Karin Spaink on Sat, 21 Jul 2001 21:36:03 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-nl] Fwd: Activists Weigh the Cost of Confrontation First Tear Gas, Now Bullets

Forwarded message

=================Original message text===============

From: nettime's_reluctant_CNN_simulator <nettime@bbs.thing.net>
To: nettime-l@bbs.thing.net
Date: Saturday, July 21, 2001, 23:07
Subject: <nettime> genoa in fast-forward digest

Week of July 18 - 24, 2001

Activists Weigh the Cost of Confrontation First Tear Gas,
Now Bullets

by Sarah Ferguson

Protesters share a sense that police will be violent no
matter what they do: A woman hit directly by a tear gas
canister in Quebec City. photo: Jake Price

Hannes Westberg, 19, has spent the past few weeks in a
hospital bed in Gothenburg, Sweden, the victim of panicked
cops who fired live ammunition into a crowd of
anti-globalization protesters during the June European Union
summit. The son of a renowned Swedish physician and
anti-nuclear activist, Westberg was one of three youths hit;
he lost his spleen and a kidney.

That same month, police in Papua New Guinea shot 17
university students-killing three-who were peacefully
dispersing a demonstration against the World Bank and IMF.
These shootings have significantly upped the ante in the
escalating war between police and protesters at global
summits. "It's definitely a wake-up call," says Eric Laursen
of the New York City Direct Action Network, which has been
staging weekly vigils outside the Swedish and Papua New
Guinea consulates. "People have to realize that these are
international protests, and that there were Americans in
Gothenburg who could have been shot, too."

While many activists feel galvanized by the repressive
policing, others question whether the level of street combat
at recent events has gone too far. They fear the violence
from small factions of militants-greatly amplified by the
media-plays to police efforts to demonize the movement,
while obscuring its pro-democracy aims.

In Genoa this week, authorities have responded with near
hysteria to the 100,000 demonstrators expected to descend on
the ancient Italian port city during the meeting of the
G8-the seven richest nations plus Russia. A missile defense
system has been installed to guard against airborne attacks
(there've been rumors of an assassination plot on President
Bush by Osama bin Laden), and more than 18,000 police and
paramilitary troops have been mobilized in one of the
biggest security buildups in the country's postwar history.
The airport, train stations, and access roads will be shut
down and the center city blockaded with armored trucks. That
hasn't daunted the militant anarchists of Italy's Tute
Bianche (White Overalls) movement, whose members are
plotting a mixture of seaborne assaults and medieval-style
attacks using battering rams and catapults to launch dead
fish and paint bombs at police.

The mere threat of mass demonstrations has succeeded in
putting the global elites on the run. Last month the World
Bank decided to hold its June meeting over the Internet
rather than risk a tear-gas-soaked riot in Barcelona.
(Thousands turned out anyway, resulting in violent clashes
when police stormed the crowd.) And with few places willing
to endure another "Battle of Seattle," the World Trade
Organization is hosting its November ministerial in Qatar-a
repressive monarchy where street protest is illegal.

But disrupting the pageantry of trade summits is one thing;
building a broad-based, enduring campaign against global
inequity and the abuses of corporate power is another.
Though the vast majority of protesters remain nonviolent, in
Europe at least, the violence of a few threatens to alienate
the public at large. Covering Sweden, the press was more
outraged by the rowdy "mobs" who tore up cobblestones and
set café chairs ablaze than by the cops who lost control.
Mainstream groups like the U.K.'s Drop the Debt considered
pulling out of this week's actions in Genoa because of the
prospect of further violence between police and protesters

"All this whiz-bang of tear gas and rubber bullets diverts
the public's mind from what's at stake," says Kevin Danaher
of Global Exchange. "We're losing the substance of our
critique. If anything, we need to be superdisciplined. The
movement is still trying to work out how we police

With confrontations ranging from dangerous to comic,
imposing order may be impossible. In Prague, during the IMF
and World Bank meeting last fall, police were set aflame
with molotovs. This spring in Quebec City, the violence at
the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas summit was more a
defensive, even sardonic, measure. Cops were hammered with
everything from snowballs and teddy bears to chunks of
concrete, pool cues, slingshot marbles, and a couple of
flaming Christmas trees.

Carolyn Bninski, 51, of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice
Center in Boulder, watched from a hotel room as riot police
advanced on a crowd gathered round a bonfire in the middle
of a downtown Quebec City thoroughfare. "I'm fully committed
to overturning the FTAA and the economic oppression that
lies behind it, but I want to do it nonviolently," said
Bninski, as skirmishes broke out below. "To me, nonviolence
is not a strategy or a tactic; it's a philosophy. It's about
being willing to take on suffering so that people will be
won over to the righteousness of your cause."

At the word suffering, Blackstar, an 18-year-old anarchist
from Denver, grimaced. "People between 16 and 22 years old
are pissed off as hell because in 15 to 20 years, the planet
is going to be a fucking wasteland," he said. "So we don't
want to be passive anymore. Those are old tactics for older

Their late-night exchange shows the difficulty this still
congealing movement has in forging a coherent strategy of
mass protest. At one pole are pacifists like Bninski,
veterans of the anti-nuke and Central America solidarity
efforts, who take their model from Gandhi and Martin Luther
King. At the other are a small but increasingly visible
group of radicals who believe that militant
confrontations-everything from smashing Starbucks to
chucking rocks at police lines-work.

Like Blackstar many come from a generation that has never
seen nonviolent protest achieve real change. "Fear is a very
important thing," says Rockstar, a 22-year-old anarchist
from New York. "It's all we have in terms of power leverage.
We don't have money to buy our politicians. If you don't
have money, that's all you have."

Veteran activists argue fear alone can't sustain a cause-or
even get a message across. "The militant fringe of the
movement that's willing to engage in public acts of
vandalism or scrap in the streets has done an amazing PR
job," says John Sellers of the Ruckus Society, a
direct-action training group. "It's one of the most dynamic
in growth because it's so emotionally charged.

"But since Seattle, we still have to slow down and talk
about what we're fighting for, and what does our victory
look like," Sellers adds. "That vision has to inform what we
do. Do we want to build a movement that's about throwing
chunks of cement and then celebrating when we take a cop
out? Or a movement that has respect for life, and that
represents a moral and ethical high ground to the violence
perpetrated by the state?"

Such idealism is vulnerable on the street, where protesting
has become a kind of extreme sport, requiring ever more
elaborate uniforms of protective gear, training in tear-gas
survival and scaling walls, cell-phone-wielding
communication teams, and an army of street medics to treat
the wounded. In Quebec, kids joked that instead of forming
anarchist soccer leagues they ought to take up lacrosse to
boost their skill in volleying back gas canisters at the
next showdown. After the April summit, Sports Illustrated
ran a photo of a protester whacking a gas canister with a
hockey stick-a rather worrisome editorial wink.

As a rite of passage, summit hopping has become chic.
Trumping protesters' ire, the Gap has begun hawking its
jeans in window displays that feature anarchist flags and
slogans like "Freedom" and "We the People" in fake black
spray paint. Similarly, Apple is using the image of young
militants waving red flags in a new "Think Different" ad,
and Lipton is running an iced-tea commercial that spoofs on
activists getting blasted with water cannons.

You can't blame the corporations for seeking to co-opt
anti-corporate rage. "The violence has become almost
ritualized," says Mike Roselle, a forest advocate for
Greenpeace who founded the Ruckus Society and helped start
Earth First! "People aren't that freaked out by someone
breaking a Gap window anymore. They're not blaming
provocateurs. They know this is a serious grassroots
uprising that spans leftists, environmentalists, labor, and
students, and that people are not afraid to keep coming back
for more."

Perhaps more surprising than the nearly 5000 tear gas
canisters that police fired at demonstrators in Quebec was
the willingness of the crowds to hold their ground. By the
second day, it wasn't just black-clad anarchists and
nihilist street kids dashing into the fray to hurl back the
fuming, red-hot canisters, but ordinary college kids, angry
locals, even a mother with a child on her back, incensed
that the cops had fired into her group of peaceful
demonstrators. The summit became a lesson in how
indiscriminate force can radicalize a movement. "The cops
basically just inoculated a whole new generation of kids who
aren't afraid of tear gas anymore," says Danaher of Global

Yet there's a danger in getting caught up in these protests
as a form of abstract guerrilla theater, divorced from the
real consequences of globalization. Or the consequences to
yourself. Eric Laferriere, a protester in Quebec, was hit in
the neck by a plastic bullet and underwent an emergency
tracheotomy. He left the "Carnival Against Capitalism" with
a six-inch metal tube in his throat. And with authorities
now targeting activists as the new domestic "terrorists,"
protesters who engage in more militant actions could well
get stiff jail terms. A judge in Eugene, Oregon, recently
sentenced a young member of the Earth Liberation Front to
more than 22 years for his role in setting fire to three
SUVs and in the attempted arson of an oil truck.

The heightened level of street combat isn't likely to cool
off any time soon. Some anarchists are looking to launch a
campaign of chaos in Washington, D.C., during the September
meeting of the IMF and World Bank. An Internet call for a
militant Black Bloc action reads, in part: "We will not rest
until every last bank has been burned, till the memory of
banks has been erased from our world."

While it's hard to take such claims seriously, the old
ground rules of protest are changing. Demonstrators are
increasingly reluctant to denounce people who engage in
vandalism or fight with cops, for fear of splitting the
movement into "good" and "bad" protesters. And they share a
creeping sense that the cops will behave violently no matter
what activists do. "The police are leaving less and less
room for nonviolent protesters to get their message across
through traditional civil disobedience," says Laursen of the
Direct Action Network.

"It's really hard to say all we're going to do is lock
ourselves down in an intersection if the police are going to
use a lot of violence against us."

The new buzz is about "diversity of tactics"-delineating
zones of protest for different levels of confrontation with
police. This anything-goes approach fits with the ideal of
maintaining an openly democratic, nonhierarchical movement.
But in practice, such an open-ended strategy can easily
allow for more aggressive tendencies to hold sway.

Organizers in Quebec tried to set aside green zones for
festive, nonviolent protest, a yellow zone for "defensive"
nonviolence, and a red zone for "high risk" actions. But
they quickly changed color with the level of police
response. By the end of the first night, the streets were a
surreal collage of heated battles interspersed with
throbbing techno jams, street fires, and om-ing peace
circles, all enveloped in clouds of noxious gas. In fact,
the protests in Quebec were as militant as they were because
more peaceful groups ceded turf, rather than try to carry
out nonviolent civil disobedience within the diversity of
tactics model. Quebec union leaders chose to direct the
massive "People's March" of up to 50,000 people to a
coliseum parking lot miles away to avoid mixing it up with
anti-capitalists who were intent on tearing down the fence
erected to seal off the summit in the upper portion of town.
That decision frustrated many rank-and-file members, who
later donned scarves to brave the gas-soaked bluffs.

"A lot of our members were appalled by what the police were
doing, and wanted to show their opposition in a more
meaningful way," says Catherine Louli, a media rep for the
Canadian Union of Public Employees. "But the question is, If
we were to stake out a piece of that fence for a nonviolent
direct action, would we have been able to carry it through?
How would other groups react if in our action, peace
officers will subdue someone who throws rocks at police? I'm
all for 'diversity of tactics,' but it has to be a two-way

For some, the whole concept is just too freewheeling. "If a
movement is going to win over a majority of the population,
it's got to show that it has responsibility," says George
Lakey of the Quaker-based group Training for Change. "These
global collisions are vague because there are no precise
goals. There's hardly a framework for even thinking about
long-term strategy and building allies amid all the focus on
tactics and police violence."

Lakey has a point. Rather than debating whether property
damage is "violent," activists need to focus on whether it
supports their larger aims. The problem has been how to
formulate clear goals in such a sprawling movement, with
some groups seeking to reform institutions like the IMF, and
others looking to abolish them altogether. But points of
consensus are emerging. In D.C. this fall, instead of
focusing so much on shutting down the IMF and World Bank
meetings, activists with Mobilization for Global Justice (an
umbrella group that spans labor, environmental, student,
religious and direct-action groups) are uniting around
central demands such as debt cancellation for impoverished
countries and opening these private meetings to public

"The shutdown calls worked to bring people together for the
earlier mobilizations, and to draw attention to these global
institutions, which weren't really on the radar screens of
most Americans," says organizer Nadine Bloch. "But now we
want to be clear on what we're asking for, and focus on
alternatives to show that we're not anti-globalization, but

Despite the tension between confrontational and nonviolent
factions, demonstrators have managed to shift the terms of
discussion for economic liberalization. In the U.S.
Congress, there's far more consensus, particularly among
Democrats, that new trade agreements must have stricter
labor and environmental standards than were included in
NAFTA. The credibility of the World Bank and IMF is on the
brink as a growing host of critics-including a Nobel
Prize-winning economist-question the ability of these
institutions to alleviate poverty. Pressured by
environmentalists, the bank recently announced it would
consider no longer funding oil, gas, and mining projects.

More importantly, the general public has begun to agree with
the demonstrators' politics. According to a recent survey by
the University of Maryland, most Americans think U.S. trade
policy favors multinational corporations over the concerns
of U.S. workers, and 74 percent said the U.S. has a moral
obligation to ensure that foreign laborers don't have to
work in harsh and unsafe conditions.

Faced with an escalating tide of mass arrests, border
closures, and the likelihood of getting seriously maimed by
the expanding arsenal of "non-lethal" police weaponry,
protesters have begun to question whether mobilizing
large-scale demos is, in the long run, sustainable. Summit
hopping remains a rather privileged exercise, and there's a
limit to the number of people eager to endure tear gas for
causes that may seem divorced from their everyday lives.

That's why more activists are choosing to focus on the local
impacts of globalization. "One of the problems of these
summit protests is they've been showcases for young white
activists, and not those who are most affected by the
policies they're demonstrating against," says Jia Ching
Chen, of the San Francisco group JustAct, which organizes
youth activists of color. "We can't change the system unless
(we find) ways to involve the people who are actually
feeling the impacts of globalization-poor people and people
of color who don't have the resources and can't take the
risk of going to some big protest where they might get

During the FTAA protests in Quebec, there were over 80
rallies, marches, and direct actions across North America,
including nonviolent blockades at the U.S.-Canadian border
in northern Washington and Buffalo, New York. Activists also
marched from San Ysidro to Tijuana in an effort to draw
parallels between the job losses in the U.S. and the
environmental and social squalor brought by the spread of
maquiladoras in Mexico. While these demonstrations don't
have the international splash of large summit protests, they
put the injustices of globalization on people's doorsteps.

The protests surrounding the WTO's November meeting may
present the first real test of whether the fervor of mass
actions can be achieved on a local scale. Already, activists
in New York are scheming to blockade the New York Stock
Exchange as part of a global day of teach-ins and actions
against corporations and financial institutions.

"I think Qatar will start to spell a different way of doing
things," says Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute, a
progressive think tank in Canada. "There's no opportunity
for a mass demonstration. So that will compel people to
decentralize and regionalize their actions. And I think
that's better for the movement in the long run. Unless we do
develop a broader, more decentralized movement, we won't be
able to build the momentum to turn things like the FTAA and
the WTO around."

==============End of original message text===========

- K -


Basically, I believe that all men should be penetrated at 
least once, just like all people should visit the third 
world, just to know what it is like. 
  - Liz Turner, October 20 2000

* Verspreid via nettime-nl. Commercieel gebruik niet
* toegestaan zonder toestemming. <nettime-nl> is een
* open en ongemodereerde mailinglist over net-kritiek.
* Meer info, archief & anderstalige edities:
* http://www.nettime.org/.
* Contact: Menno Grootveld (rabotnik@xs4all.nl).