Contemplation and Action at the G-20
I live in one of the centers of the city of Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 conference was held in July of this year in the district of San Paoli. Before the conference, many other residents left because they were afraid of potential violence and problems connected to the conference. I chose to stay because I work with the prostitutes there. They told me they still had to work during that time and wanted me to come as usual, to be present to them and share hot chocolate, iced tea, sweets, and bags of condoms as I do every week. For those minutes that I am with them, the sex workers know themselves to be respected and loved for who they are.
A few days before the conference began, we saw an influx of police, barricades, and helicopters flying overhead. Hamburg residents were not able to move around the city to go to work, get their children to school, or go about normal daily activity because of the heightened security.
Years ago, the former mayor of Berlin said that it was not possible to hold such a summit in Hamburg, especially not in the part of the city where this meeting actually happened. However, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was born in Hamburg and wanted to show off the city and the new Congress Hall. Some thought this would help her in the upcoming elections in September. It would also support a movement to strengthen German security by building a stronger police force.
On the first day of the conference there was a large demonstration in our area; protesters came from all over Europe. They wore black masks and clothing, looking much like police. The police wanted the demonstrators to take off their masks, which they refused to do, and a violent struggle began. The police came with water cannons, tear gas, and batons. I was not able to get near because of the danger. Three hours later I encountered the police while I was with the prostitutes. I tried to speak with the officers, but they did not respond to me.
During the conference, I brought two large roller bags with thermoses of hot chocolate and iced tea for the sex workers. I expected the police would try to stop me, suspicious I might be carrying a bomb. The police stayed close to me, but I was able to bring the gifts without a challenge. The prostitutes were very glad we had not abandoned them. I did my usual rounds, meeting with about 20 individuals as they stood on the streets awaiting their “guests.” It seemed important to me to stay with them in spite of the danger. I usually feel protected when I serve them; perhaps in loving we are protected.
I was touched that there were so many young people who showed through nonviolent, creative ways their passion and respect for all creation. They created floats of boats down the Elbe and made a big performance one afternoon. They were troubled by all the ways human beings are disconnecting from each other and wanted to speak to the importance of maintaining joyous human connection.
One thousand people arrived clothed in dried gray clay and covered in ashes. They moved very slowly, alone, unconnected to each other, making clicks as they moved. Some collapsed on the ground as if they were dying. Others just stepped over them. They were portrayed a post-apocalyptic scene. Finally the crowd came together and one man opened his eyes as if waking up. He slowly removed his ash-covered clothing, revealing a bright purple shirt under all the gray. He moved with wonder as he rediscovered the miracle of his life. He went to the nearest person and touched her, helping her come alive also; she helped someone else, and so on, until all thousand people had been touched and shed their gray clothing. Now in bright colors, they danced together, joyous in their new life of relationship. (Watch a video here or view it below.)
There was also a huge peaceful demonstration where 73,000 people came together to call for peace, justice, and a unified world of nations and creation. Pax Christi, Greenpeace, Christians, and people of all different groups participated in solidarity with life.
Demonstrators came from all over Europe. The police knew they were coming and insisted on shows of force to prove they were stronger than the demonstrators. The violence which erupted was a show of force between police and protesters. So many police were protecting the world leaders meeting in the new Philharmonie Concert Hall that there were not enough police to guard the rest of the city, so when violence broke out, many people had homes, businesses, and cars destroyed during a three-hour period of looting, sacking, and pillaging, primarily carried out by anarchists and neo-Nazis.
At the same time there was another conference going on about how to develop a world of justice and solidarity. Some thousand young people met with members of NGOs, churches, environmental groups, and political parties to discuss growing the economies of poorer countries. This alternative conference represented all the nations of the world, not just the top, richest twenty.
After the demonstrations, the streets were covered in litter, discarded gray clothing, broken glass, and debris. One young woman came out to clean the streets of litter and glass. She used social media to get others to help her. I saw her and went to help and before long, 10,000 people all over the city came out to clean their streets (watch a video in German here). Others came with coffee, food, and pastries to support the cleaners and to witness to the new life in community. To me it was an act of hope, a way of showing the connection that is possible in the world.
It was important to me to meet with a few like-hearted friends in contemplation every day for an hour in San Paoli, the center of these struggles. It was also important to me to take part in the demonstrations to be part of a movement of respect for all people and to call for a new economic world of justice and love. At Christmas we say, “Peace on earth and good will to all people.” This is the power of love which can move people to be connected like one family all over the earth. It was action and contemplation coming together.
Photos by Margaret Metzler (Carolyn Metzler’s daughter) are used with permission. Visit margaretingermany.blogspot.com to read Margaret’s own account of her experience in Hamburg.