Question Looms Over This Year’s Group of 7: Where Are All the Protesters?

It’s challenging it is to be an activist this year, what with the pandemic, a hermetically sealed summit and a new American president who is hard to get too worked up over.


By Mark Landler

FALMOUTH, England — It was no diaper-clad Donald J. Trump, but this year’s Group of 7 meeting got its own inflatable mascot on Friday: a floating blimp that caricatures President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, holding hands and waving, each wearing swim trunks in the design of their national flags.

A coalition of advocacy groups behind the blimp took reporters and photographers out on a morning cruise in the mist and drizzle — known in Cornwall as “mizzle” — to see its launch off the coast of a Cornish fishing port where the world’s news media is encamped to cover the summit.

For all the atmosphere, the stark contrast between the two inflatables underscored just how challenging it is to be an activist at the Group of 7 this year, what with the pandemic, a hermetically sealed summit, and a new American president who is hard to get too worked up over.

While the photographers bobbed in the waves, snapping pictures of Biden and Boris, representatives of the groups laid out their agenda for world leaders. They urged them to speed up donations of coronavirus vaccines, enact tougher measures to curb climate change and tackle income and gender inequality — all issues that, to one degree or another, are already on the leaders’ agendas.

As the activists spoke, a few rays of sunshine pierced the fog. That prompted an outburst of hokey metaphors — maybe the “the mist would lift” from the deliberations of the leaders, one said — as the hosts did their best to entertain their news-starved guests.

“We try to organize optimism to have impact,” said Jamie Drummond, a spokesman for Crack the Crises, a group of 70 advocacy groups that has organized a series of events linked to the Group of 7 meeting. “But there are many reasons to be very angry as well. Not enough is being done.”

Mustering anger is not easy when Covid restrictions make it difficult to mobilize large crowds, security cordons keep protesters miles away from where the leaders are staying, and one of the prime antagonists at such gatherings, Mr. Trump, has been replaced by the more emollient Mr. Biden.

When the Trump baby balloon first took flight in July 2018 over London, during a visit by Mr. Trump, more than 100,000 demonstrators were on hand to watch. It became such a celebrated image that the Museum of London acquired it this year to display in a collection about protests.

Somewhat smaller, less openly derisive and locally produced, the Biden-Boris blimp will float in Falmouth’s harbor, where it can be viewed by journalists and the scattered tourists left in an otherwise locked-down port.

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