Published on Tuesday, November 25, 2003 by Reuters
Miami Police Operation Sparks Nonviolent Ideas
by Michael Christie
MIAMI - If volleys of rubber bullets and legions of police taught anti-globalization protesters anything in Miami last week, it was the futility of confrontation.
Violent street clashes over trade and capitalism may be at an end if other cities copy Miami's military-style police operation. But the overwhelming force used may also strengthen the anti-establishment movement at a time when security concerns are bumping up against civil rights.
"We know that we can't physically win against the police," said Sarah Jonesy, a Washington, D.C., self-described anarchist who came south to disrupt the Nov. 17-21 Free Trade Area of the Americas talks but was confronted by an impregnable city.
"So now it's more a battle of ideas," Jonesy told Reuters.
Wherever protesters went in the subtropical U.S. city, they met rows of riot police, armored cars and the possibility of spontaneous arrest. Police fired volleys of rubber bullets and pepper spray to herd them through the streets.
Miami police would not say how many law enforcement officers were deployed, but thousands were on the streets last week.
Miami congratulated itself for not giving protesters a chance to rampage, and for avoiding a repeat of the riot-marred 1999 World Trade Organization talks in Seattle.
"The work that was done ... was massive, and it was done ethically, professionally," said Miami's mayor, Manny Diaz.
But activists plan to sue over what they consider unlawful arrests among the 200-odd detentions, and civil rights abuses.
Environmentalists, unionists, human rights activists and anarchists who target trade talks and multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund said this week they expect to tweak their tactics.
A greater emphasis on nonviolence is one issue as campaigners ponder whether Miami will serve as a blueprint for other cities, such as New York, which hosts a sure-fire target for dissent next August -- the Republican National Convention.
While meetings of the WTO, IMF, and Group of Eight industrialized countries have all been heavily guarded since Seattle, and are now often located in inaccessible venues, Miami was the first time, protesters say, they felt they were taking on an army and not just a police force.
Other protests have resulted in more arrests, such as IMF and World Bank talks in Washington, D.C., last September in which hundreds of anti-globalization protesters were taken into custody. But activists said protesters were given more of chance to move about at those events, whereas in Miami they were completely shut down.
"This is not the (police) model that we want to see in New York. It is not the model we want to see anywhere. It was extremely intimidating," said Medea Benjamin of the human rights group Global Exchange.
"So I think we have to think of ways that are very clever, very gentle, very obviously nonviolent and that's how we counter it."
Miami may also represent a turning point for the broad but fragile coalition of people opposed to a world run for profit, and bring the mainstream and politically powerful trade unions closer to more radical groups like the anarchists who oppose government.
Union retirees joined students in being shoved "face down in the streets by cops," said Gretchen Gordon, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign.
"It's going to make a lot of people really upset about not just trade issues but democracy and the state of government."
Activists said the anti-globalization movement and opponents of the U.S. war on Iraq may also grow closer over fears that post-Sept. 11, 2001, security concerns will undermine civil liberties.
"We have been targeted and attacked, not for anything we've done but for who we are and what we stand for," Starhawk, a spiritual leader of the anti-globalization movement, wrote in an online journal.
"Yet I hear no one suggesting that we stop, or give up, only thoughtful consideration of how we support each other and move forward."
© 2003 Reuters Ltd