Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Anti-Globalization Effort Scores Points
Protesters' Influence Grows Despite Violence
by Robert Collier
From Genoa, Italy, to the Bay Area, these are heady yet bewildering times
for the growing throngs of people who are taking to the streets to denounce
Last weekend's Group of Eight summit was yet more proof that the anti- globalization movement has become the biggest left-of-center force for social protest in decades.
But many worry that the movement's newfound influence could be jeopardized by the hooligans who turned Genoa and other protest venues into battlegrounds.
Those thoughts were going through Kevin Danaher's mind as he wandered past block after block of burned cars and gutted buildings in Genoa.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Danaher, co-founder of Global Exchange, a San Francisco human rights group that has been a key organizer in the anti-globalization movement. Speaking by telephone, he added: "The violence by police and by a minority of protesters have managed to wipe our issues off the table."
"We've advanced to the point where we have to show people that (reform) can be done without disorder," Danaher said.
Despite the chaos, some global leaders -- including French President Jacques Chirac and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- have partially endorsed the protesters' demands that trade be linked to human rights and the environment and that poor nations' foreign debt be forgiven.
But Chirac said he and his G-8 counterparts were "traumatized" by the Genoa violence, which left one protester dead, more than 400 people injured and roughly $45 million in damages.
The anti-globalization movement's growing influence can also be seen on Capitol Hill, where Republicans this week are fighting an uphill battle to renew "fast track" authority, which would enable President Bush to negotiate international trade pacts and force Congress to vote on them without amendments.
Bush needs fast track to persuade foreign leaders to make concessions in talks at the World Trade Organization and negotiations to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement to the entire Western Hemisphere. Both initiatives are stalled because of numerous commercial disputes.
The change in attitudes is personified by Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Sacramento, a staunch free trader who now opposes the Bush fast-track plan. "I don't agree with the protesters in Genoa, but there are fundamental problems we need to resolve about free trade," Matsui said.
"For example, what kind of controls are we going to allow about food safety, like on beef hormones or genetically altered food? Or if the Europeans turn down American companies' mergers and acquisitions, should that be part of trade discussions? These are legitimate issues that this White House hasn't even begun to think or talk about."
U.S. LAWS AT RISK
Like Matsui, many free-trade advocates now say that protections for labor rights and the environment must be included in trade pacts. Many business and farm groups also oppose low-price competition brought by such pacts and express fears that U.S. laws -- ranging from anti-dumping tariffs to health regulations and agricultural subsidies -- could be successfully challenged by other nations as trade barriers.
"What's interesting is the array of people who now are working for common ground," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.
"There's a realization that the environment and workers' rights are directly related to trade and must be at the core of any new agreements."
The switch among congressional free traders began at the World Trade Organization's summit in Seattle in 1999, which collapsed amid the same sort of huge, chaotic demonstrations as occurred in Genoa.
After Seattle came protests at annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, the Republican convention in Philadelphia, the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the Americas summit in Quebec and a half-dozen events in Europe.
Protesters say their next target comes in late September, when the World Bank and IMF hold another meeting in Washington.
"We're at a very volatile moment of large policy debates fought under the cloud of increasingly loud protests, and opinions are starting to shift and break loose from old habits in all sorts of surprising ways," said Daniel Seligman, trade policy director of the Sierra Club, which has been a key organizer of anti-globalization protests.
SECOND THOUGHTS ON FREE TRADE
Referring to the coming fast-track vote, Seligman added: "People who were staunch free traders are now promising to vote against a trade bill for the first time in their careers."
Even some business leaders say it's time to compromise.
"What's happened in Genoa has terrible relevance," said Joseph Harrison, president of the California Council for International Trade, a corporate lobbying group.
"When we get to another conference here (in the United States), the protesters will be front and center and ready for battle, like Seattle and Quebec. In the halls of government, people have come to realize these are important issues."
All this would be great, from the activists' point of view, except for those pesky radicals who keep muddying the message. Frustrated, many in the movement are espousing the once-heretical view that a little law and order isn't so bad.
"We have to figure out ways of disciplining the movement," Danaher said. "If we don't police ourselves, the police will do it for us."
Others see such attitudes as a sell-out to the establishment.NOT TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK
"At a certain point, when you see your friends beaten and tear gassed, you decide not to turn the other cheek or back down from the police when they get violent," said David Solnit, a leading Bay Area activist who was expelled from Canada when he tried to join anti-NAFTA protests -- apparently because he was on an international police watch list.
Solnit is a puppeteer with Art and Revolution, a San Francisco group that has provided the oversize puppets that have adorned the protests since Seattle.
"A lot of us view (the police violence) in Genoa as being similar to the way governments of the North have been treating people of the global South . . . or what police do here in Bay Area with people of color, acting like an occupying army," Solnit said.
Seligman and other mainstream activists say that's bunk.
"The protest movement has to either evolve or die," Seligman said. "We had been moving in the direction of making a pragmatic list of demands before the craziness in Genoa, and what happened there will only confirm that trend."
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle