drifting up the hill from another of the roads that led to the square. Less than a minute later and more black block were entering the square, from the tear gas it was obvious the police were following not far behind. Maybe 30 seconds after this tear gas canisters began to reign down into the square, one landing right next to me. Needless to say people began to run. At this point I became fully separated from the majority of the Pink and Silver group putting some distance between the square and myself. For the next 15-20 minutes I kept a good distance between myself and the retreating crowd, but looking back a few streets away I could see gas rising punctuated by thick black palls of smoke going up - no doubt from petrol bombs and burning objects/cars.

During this time the streets around began to fill with stragglers from police attacks, people with wounds and then a good deal of people who had been with the pacifists - from the smoke patterns it looked like the confrontations had also entered their street. Later two people gave their accounts saying how when the police had entered the square those pacifists at the top of their street sat down and raised their hands assuming the police would pursue the black block and others who had been running in different directions - but they were wrong. The riot police waded straight into the sitting pacifists, one of the first to be hit was a woman in her late thirties, the riot police first kicked her in the head with a well aimed boot them swung his baton down onto her head, stepping slightly to the side to catch another sat next to her with his second blow. The people who gave this account chose to run at this point, although one said returning to the area about 15 minutes later she saw many of them sitting against a wall receiving street medic attention blood all over them.

From where I was I could see many from the pacifist groups dispersing through side streets. On my street many people seemed to be afraid of 'the black block' - "the black block's coming let's go" was heard many times from frightened and confused stragglers. But the solidarity on the whole was amazing.

An impromptu meeting was held in the street with what had now turned into a small grouping that was sticking together. The big question was where to go. Some people wanted to get out to safety, others wanted to return to the GSF press centre to report on what had been happening. The direct routes back all seamed to have tear gas and smoke coming from them, the other direction led east further along the top of the red zone and far away. It was decided to move higher up the hill to safety and then to try and figure out a route back from there. Picking up more stragglers from all sorts of groups people moved off up even steeper hills and endless flights of stairs.

Reaching virtually the top of the hill we found another group of people recovering and resting.
Later another small group of Pink and Silvers were found. Looking over the city I could see the haze of gas everywhere, and on one street a dense column of people retreating - I assumed this to be the white overalls march. Stragglers were now everywhere, many trying to get 'home' realising that the situation in much of Genoa was now chaos. Soon descending further the group I was with bumped right into a larger group of Pink and Silver, complete with some of the band, and with an assorted group of people from all sorts of other groups following. Great, this was now a place you really didn't want to be on your own in.

Snaking down the streets the larger group came across a long flight of stone stairs which led back down to the main levels of the town. As the group began to descend below stood a large open car park area with what looked like some official building (I later discovered this was one of the prisons). Then the large doors of the building opened and out poured about one hundred riot police all lining up across the car park. The group on the stairs raised their arms to show no resistance and stopped. A small delegation went to talk to them to negotiate safe passage down and past them, this was luckily agreed and respected. Back down on the street level the area had obviously been the scene of large scale clashes, still smouldering wreckage lay everywhere, banks had been destroyed and so had many other smaller shops, cars and vans burnt still smouldered and residents stood around on the pavement looking shocked. Even so as the band banged out rhythms and as people walked hand in hand many waved from their balconies.

It was then that the group received the news that someone had been killed in the demonstrations. The mood changed instantly - shocked and sombre - people embraced. The carnival like atmosphere was gone, the band stopped playing. A small meeting was held, and people again moved off together this time slower and all together quieter. Continuing down the destroyed garffitied street some locals vented anger, shouting and becoming aggressive, one group cornered me as I surveyed the damage, but I was able to get across the point that it had not been my idea of a good protest to smash people's small shops and destroy their cars - I left them with a shake of the hand and they forced smiles.

The group arrived at a large intersection near to the main train station where clashes had been going on all afternoon. Some ways were blocked by containers and police. Which way to go? The group sat down and rested, many people looked at maps and some meetings were held. There was devestation all around. In total the group must have stayed their for about 40 minutes. At one point a convoy of dozons of police vans tore at dangerous high speed through the group, sirens blarring scattering people. It was life threatening as they literally skidded around the corner tires squeeling the back ends of vehicles sliding out - as police with guns sticking out of the van turrets shouted abuse and gestured at the crowd people shouted back outraged. Soon after and smoke and large amounts of tear gas were seen rising from an adjacent street, then hundreds of riot police came running down one of the main streets towards the intersection. People panicked again and began to retreat the way they had come. A large march of pacifists and religious groups which had been arriving at the intersection also reversed direction.

Some people stood their ground and in a line raised their arms in the now familier statement of no resistance. The police did not charge the intersection. The atmosphere was tense but people stopped retreating. It was noticed that the direction from which the speeding police vans had come now had some normal car traffic, which meant that that route must be open - with more police coming from other streets the crowd quickly moved together.

Marching under the bridge we went passed a burnt out carrabinieri van, white foam all around, and slowly continued forwards. Some side streets were full of police but we were not attacked again. The road led to the seafront and the convergence space - a relief! We passed bank after bank that had been destroyed, the guts of the cash machines in the walls ripped out, many had been broken into, their computers lying outside in the street, although many adjoining shops were left untouched. With the band again playing we crossed the coastal road and entered through the gates to the convergence space to loud cheers, people embraced.

A rally with speeches was underway, meetings were going on all over the place, the news of the death and rumours of others killed was on everyone's lips. Sporadic clashes were still being reported in areas of Genoa, people with injuries were all around, several with wounds from being shot with tear gas canisters or these new strange tear gas rockets which people said had also been fired at crowds of people rather than above them. People were checking on friends, working out who was missing, swapping tales of police attacks.

After the peaceful joy of the migrants march the day before I just kept thinking,"what a difference a day makes".

will write more soon
brian s

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