By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
What emerges from the heads of these kids and shows up on their note pads reveals a deep alienation.
”I feel punished.“
”I see the effects of oppression everywhere.“
”Lots of brainwashing.“
”Criminalization of a generation.“
Malakai, a tough-talking and sexually ambiguous 20-something, takes it from there, and weaves these random dark thoughts into a denunciation of globalization by shoehorning each of the above ”issues“ into one of four categories: education, prisons, corporations, police. So any of the random feelings jotted down during the ”free-write“ are now automatically linked to one of these four institutions. There are few facts in this exercise. It‘s all about opinion and feeling. Whatever is shouted from the floor becomes part of the ”connect-the-dots“ exercise. And the final dot is always the same: globalization.
”Globalization creates poverty,“ says Malakai, then, a moment later, ”Globalization creates repression.“
Frankly, Malakai’s strength is not in her political analysis. But even in this clumsy drill, an important a truth emerges. The audience seems perfectly content to hear its frustration, fragmention and, yes, its paranoia validated as political discourse. The radicals of the 1960s were in good part driven by a sense of personal betrayal. A decade previous, they had bought into the system as youngsters and obediently saluted its myths every morning in second period. When they found out they were being lied to, they rebelled.
But these young people before me today were born into a different world. There was never any faith in, nor much interest in or much knowledge about, the System. You just assumed it was an evil and mendacious force. No big whoop. The conclusions they reach about its methods and goals are pretty much on target. But there‘s little sense of history, little sense of context.
But at least when Juliette Beck takes the floor for her scheduled talk, she makes an attempt to shape the message more coherently. Her discourse soon has the audience rapt.
”We’re a laboratory that they experiment on here in the U.S., and then they spread it to the rest of the world. The institutions that affect the lives of almost everyone on Earth are headquartered here in the U.S.,“ Beck says. ”What we saw in Seattle with the tear gas and cops was just a taste of the repression that people all over the world face every day. In the last 50 years, with the advent of the World Bank, is there less poverty or more? The IMF is like a big loan shark. The strings attached to the loans it gives out are called ‘structural-adjustment programs.’ They make the rich richer and the poor poorer. They pave the way in places like Haiti for sweatshops.“
With that, Beck whips out a huge chart depicting how much the Gap pays its hourly workers in the U.S. ($6 an hour), on the island of Saipan ($3), in Honduras (50 cents) and in Russia (11 cents).
”Is that something we‘re going to just sit back and watch?“ she continues, a fine blush coming into her cheeks. ”Those sweatshops are the effect of globalization! Do you know anybody who has lost their job because it went overseas? That’s globalization! Have you seen the local sewing factories here, a few blocks away, full of Latina workers? That‘s the effect of globalization! Are you worried because your job doesn’t pay you enough to pay for college? That‘s globalization!
“This is a global struggle!” Beck says as she turns her cap around forward and points to the embroidered logo on it: “Unite.” The room breaks out in applause. “Well,” she continues, “we’re gonna take these institutions head-on in April in D.C. We‘re gonna take them on Seattle-style! Gonna take on these institutions of corporate rule and corporate greed! How many of you are gonna be coming with me?” Everyone in the room stands up and starts applauding and chanting. They shout they are all heading to D.C.
Two weeks later, in downtown Washington, D.C., in a conference room deep in the bowels of the Service Employees International Union, another, different sort of planning meeting for A16 is under way. Here, the 100 or so assembled activists are a much cleaner-cut, more sober group than the Bay Area Art and Revolution crowd. This, after all, is Washington, and here even the most radical activists expect to see real political payoffs for their efforts.
In the room there are reps from several labor unions, some lefty think tanks and the National Lawyers Guild, some anti-war activists, a few anarchists, some feminists. Two ferociously impressive women in their 30s are “facilitating” the meeting: Hillary McQuie, of the Direct Action Network and one of the key field marshals of the Battle in Seattle, and Kenya-born Njoki Njoroge Njehn, who heads up the “50 Years Is Enough Network,” which organizes against the World Bank and the IMF.
To the eyes of an old ’60s veteran, this meeting is almost painfully democratic and politely orderly. There are even agreed-upon silent hand signals by which one can express support or disagreement with whoever is speaking. It‘s all part of the new movement’s treasured principles of “consensus decision making,” a cumbersome process that requires that everyone in the room eventually agree to whatever action is decided.
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