Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
We Can't Do It Without You!  
Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
For Now, A Global Movement is Stymied
Published on Sunday, September 30, 2001 in the Boston Globe
Movement for Global Justice
For Now, A Global Movement is Stymied
This article was based on reporting in Los Angeles, Washington, New York, and Boston, by Sue Kirchhoff, Elizabeth Neuffer, Robert Schlesinger, and David M. Shribman of the Globe Staff
WASHINGTON - The plans, on both sides of the barricades, were in place. Protesters were organizing demonstrations, preparing mobile kitchens, and dreaming up ways to disrupt the meetings of world leaders and financiers. Thousands of police officers, with reinforcements from up and down the East Coast, were being mobilized. A nine-mile fence to keep demonstrators away from diplomats had been ordered.

This was going to be the weekend that the nascent antiglobalization movement rocked Washington and the world.

'You know the old saying, `No justice, no peace?' I think that's what we're seeing in action now.

Nadine Bloch
DC Activist
Several hundred diehard protesters clashed with police near the White House yesterday, but their numbers were drastically lower - and their actions much less disruptive - than had been expected a month ago.

Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the political climate in the United States and around the world has changed dramatically. Washington has gone on war footing. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund canceled their annual meeting. And a movement that before the terror struck seemed as if it might give shape to a new kind of global politics has been dealt a severe blow.

Now the antiglobalization movement, always a loose, awkward, and deeply uneasy alliance of idealists, ideologues, and idiosyncratic groups, is in tatters.

Some members have veered off to form a base of the post-Sept. 11 peace movement. Some, horrified at the congruence between their critique of American power and that of terrorists, have withdrawn from public activities. Many have simply returned to their individual efforts. And the largest, richest partner in the movement - organized labor - has diverted its focus to rising unemployment and assisting the victims of the attacks.

''A growing frame in people's consciousness was global inequality, the global economy, corporate globalization. And within that frame, we were gaining on them,'' said Russ Davis, director of the Massachusetts chapter of Jobs With Justice, a group supported by labor. ''September 11th just wrenched that frame, pulled the rug out from under the movement, and now the dominant frame is war, foreign policy.''

Deep fissures have been exposed in a coalition that had included both veteran peace activists and old-line, blue-collar defense-industry workers.

''You can fairly say that the globalization movement is divided on the issue of war,'' Davis said.

After the attacks, Mobilization for Global Justice, the Washington umbrella group that had been organizing protests for this weekend, met to debate whether to continue the protests, to transform them into antiwar protests, or to cancel them altogether.

In the end, the group called off the street protests. It was a decision ''that was very controversial internally, but was a decision that was concensed,'' said Adam Eidinger, an activist based in Washington, D.C., using the consensus argot of the movement.

''The influence of unions and environmental groups in the Mobilization for Global Justice made it difficult for that coalition to shift gears very quickly to become an antiwar organization,'' Eidinger said.

Union members and environmentalists had been drawn into the coalition because of their specific issues, Eidinger said, and did not necessarily share their emphasis on social justice.

Those activists who favored an antiwar mobilization decided to go ahead and hold smaller-scale protests in Washington this weekend, trying to shift the focus from war to what they call the ''root causes'' of terrorism - causes they believe lie in the injustice that had been driving the anti-corporate globalization movement.

''The message has been shifted a little bit, but the links are clear between issues of justice - economic justice being an integral part of justice in general - and the search for peace and security in the world,'' said Nadine Bloch, a D.C.-based activist, who added, ''You know the old saying, `No justice, no peace?' I think that's what we're seeing in action now.''

Strange bedfellows: a raucous coalition

This was, from the start, an unlikely coalition.

There was the Ruckus Society, a group based in Oakland, which trains demonstrators in civil disobedience. There was United for a Fair Economy, a Boston organization that conducts seminars on taxation.

There was Tute Bianche, from the Venice region of Italy whose members wear white chemical suits as a way of emphasizing the ''invisibility of citizens with no rights or power.'' There were the black bloc anarchists, the masked, black-clad activists whose tactics include destruction of property.

There were left-leaning think tanks like the Center for Economic Policy Research, which is funded by foundations, and libertarian research and lobby groups like the Cato Institute, which has substantial corporate funding but which also criticizes the multinational institutions. And there was labor: the AFL-CIO.

Their critique of American life hasn't changed; they still argue that the globalization of the economy has put high-paid American workers in competition with foreign workers who make a fraction of their wages. ''Masses of people are being subjugated, are being trodden upon by the few who are accumulating inordinate wealth at the expense of our livelihood, at the expense of our quality of life,'' Bloch said.

Many of the protesters argue, moreover, that American consumer culture has become empty, and that American life is dominated by corporate special interests that have no respect for the environment, individual rights, or personal freedoms.

''We see ourselves for the globalization of social justice, of human rights, of environmental protection,'' said Stephen Kretzmann, an analyst with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. ''We're against the idea that the profit motive has to be the way that the global development choices are made and the path of societies internationally are taken.''

Members of the antiglobalization movement want international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF to represent the interests of poor nations rather than big corporations and to be more open in their operations - or they want the abolition of the World Bank and the IMF. They want to re-energize public participation in American democracy - or they want an entirely new political system. They want the news media to relay their concerns free of corporate bias - or they want their own, independent publications and broadcasts.

Though many of these activists believe these causes live on, most have come to the reluctant conclusion that the Sept. 11 terror attacks have prompted many Americans to move on. ''This is a dramatic event,'' said Neil Watkins of the Center for Economic Justice. ''It changes the political climate and raises the issue of how do we keep getting [out a] message ... that was really starting to resonate in a dramatic way.''

Still, optimists in the movement believe their cause will seem even more appealing once the furor over terrorism subsides.

''The institutions themselves are continuing on an everyday basis as they always have to approve the same bad projects and policies that they have been all along,'' said Carol Welch, a policy analyst with Friends of the Earth. ''So our work continues unabated.''

A disparate group hits the brakes

With their progressively more disruptive demonstrations - in Seattle in 1999, Prague in 2000, Quebec City last spring, and Genoa in July - the antiglobalization movement seemed, for a time, to be remaking global politics, forcing powerful figures and institutions to hunker behind chain-link fences and prompting corporations and foundations to reexamine their policies and priorities.

Individuals and groups within the movement were always, however, as complex and contradictory as the global economy itself. They decried high technology, for instance, and yet their activities were in large measure organized and promoted through the Internet. They luxuriated in their status as outsiders, and yet one of their principal warnings - that debt is strangling both developing nations and the world's economy - has been expressed by both the pope and a former Republican Treasury secretary. They were skeptical of global institutions, and yet they were quietly building a global force of their own.

Now they are facing a world in which security concerns put mass street protests in an entirely new light.

''What's primarily different is street protests and the tactics that have been employed,'' Kretzmann said. ''It's very clear that it's going to be hard to try to pull together the same kind of mass demonstrations that we have in the past in the future, for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which would be our concern for the civil liberties of the protesters.''

He added: ''In a time of tension and conflict as we're in, confrontational tactics can easily backfire.''

That is a realization that organizers of this weekend's antiwar events are wrestling with. Even protesters who favor tactics of anonymity and direct confrontation said in one of the meetings in recent days that they are encouraging people, as Eidinger put it, ''not to wear masks, not to dress up, not to use militant tactics, even not to burn American flags.''

For many of these activists, street protests are a showy tool but not the only one. Many of the groups will now focus on other tactics they have traditionally employed: letter-writing campaigns, lobbying Congress, pressuring multinational institutions, even door-to-door canvassing.

Many activists say that while their issues may have been obscured by the terrorist attacks, they have not been erased.

''In a way, nothing's changed: All the problems that created the globalization movement still are there,'' said Mike Prokosch, globalization coordinator of United for a Fair Economy in Boston.

What won't be there for a long time, he and others say admit, are the raucous street protests that accompanied their movement. Or the international spotlight they enjoyed. Those died Sept. 11.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company


Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article

  is an Internet-based progressive news and grassroots activism organization, founded in 1997.
We are a nonprofit, progressive, independent and nonpartisan organization.

Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search

To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Copyrighted 1997-2011