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<nettime> Genoa on Minds of Protesters

Reclaim the Streets NYC - http://www.rtsnyc.org

Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2001 in 
the Los Angeles Times 

Genoa on Minds of Protesters

 Activists in a populist movement that besieged Seattle
 in 1999 are mobilizing Europeans against globalization
 at this week's G-8 summit.
 by Richard Boudreaux and Marjorie Millers 
 GENOA, Italy -- Judging from magazine covers, Luca
 Casarini's outfit is all the rage in Italy this
 summer--white overalls, plexiglass shield and a helmet
 over his long, disheveled hair.  It's more than a fashion 
 statement. The White Overalls is a militant leftist band 
 whose activists, led by the burly 34-year-old, are coming 
 here to disrupt this week's summit of the Group of 8 industrialized
 Sister Patrizia Pasini, 60, is more subdued in her
 style but not in her politics. The Italian missionary
 is leading a group of Roman Catholic activists, she
 says, "to fight the G-8 with prayers and hunger
 strikes" on the soon-to-be-embattled streets of Genoa.
 The nun and the hell-raiser are unlikely allies in a
 populist movement that accuses the world's richest
 governments of neglecting the poor and harming the
 environment. Since wrecking the 1999 World Trade
 Organization meeting in Seattle, the network has
 spread from America to nearly every corner of Europe,
 growing in size and sophistication while besieging one
 international summit after another. 
 The swarming of Genoa, starting Thursday, could be the
 movement's biggest show so far. Italian organizers,
 who struggled to unite pacifists and street fighters
 under a single set of rules, say 1,170 groups with
 labor, environmental and humanitarian agendas have
 signed up for Genoa and could deliver as many as
 100,000 protesters from across the continent. 
 "It's an enormous range," said Jonathan Neale, a U.S.
 veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement who is
 working with the Genoa-based organizers. "It's people
 who before this started really didn't think they could
 From London to Athens, an unusual number of activists
 has assumed specialized but loosely coordinated tasks
 in mobilizing Europe's citizens to rant against
 President Bush and their own leaders, rethink the
 continent's march toward standardization, defy the
 cops and party for days on end. 
 The summit-hopping movement for global justice is
 largely a Western phenomenon. In Europe, it embraces
 Greenpeace environmentalists, Greek trade unions,
 Basque separatists, German punkers, faith-based groups
 such as Christian Aid and more. It backs mandatory
 curbs on "greenhouse gas" emissions, debt relief for
 poor countries and cheaper drugs to help them fight
 The call to Genoa has multiplied over the Internet,
 drawing a network of idealists who use global tools to
 rail against globalization--or at least demand a
 fairer distribution of its benefits. 
 "It's all about how we're being mass-produced, all
 becoming little Americans--talking, eating, wearing
 the same things," said Maria Papadopoulos, a
 30-year-old piano teacher from Athens who has no
 students over the summer and feels lured to Genoa
 because "it is supposed to be the biggest thing since
 [the European student protests of] 1968." 
 The movement has gained momentum in Europe as its key
 demands win public acceptance and as leaders of the
 G-8--the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany,
 France, Italy, Japan and Russia--make limited
 concessions on debt and AIDS relief. 
 Pope John Paul II has urged the leaders to "listen to
 the cry of the poor" and lead the process of
 globalization "for the common good of the whole world,
on the basis of justice and solidarity." 
 At the same time, G-8 leaders have belittled the
 protesters and condemned violence that has driven
 summits behind growing layers of armed protection.
 British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month denounced
 the movement as "an anarchists' traveling circus." 
 Italy has mobilized at least 15,000 police and troops
 to protect an inner-city perimeter that includes
 within it Genoa's Ducal Palace, where Bush and other
 leaders will gather Friday, and the city's
 Mediterranean port, where most of them will sleep on a
 luxury cruise ship. 
 Police Chief Francesco Colucci is monitoring this
 top-security "red zone" on computer screens in a
 central command bunker at police headquarters. 
 Across town, the protesters have set up their own
 nerve center--a cramped office suite holding three
 computers, several boxes of anti-G-8 posters and
 T-shirts, and a few casually dressed, heavily pierced
 young Italians furiously sending and receiving e-mail.
 This is the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum,
 created last year to coordinate protest groups
 converging here against the G-8. "It's a very informal
 network, about 30 people with cell phones," said Carlo
 Bachschmidt, 35, the oldest organizer in the office. 
 The Forum has a technical team with a $300,000 budget.
 The team's 11 members have solicited scores of
 volunteers to pitch tents for the protesters at
 schools and sports fields and to provide free legal
 aid for anyone arrested. 
 Money comes from grass-roots subscriptions, a few rich
 individuals and well-endowed advocacy groups such as
 the World Wide Fund for Nature. Major Italian and
 foreign affiliates of the Forum have pledged $750
 apiece for its coffers. 
 Protesters pay their own way to Genoa, but many get
 "sponsorship" from teachers, co-workers and
 friends--the wider public that supports the cause. 
 But the biggest protest booster is Genoa's leftist-run
 City Hall. Lobbying for peaceful debate around the
 summit, it dispensed $1.5 million for tents, running
 water, electricity, portable toilets and a teach-in
 venue--even as national police shut down the city's
 airport and train stations to keep demonstrators away.
 The Genoa Social Forum also has an 18-member political
 board, which bickered for weeks over the meaning of
 nonviolent resistance before agreeing on some ground
 rules: The White Overalls and other groups trying to
 breach the red zone will not wreck the city or use
 offensive weapons against the police. (Shields are OK;
 clubs are not.) Nor will they intrude on space
 occupied by more passive protesters. Otherwise, no
 group will criticize the methods of any other. 
 Veteran protesters welcome the accord as a step to
 broaden their movement and limit the kind of violence
 that has obscured its messages at previous summits. It
 is supposedly binding on the Forum's 1,170 affiliates.
Organizers admit, however, that up to 2,000 violent
 anarchists not pledged to the Forum's rules--gangs
 with names like Class War and Reclaim the Streets--may
 show up and hijack the event. 
 Grass-roots disorder has been the rule since
 international summits became favored targets of street
 protest. Once a summit is scheduled, decentralized
 networks of crusaders and anarchists alike swing into
 action to rally their troops, deliver them to the site
 and deploy them on the front lines. 
 The very nature of the movement makes central command
 "In reality, this is all very spontaneous," said
 Andrezej Zebrowski, 47, a Polish Marxist who began
 recruiting for Genoa last month as he worked a Warsaw
 crowd protesting Bush's visit there. 
 "Even if there were no organizers, thousands of people
 would go anyway, just as thousands of people always
 follow the pope," he added. "The situation with ideas
 is similar to rock music. People live in a global
 system. What happens in one country quickly spreads to
 Still, the Genoa counter-summit is a huge production
 with a list of credits as long as a blockbuster

 * Casarini, the White Overalls leader and Seattle
 protest veteran, is a recruiter. The white attire, he
 says, is meant to suggest ghosts--the "invisible
 victims of neoliberal globalization." 
 A charismatic speaker at rallies across Italy, he
 lists Subcommander Marcos, the Zapatista rebel leader
 in Mexico, as a hero. To justify the group's planned
 assault on the red zone, he organized a public
 referendum on its Web site; more than 70% of the
 12,692 respondents supported the right to "invade
 forbidden zones" and "arrange forms of self-defense"
 if police react with force. 
 * Petros Constantinou is a fund-raiser. From a kiosk
 in central Athens, the 40-year-old Greek labor
 activist sells a broadsheet titled "Financial Crimes,"
 which brands the G-8 as "a gang of rich, spoiled
 murderers." The modest income pays for leaflets,
 posters and concerts in Greece publicizing the Genoa
 * Francesco Caruso, 26, is a "travel agent," one of
 many arranging anti-G-8 group charters. His Italian
 organization, Inflexibles of the South, plans to sail
 from Naples with 1,150 protesters on the Greek ferry
 Odyssey and invade Genoa's red zone by sea. If the
 ferry is attacked, he says, the 50 journalists aboard
 will become human shields. 
 "In any case," he assured reporters, "we have enough
 lifeboats for everyone." 
 * Lisa Fithian, 40, of Los Angeles is a nonviolence
 trainer. A French group has paid her way here to
 conduct classes at the protesters' "welcome center" on
 direct action, mobile street tactics and techniques of
 self-protection against police clubs and tear gas. 
 * Chloe Davis, 18, just out of high school in
 Nottingham, England, is a first-time protester. Her
 Anglican parish church supports a London charity whose
 magazine turned her on to Drop the Debt. 
 She and some school friends are coming here in a
 caravan organized by the debt-relief advocacy group to
 take part in pacifist protest. "I am quite excited and
 slightly scared," she said, but added, "I feel
 strongly about the issue." 
 The list goes on. A 20-year-old Italian student won a
 design contest and got his logo enshrined on the
 official Genoa protest T-shirt: eight red stick
 figures besieged by a sea of black stick figures
 representing the Earth's 6 billion people. Manu Chao,
 one of Europe's hottest pop singers, will kick off the
entertainment tonight with a free concert. 
 Dozens of Italian Parliament members have volunteered
 as "guardian angels" to walk among protesters and
 monitor police behavior. Father Vitaliano della Sala,
 an Italian priest who wields a water pistol at
 protests, promises guerrilla theater. 
To anyone who observed America's civil rights and
antiwar movements of the 1960s, or Europe's student
 protests of that era, the preparation for Genoa looks
 familiar. The Europeans running this show share the
 casual dress, democratic ethic and one-world idealism
of that generation. 
 But the Internet makes today's protesters less
 provincial than their elders. It decentralizes
 organizing capacity, making the composition and
 conduct of a Genoa-type protest wildly unpredictable. 
 "The Internet is instant and interactive," said Rodney
 Barker, professor of government and modern political
 ideologies at the London School of Economics. "One
 person can say, 'Let's go to Genoa dressed as
 inflatable George Bushes,' and hundreds will show up
 that way." 
 The Genoa protest is certain to fuel the global
 movement, organizers say, because many of those coming
 are first-timers. 
 Several factors are driving expectations of a huge
 turnout, including the G-8's perceived identity as the
 ultimate ruling elite. For Western demonstrators, it's
 the first accessible G-8 summit since the
 muscle-flexing in Seattle. (Last year's G-8 was in
 less-accessible Okinawa, Japan.) 
 For the Italian left, it's a chance to play havoc with
 Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the right-wing media
 tycoon elected in May. 
 Then there's Bush, whose election "has provided a
 focus, a convenient enemy" for advocates of the
 arms-control and global-warming treaties that the
 president opposes, Barker said. "All of a sudden you
 have a new 'rogue state' tearing up all the treaties
 and unifying what had been disparate organizations." 
 A hint of the momentum came in London in February when
 a tiny new advocacy group called a meeting to organize
 for Genoa and 230 people showed up. 
 The group, Globalise Resistance, had been formed to
 shape debate on global issues in Britain in the wake
of street protests at a World Bank meeting in Prague,
 the Czech capital, last fall. Suddenly it became a
travel agency, organizing a ferry, train and bus relay
 from Dover to Genoa. 
 Nearly 500 people, ages 16 to 84, have signed up for
 the charter. 
 "The anti-capitalist movement is growing immensely,"
 said Guy Taylor, a 34-year-old co-founder of Globalise
 Resistance. "We're getting 30 to 40 e-mails a day.
 People want to find out what's going on, get a piece
 of the action." 
 Boudreaux reported from Genoa, Miller from London.
 Times researchers Christian Retzlaff in Berlin and Ela
 Kasprzycka in Warsaw contributed to this report. 
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times 

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