Crowds are turning into riots and we're not ready

First they ignore you, then the ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win” – Mahatma Ghandi

Ross posted earlier today about how there is now a crowd in every photo, and I commented that we were seeing more and more crowds gathering at government and leadership conventions, such as the recent UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. It brought to mind the above Ghandi quote, which essentially provides the tried and true formula for achieve social change in our current paradigm. It was interesting to note that at Copenhagen, people protested, and the police used pepper spray and baton chargers as their response.

Before the event started, I hired the film ‘Battle in Seattle” because I had glanced over it often in the video store, and I wondered whether we would see riots in Copenhagen and wanted to think about that. You can see the trailer below. And I watched it. And I was stunned.

The film follows the days of 6 different people during the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, from all sides of the event (citizens, activists, police, mayor and government) and weaves real life footage in with the drama. It was a powerful film, which I’ve taken much from. I first heard about the ‘Battle in Seattle’ a couple of years ago when chatting to good friend Col Duthie about activism in the modern age. He pointed me to probably the most powerful piece writing I have ever read, this diary entry from Paul Hawken – N30: What skeleton woman told the WTO in Seattle. It’s a chilling account of what Hawken (who is a well regarded author and activist himself) saw that day.

But why is this happening more and more? If you look at any global government gathering over the past few years, people have been crowding and rioting (peacefully, in most cases, I might add).

We are a fragile species, who are more and more – people are now gathering at every event. The G5 has become the G8, the G10, G15, G20 and is now the G77! We are seeing more and more government and world leaders coming together to solve problems. This is also seeing more and more people coming together to inform the leaders of what they want. Look for the photos at any leadership forum in the future and see the crowds. Listen for the news reports of riots. Obama used the groundswell to great affect. People are already hitting the streets in large numbers to let leaders know what they think. As a species we are finding more and more harmony in participation, inclusion, involvement and consensus.


Unfortunately, our government and leadership systems are not so adequately built. Police (and Government) have little room to move when trying to control mob-crowds. They have one option, which is to sit back and watch. Or, they can launch tear gas into the throng and baton charge. In Seattle, Martial Law was imposed on the second day – essentially turning the city (a First World nation, law abiding city) into a war zone. Below, you can see some photos from the Big Picture Blog from the G20 Summit held in London, 2009.


We need to work to a place where we are more interdependent on each other, rather than forcing consensus decisions to be made. It’s important we come together to discuss the outcomes required, and group inclusion and cohesion is a crucial fundamental of this – but lets not pretend that we can all agree on all the outcomes required, all of the time.This will continue to happen. I’m sure I myself will be a part of more protests in the future. But lets be aware that this is happening more and more and that it’s continuously proving not provide all the answers and solutions. Let’s get together, but trust that interdependently we will make it happen.

One thought on “Crowds are turning into riots and we're not ready

  1. It’s really interesting that you mention the word interdependent, because I think we start off dependent (the current state), then move through independence and then towards interdependence.

    Interdependence is still so far from the current crowd + tear gas state. I wonder what will happen in the next few years..

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