It's Gr8 when you're G8, yeah...

Guardian Unlimited: Newsblog

(Warning: this may be a somewhat unfocused and long blog entry. I'm still trying to process what I'm thinking: bear with me!)

Edinburgh doesn't often get excited. Glaswegians have known this for years, claiming that there is more fun to be had at a Glasgow wake than an Edinburgh wedding. This past weekend may have momentarily changed that view (but probably not.) Edinburgh is, however, quite excited...

Currently, the media is focused on yesterday's "Anarchists" Carnival for Full Enjoyment- an anti-G8 protest that saw Edinburgh come to a standstill yesterday and has apparently "ruined" the peaceful protests called for by St Bob Geldof. After weeks of scaremongering, the "riots" amounted to a long stand-off between protesters and Police, some intense skirmishes -some of which were admittedly violent - and some very serious-geranium throwing. 20 people were injured, 100 people were arrested. Not quite the mass anarchy that we were led to believe would occur, but serious enough to make Jenners close its doors. The Guardian newsblog (above) gives a range of eyewitness blog accounts of what has been going on in the run up to the meeting of the G8. I would recommend reading some of the entries - particularly if you are someone who doesn't always take network news at face value (I recommend it even more so if you are someone who does...) The media-friendly rioting is merely a diversion.

I would have to admit to having been extremely conflicted this past weekend. As much as I am certain that the poverty in Africa is immoral and needs to be addressed, I am far less certain about the way in which this massive social and political change can occur, or if the efforts of the paternalistic West are necessarily the best or only solution. Of course, I'm no economist, neither am I a politician and so until I hear of a better alternative, I'll support the mainstream campaigns and continue to read and study widely in order to understand the nature of the problem and thus come to my own conclusions: it is better to do something than nothing, after all.

However, the campaigning itself troubles me -or rather, the expectation of the campaigners troubles me, if I am to be precise. On Saturday, 225,000 people marched through Edinburgh, many of whom had never been on any kind of protest before, all of whom were united in a belief that something should be done to rid the world of poverty. Their optimism, passion and sincerity was palpable: the atmosphere in The Meadows was one of excitement, eagerness to be seen to be doing something -and awe at the potential of being on the brink of a history changing moment. A well organised sea of placards, banners and flags, accompanied by chants, shouts and whistles assaulted one's senses (along with the warm fug of the smell of humanity: apart from deodorant and sweat, I would say that the overwhelming olfactory memory of the day would be of oranges: crates of them were being given out free to protesters in need of sustenance and the trodden on peel littered the grass...) There was a feeling of hope.

I can remember my first protests: Miner's Strike, CND, Section 28, Anti-Apartheid - I was an intense teenager, certain I was right and sure I was going to help save the world. I know the taste of hope well -and I have been lucky: Section 28 has been repealed and the damage of apartheid is finally being repaired: I have been on the winning side of campaigns and have felt the euphoria of change. Conversely, I have also been thoroughly defeated, ground down and have felt like the last campaigner on the block: until the war in Iraq, CND felt like an organisation that was dwindling and losing support - particularly after the fall of Soviet communism. It is a bitter irony that the Weapons of Mass Destruction furore and the war in Iraq helped revitalise the anti-nuclear campaign and has made people aware that as long as we hold an arsenal of nuclear weapons the threat of nuclear annihilation is still present, even if/when "the enemy" has changed. But I digress...

The campaigns I have been involved in have all been based around single issues: keeping mines open; ridding the world of nuclear weapons; removing a piece of bad legislation, changing a divisive, immoral government. Eradicating poverty is far more complex - in order to be sustainable and complete it requires changing the global economy and would affect everyone, with no exceptions. Writing off Third World debt, restoring "trade justice" and having better and more focused aid will barely skim the surface of the problems of Africa. It is, of course, an important start - and it is far from a foregone conclusion that the G8 leaders will agree to any of it- but it will not be an overnight cure: even if all these measures and more are taken, poverty will not be eradicated in my lifetime, and without a change from within many of the African nations any changes that do occur may well be short-lived. I suspect that for a large number of people who watched Live8 or marched in Edinburgh on Saturday, there is a vague belief that they will see measurable and immense change - and soon. Their hopes are, of course, for change for the good of humanity - but also that they will be able to witness it.

And that is, essentially, my concern over the campaigning: unless change is both visible and fast, many of the campaigners may well lose hope and interest. The expectations placed on the G8 summit are immense - and immensely hyped. The causes of poverty in Africa vary from nation to nation and not all can be solved by intervention from richer nations, many can only be solved from within Africa itself. My hope (I haven't forgotten the taste) is that interest in world change is sustained, that people will continue to care long after the G8 summit is over and the media has focused elsewhere, but I am not sure that the message of perseverance is one that has been made clearly enough. If we are to truly change our world are we really prepared for the long haul?