The New Barbarians at the Gate
- THE NEW BARBARIANS AT THE GATE
by Jim Redden (pdxs@...)
The establishment press has settled on a strategy for
discrediting the growing coalition of anti-globalization
activists which surfaced at the World Trade Organization
conference in Seattle. The mainstream media is dismissing
them as nothing more than ignorant savages lashing out at
a world they do not understand.
This analysis turned up recently in the May 2000 issue of
the nominally liberal Harper's Magazine. In a lengthy piece
titled "Notes From Underground: Among the Radicals of the
Pacific Northwest," contributing editor Daniel Samuels
chronicles a trip to Eugene, Oregon in search of the
anarchists who were accused of smashing up downtown
Seattle. Although Eugene has been a hotbed of political
activism for many years, Samuels did not find many serious
radicals. Instead, he presents the anarchists as a
disorganized collection of losers, drifters, burned-out
hippies and train-hopping street kids who are merely
struggling to escape from "the pain, fear and boredom that
are part of everyday life."
As Samuels put it, "What the pictures from Seattle captured
was an anger whose true sources had less to do with Nike's
treatment of its labor sources or other objectionable
practices than with a broader, more unreasoning sense of
being trapped in a net."
This theme first emerged during last year's WTO protests.
Writing in the December 1, 1999 issue of the New York Times,
columnist Thomas Friedman said, "Is there anything more
ridiculous in the news today than the protests against the
World Trade Organization in Seattle? I doubt it. There
anti-WTO protesters - who are a Noah's ark of flat-earth
advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking
for their 1960s fix - are protesting against the wrong target
with the wrong tools."
Movie-critic-turned-conservative-columnist Michael Medved
continued the criticism in the December 7 issue of USA Today,
saying the protesters were motivated by "unfocused anger and
incoherent desperation." Newsweek chimed in on December 13,
subtitling an essay by Fareed Zakaria with the claim, "The
protesters didn't have their facts right, and may have hurt
the very causes they claim to care about." 60 Minutes joined
the attack a short time later when reporter Steve Croft flew
to Eugene and asked the anarchists, "Do your parents know what
Such criticisms only increased during the April protests against
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington
DC. "Anything radically new always creates fear. In this case,
the new is globalization," Lester C. Thurow, an economist
on the USA Today's board of contributors, wrote in the newspaper's
April 12 issue.
But these charges are nothing more than establishment propoganda.
All protest movement attract ill-informed followers. But the major
players behind the protests have gone to great lengths to inform
themselves and others about their issues. The pitfalls of global
capitalism have been discussed at well-attended seminars and
conferences across the country, including large teach-ins held
before both the Seattle and Washington DC demonstrations.
The Seattle teach-in, sponsored by the International Forum on
Globalization, was held on November 26 and 27, 1999. It featured
over 40 speakers from a dozen countries. The IFG also sponsored
a day-long teach-in on April 14 in Washington titled "Beyond
Seattle." It presented over 30 speakers from 10 countries, including
Catherine Caufield, author of "Masters of Illusion: The World Bank
and the Poverty of Nations." Topics ranged from the IMF's
"structural adjustment programs" to the effects of the WTO on the
Working journalists who covered both protests didn't have any
trouble finding people who could explain what they were all about.
New York Times reporter Joseph Kahn figured it out. Writing about
the WTO, IMF and World Bank on April 9, 2000, Kahn said,"The
protesters contend that the institutions have destroyed rain
forests, left poor countries in debt, and protected Nike, Disney
and Monsanto instead of workers in the third world."
Such contentions aren't based on ignorance. A special congressional
advisory panel said essentially the same thing on March 8, 2000. As
reported by the Wall Street Journal, the panel concluded "The
International Monetary Fund and World Bank have largely failed to
bring financial stability to the developing world and should
sharply curtail their lending."
Even the World Bank admits its policies aren't working. In a report
released on April 13, the global financial institution conceded that
the poor nations which have borrowed the most money have grown more
impoverished in recent years. Countries which owe the most money to
foreign lenders, such as Uganda and Tanzania, are worse off on
everything from the number of telephones per person to the number
of people who can read and write. Speaking at the press conference
which accompanied the release of the report, World Bank official
Michael Walton confessed there now is an "acceptance by the World
Bank, by international lenders, by the international community, that
our expectations weren't borne out."
None of this matters to writers like Samuels, who script their
stories to make it appear that the critics of global capitalism
don't know whatthey're talking about. Samuels met several
articulate anarchists during his trip to Eugene, including
Marshall Fitzpatrick, a former high school debate champion who
can quote Marx, Hegel and Freud to support his critique of the
consumer culture. But Samuels ignored Fitzpatrick to
concentrate on people such as Eric (no last name given), a
high school dropout working a low-wage job at a tofu factory.
Samuels dismisses Eric as a screwed up kid living a spartan lifestyle
to punish his parents, who divorced when he was four. Then he writes,
"If there is something Christlike in this approach, there is also
something sad and scared. What I want to tell Eric is that every thing
will work out okay, and that boredom, fear, and crushing
disappointment are simply part of everyone's life. That it is better
to live in the world as it is, or can be, than to shut yourself down
and live in a cave."
Not surprisingly, the same issue of Harper's which trashes the
anti-globalization activists features full-page color ads for Phillips
Petroleum, fancy BMW convertibles, overpriced Jaguar luxury cars,
gas-guzzling Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles, and Virginia
Slim cigarettes, which promise to help smokers "Find Your Voice."