THE Nato Summit at the Celtic Manor this week is a prime opportunity for protesters to get their political message across.
And this week the promised anti-Nato campaign materialised, from a trickle at first with three tents pitched at Tredegar Park peace camp on Friday to between 500 and 2500 for the next day's march, depending on the various estimates put forward by police and campaigners themselves.
But why have so many travelled to campaign against a summit billed as a great opportunity for the city?
Eddie Clarke, one of the protesters who helped set up the peace camp, said: “What we hope to achieve is awareness among more people about the truth of why weapons are not going to help. They are destructive. They don’t allow regeneration. There’s a danger, especially with nuclear weapons, that if they were ever used it would be the end of everything we know.
“Our message is to the public, to get them on board so we dispense with the war machine, we dispense with Nato," he said. “If we have a problem with another country, talk to that country. Don’t let our leaders decide war is the only option.”
He added that he did not believe Nato was a great opportunity for the area, saying: “The only good thing for the local economy is the protesters themselves. The local businesses that sell food and drink should do well. But Newport will not receive benefits – businesses won’t open and schools are being closed.”
He said: “No consideration has been made for facilitating protest – it’s not a healthy democracy with millions spent to stop protesters. We are peaceful. People want their voices heard. ”
It seems likely that the true total of protesters on Saturday was around 1000, for the march from the Civic Centre, past the station, through Maindee and back across the George Street Bridge.
The reaction of many Newport residents was excitement or bemusement.
One entrepreneurial 11-year-old snapped pictures of the march but was disappointed to learn the Argus probably wouldn’t be buying them, while another man laughed as he leaned out of a Pill shop door and shouted “David Cameron! You can’t be doing this!”
With blue-capped police dotting roundabouts and street corners and helicopters passing overhead we are heavily in Nato-mode until the Summit itself on Thursday and Friday at the Celtic Manor.
Protests will continue throughout the week, with a festival atmosphere promised today (Weds) at Tredegar Park’s ‘peace camp’ with singing and workshops throughout the day then live music and an open mic night during the evening.
From 10.30am until 4pm, there will be kite making, banner and placard making and self-defence workshops, a representative from the umbrella protest group ‘No Nato Newport’ said.
Among the more unusual activities on offer will be a workshop on makeup to counter facial recognition software.
At 4.30pm protesters will hold a “fly kites not drones” session before the evening entertainment kicks off at 7.30pm. Birmingham-based band Living Field will lead the chorus of Revolution Rock until10pm.
On Thursday, the first day of the summit, residents should expect to see protesters on the streets again with a “march on the Celtic Manor to present messages.”
Campaigners will gather at 12pm at the Cenotaph on Clarence Place.
Also on Thursday there will be a ‘family day’ including sessions on non-violent conflict resolution at home and at school at the South East Wales Racial Equality Council on Commercial Street, running from 10am until 5pm.
Friday will conclude the summit and the protests with yet unspecified “direct action” and street theatre planned before a “celebration party” at the Pen and Wig pub from 6pm.
Prior to Saturday’s protest there had been anxiety about whether disruptions similar to that seen in Chicago might trouble the city.
But so far the protests have proved peaceful, with just one Nato-related arrest of a man suspected of assaulting a police officer. Campaigners pitched on Tredegar Park seemed to be co-existing without issue with children playing football nearby, kicking the ball back when it bounced off the pitch.
Newsagent Jon Powell, who runs the Kiosk in the city centre, said he had been nervous about Saturday’s protest affecting trade and potentially even causing damage to his business.
“We had some trepidation beforehand because of previous summits,” he said. “There was a bit of scaremongering going on throughout the week with people coming in and telling us protesters were going to come in and tear everything up. Customers like to wind you up so all of that is in the back of your mind. But it was all very friendly.
“During the afternoon there weren’t as many Newport people around, but there were enough extra visitors for trade to balance out.”