On 16 May 1998, the Jubilee 2000 Coalition drew a crowd of more than 70,000 people in Birmingham, meeting place of this year’s g8 summit, to form Britain’s first-ever mass protest in the form of a Human Chain. The crowd came together to demand that the leaders of the rich countries ‘break the chains of debt’ imposed on more than fifty of the world’s poorest countries. These countries are held in bondage by a g8-dominated institution that acts as the agent for all international creditors (public and private): the imf. The Human Chain was to be the central event of a range of meetings held over several days under the banner of ‘The People’s Summit’, organized and led by the New Economics Foundation and the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. The Chain itself was routed to surround Birmingham’s International Conference Centre, the focal point for the Summit meetings.

The decision to form a human chain had been taken for two reasons. First, the symbolism of chains is central to the Coalition’s definition of debt as a form of human bondage, or slavery; yet chains can also symbolize constructive links between people, and the power of such bonds to break bondage. Second, the organizers believed that a human chain would be an innovative way of altering the dynamics between a large protest group and the authorities.

The campaign had an effect upon the g8 Summit even before the day’s protests had begun. When the Summit agenda was first drawn up, the subject of debt was absent. But pressure from the Coalition caused the British hosts to include the subject in pre-Summit meetings with ‘sherpas’. In fact, debt was not only on the agenda but was to dominate the day’s proceedings.

As tens of thousands of demonstrators began making their way to Birmingham (from all parts of Britain, and many parts of the globe), news broke that the g8 were decamping to a stately home, Weston Park, well outside the city and beyond the reach of any protest. Undeterred, the Coalition’s supporters continued on their way to Birmingham and its Conference Centre where much of the world’s press were assembled.

Hundreds of protesters arrived on foot, embarking on pilgrimages from different points around Britain in the weeks before, and stopping off to give talks and slide shows to church groups and other community organizations. Some protesters came by bike, others in a flotilla of barges on Birmingham’s many canals. One even came in a coracle, another by rickshaw. Some had hoped to arrive by balloon, but this idea was vetoed by Clinton’s security team. Most came by coach or train. The largest number came from the north of England and from Scotland. Jubilee 2000 supporters also came from the us and Canada, Germany and Italy—all of which have formally established coalitions (the organization is conspicuously weak in France and Japan). Coach-loads came from Norway, Sweden and Finland, and there were delegations from Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, and Austria. Most of these countries provide generous aid to indebted countries, a large proportion of which is returned as debt service to the World Bank, the imf or other creditor governments. Christian Aid, one of the main forces behind the uk Coalition, had brought together a group from the Poor Eight (p8) to represent the most indebted nations—Jamaica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia.