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A question hangs over the group of 7 this year: where are all the protesters?

FALMOUTH, England – It wasn’t Donald J. Trump dressed in diapers, but this year’s Group of 7 reunion had its own inflatable mascot on Friday: a floating airship that caricatures President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, holding hands and waving, each wearing swimsuits in the design of their national flags.

A coalition of advocacy groups behind the airship took journalists and photographers on a morning cruise through the mist and drizzle – known in Cornwall as the “mizzle” – to see its launch off the coast of a Cornish fishing port where the media from all over the world camp. to cover the top.

Despite all the atmosphere, the stark contrast between the two inflatables underscored how difficult it is to be a Group of 7 activist this year, with the pandemic, a tightly sealed summit, and a new US president hard to come by. . too pissed off.

As photographers swayed in the waves, snapping photos of Biden and Boris, representatives of the groups presented their agenda to world leaders. They urged them to speed up coronavirus vaccine donations, adopt tougher measures to curb climate change, and tackle income and gender inequalities – all issues that, to one degree or another, are already on the agenda of leaders.

As the activists spoke, a few rays of sunlight pierced the fog. It sparked an explosion of hokey metaphors – perhaps “the haze would clear” from the executives’ deliberations, one said – as the hosts did their best to entertain their news-hungry guests.

“We are trying to organize optimism to have an impact,” said Jamie Drummond, spokesperson for Crack the Crises, a group of 70 advocacy groups that organized a series of events related to the Group of 7. “But there are also many reasons to be very angry. We are not doing enough. “

Rallying anger isn’t easy when Covid restrictions make it difficult to mobilize large crowds, security lines keep protesters miles away from where leaders and one of the main antagonists of these rallies are staying, Mr. Trump, has been replaced by the more emollient Mr. Biden.

When the baby Trump balloon took off in July 2018 over London, during a visit by Mr. Trump, more than 100,000 protesters were in attendance to watch. It has become such a famous image that the Museum of London acquired it this year for display in a collection on the protests.

Slightly smaller, less overtly mocking and locally produced, the Biden-Boris airship will float in Falmouth Harbor, where it can be seen by scattered journalists and tourists left in an otherwise locked harbor.

Just as Mr. Biden has been an elusive target for Republicans at home, he is proving difficult to vilify abroad. So far he has spoken to Mr Johnson about his new wife, Carrie Johnson, telling him that they have both ‘married above their posts’ and gone for merry walks with him. the first lady, Dr Jill Biden, who wore a black jacket with the word “LOVE” engraved on the back.

In his first Group of 7, Mr. Trump followed in a golf cart when the other leaders took to the streets of Taormina, Sicily. On another trip, his wife wore a jacket with the phrase “I really don’t care, do I?” Scribbled on the back.

Even outside of Mr Biden and the Covid Effect, which restricts travel to Britain, these meetings no longer attract the crowds of protesters they once did. In 1998, 70,000 people formed a human chain that circled the city center of Birmingham, England, where President Bill Clinton and other leaders met.

In 2001 in Italy, more than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in the Group of 7 in Genoa, triggering clashes with the police which resulted in dozens of injuries and arrests. Fears of a terrorist attack were so great that the Italian authorities imposed a no-fly zone around Genoa and stationed anti-aircraft missile batteries.

In 2007 in Germany, a quieter affair, protesters were still playing cat and mouse with the police, jumping out of the woods with black hoods and bandanas to throw tree branches at the road to block access at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm.

Since then, the organizers of the Group of 7 have become much more effective in putting distance between activists and leaders. About 70 climate change protesters marched through Falmouth on Friday chanting: ‘No justice, no peace’. Falmouth is an hour’s drive from Carbis Bay, where the leaders stay.

The hermetic security presence has not deterred activists from creatively dramatizing their causes. Some of the most striking examples include “Mount Recyclemore,” a tribute to the sculpted granite heads of Mount Rushmore, made up of discarded circuit boards, laptop sleeves and cell phone parts.

In this facility which overlooks the sand dunes not far from Carbis Bay, the heads are those of the leaders of the Group of 7, and the message is one of the environmental damage caused by the disposal of electronic waste.

For all of his appeal as a target, some argue that Mr. Trump was not good for protesters because his disregard for rules and standards called into question the whole Group of 7 rationale.

“What’s the use of leaving your house and driving hundreds of miles, if that doesn’t change a thing?” Said Denisse Rudich, director of the G7 Research Group in London. “This raised questions about the relevance of the meeting.”

As activists mingled on the deck of their rented boat, recalling past Group of 7 meetings, some regretted that the virus had kept people away. “This one would have been massive had it not been for the pandemic,” said Drummond, who is a seasoned veteran of these gatherings, having founded advocacy group One, with Bono, lead singer of U2.

He insisted that the new US president had not taken his breath away from advocacy efforts. There had been no Group of 7 in person last year, he said, and the combination of a health and climate crisis made this gathering as urgent as any previous summit. .

“There are hard facts and data – on Covid, on the climate, on ecology and on injustice – that we don’t pay attention to,” Drummond said. “And the response of the leaders is not up to these crises.”

Yet the image of Mr Biden and Mr Johnson casually greeting those on the ground looked less like a cry for help than a reminder of the two leaders’ extravagant display of unity when they first met the Eve.

Megan Specia contributed reporting from London.

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