G7 resistance: Harnessing collective power

As the international summit begins in Cornwall, Amy Hall speaks to people showing up to challenge its powerful leaders.

A climate action group are pictured in Newquay, Cornwall, starting a four-day pilgrimage on foot to Carbis Bay to protest climate inaction at the G7 conference. Credit: Robert Taylor/Alamy Live News

Across Britain, Cornwall is widely known as a picturesque holiday destination – home of surfing, pasties and ice cream. But in recent weeks Britain’s south-westerly peninsular has been making international news as the location of the UK-presided G7 summit, which kicks off today in the seaside village of Carbis Bay.

The G7 is an exclusive and archaic grouping of the world’s most ‘advanced economies’ – otherwise known as the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, alongside representatives of the European Union. 

These countries represent just 10 per cent of the world’s population but hold 40 per cent of global GDP. They also play a key role in the global arms trade with a share of over 50 per cent of world arms exports.

‘It’s very much about keeping the rich people in power,’ said a spokesperson for the Resist G7 Coalition – an alliance of grassroots local, national and international groups who’ve been at the forefront of building resistance to the summit. ‘They’re not interested in creating an equal world or a different world that isn’t ruled by capitalism,’ the Cornwall resident added.

The G7 – like most international summits – is no stranger to protest, and this first in-person summit in two years will be no exception. There have already been a range of protests taking place on land and sea across Cornwall in the lead up to the event, including against the hasty construction of an ‘eco hotel’, which led to trees being cut down without planning permission.

130 homeless people were moved out of hotels across Cornwall to make way for police 

The main event runs from Friday 11 until Sunday 13 June and police are trying to keep protests away from the summit’s central activities. There are four officially designated protest sites, the closest of which is more than 30 kilometres away from the Carbis Bay venue and the furthest is over 160 kilometres away in Exeter – a city in the neighbouring county.

The Resist G7 Coalition has set up a campsite for people arriving in Cornwall to make their voices heard. They are also organizing three days of action across the weekend. Saturday will take an internationalist focus and bring people together in solidarity with people directly impacted by G7 policies, arms sales or inaction – including in Palestine and Rojava. A Kashmiri contingent will be there to protest Indian leader Narendra Modi’s invitation to the summit. ‘The fact that a nationalist leader whose has caused violence in India and Kashmir has been invited to the G7 shows their priorities,’ said the Coalition spokesperson. 

Activists I spoke to were fed up with the broken promises of G7 leaders – including on the climate. One of them is Melissa Carrington, an Extinction Rebellion (XR) ‘rebel’ who has travelled to Cornwall from Christchurch in Dorset. Under the banner ‘drowning in promises’, XR are planning several creative and theatrical actions at different locations over the weekend.

‘We’ve had 30 years of inaction,’ said Carrington. ‘G7 leaders are falling over each other to claim climate leadership when the reality is that none of them have actually implemented policies consistent with 1.5 degrees [Celsius warming limit]. And it’s worse than that if you look at what they’re actually doing, rather than what they say they’re doing.

‘This is a group of rich nations who are taking decisions about the planet’s future,’ she said. ‘The Global South is suffering the worst effects of climate change and ecological collapse right now, but poor countries and poor communities have contributed least to the crisis.’

Many are angry – not just at the failures of G7 leaders, but also at the decision to hold the summit at a luxury resort in one of the poorest regions in Europe. Cornwall was apparently chosen for the summit as it is at the ‘cutting edge’ of the UK’s ‘new green revolution’ – it’s home to Britain’s first geothermal power plant and lithium extraction site. 

Although some local people are excited to have Cornwall ‘on the map’, many others are angry. 

Behind the sandy beaches and stunning countryside Cornwall also has significant poverty. An increase in second homes means that some coastal communities can resemble ghost towns in the winter, meanwhile house prices are often out of reach for local people and reliable work with decent pay is hard to come by. St Ives – the tourist magnet town just next door to Carbis Bay is in the 30 per cent most deprived areas of the country. Many more neighbourhoods in Cornwall are in the bottom 10 per cent. Child poverty is rising and even before the pandemic 18 per cent of children in Cornwall were living in poverty.

‘Cornwall is actually a microcosm of what’s happening with the G7,’ said the Resist G7 spokesperson. The Coalition’s website explains: ‘Cornwall has become a playground for the rich. Locals are supposed to be grateful for the money created in menial jobs to serve their needs. Many kids leave as soon as they’re able. With either no jobs or only seasonal work, no infrastructure and no services, it shouldn’t be surprising.’

‘I think the juxtaposition of the swanky luxury apartments they’ll be getting at Carbis Bay and Tregenna Castle with parts of Cornwall that are hugely deprived. Plus all the disruption that’s being caused... coupled with slightly authoritarian policing that sort of goes along with a global jamboree of this nature – it’s kind of a perfect storm really… people just want to make their feelings felt,’ said Carrington. 

Some local people have described feeling under siege. Railway lines, roads and some footpaths have been closed across the Duchy (Cornwall is a ‘dukedom’ and a tidy little earner for Prince Charles). Around 130 homeless people were moved out of hotels across Cornwall to make way for police and government officials. Local politicians have raised fears that patients are being discharged from Cornwall’s only major hospital to clear space.

Around 5,000 extra police officers have been drafted into Cornwall as part of a £70 million operation, including those carrying firearms, with the military also on hand.

I grew up in Cornwall and for well over a month now my telephone calls home have been peppered with G7 updates – how many police have been spotted where, the latest security measures, neighbourhoods put into lockdown with residents stuck behind high fences or only able to travel in and out of the area with ID.

The Resist G7 spokesperson told me that a radical bookshop in Falmouth has had repeated visits from the police. Artist and co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion spin-off Ocean Rebellion, Rob Higgs, had his home raided by 15 plain clothes police officers in the lead up to the summit.

‘It’s just a horrible atmosphere to have all those police around and we’re really not sure what they’re going to do and how they are going to handle things,’ said the spokesperson.

There has been much talk from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the ‘legacy’ the G7 will leave for Cornwall, but many are not convinced. A recent announcement of £65 million funding for Cornwall, framed as part this, was actually not new funding – and not G7 related. 

The Resist G7 Coalition want to bequest something different. ‘One of the things we wanted to do from the start is build a legacy for Cornwall of radical alternatives,’ explains the spokesperson. ‘Cornwall is seen as quite a sleepy place and not a place for activism. Both through this and the big Kill The Bill [against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill] protests we’ve managed to build something very different and that’s something we want to take forward.

‘It’s showing there are radical movements down here. It’s easy to feel really powerless when things like this are happening, but actually it’s through those moments of collective power, of coming together, that we can start building something larger and something different. We’re presenting an alternative vision.’

The emphasis on collaboration and co-operation has been central to the coalition’s organizing as the spokesperson explained: ‘It’s about seeing how we can support each other, finding where the commonalities are. We need to harness that collective power of where we agree and where we can make change happen.

‘It’s also about showing alternatives, that things don’t have to follow the default setting of global capitalism; we can actually work at having a better world and present an alternative vision.

‘This is what we can do when we come together, so what can we do now in our communities? How can we take that forward? What do we build from here?’

Find out more about the Resist G7 Coalition.
More on Extinction Rebellion’s activity can be found here.