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 Itís Got to be Silver and Pink

On September 26, 2000 the IMF and World Bank attempted to have their 3 day annual meeting in Prague, while 20,000 people attempted to disrupt them. The need for a diversity of tactics was successfully met, and the demonstration divided into 4 separate marches: blue for those who wished to engage in aggressive tactics on the west side, pink for the socialist contingent which carried their placards around from the east, yellow for staging a highly visible yet impossible attack from the north, and pink and silver, for a carnivalesque advance from the south. The plan was to lay siege to the meeting centre and blockade the delegates in, though not everyone on the streets knew this, or necessarily agreed. However, the action was successful, and led to minimal attendance by the delegates the following day, and the cancellation of the last day’s meetings. Months later, English Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to all demonstrators as "the travelling anarchist circus." Maybe if he read this piece he’d want to run away with the circus as well!

 

London. Twelve women, two trucks, two men, one ultimately useful journalist. I realize something is different. Usually people tat down to just one small rucksack for a journey. Not this time. Everyone brought everything: tent poles, sewing machines, brewery tubing, tinfoil, space blankets, medical kits, gaffer tape, glue, whatever we thought might be useful, plus personal tat. All in a pile on the floor of my truck. Fuck. Packed it really badly and headed off to Calais with the vehicle leaning 5 degrees to the left.

Calais. Really fucked already. Park up on the sand dunes to make breakfast for fifteen people. Carla performs miracles on the all the tat; ruthlessly subdividing the available space, folding, sorting and beating it into the corners, leaving us with an almost-livable space in the middle. Which is great, but for the rest of the journey we have to ask her where anything is. The rest of us head to the dunes and the sunshine, dragging piles of clothes and fabric. It looks amazing; the hills are strewn with yards of flashing silver and lurid pink. We dig out silver leggings, fluffy waistcoats, frocks, socks, gloves, and hold them up to each other. This is going to be silly. This is going to be good. The journalist wanders around the periphery, sucking a pencil and making notes.

The drive was a rush. Up by seven, on the move by ten. Two trucks travelling in convoy, one divining the route, the other following the exhaust. Late at night, parking under a tree, in a field, in a forest; fire, some singing, some talking, some crying. Got pulled by the police just before the Czech border, and they were very amused by our singing, wise cracking, dance routines. They checked our passports and waved us on. “Let that be the Czech police’s problem,” they thought.

“Who are these people? Who do they represent? If anyone is the voice of the people, it is me. I am elected by 185 countries. I am the one who can claim legitimacy.”
- Michel Camdessus former head of IMF.

The border. Everything was different. A lot colder. We suddenly felt stupid in our random silver clothing. And fucking freezing too. Men in black shut me out of my truck and searched it inch by inch for drugs, which freaked me right out, coz they could plant anything. They shook my homeopathy suspiciously, sampled my St John’s Wort oil (hope it cheered them up), and stopped just short of searching the drawer with my pink sparkly vibrator in, for which I was extremely grateful. They said we couldn’t come into the Czech Republic unless we had money for our stay. Max, quite miraculously, produced £900 from his bumbag which he hadn’t wanted to leave behind in his squat. They said our vehicles were not roadworthy. We pointed out that the large black patch under Mel’s truck was in fact, not oil, but the overflow from the washing up. They said they did not like campers in the Czech Republic (as another Winnebago sped past) and said they would confiscate our tools and knives. I was hiding my adjustable spanner in my sock when the journalist wandered over to the head of customs, showed him his press card and World Bank Conference accreditation, and asked if that meant he wasn’t allowed in either. The poor man’s face crumbled. “But you are not, with.... Them?” he whispered incredulously. The journalist replied that he was, actually. And we were allowed in.

That set the tone for our experiences with the Czech authorities. Police arrived at our park-up that night. Plain clothes police probably followed us into Praha the next afternoon. We were pulled twice more be fore we found a camp site and secret police tailed us indiscreetly to the pub. We start e d a book on how many times we’d be asked to show our passports. It does make you feel safe, said Kim. Mm, agreed Ronni, we’re sure not to be raped or mugged. The constant surveillance had taken its toll on fellow activists. We phoned the number on the flyer when we got into Prague, to be told not to l e ave the vehicles on the street, or in a secure lock -up, they would be impounded, what were we doing bringing our homes with us any way? And meet Someone (who we probably knew by a different name but was using a code name for this operation) in a Chinese restaurant, opposite a certain metro station, for further instructions which it would be unsafe to issue over the phone. Very fucking cloak and dagger. Some of us went off to meet Agent Paranoia, most of us went to the launderette, and I napped in the back of the truck.

“We have to make sure globalisation works for the poor. Our intention is to have dialogue, but it’s impossible to do that with those who want to abolish you.” - Caroline Anstey, spokeswoman for the World Bank.

Where were we going to put the vehicles? I thought bringing my home would be an asset, not a liability. But now we realised we couldn’t just expect there to be a traveller site in the middle of Prague. Squatting was illegal; campsites expensive; we couldn’t even park on the street for an hour and every time we moved them we got pigged. There was a real possibility I was going to spend September 26th babysitting my truck. Then we got lucky again. Friends told us of Ladronka, a crumbly squatted farmhouse in the middle of a park to the West of the city. With a yard (hee hee). It was inhabited by an undefinable number of people who weren’t particularly into being associated with the protest and possibly risking their home, but we met them, and fortunately they all fancied Carla. So we were in.

The convergence centre opened and filled with activists from around the world. So many groovy people! So many sexy groovy people! Unfortunately we wasted all our precious socializing time having interminable, slightly pointless seven hour meetings in five languages about where we would be on the day. What we didn’t discuss was what we would do when we got to where we couldn’t agree we would be. And I suppose that was good, because we didn’t have interminable, divisive, and slightly pointless discussions about violence versus nonviolence, man, and what is violence anyway when the State, is like, killing people every day, man. And the people in the World Bank eat Third World babies for breakfast, so if they get bricked then hey, that’s their fault, although, of course, symbolically placing a flower on each of their breasts would be great. Yeah, I was quite glad we avoided having a general fluffy versus spiky debate, but afterwards I wished that our infinity [sic] group had a chat about what we would do at the police lines.

Back at Ladronka, a riot of pink and silver had erupted from the back of the vans. Vi was going to be a butterfly, Dee a bird; Ronni made a huge spiral dress with polka dot skirts and a feather duster fairy - godmother wand. Caz started constructing nine foot high samba dancer fantails which filled half the yard. A two foot pink Marie Antoinette wig, a silver flash Superman costume, a floor length tinsel ballgown. Natalie was in pink shin pads and soldier’s helmet; Jane was a scaly silver bat-winged thing. The lads in the house would wander through from time to time, shooting us.52 bemused and incredulous glances. One afternoon we were bent over sewing machines in the slanting autumn sunshine, splashes of pink unrolled around us, and crumpled silver foil escaping across the yard. A police helicopter suddenly rose over the rooftop and hovered eighty feet above us with a camera. It must be such a picture. Tuesday came. We all dressed up. We rocked.

What was the action like? I can’t really describe it. It was pink. Our whole fucking march was pink. We’d decked out so many people in a totally silly, non-threatening colour, and it had all happened because Caz had been wandering through the scrap store three months earlier, thinking “It’s got to be silver and pink.” Doing an action in a carnival costume is mental. For women, facing all-male riot police, it is a way of exploiting our vulnerability, making them see that we’re people, not just things to be hit. We all got hit, but there were some charmed moments. Caz hung back when others ran, walking in her huge silver costume. With her pink confection of hair and voluminous skirts she was like the figurehead of our march, a woman, alone. She and the line of pigs met, and they didn’t hit her, it was like for a moment they couldn’t hit her; they pushed her instead. She fell, and the crowd surged back for her, and the police were checked for a moment, seeing us all move. The next instant she was up again, but her wig came off; her head looked naked without it.

The crowd surged again for the wig and a copper booted it back to us. Caz was restored to full glory. She kept going, she really had no fear. I was dancing alone in a side street while the crowd streamed past me. There was a line of police there and I didn’t want them to surge out and attack the crowd from the side. A sweet looking guy in a green camo vest tapped me on the elbow. “You come with me, I know a way in. I think it will be a good action, yes?” Fuck yes! He ducked through a door in a side street and gave me a leg up onto the roof of a garage. “I make graffitti often in my home town. And this, I think, makes it easy for me to see a way across the roofs.” I scrambled like a spider under a three foot gap beneath an apple tree (with my fantail) and through a dark corridor.

My companion paused with his hand on the handle of a door. Concussion grenades were going off outside. We emerged slickly into the sunshine and joined a waiting crowd of delegates as inconspicuously as one possibly can in a floor length silver tinsel dress, pink Ascot hat, and a nine foot fantail of silver streamers. Cop after cop thundered past us to reinforce their lines. The pink march was within four hundred yard of the doors of the Conference centre. The police were moving in with water canon and CS gas. Two women were bundled past with blood flowing down their faces . And there we were, standing with a line of delegates who were waiting for the metro. Very unfortunately, I did not at this point manage to think of single politically incisive statement. High on adrenaline, I made meaningless small talk with a man from the Royal Canadian mint. Then someone asked me what I thought of the World Bank, so I had a little rant at her, but then I realised she was a journalist. The delegates melted a way, leaving only newshounds, hungry for pictures of violence.

- Kate Evans