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Davos, American Style

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Friday February 01 02:36 PM EST LA Times Davos, American Style - The state of global
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2002
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      Friday February 01 02:36 PM EST

      LA Times

      Davos, American Style - The state of global protest

      By John Powers LA Weekly Writer

      Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
      Why not?
      Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of your
      labor . . .
      --Langston Hughes, "Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria"

      WHEN THE HIJACKED JETS STRUCK MANHATTAN AND Washington,
      D.C., one of the indirect victims was the struggle against
      runaway globalization. The war cry had been sounded in
      Seattle in 1999, grown louder in Quebec City and Genoa, and
      was building toward a massive demonstration against the
      World Bank and International Monetary Fund in our nation's
      capital last autumn. All that changed when the most famous
      voice of anti-globalization was suddenly a bearded Islamic
      sociopath with a fondness for helter-skelter. The U.S.
      entered the days of "America Rising" -- anthrax scares, war
      in Afghanistan and the Trumanizing of George W. Bush. We
      were all urged to be good team players.

      Lately, that's begun to change -- politics is back with a
      vengeance. The Bush team struts around Washington as if it
      just won World War II, posing for Vanity Fair (which hasn't
      lost its knack for backing front-runners), demanding a $48
      billion increase in the military budget, and still dreaming
      of a "stimulus package" that would stimulate the rich to
      write the Republican Party checks for the fall elections.
      Meanwhile, the Democrats appear to be discovering a
      vestigial spine. Milking the PR possibilities of Enron's
      disgraceful bankruptcy, Tom Daschle and others have begun
      fighting (well, sorta) Bush's right-wing domestic agenda.

      Politics is also back in the streets. This week, thousands
      of protesters have poured into New York City to greet,
      deride and challenge this week's World Economic Forum at the
      Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Despite its pretense of welcoming the
      protesters, the Forum's not exactly what you'd call a
      populist event: It normally meets in the tiny resort town of
      Davos, Switzerland, and costs about 25 grand a head to
      attend.

      Unlike the World Trade Organization, whose closed-door
      meetings set the rules and agreements that shape the
      international economy, the World Economic Forum is akin to
      those dweeby Renaissance Weekends that Bill Clinton used to
      attend -- it's all about networking and high living. It
      brings together the stars of the world's financial,
      governmental and cultural elite: Bill Gates and Hillary
      Clinton, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and Peter
      Gabriel, Esther Dyson and Hamid Karzai, interim leader of
      Afghanistan. While one is tempted to write the whole thing
      off as a Woodstock for folks in $2,000 power suits -- The
      New York Times actually previewed the forum in its Sunday
      Styles section -- the truth is less comical. These are the
      people who rule the globalized economy, and it's here, over
      lavish dinners at Le Cirque and Jean-Georges, that they make
      the social connections that bind them together. It's here
      that they elaborate the conventional free-market "wisdom"
      that has recently given the world the Enron bankruptcy and
      the economic collapse of Argentina.

      Next to such an august assembly (Colin Powell)! Michael
      Kinsley! Bono!), the demonstrators must surely resemble a
      ragtag band of outsiders -- students, Greens, labor
      organizers, peaceniks, human-rights advocates,
      Anti-Capitalist Convergers, Black Bloc anarchists,
      animal-rights activists (some dressed as lovable critters),
      and academics toting around dog-eared copies of Michael
      Hardt and Antonio Negri's trendy tome, Empire. The great
      drama of the weekend is how their demonstrations (and street
      warfare?) will play on TV screens everywhere. For in New
      York, as in Seattle and Genoa, this particular fight over
      globalization will largely be a *battle of images*.

      A battle not without risks. In the early winter of 2002,
      taking to Manhattan streets is a tricky business. America's
      still shaking off its September 11 hangover, and no one
      knows if the country still feels so fragile that the
      majority will feel threatened and enraged by public dissent;
      I suspect that the NYPD will have very little patience with
      anyone who smashes a Starbucks window, however laudable
      their motivations. The protest's organizers are well-aware
      that they're flirting with catastrophe and insist they've
      planned nothing that will disrespect the wounded streets of
      Manhattan.

      Such assurances haven't stopped the city's demented tabloids
      from revving up public anger. Long before the demonstrators
      ever arrived in New York, the Post's mad-dingo columnist
      Steve Dunleavy was warning readers to expect "a potentially
      scary scene, promised by little nasty twits." And the Daily
      News was shaking its fist: "You have a right to free speech,
      but try to disrupt this town, and you'll get your
      anti-globalization butts kicked. Capish?" For all its
      professed love of order, the right would relish a chance to
      demonize the protesters, and should a riot break out, no
      matter who caused it, America's anti-globalization movement
      could be set back for years -- in the public mind, it will
      be associated with terror and anarchy.

      Of course, there's no good reason why September 11 should
      provide the conservatives with ammunition. If anything, the
      terrorist attacks should have taught us what happens when
      rich nations keep telling poor ones simply to lie back and
      enjoy globalization (which is always better for us than for
      them). And in the figure of Osama bin Laden, we've all
      learned what genuine anti-Western radicalism really looks
      like: It flattens skyscrapers filled with civilians.

      Far from being extremists in any rational sense of the term,
      nearly all anti-globalization protesters are (though some
      may hate hearing it) well-behaved heirs to the
      Enlightenment. They march for democracy, free expression,
      economic justice and a rational global order. They believe
      in the possibility of *progress*.

      They could hardly have found a better time to confront the
      World Economic Forum than in the midst of the Enron and
      Argentina debacles. These days, who's still so foolish that
      they would trust any big corporation to act in the public
      good? Enron's collapse isn't merely the story of one
      company's failure. It's the emblematic saga of an
      out-of-control system in which vast corporations are run by
      men who lie and cheat, yet are propped up by brokers,
      accountants, pro-business newspapers, boosterish TV pundits,
      bought-off politicians and regulators unwilling or unable to
      regulate. In short, this is crony capitalism of the kind
      that the IMF condemns in Thailand or South Korea.

      The case of Argentina is just as damning. Only a few years
      ago, free marketeers idolized the country like a beauty
      queen -- putting it in the spotlight as a paragon of
      free-market virtue. Today, that beauty queen's behaving like
      the star of a Girls Gone Wild video, with a gutted currency,
      riots in the streets and five presidents in two weeks (not
      to mention ex-President Carlos Menem, an IMF favorite, being
      investigated for taking Iranian bribes in connection with a
      massacre at a Buenos Aires synagogue). What's happening in
      Argentina is what happened during the Asian collapse of the
      late 1990s, and it's far from coincidental that a dangerous
      new flash point in the "War on Terror" should be Indonesia,
      whose economy was crushed trying to obey the strictures of
      Western financiers.

      If there was ever a time to protest the idea of a
      corporatized world, this is the moment to do it. These days,
      dissent isn't just important -- it's downright patriotic.

      ***

      "How should we live?" someone asked me in a letter.
      I had meant to ask him
      the same question.
      Again, and as ever,
      as may be seen above,
      the most pressing questions
      are naive ones.
      --Wislawa Szymborska, "The Century's Decline"

      UNLIKE OPPOSING THE WAR IN VIETNAM OR RACIAL segregation --
      ideas that can be instantly grasped -- the issues
      surrounding globalization are hard to make clear to the
      public. In fact, trying to get a firm grasp on the
      anti-globalization movement is like trying to nail a blob of
      mercury to the wall. It possesses no clear structure or
      hierarchy, blurs the lines between left and right, and comes
      across as a crazy quilt of groups -- Trotskyites and
      Libertarians, veggies and anarchists, union members and
      proselytizers for hemp, wonky NGO reformers and
      whatever-means-necessary radicals with bricks in their
      hands.

      What binds them is (to put the matter crudely) the
      perception that we're all being rocketed into a future that
      most of us didn't choose and over which we have little
      control. This is a world ruled not by individual states or
      even corporations but by a vast, de-centered, market-based
      system in which power, like capital, can no longer be pinned
      down to a particular place. "Empire" is what Michael Hardt
      and Antonio Negri term this system in their book of the same
      title (perhaps the most ill-written volume that ever aspired
      to change the world). Like the Internet, Empire is
      everywhere and nowhere.

      In fighting it, the anti-globalizers sometimes seem to be
      equally amorphous. They've put forward numerous ideas and
      demands -- everything from opening up the World Trade
      Organization and abolishing the World Bank to forgiving
      Third World debt and ending consumerism. (For more detail,
      see "Hitting the Streets," below.) The sum of these ideas
      sounds wildly implausible, even utopian, and can appear even
      wilder given some protesters' foolish belief that the U.S.
      is like Nazi Germany or that most people in undeveloped
      countries would rather not enjoy the Western comforts that
      most of us take for granted. (A trip to the Congo, Vietnam
      or Brazil will quickly disabuse you of that notion.)

      Yet even without its rhetorical excesses, the movement has
      created a shiver of fear among the guardians of the elite
      consensus. It's constantly thumped not only by The Wall
      Street Journal but by New York Times columnist Thomas
      Friedman, who, in a Nixonian flourish, compared the Seattle
      protesters to Soviet commissars, and the editorial pages of
      the Washington Post, which claimed that the anti-globalists
      "parrot the rhetoric that used to be heard from the military
      dictatorships and corrupt populists who governed much of
      Latin America and Africa in the 1970s and '80s." Confronted
      with protests against, say, a Nike factory in Indonesia,
      such pundits argue that the factory is pumping money into
      the local economy as a whole, then triumphantly exclaim,
      "See, *your* economic ideas would actually *hurt* the poor
      people of Java."

      These cocky pro-globalists remind me of a man whose wife
      tells him she's unhappy with their marriage. Each time she
      tries to explain why, he tells her in precise and painful
      detail why she's completely wrong, why her complaints are
      irrational. "Don't be so *emotional*," he says firmly,
      confident that he's proved there's absolutely nothing wrong
      with their marriage. Meanwhile, his wife is packing her bags
      -- his bullying certainty is part of what she's fleeing.
      Much the same is true of the fight over globalization, whose
      opponents may be wrong about individual issues (for
      instance, certain forms of protectionism), but still know
      they're unhappily married to a worldwide process in which
      huge questions of labor rights, environmental protection and
      the distribution of wealth are decided not by democratically
      elected leaders but by corporate-approved trade
      representatives in secret meetings.

      You often hear complaints that the anti-globalization
      movement is naive, and frankly, that's hard to deny. Like
      nearly all modern attacks on authority, it's spearheaded by
      people young and quixotic enough to believe that they can
      change the world. A certain amount of naiveté comes with the
      territory, as does a certain amount of violence -- think of
      Samuel Adams' useful hooligans during the American
      Revolution. One needn't endorse the Black Bloc's trashing of
      property to acknowledge that the violence in Seattle
      transformed the dynamics of the whole protest. It got the
      demonstrators on TV in a way that peaceful protests never
      would, revealed all the animal spirits lurking in the
      demonstrators' idealism and provided a necessary symbolism.
      No one will believe you can slow down the juggernaut of
      Empire if you don't even dare break a window at Starbucks.

      While many anti-globalization organizers worry that their
      ideas may be hijacked or overshadowed by a violent fringe,
      it's equally likely that these ideas are being muffled by
      their desire for purity -- the rejection of hierarchies, the
      mistrust of charismatic leaders and mainstream media, the
      reflexive distaste for anything that smacks of corporate PR.
      In theory, such ideas sound admirable: The presence of
      leaders, for instance, implies that there are *followers*.
      Still, it would be handy if the movement had a few
      well-known, articulate people who could serve as its public
      face on TV (Naomi Klein and who else?) and if its
      sloganeering didn't betray such a tin ear. Just compare the
      great Paris slogan from May '68 -- "Be Realistic: Demand the
      Impossible" -- with the dreary current variant, "Another
      World Is Possible." In a world dominated by media, there's a
      need for more groups like the staff at the terrific Canadian
      magazine Adbusters, which neatly uses clever advertising
      techniques to subvert advertising itself.

      Although the protests in Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa gave
      rise to moments of almost orgasmic exuberance, the
      movement's reigning attitude often strikes me as being
      puritanical and painfully earnest -- you don't find it
      championing *pleasure* as did Emma Goldman or the '60s
      crowd. Its spiritual ancestor is Robespierre, not Danton.
      Then again, it's mercifully free of the thoughtlessness that
      messed up so many political protests in my youth. At their
      best, today's protesters seem to be in the process of
      *reclaiming virtue*, taking it back from the right, which
      uses morality very selectively: When it comes to Clinton's
      (admittedly vile) sex life, virtue is paramount, but when it
      comes to energy policy, Dick Cheney sneers that conservation
      is merely "a sign of personal virtue." Where much '60s
      rhetoric had to do with expanding freedoms (an offshoot of
      that era's seemingly endless prosperity), today's
      anti-globalizers are more likely to talk about how we must
      limit our sense of entitlement. They organize Buy Nothing
      Day, campaign against energy-devouring SUVs, insist that we
      should sacrifice some of our own prosperity to help the poor
      in other countries. Gone is the snobbish disdain that
      students once felt for blue-collar workers; gone is the
      confidence that we can do whatever we want and still have
      social justice, too. Our principles are now something that
      cost us.

      ***

      "We have removed the stain of Seattle!"

      --Robert Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative, November 14,
      2001, after WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar

      ALTHOUGH I'VE BEEN DOING IT MYSELF, THERE'S SOMEthing
      misleading about dubbing today's protesters
      "anti-globalization." Not only does this accentuate the
      negative, but it might make one think that they actually
      oppose the idea of a globally unified, multicultural world.
      The hardcore enemies of globalism tend to be reactionaries
      (al Qaeda, the Aryan Nation) obsessed with some notion of
      racial or religious purity. In contrast, the movement is
      itself already global. There have been big demonstrations
      everywhere from Sydney and Taipei to London and La Paz;
      thousands of activists are currently off at a huge
      conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Like all modern
      progressive movements, it promotes positive values that it
      holds to be universal -- democracy, women's equality,
      freedom of expression, environmental protection.

      In truth, the fundamental issue is not *whether* we'll have
      globalization -- the world's been moving toward that for
      centuries. The question is *how* we'll have it. Who will
      make the decisions? Will the world be permanently divided
      into haves and have-nots? Will the market alone control
      whether workers in Denver or Delhi lose their jobs? Will
      closed-door agreements determine whether environmental laws
      can be enforced in Alaska or Laos, whether the French and
      Koreans can protect their film industries against the
      financial behemoth of Hollywood, whether the Chinese can
      continue to get away with banning labor unions and profiting
      from slave labor?

      The "anti-globalization" movement may be known to millions
      for hating swooshes and frappuccinos, but what finally
      matters are the ideals that it's *for*. The demonstrators in
      New York seek a world where human-rights advocates and labor
      organizers can go freely about their work without the fear
      of being murdered or arrested. Where poor nations can afford
      the life-saving drugs derived from the plants that grow on
      their own land. Where the 2.8 billion souls who live on less
      than $2 a day are freed from tariff agreements that punish
      them far more than the subsidized farmers in the West's
      "free-market" economies. Where ideas of human freedom extend
      beyond the ever-expanding choices between consumer products
      ("Culture is not a store," goes one of the best slogans).
      Where rich countries pay poor ones to stop deforestation,
      rather than just expecting the locals to starve. Where the
      U.S. gives billions to aid poor countries -- even if we
      haven't just bombed them. Where the decisions that affect
      everyone's life are made openly and democratically, not in
      private conference rooms in Seattle, Genoa or Qatar.

      Naturally, all those highfliers inside the Waldorf-Astoria
      will tell you that they're profoundly concerned about these
      things, too -- why else have the World Economic Forum? Of
      course, they didn't manage to show their concern until the
      Battle of Seattle, when the elite suddenly discovered that
      the world was paying attention. If history teaches anything,
      it's that big shots who attend chic confabs like this one,
      not to mention the WTO or G8 summits, always insist on their
      benevolent intentions. Trouble is, they do nothing to
      implement these noble ideals until they hear a crowd
      starting to surround the building. That's why protesters
      have been taking to the streets for centuries. And that's
      why they're now marching up Park Avenue.

      --
      Dan Clore
      mailto:clore@...

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      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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