By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Kate Seelye|
“You’ll Be Sorry”
“Can we take a ride?” Han Shan, Ruckus Society organizer and spokesman for an anti-biotech protest action called BioJustice, looks tense. He leans in the door of a frenetic activist house in San Diego, motioning me outside. As we walk to my car, he says, “We just got a report that the cops are amassing right around the corner and may be preparing for a sweep. Do you have a camera?”
Being an activist has really taken an Orwellian turn in the age of globalization and anti-globalization. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman (author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree) may have called globalization “the next great foreign-policy debate,” but, increasingly, the terms of these critical debates are being set not by the public but by corporate security: the police. To be fair, the police haven’t done as much to create this situation as have the industries that are leaning on them — in this case, San Diego’s Bio2001, the annual conference of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Bio2001 is only the latest example of a bad trend: Because of industry power, discussions vital to a global citizenry — about, for instance, public control of genetic manipulation and the patenting of life itself — are being pushed out into the streets. Where angry people are getting increasingly confrontational. Where increasing militarization of the police response is systematically shutting down dissent. Where no debate is really happening at all.
In San Diego, like Quebec and other recent globalization flashpoints, exercising your right to free speech now automatically comes with a sort of packaged counterintelligence response. This includes surveillance, tailing, nuisance ticketing and vehicle hassles, interfering with employers and landlords, videotaping, permit rigging, kidnapping, undercover police Black Blocs (too bad it’s not funny, because it sorta is) — and, above all, militaristic overkill, including water cannons, armored vehicles and (as we recently saw in peace-loving Sweden) live ammo. In saying No More Seattles, police everywhere have found a whole new mandate, and since militarization has proved extremely effective in deflecting attention from globalization issues themselves, it’s bound to increase.
Fifteen thousand executives from the booming biotech sector showed up in San Diego last month, the world’s largest biotech gathering. When they gathered last year in Boston, they were met by a street carnival of 2,500 demonstrators. This year, in the wake of massive anti-globalization protests worldwide, police expected anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 protesters. But when only 1,000 people showed up for a completely peaceful, high-energy march on June 24, no one had to ask why.
The city made no effort to hide its intention of squeezing BioJustice until it went away. Interviewed about the numbers of expected demonstrators, San Diego Police Chief Dave Bejarano crowed, “At this point, I don’t think we’re going to see more than 500 — a thousand would be tops — which is good news.”
According to department spokesman Dave Cohen, the San Diego P.D. spent about $3 million in “hard costs” — overtime, new equipment, etc. — but that doesn’t include the Harbor Patrol (which monitored rowboating protesters calling themselves BioJustice Buccaneers), the Sheriff’s Department or police departments from neighboring cities. Only 20 arrests were made, none of them violent.
“They’ve had this town locked down for months,” says Shan as we drive a few blocks to Balboa Park golf course. “Police here have been meeting with business owners and spreading a culture of fear. We have gone to extremes to make sure this has gone smoothly. We met with [the police]. We met with a mediation team from the City Council. We have been transparent in our procedures and trainings and teach-ins, and the first principle of anyone wanting to work under the banner of BioJustice was a commitment to nonviolence. The march was perfectly peacful, not one incident.”
We pull over near a water-district building on Pershing. Below us, in the parking lot, about 50 officers in full riot gear run through drills in front of half a dozen paddy wagons, yelling, “Hup! Hup! Hup!” Two officers in front cover the drill with shotguns.
“Shit,” says Shan, grabbing a camera and clicking away. The cops stop drilling and look at us. It’s difficult to tell whether what we’re looking at is a staging area for an impending bust or a drill. Either way, says Steph Sherer, the police-and-media liaison for BioJustice (whose house is also headquarters), it’s a display of intimidation.
“BioJustice formally asked BIO to a debate,” says Sherer. “The executive director of BIO called me back â and said we didn’t ‘deserve’ a debate. That we were wasting his time. And he asked me who I thought I was, saying, ‘You are a bunch of hooligans, I don’t need to call you back.’”
“They know we’d wipe the floor with them,” says Shan, agitated.
“This is just what I need,” said Sherer, weary and hoarse from a week of press conferences. “We get to the end of this thing, then they sweep my house.”