Those of the marchers I spoke to would, I suspect, have no problem with this. For them, the purpose of protesting the G8 was, first and foremost, to communicate. As one woman put it, protest is a means to an end, and the end is to make people in general, and political leaders in particular, aware of people's strength of feeling.
But I wonder if it is quite as simple as that: is it just that protestors on Saturday chose to march because that is the most effective way of achieving their ends, or does the choice of tactic reveal an implicit understanding of how politics ought to function. I spoke to a young man who had taken more direct steps to end poverty and suffering by working with the charity Water Aid. He criticised attempts to shut down the G8, saying, "There's nothing wrong with the world's leaders getting together, but they need to listen to us." An older woman with a devastatingly detailed critique of the way global trade rules allow the West to rule over the Third World finished by praising peaceful protest "because it does not hugely antagonise those in power, but makes them think."
What was implicit in these two statements was made very explicit by a campaigner with a group who had come to protest against the ongoing genocide in Darfur. "The G8 are the powerful countries. If they want to stop the genocide, they can," he said. The contrast that underlied the Make Poverty History march: they are powerful, we are powerless. Far from being a great show of people power, then, the march was a kind of abasement, in which marchers affirmed their weakness and begged those with power for recognition.
But perhaps that isn't it, either. The march was a communication, yes, said someone else I spoke to, but "it shows the numbers and voice of the movement, and so can't be ignored." We all have different focuses, but we have certain things in common and "this creates an idea of solidarity around these issues. Solidarity is part of the method and the goal of our protests." This was echoed by a woman I met who was marching with a Christian anti-poverty group. "A march is part of a movement," she said, "and helps the movement because people feel uplifted and hopeful at the scale of the protests."
So, what is this? Maybe a movement unaware of its own strength, focussing on the power of remote 'world leaders', rather than the creative possibilities of its own solidarity. The great power on display in the creation of a collective cry to the 'powerful' goes unnoticed. Perhaps.