By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
You often hear complaints that the anti-globalization movement is naive, and frankly, that‘s hard to deny. Like nearly all modern attacks on authority, it’s spearheaded by people young and quixotic enough to believe that they can change the world. A certain amount of naivete comes with the territory, as does a certain amount of violence -- think of Samuel Adams‘ useful hooligans during the American Revolution. One needn’t endorse the Black Bloc‘s trashing of property to acknowledge that the violence in Seattle transformed the dynamics of the whole protest. It got the demonstrators on TV in a way that peaceful protests never would, revealed all the animal spirits lurking in the demonstrators’ idealism and provided a necessary symbolism. No one will believe you can slow down the juggernaut of Empire if you don‘t even dare break a window at Starbucks.
While many anti-globalization organizers worry that their ideas may be hijacked or overshadowed by a violent fringe, it’s equally likely that these ideas are being muffled by their desire for purity -- the rejection of hierarchies, the mistrust of charismatic leaders and mainstream media, the reflexive distaste for anything that smacks of corporate PR. In theory, such ideas sound admirable: The presence of leaders, for instance, implies that there are followers. Still, it would be handy if the movement had a few well-known, articulate people who could serve as its public face on TV (Naomi Klein and who else?) and if its sloganeering didn‘t betray such a tin ear. Just compare the great Paris slogan from May ’68 -- ”Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible“ -- with the dreary current variant, ”Another World Is Possible.“ In a world dominated by media, there‘s a need for more groups like the staff at the terrific Canadian magazine Adbusters, which neatly uses clever advertising techniques to subvert advertising itself.
Although the protests in Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa gave rise to moments of almost orgasmic exuberance, the movement’s reigning attitude often strikes me as being puritanical and painfully earnest -- you don‘t find it championing pleasure as did Emma Goldman or the ’60s crowd. Its spiritual ancestor is Robespierre, not Danton. Then again, it‘s mercifully free of the thoughtlessness that messed up so many political protests in my youth. At their best, today’s protesters seem to be in the process of reclaiming virtue, taking it back from the right, which uses morality very selectively: When it comes to Clinton‘s (admittedly vile) sex life, virtue is paramount, but when it comes to energy policy, Dick Cheney sneers that conservation is merely ”a sign of personal virtue.“ Where much ’60s rhetoric had to do with expanding freedoms (an offshoot of that era‘s seemingly endless prosperity), today’s anti-globalizers are more likely to talk about how we must limit our sense of entitlement. They organize Buy Nothing Day, campaign against energy-devouring SUVs, insist that we should sacrifice some of our own prosperity to help the poor in other countries. Gone is the snobbish disdain that students once felt for blue-collar workers; gone is the confidence that we can do whatever we want and still have social justice, too. Our principles are now something that cost us.
”We have removed the stain of Seattle!“
Although I‘ve been doing it myself, there’s something misleading about dubbing today‘s protesters ”anti-globalization.“ Not only does this accentuate the negative, but it might make one think that they actually oppose the idea of a globally unified, multicultural world. The hardcore enemies of globalism tend to be reactionaries (al Qaeda, the Aryan Nation) obsessed with some notion of racial or religious purity. In contrast, the movement is itself already global. There have been big demonstrations everywhere from Sydney and Taipei to London and La Paz; thousands of activists are currently off at a huge conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Like all modern progressive movements, it promotes positive values that it holds to be universal -- democracy, women’s equality, freedom of expression, environmental protection.
In truth, the fundamental issue is not whether we‘ll have globalization -- the world’s been moving toward that for centuries. The question is how we‘ll have it. Who will make the decisions? Will the world be permanently divided into haves and have-nots? Will the market alone control whether workers in Denver or Delhi lose their jobs? Will closed-door agreements determine whether environmental laws can be enforced in Alaska or Laos, whether the French and Koreans can protect their film industries against the financial behemoth of Hollywood, whether the Chinese can continue to get away with banning labor unions and profiting from slave labor?
The ”anti-globalization“ movement may be known to millions for hating swooshes and frappuccinos, but what finally matters are the ideals that it’s for. The demonstrators in New York seek a world where human-rights advocates and labor organizers can go freely about their work without the fear of being murdered or arrested. Where poor nations can afford the life-saving drugs derived from the plants that grow on their own land. Where the 2.8 billion souls who live on less than $2 a day are freed from tariff agreements that punish them far more than the subsidized farmers in the West‘s ”free-market“ economies. Where ideas of human freedom extend beyond the ever-expanding choices between consumer products (”Culture is not a store,“ goes one of the best slogans). Where rich countries pay poor ones to stop deforestation, rather than just expecting the locals to starve. Where the U.S. gives billions to aid poor countries -- even if we haven’t just bombed them. Where the decisions that affect everyone‘s life are made openly and democratically, not in private conference rooms in Seattle, Genoa or Qatar.