Report of the A31 UN-Masquerade in Amsterdam

On Saturday August 31 the colourful and festive UN-Masquerade Parade walked through the centre of Amsterdam. About 500 activists, some of who had come from the Peoples Global Action conference in Leiden, were accompanied with big puppets, beautiful banners, the Rhythms of Resistance Amsterdam samba band and their dancers as well bicycle powered sound systems. The parade gave a powerful and positive message to the public who enjoyed the procession.

The Sustainability Flop

The message of the action was a serious one; the Sustainability Summit that takes place in Johannesburg at the moment will unfortunately not solve poverty and environmental problems. The past 10 years since the similar summit in Rio has made clear that governments are not capable of solving these problems. Transnational Corporations and their supporting western governments just want to talk about sustainability as long as economic growth and overproduction are outside the discussion. This won't get us anywhere. For this reason our message towards the public was that we should not wait for 'our leaders' but that we have to change the way we live ourselves. Besides more environmental friendly behaviour and taking into account working conditions, this means we have get active and work towards alternatives outside hard and capitalist society.


A few themes that are of special importance for sustainable development and that should have been discussed seriously in Johannesburg got some extra attention during the parade. Already at the beginning a big banner that pointed out the 'Toekomstig Amsterdams Pijl' (Future Water level in Amsterdam ie Amsterdam under water). Climate change is not only causing a rise of the sea level as heavy rain and drought will result in even more problems, especially in the areas that are poor already. The emissions caused by flying, transport, traffic and (western) industries in general will have to decrease seriously in order to hopeful reverse climate change.


The next stop was at a big Albert Heijn supermarket. As the third biggest food retailer in the world this corporation has quite some influence. Their efforts to get 'green and social' are a sad attempt to only make more profits. Thanks to the corporate lobby at the UN Summit, genetic engineering is being promoted as a solution to food shortage and sustainable agriculture when it does exactly the opposite. But GE doesn't just bring along safety problems, it is also increases the power of a few big international agro-corporations over millions of small farmers. To give consumers at least the opportunity to choose between normal food and GE food, some activists entered the supermarket and put stickers on products containing GMOs.


During the parade charming salesgirls where selling water. No normal water but privatised water and for that reason a cup cost 6 euros.While the profit flew in, a mermaid, as a patroness of trade, was looking over the edge of her bath. This was amusing for by-passers, but it is the hard reality for millions of poor people. Pushed by the IMF and the WTO, water is being privatised in many countries. The results is a rise prices which many people can't afford and who are then cut of from this basic need. You would assume this problem is being discussed in Johannesburg,but the opposite is reality; the EU and the US try to push the WTO policy into the UN.


Just before the end of the parade a 'Clean Clothes' action was planned at two clothes shops. The garment industry is a poignant example of bad working conditions and exploitation. About 15 people with painted logo's on their body wanted to do an act in the 'Kalverstraat' (main shopping street) at 'Hunkermöller' and 'Zara', two of the worst clothes shops. But the police scented 'trouble' and riot police blocked this consumer Valhalla. This worked out as a quite effective way to control peoples urge to consume. After some negotiating the body painted people where allowed to get in the Kalverstraat. While juggling and dancing, this group had no reason to complain about interest from the public.

How LO can you GO

During the whole route small groups were covering shop signs and corporate logo's with sheets with alternative messages. Two examples were "how LO can you GO" and "LOW PRICES, because of exploitation". As these boards where about 5 metres high, special sticks to hang them were designed for this purpose. This worked out quite well although the wind was sometimes a problem.

The 'Johannesbridge'

At last the parade at arrived a bit delayed at the 'Dam'. At this square Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) was building a bridge of shelves painted with messages for the politicians at the World Summit. Unfortunately the programme at this manifestation wasn't flexible enough to let someone from the PGA and from the UN-Masquerade parade give some explanation to the gathered people.

All together it was a successful parade that proved that it is possible to spread a serious, and maybe even unpopular message in happy way. Of course it isn't possible to convince every experienced consumer with one action that we, in western Europe, have to make a step back and that we have to think about what we buy, wear and eat. Yet many people were reading the folder that was handed out during the parade which explained the issues and the actions, and how the farce Summit will NOT SOLVE A SINGLE THING. Let's not wait until Rio+20, but let's give the poverty, the environment and exploitation the attention that is needed.

Interesting websites:
UN-Corporated, with info and pictures of the UN-Masquerade and (as soon as possible) of the rest of the Global Day of Action:
Joburg Media with background info and the latest critical updates from the Summit:
Indymedia South Africa with the latest information about the actions in Johannesburg:
Peoples Global Action conference:
Milieudefensie about the 'Johannesbridge':

And take a look at the pictures!

European PGA Conference Leiden | PGA