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Anti-Corporate Protests in Bush's Backyard

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Anti-Corporate Protests in Bush s Backyard by Don Hazen, AlterNet August 1, 2001 Since
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2001
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Anti-Corporate Protests in Bush's Backyard

      by Don Hazen, AlterNet August 1, 2001

      Since last August's sweaty battles with the LAPD at the
      Democratic convention, anti-corporate protesters here in the
      United States have been relatively quiet, despite huge
      actions in Quebec, Prague, Gotesburg and most recently
      Genoa. But this quiet will end dramatically in late
      September when tens of thousands of activists will descend
      on Washington, D.C. to confront representatives of the IMF
      and World Bank who are holding a summit there.

      Since the last protest in D.C. -- the half-successful
      attempt to shut down a World Bank meeting last April -- much
      has changed in the "globalization from below" movement. The
      organizing for this upcoming "Global Justice Week," which
      begins on September 24, is more mature, diverse, clear about
      goals and media savvy. Also, the labor movement, which came
      out strongly for the Seattle WTO protest but didn't
      participate much in subsequent actions, has made a firm
      committment to come heavy to D.C. (now that we have an
      anti-union president, labor is free to flex its political
      muscle without fear of jeapordizing its relationship to the
      White House). And highly visible demonstrations around the
      globe have created a renewed and powerful wave of momentum;
      as Robert Collier writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, the
      "G-8 summit [last month in Genoa] was yet more proof that
      the anti-globalization movement has become the biggest
      left-of-center force for social protest in decades."

      Combine all this with the simmering anger about the 2000
      election -- Fox News recently reported that 58 percent of
      the public is still mad about how Bush was elected -- and
      organizers are confident that big crowds will head to D.C.

      If so, they will be building on a series of notable
      victories. As Sarah Ferguson of the Village Voice points
      out, "Demonstrators have managed to shift the terms of
      discussion for economic liberalization. In the U.S.
      Congress, there's far more consensus, particularly among
      Democrats, that new trade agreements must have stricter
      labor and environmental standards than were included in
      NAFTA." Adds Collier, "the anti-gloabalization movement's
      influence is apparent on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are
      fighting an uphill battle to renew fast track authority,
      which would enable Bush to negotiate international trade
      pacts and force Congress to vote on them without

      In addition, the credibility of the World Bank and IMF is on
      the brink. Pressured by environmentalists, the Bank recently
      announced it would consider no longer funding oil, gas, and
      mining projects.

      Nevertheless, it is a very dangerous and precarious moment
      for the global justice movement. There seem to be two
      powerful, competing forces that may be doomed to clash. On
      the one hand, the movement has made concrete progress toward
      a consensus about how to push governments and undemocratic
      global institutions toward reform. The overall protest
      message seems to resound with a large majority of the
      population: a recent survey by the University of Maryland
      says many Americans think U.S. trade policy favors
      multi-national corporations over U.S. workers, while 74
      percent agree that the U.S. has a moral obligation to ensure
      that foreign laborers don't have to work in harsh and unsafe

      However, any political progress is tempered by the
      overwhelming displays of police force in virtually every
      demonstration and the simultaneous violent escalation of
      certain protesters. The police reaction was most extreme in
      Genoa, and resulted in the first "prime time" globalization
      martyr -- Carlo Giuliani, the son of an Italian labor
      organizer, who was shot in the head by a 20-year-old rookie
      carbinieri. Conservative Italian President Carlo Chambi had
      brought in 20,000 police, which in large part contributed to
      400 injured and an estimated $45 million in property damage.

      Starting in Seattle, polices have established a consistent
      pattern of preemptive strikes against protesters. Undercover
      agents and provocateurs have been widely deployed, along
      with increased firepower and violence by police. Add to this
      the growing presence of the media-fetishized Black Bloc --
      radicals who explicitly endorse property destruction -- and
      the resulting mix is explosive. Such violent confrontations
      threaten to undermine the nonviolent protestors' efforts to
      get their message out to an increasingly receptive audience.

      Intense planning and organizing is underway to mitigate that
      threat, and to plan the events of the week. Recently, more
      than 70 groups met to plan their cooperative strategy. "The
      goal," said Simon Greer of Jobs With Justice, one of the
      organizers of the confab, "was to bring together many
      sectors of the global justice movement to see the potential
      to collaborate. At the same time, we wanted to secure
      commitments for the upcoming 'fast track' battle in
      Congress, and for Global Justice Week. We sought to identify
      common ground and develop strategies for how to build a
      broader and deeper global justice movement."

      This time around protests organizers are much more
      consciously reaching out to groups in the U.S. who are
      affected by "structural adjustments" -- i.e. the
      deregulation and privatization agenda. This includes groups
      fighting sweatshops, particularly UNITE, the union that
      represents apparel workers, which plans to carry out some
      direct actions against clothing retailers who produce goods
      in sweatshop-like conditions. Also, the backlash against the
      privatization of health care, welfare, education and many
      other social services is bringing in more groups of people
      of color.

      So far, the week-long series of public demonstrations and
      event is shaping up to be varied and focused at the same
      time. The protesters' central demands, according to John
      Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies, are opening up
      the World Bank and IMF meetings; ending structural
      adjustment programs at home and overseas; ending World Bank
      funding of fossil fuel projects; and expanding debt
      cancellation. Other issues will also be aired, like the
      availability of AIDS drugs in Third World nations, (Act Up
      Philadelphia, considered one of the most creative protest
      groups, will push that issue). There will also be a Latin
      American Solidarity march, focusing on Plan Columbia and the
      continued bombing of Vieques. With the planning process in
      full swing, a full array of events should emerge soon.

      But the best laid plans can be undermined. The question of
      what to do with different philosophies and styles of protest
      -- and the potential of violence to pull down the whole
      effort --- continues to bedevil organizers. One the one
      hand, virtually every visible, credible leader is wringing
      their hands, trying to figure out how to keep it all from
      unraveling, and insisting on the need for nonviolent protest
      and cooperation. Yet, tolerance for other tactics and the
      practice of small "d" democracy -- especially in light of
      huge anger engendered by massive police violence -- may drag
      the protests down to their lowest common denominator.

      Susan George, author of nine books and one of the most
      visible global justice activists, articulates these tactical
      concerns very clearly:

      "The fact remains that this movement for a different kind of
      globalization is in danger. Either we'll be capable of
      exposing what the police are actually up to and manage to
      contain and prevent the violent methods of the few, or we
      risk shattering the greatest political hope in the last
      several decades. If we can't guarantee peaceful, creative
      demonstrations, workers and official trade unions won't join
      us; our base will slip away, and the present unity -- both
      trans-sectoral and trans-generational -- will crumble."

      Simon Greer, of Jobs With Justice, is more upbeat: "We are
      working every day to build relationships and effective
      bridges so we can carry out non-violent, powerful
      demonstrations. We're working overtime to make this happen."

      This preoccupation with violence is not unfounded. In
      preliminary meetings with D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and
      Police Chief Charles Ramsey, there was little indication
      that the District will be hospitable to protesters and their
      right to free speech. In fact, one participant used the term
      "saber rattling" to characterize the early discussions. The
      D.C. police have reportedly recruiting more than 3500
      additional cops from other jurisdictions in preparation for
      Global Justice Week.

      Meanwhile, a federal investigation recently concluded that
      there was a "pattern of excessive force in the D.C. police
      department in the 1990s," according to the Washington Post.
      A survey found that 15 percent of the time force was used in
      D.C. it was excessive, in comparison to two percent in most
      well-managed police squads. A Justice Department monitor has
      been put in place for the next five years to provide
      oversight for the D.C. department.

      The excessive violence data is no surprise to Mara
      Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney in the public-interest law
      firm Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed suits on
      behalf of demonstrators from the A16 protests. "Police are
      attempting to demonize protestors," she said, after attended
      the preliminary discussions with D.C.'s top brass. "They
      have a lack of understanding of constitutional rights. It's
      not appropriate for the state to oppress people because they
      don't like their ideology. Washington is the national center
      of our government and they should be welcoming people to
      express their opinions."

      "I repeatedly asked for assurances that there would be no
      repeats of the bloody battles of last year, when there were
      mass arrests for peaceful activities, when arrestees were
      kept on buses for as long as 18 hours with no bathroom
      facilities, there were illegal raids on the convergence
      center," added Verheyden-Hilliard. "But the [D.C. police]
      were unable to give assurances. In fact, they have allocated
      a massive $5 million for equipment just to battle

      The big question is, what will the D.C. police do if the
      protest get escalated beyond nonviolence? As Ferguson notes,
      the new buzz among activists is about "diversity of tactics"
      -- delineating zones of protest for different levels of
      confrontation with police. This anything-goes approach fits
      with the ideal of maintaining an openly democratic,
      nonhierarchical movement. But in practice, such an
      open-ended strategy can easily allow for more aggressive
      tendencies to hold sway. During A16 a compromise was struck
      with the Black Bloc, which for the most part stayed within
      the consensus guidelines for nonviolent protest. As a
      result, the A16 protests did not get bogged down in the
      property destruction that has punctuated the last five or
      six demonstrations in other international cities. Can
      organizers strike a similar balance again? Should they?

      "For me, diversity of tactics is a pseudonym for not having
      thought through what we really believe," counters activist
      Terra Lawson-Remer, a founder of Student Alliance to Reform
      Corporations (STARC) who has been involved in a number of
      the demonstrations. "But nobody wants to take a stand that
      will be divisive. How movement leadership respond to the
      more extreme of the tactics will be definitive."

      John Sellers, the Ruckus Society's direct-action strategist
      (who gained instant worldwide fame when the city of
      Philadelphia put a million dollar bail on his head for
      carrying a cell phone during the Republican convention) told
      Sarah Ferguson of the Voice, "The militant fringe of the
      movement that's willing to engage in public acts of
      vandalism or scrap in the streets has done an amazing PR
      job. It's one of the most dynamic in growth because it's so
      emotionally charged. But for us, Washington is about
      building bridges from the globalization to the social
      justice and union movement -- communicating a critique of
      how globalization functions in inner cities and poor
      communities. We're looking to make things compelling,
      dynamic and non-violent."

      Is Sellers vision possible? That depends a lot on the Black
      Bloc. While it's not easy to gauge exactly what the Black
      Bloc thinks, a recent article submitted to AlterNet by "Mary
      Black," who represented herself as a Black Bloc activist
      (the authenticity of her communique has not been
      questioned), states:

      "We believe that destroying the property of oppressive and
      exploitative corporations like The Gap is an acceptable and
      useful protest tactic. We believe that we have the right to
      defend ourselves when we are in physical danger from tear
      gas, batons, armored personnel carriers and other law
      enforcement technology. We reject the idea that police
      should be allowed to control our actions at all.

      "As a protest tactic, the usefulness of property destruction
      is limited but important. It brings the media to the scene
      and it sends a message that seemingly impervious
      corporations are not impervious. People at the protest, and
      those at home watching on TV, can see that a little brick,
      in the hands of a motivated individual, can break down a
      symbolic wall. A broken window at Nike Town is not
      threatening to peoples safety, but I hope it sends a message
      that I don't just want Nike to improve their actions, I want
      them to shut down and I'm not afraid to say it."

      Part of these tactical divisions may break on generational
      lines. Blackstar, an 18-year-old anarchist from Denver, told
      the Voice, "People between 16 and 22 years old are pissed
      off as hell because in 15 to 20 years, the planet is going
      to be a fucking wasteland. So we don't want to be passive
      anymore. Those are old tactics for older times."

      Like Blackstar, many Black Bloc members come from a
      generation that has never seen nonviolent protest achieve
      real change. "Fear is a very important thing," says
      Rockstar, a 22-year-old anarchist from New York. "It's all
      we have in terms of power leverage. We don't have money to
      buy our politicians. If you don't have money, that's all you

      Contrast these young Stars with pacifists who take their
      model from Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The peaceful
      idealism of the 60's generation is vulnerable on the street,
      where protesting has become what Ferguson describes as "a
      kind of extreme sport, requiring ever more elaborate
      uniforms of protective gear, training in tear-gas survival
      and scaling walls, cell-phone-wielding communication teams,
      and an army of street medics to treat the wounded."

      Yet another problem is the extent to which security forces
      will go to infiltrate protests and egg them on to violence,
      especially in the Black Bloc. One recent, somewhat hilarious
      example came at a modest biotech protest march in San Diego.
      There were only about 1,000 marchers, but according to
      Sellers, there were hundreds of cops in the march -- many
      pretending to be in the Black Bloc.

      "It was so obvious," said Sellers. "These beefy,
      football-player types with their brand new Nike boots --
      most Black bloc types are pierced, tatooed, skinny, vegan
      kids. We eventually just outed them by walking alongside
      them with signs that had arrows and read, 'Cops.' These were
      the same guys hogging the TV cameras and shouting off the
      pigs." No doubt the very experienced Washington cops and the
      feds will not be so obvious.

      So a lot is at stake. As George Monbiot writes in the
      Guardian of London, many agree that "the world would be a
      better place without the companies which are lobbying
      against action on climate change, building Bush's missile
      defense system, producing fragmentation grenades, demanding
      control over health and education services, privatizing
      water in third world cities then selling it back to their
      people at inflated prices, ripping up virgin forests,
      designing plants with sterile seeds ..."

      ... and on and on. Can these juggernauts be stopped? The
      momentum is there, and the increasing poll numbers seem to
      indicate a more supportive public. But rather than asking
      what it can acheive, maybe the question should be, can the
      huge potential of this movement be derailed by violence and
      infiltration? Is there room for the Black Bloc?

      Stay tuned -- or head to Washington D.C. in late September
      to find out for yourself.

      Dan Clore

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