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Things I Learned at G20 2014

Protesting in the heat is fucking horrible.
November 18, 2014, 4:30am
Image by Lauren Gillin

Last weekend VICE sent reporter Lauren Gillin out to cover the G20 in Brisbane. It turned out to be the finely-choreographed event people were expecting, with most of the action occurring behind closed doors, ​off the coast, or ​inside Tony Abbott's mindLauren therefore spent hours schlepping camera equipment in Brisbane's special brand of heat and humidity with barely a scuffle or arrest to report. But it wasn't a complete loss: here are some things she learned along the way.

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Protesting in the heat is fucking horrible

The main day of protests on Saturday saw 13 separate actions across the city in 32 degree heat coupled with Brisbane's humidity. The Anti-Putin Ukrainian rally had the idea of laying down draped in the flag of every nation who lost a citizen aboard MH17.

Anti-Putin protesters lay beneath flags on sizzling hot pavement before needing to get up after less than a minute. All photos by the author.

Whilst poignant it didn't take the weather into accout. You could have fried an egg on the concrete so they lasted less than a minute. There was concern that a pro and anti-Putin clash would occur but police kept the two groups well away from each other.

Protesters cluster in shade during pre-march speeches

The main march and rally, which brought together Indigenous, anti-globalisation and environmental protesters, saw about 1500 to 2000 people come out with only three arrests. Maybe the heat was getting to me but it seemed a little disorganised and wasteful. The crowd stood through about two hours of fiery but sometimes rambling speeches before the march even happened. Some fair points were made but a few could have been more eloquent than "fuck the G20."

The speeches could have been shorter and less rambly

The heat formed a special bond formed between those of us lugging gear across the city on foot whilst navigating the many road closures. I almost hugged a Brazilian cameraman from Reuters when we finally made it back to the air conditioned media centre. It's safe to say the protests might have been more lively if it weren't for the high temperatures. Toronto had it easy, the thought of setting a car on fire was not very appealing.

The Queensland Police were actually pretty cool

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Despite beating up the odd disabled person, the Queensland Police actually seem like pretty cool guys. Their media unit used the summit as an opportunity for trolling other nations' musical output on Twitter.

They gave us Celine, Nickelback & Bieber but we'll still help with their PM's #G20 motorcade #nohardfeelings pic.twitter.com/7ZLSPF88TF

— QPS Media Unit (@QPSmedia) November 16, 2014

Even better, the police on the ground handing out water to more protesters than they arrested.

Police officer leaves a cold bottle of water for lone protester outside #g20 summit @NewsTalk4BC pic.twitter.com/BbMysaChhG

— Nick Wiggins (@nick__w) November 15, 2014

Me and my camera man followed a bunch of women dressed as Climate Change Guardians on a mission to get arrested.

Here is the thing: they couldn't. They even blockaded an entrance and the police ended up driving them to the pub.

The special police protest negotiators were so relaxed about the whole thing one of them even had time to hit on me.

G20 Tinder is a thing

Speaking of people hitting on people apparently it's not just Olympic athletes mixing work with pleasure. I was hearing whispers about furious swiping all weekend. Tinder not only destroys my faith in men, but humanity as a whole so I could not verify this myself. I was content to watch the IRL shenanigans in the dining hall, (you were so close Channel 7 cameraperson, you almost got that Russian's number. I was rooting for you).

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Free everything

Well maybe not everything, but coffee, food, booze, pens, chargers, key rings, koala pats, you get the picture. All the unis sent students, as did the community broadcasters. I'm pretty sure none of them left the dining hall.

G20 = ghost town

The media centre could have been smaller

Whilst the dining hall was well patronised the media centre, which was meant to cater for the 3000 or so press, was pretty much empty the whole summit. Even the press conferences were sparsely attended. Most of the coverage was focused on the leaders doing non-serious things like patting koalas rather than the nuts and bolts of the G20.

Brisbane was similarly deserted, if you were in town you were either media, police, or a protestor. In the weeks and months leading up to the summit there was a lot of miscommunication about the security measures and road closures, so many Brisbanites chose to abandon ship or stay home. The business owners I spoke to did not see the G20 as a positive and all expected to lose money.

Obama IRL is not that exciting

The press conference that drew the biggest crowd was of course the one given by Obama. In fact, when the doors opened to Obama's presser, it caused a mass exodus from the room where Tony Abbott was holding court, a bit like when a band you like more starts playing at a festival.

Obama only took questions from his press corps which is good because most of the Australian media were too busy taking selfies anyway. I was expecting to be more overwhelmed being in the presence of the POTUS but it mostly felt like watching TV. Apparently his Brisbane Speech was more inspiring.

Everyone loves koalas

A bunch of delegates and media losing their shit over a animal that spends most of its life stoned or asleep

Even Obama had nothing on the koalas. Periodically over the summit, Australia Zoo would bring out a koala or two to pat in a specially built hut, complete with gum trees. Everytime, the poor creatures were swarmed by foreign media. They drew more of a crowd than most of the dignitaries in attendance.

I felt sorry for them. Not only did they have to deal with being handled by foreign leade​rs, their spouses, and random journalists, they also had to go through the airport-style x-ray scanners, less someone hid a bomb or something inside them.

Follow Lauren on Twitter: ​@theljg