-- In a church basement a couple of miles from the citadels of international finance,
opponents of globalization are trying to revive the spirit of Seattle.
An anti-globalization garage band unleashes a sonic barrage titled "Third World
Scene." The Anti-Authoritarian Babysitters Club offers to keep an eye on infants
of the revolution. Forty or so protest planners stand shoulder to shoulder in
a circle and chant "Si, se puede" over and over.
Translation: Yes, it can be done. Even after Sept. 11.
Nearly three years after 50,000 protesters virtually shut down a meeting of
global trade officials in Seattle, activists would be pleased to mobilize a mere
10,000 when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank hold their fall
meetings in Washington this weekend. In the aftermath of last year's terrorist
attacks, which made any form of civil disobedience seem unpatriotic, even that
goal may be optimistic.
But there's more to a movement than street theater and crowd counts. Authorities
on development issues, including some of globalization's stalwart defenders, say
the movement in this country has broadened, matured and become more influential
in the 33 months since Seattle.
"The movement is getting much more sophisticated, even the activists in the
streets," said Nancy Birdsall, a former World Bank official who heads the Center
for Global Development in Washington. "It's gone from anti-globalization to alternative
globalization to managing globalization."
Development experts credit activist pressure at least in part for a range of
developments, including a decision by the World Bank to give poor countries a
bigger voice in developing poverty-reduction plans and agreement by the World
Trade Organization to give top priority to the needs of poor countries in the
round of worldwide trade talks launched last year.
Globalization critics denounce some of those initiatives as inadequate. But
if nothing else, they represent an acknowledgment that wealthy nations and their
financial institutions cannot afford to appear indifferent to global injustice.
"They won the verbal and policy battle," said Gary Hufbauer, a pro-globalization
economist at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. "They did
shift policy. Are they happy that they shifted it enough? No, they're not ever
going to be totally happy, because they're always pushing."
Experts see evidence of the movement's growing influence in other arenas.
Several high-profile economists, including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz,
have endorsed some of the specific criticisms and objectives of the movement.
Their critique was reinforced by growing evidence of the failure of "Washington
consensus" formulas to foster growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The issue of Third World debt relief resonated with a much wider audience when
Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and Irish rock star Bono jointly toured some
of sub-Saharan Africa's poorest countries.
Many development experts point to Jubilee 2000, the Third World debt-relief
group whose work has been championed by Bono, as the non-government organization
with perhaps the most influence over public policymaking.
"Jubilee 2000 had a tremendous impact in mobilizing focus and political support
for the decisions that were eventually made," said Mats Karlsson, the World Bank's
vice president for external affairs. The result, he said, "is a very radical debt
relief program that is now being implemented country by country."
Other groups have had an effect too. Oxfam, the London-based relief organization,
made waves with a report stating that more trade liberalization, if managed properly,
is the best prescription for reducing world poverty. The International Labor Organization
has convened a high-profile working group to assess the social implications of
"All of the major organizations have grown enormously more powerful and effective.
The only thing that's shrunk is the street protests," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director
of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "The movement
hasn't lost momentum at all. It just shifted to a different set of tactics."
For every organization involved in what some call the "movement of movements,"
there have also been smaller but symbolically important victories.
Jubilee USA's crusade has been joined by a remarkably wide range of organizations,
from conservative evangelical churches to the San Francisco 49ers football team.
For the World Bank Bond Boycott, which hopes to generate the kind of financial
pressure that helped end apartheid, a big turning point was the Milwaukee City
Council's 13-1 vote this spring to join the campaign. "We've seen a huge shift,"
said boycott coordinator Neil Watkins. "When we started in 2000, there's no way
we could have even talked to the city of Milwaukee."
Leaders say the movement's evolving profile reflects a deliberate decision
to tone down the increasingly provocative street mobilizations staged outside
meetings of the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization and other global institutions.
Although authorities said the vast majority of participants were peaceful,
small groups of Black Bloc anarchists and other extremists were giving the protests
a violent edge. In Seattle, their antics contributed to $2 million in property
damage and 500 arrests.
Then came Sept. 11. Public revulsion for terrorism and heightened concern about
security created even more ambivalence within the movement about the merits of
Anti-globalization groups had been planning a Seattle-size protest at the fall
2001 meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington, but the sessions were canceled
shortly after Sept. 11. When the institutions held their spring meetings here
in April, only 1,000 or so protesters rallied outside their headquarters.
"After 9/11, the U.S. movement obviously reevaluated its tactics and its tone,"
said Lori Wallach, who has directed Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch operation
since 1990. "But even before 9/11, there was a strategy judgment that we needed
to diversify the ways in which we organized and mobilized."
Wallach said the movement's current level of energy and engagement far exceeds
what prevailed during the struggle over ratification of the North American Free
"At the time, you could have put 15 people on a bus--activists, labor leaders,
members of Congress--and if that bus went over a cliff, it would have been the
end of the NAFTA campaign," she said.
Today, a whole fleet of plummeting buses wouldn't slow the movement much.
Although the ranks of street protesters have thinned, they may be more diverse.
Jubilee USA, which declined to participate in past mobilizations because of concerns
about potential violence, will be part of the action this weekend.
National coordinator Marie Clarke said Jubilee decided to join the crowd because
organizers made a stronger commitment to nonviolence, and because the AIDS epidemic
and endemic poverty were rapidly worsening in the Third World.
"As fast as we've been working and as successful as we've been so far, I feel
like we're really running out of time," Clarke said. "When the long-term advocacy
people working in the system finally have to go to the streets, it tells you there's
an urgency there."
David Levy, one of the protest coordinators stationed in the basement bunker
of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, scoffs at suggestions that the movement has
lost its edge.
"In social movements, there's kind of a good-cop, bad-cop phenomenon," said
Levy, who works with the umbrella group Mobilization for Global Justice. "We go
out in the streets and confront the evils of these institutions with very hard
rhetoric. There are others who say, 'Negotiate with us,' and get a seat at the
"They wouldn't get that seat without the pressure from the street."
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times