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And the work goes ahead. Fifteen working groups have emerged to fashion the week of A16 protest. Each group sends a rotating spokesperson to a central “spokescouncil” that is responsible for all final planning. “No leaders” is how McQuie describes it.
Plans are cobbled together to send out endorsement letters, to raise funds through house parties, solicitation letters, street festivals and T-shirt sales. Greenpeace has just donated office space. A “messaging group” is working on educational material. Another group is putting together a pirate micro-radio station. Nonviolence workshops are being organized to train hundreds in civil disobedience and direct-action tactics before the protests begin. Another group is rounding up a thousand 4-ounce plastic spray bottles. “You mix water with baking soda as an antidote to tear gas,” explains one young organizer.
The reports from distant corners come pouring into the general meeting. Loren Finkelstein, a 25-year-old graduate of West Virginia University and now program director with the D.C.-based Free the Planet group, ticks off all the campuses where she has recently made contact with groups planning to come to A16: Grinnell, Vassar, University of Michigan, Claremont-McKenna Colleges, George Washington University, Georgetown, University of South Carolina, University of Wyoming.
“It‘s absolutely amazing,” she says. “There are just tons of momentum coming out of Seattle. We’re now able to talk to all sorts of people we couldn‘t reach before. Now everybody’s listening.”
Everybody‘s also asking themselves, at least in the back of their minds, if A16 will be tinged with the same sort of violence that flashed in Seattle during the WTO protests, when about 50 black-clad anarchists drew the media spotlight as they systematically smashed the windows of targeted businesses: the Gap, Starbucks and Planet Hollywood, among others. The action guidelines for A16 prohibit violence of any kind, but who can offer guarantees?
“The only violence in Seattle was police violence,” says 38-year-old Nadine Bloch, one of the Direct Action Network’s leading organizers and strategists. “What there was among the protesters was alternative tactics. Property destruction is something done to things, not to people. I don‘t think that property destruction in the context of A16 would be something very constructive. But when we look at what happened in Seattle, we have to say that all of that contributed to the media coverage we got, including those who you might say pushed the envelope.”
The coming show of force in Washington, and later this summer around the political conventions, has some very definable policy goals. Certainly not all of the protesters are thinking in long-term strategic-policy terms. But that is the only way 44-year-old Mike Dolan thinks. A former field director of the California Democratic Party, the diminutive, wiry Dolan is now a close lieutenant to consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and holds the title of deputy director of Global Trade Watch, the Naderite group doing battle with the administration on its free-trade policies.
Anyone who knows anything about the Battle in Seattle knows that Dolan was the single most effective organizer there and can rightly take credit for making it what it was. His staff awarded him a big silver star for his work, and on the door of his warrenlike office behind Capitol Hill his staff has placed a suggestive handmade poster asking who it is you get when you mix Woody Allen with Vladimir Lenin. The question is answered when you a pass through the doorway.
The task Dolan has set himself is to translate the street heat of events like Seattle and the coming A16 into an effective and credible fair-trade political movement that can win tangible policy victories.
That’s why Dolan and his political allies, primarily among organized labor, have now focused their attentions on China. The Clinton administration is making a full-court press to have Congress grant China permanent normal trading status, which would pave the way for China‘s entry into the WTO. And that’s where Dolan has drawn the line. If China, with its abominable human-rights and labor-rights record is granted membership in the world trading body, Dolan argues, there is no hope for civilizing the global economy.
“Granting permanent trading status, giving away our best goodies to the repressive regime in China, is unjust and unwarranted,” Dolan says. “Why should we give up our leverage over China just because Big Business wants to make the deal to exploit cheap Chinese labor and send more American jobs over there?”
Dolan has a two-tiered strategic plan.
Step one is to block congressional approval of China‘s permanent trading status. “We are going to confront the corporate lobby and beat them again like we did in Seattle. This time, the battleground is the House of Representatives,” he says.
What made Seattle so special, and so memorable, was the heavy presence of organized labor. The image of Teamsters and Turtles together was light-years away from those days when the hardhats would come out to clobber the anti-war demonstrators. So for his piece of A16, Dolan wants to once again bring Big Labor out in force. And his timing couldn’t be better.