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Beyond Street Tactics

The Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement after Washington
by Kenny BrunoSpecial to CorpWatch
April 17th, 2000

The final day of the World Bank/IMF protests ranged from stand offs between protestors and police, an obsession with violence on the part of the media, and excitement and hopefulness from organizers and activists.

The main event of the day was a lively, peaceful, spontaneous march from the ellipse to Washington Circle. There, the marchers were stopped by rows of police in riot gear. While some drifted away, several hundred stayed, and many sat down defiantly. Although there was nothing at stake tactically, the time had come for a final confrontation. Pepper gas was sprayed directly in the faces of few protestors. The police numbers increased, tear gas came out and the police appeared to prepare to clear out all the demonstrators. Buses were on hand to cart hundreds of demonstrators off to jail.

But just at the height of the tension, an arrangement was negotiated. The police would put away their tear gas and show their badges (required by law anyway). Those determined to be arrested would pass through the police barricade unharmed, and would be arrested without violence. The process took hours; at least 400 were arrested.

That simple end to a tense stand off, like the whole week in Washington, showed that despite careful study of events in Seattle, the Washington DC police provoked violence where none was necessary and violated protestors' first amendment rights. John Sellars, the Director of Ruckus Society speculates that this is because the decentralized, consensus-based decision making process is so far out of their experience that they cannot deal with it.

Police and media, perhaps suffering the culture gap that Sellars describes, even seemed surprised when today's denouement of arrests brought about a cheerful street party in a driving rain, as remaining demonstrators serenaded the arrestees with music and dancing. It seems clear that the lack of understanding, civil rights violations and police-provoked violence threaten to re-occur at the Democratic and Republican Conventions and other future protests.

At the end of this wet, chilly day, Corporate Watch asked a number of activists to think beyond the tactical issues of the demonstration and discuss the next steps for this movement.

They identified several directions the movement should focus on over the coming months. The most obvious next step, says Kay Treakle of the Washington D.C.-based Bank Information Center, is to "keep the pressure on -- that's the only thing that changes the Bank's behavior." That pressure will next manifest itself at the Bank's annual meeting in Prague in September. But, says Andrea Durbin of Friends of the Earth, "Prague alone will not do it for us." She believes more sustained action is needed.

Some, like David Hunter of the Center for International Environmental Law look to movements like the War on Poverty of the 1960's, when activists took over the Washington Mall for an entire month. Durban suggests a War on Global Poverty, with a similar long-running demonstration.

Others, like Danny Kennedy, the Director of San-Francisco-based Project Underground say that taking on the global financial architecture includes the corporations themselves. He hopes the movement can agree on targetting a single corporation for a lesson in the ultimate in accountability -- shutting it down.

In fact, Rainforest Action Network is set to launch a campaign against Citigroup this week in New York. Citigroup, the largest financial company in the world, has its fingers in a vast array of projects around the globe, affecting human rights, environment, economic development and more. RAN doesn't plan to shut it down Citi anytime soon, but it has committed to a long-term campaign to reform the financial giant.

A another element that activists identify as crucial to following through on is continuing to build the process of grassroots globalization -- particularly North-South cooperation. Oronto Douglas of Earth Rights Action in Nigeria says that people around the world have woken up to the fact that the system of global capital has allowed "an unconscionable use of natural resources. This realization has empowered people in the North to connect with movements in the South that have been going on but largely unheard, unsung and unknown in the North." Douglas feels it is quite significant that "the globalized struggle has taken significant steps on the soil of America, well known for consumerism and self-interested action."

Indeed, from the building momentum of the debt relief movement, to the focused solidarity with the U'wa of Colombia and Ijaw and Ogoni of Nigeria, to the Free Tibet and Free Burma movements -- all of whom participated in the D.C. street protests -- solidarity with Third World struggles was one of the most impressive aspects of the last few days.

Community activists also made efforts to involve more people of color in the anti-globalization movement here in the US in the lead up to this week's protests. While more people of color were in the D.C. streets than in Seattle, the protests were still a far cry from a reflection of the increasingly diverse U.S. population, let alone Washington D.C. demographics. Building a diverse coalition is a long term process and anti-corporate globalization organizers must continue to strengthen their commitment to it.

Meanwhile John Stauber, editor of PR Watch and food safety advocate is concerned that the focus on violence -- though instigated by police and media, not demonstrators -- "plays into the hands of the corporations." He worries that it "can be used to turn the middle class against the protestors." Stauber says that "one of the biggest challenges of the movement is to reach out to the disaffected mainstream."

He believes that focus on food is a good way to do that. Corporate control of food supply and technology, especially genetically engineered foods and food safety, are issues "where Ruckus folks and suburban families are in fundamental agreement," according to Stauber. Non-destructive tactics in supermarkets around genetically engineered foods might be one way to bridge the gap between Middle America and activists says Stauber. He says these kind of actions will help avoid the false impression that only people willing to confront police on the streets can be part of this movement.

Another potential division, historically, is between the labor and environmental movements. That gap was narrowed considerably in Seattle, and many felt Washington was a test of the new alliances. Strengthening these new ties and building a more diverse constituency is a critical area of focus for the movement against corporate globalization.

Rob Weissman, editor of the Multinational Monitor and an organizer of Sunday's permitted rally on the Ellipse, says that Washington was "perhaps more significant than Seattle" in terms of labor. Although labor did not produce the large numbers of demonstrators that were present earlier in the week weighing in on the China-WTO debate, it did actively endorse the rally and send high level speakers who emphasized the new alliances. This is particularly significant given that just two years ago, the AFL-CIO supported the IMF.

Weissman says in part that this shows that organized labor values efforts that are about solidarity with the new alliances. Lisa Hoyos, of the South Bay Labor Council of the AFL-CIO (San Jose, CA), says it also represents the recognition that the "IMF is part of the cause of downward pressure on wages." Weissman agrees that the key insight for labor is a critique of export-led development. This critique of the World Bank-led development model, says Weissman, "meshes U.S. workers' interests with a new development model for the Third World."

With the movement for grassroots globalization budding and perhaps even beginning to bloom in the aftermath of Seattle and Washington D.C., activists are beginning to address some of the fundamental questions described above. How do we keep the pressure on, sustain the protests, integrate corporate campaigns into the bigger picture, continue to strengthen North-South cooperation, diversify the movement at home, build on the labor-environment alliances, and reach out to Middle America?

It's a tall order -- one that will require a tremendous amount of both energy and patience -- continuing street confrontation and broad coalition building -- strategic thinking and ongoing spontaneity. It's not going to be easy. But it should be fun trying!

Kenny Bruno is a Research Associate with CorpWatch. Julie Light and Joshua Karliner contributed to this report.