Thousands March Against Globalization, Bono, Gates, O'Neill Talk Poverty
Published on Sunday, February 3, 2002 by Agence France Presse
Thousands March Against Globalization, Bono, Gates, O'Neill Talk Poverty
Thousands of chanting anti-globalization protesters marched through central New York toward a posh Park Avenue hotel where a rock star, a US treasury secretary and the world's richest man were talking about eradicating poverty.

World Economic Forum
Thousands demonstrate outside World Economic Forum - Opponents of the World Economic Forum holding large pictures of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney march through New York City on February 2. Between three and five thousand people turned out to protest the meeting. REUTERS
Braving bitter cold winds, demonstrators faced off peacefully against a solid wall of police in riot helmets who had been called out to keep them well away from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Cocooned inside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel the 2,700 forum participants -- from billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates to U2 rock star Bono -- pondered the future of the world in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Fears that the protests would turn violent, as anti-globalization actions have done in Seattle, Prague, Genoa and elsewhere, did not materialize. There were no reports of injuries and police said they had made only one arrest.

"I feel happy and overwhelmed," said an elated Kate Cooper, an activist with the movement Another World Is Possible.

"It was a beautiful, creative, joyful expression of our message that the world needs true democracy."

Said student Schmeel Balto, 22: "We are out here protesting the World Economic Forum, which is a group of the richest individuals on Earth making decisions for the rest of the planet.

"The decisions don't benefit the six billion people that live on this planet, they do not benefit the plants, the animals, the Earth or the culture; they only benefit the rich."

Saturday's festive mobilization, a major test for the vitality of the anti-globalization movement following September 11, had echoes elsewhere in the world.

In Zurich, Switzerland, a policeman suffered a head injury and 54 people were arrested during anti-globalization protests to mark the Forum, which is being held outside of the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the first time in its 32-year history.

Another 30,000 activists were holding a rival World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where participants debated an alternative future for the poor.

Here in New York U2 star Bono brought some of the protesters' concerns within the walls of the hotel -- and tangled with US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

While O'Neill maintained that the whole world could rise to US living standards without massive injections of aid, Bono retorted that the very poor could not escape poverty alone.

The exchange, in a panel discussion that also included Gates and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, distilled arguments about whether rich industrial nations should do more to help the poor.

"God did not create a world with a limited economic product -- we have enormously increased the product over 300 years," O'Neill argued.

He said he accepted the need for "compassionate resources" to help poor nations fight the AIDS pandemic and provide clean water for their citizens. And he said it made sense to give grants, not loans, to the most indebted countries.

But O'Neill added that he was "not charmed" by arguments that rich industrial economies should live up to a commitment, made at the United Nations more than 30 years ago, to devote 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to Official Development Assistance (ODA).

"Improving living standards seems a far better thing to do," he said, asking: "How do we create the circumstances so people become the engines of economic growth and not just the subject of our pity?"

Rejecting O'Neill's contention that developing countries needed only imagination, political will and persistence to succeed, Bono replied: "The health agenda is unarguable. We can't deny to others what we demand for ourselves. Dead people don't make a great workforce. These people are too poor to get out of poverty."

Bono then called for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa to save the continent from what he called the AIDS holocaust and said he would travel there in about six weeks, taking O'Neill with him to convince him of the need for intervention.

Judging by the prolonged applause that greeted remarks made from the audience by US Senator Patrick Leahy, wealthy taxpayers would be willing to see a more generous government.

"We should all put pressure on whoever is president and say, 'For God's sake, show some humanity; we're the richest nation on Earth,'" Leahy said.

Gates told the panel that "to get the size of increase that's required, we need grass-roots support, to get voters to say, 'I want to vote for the politician who wants to deal with global inequities.'"

Copyright 2002 AFP