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India and Pakistan inch closer to war over Kashmir.
 
No Relief
Behind Argentina's economic meltdown.
 
The World Economic Forum is coming to New York.
 
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Bush quietly thwarts environmental regulations.
 
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Edison Inc. bids to take over Philadelphia education.
 
Kathleen Zellner: Freedom Fighter.
 

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FILM: Ali and Black Hawk Down
 

 
January 18, 2002
Hob-nobbing at Ground Zero
The World Economic Forum is coming to New York.

It’s no surprise that after two years of escalating confrontations, the roaming road show of trade summits and global justice protesters would eventually land in New York City. But nobody thought it would look like this.

The World Economic Forum—a 30-year-old organization supported by more than 1,000 major corporations—usually holds annual meetings in the luxury resort of Davos, Switzerland. This year, however, as a show of solidarity, the WEF is making a post-September 11 pilgrimage to New York for meetings from January 31 to February 4. This is the first time the WEF has held a full meeting outside Davos; about 1,000 corporate executives, 250 politicians, 20 heads of state, and 1,000 or so other notables will converge on the Waldorf Astoria. And, undoubtedly kept at a distance, so will the protest movement that has helped turned Davos into a war zone for the WEF’s last several annual gatherings.

The New York protests will be the first major test of the strength of North America’s global justice movement since last September’s massive anti-World Bank/IMF protests in Washington were cancelled in the wake of September 11. It’s hard to imagine worse circumstances. Rhetoric about causing capitalism to collapse somehow seems creepier when the remnants of the World Trade Center are just blocks away. Even more so than in past protests, the local public and media mood is likely to be hostile.

Organizers seem undeterred. Eric Laursen of the protest umbrella group Another World Is Possible (and an occasional In These Times contributor) predicts “tens of thousands” will assemble from across North America to protest the WEF and its series of workshops and networking meetings and parties. Student activists plan a two-day conference from January 31 to February 1, after which they will join the direct action crowd for a legally permitted rally (10 a.m., February 2) and, throughout the weekend, the seemingly inevitable “diversity of tactics” called for as part of an “Anti-Capitalist Convergence.”

Notably missing from the list of endorsing groups for the protests are almost all mainstream global justice, environmental and labor groups—even though, four months ago, support of such groups for the planned protests in D.C. was extensive and New York, as home of the United Nations, is crawling with NGOs.

Most of those groups will instead be in Porto Alegre, Brazil during the WEF meetings. For the second year, the World Social Forum (WSF) will convene talks there intended to parallel the WEF. As a meeting hosted by, in, and for the Third World, the WSF focuses on developing alternative visions for more positive economic and social policies throughout the world.

It’s undeniable that those efforts would not be nearly so visible in the North without the succession of summit street protests that have circled the world since Seattle’s 1999 WTO meetings. But 2002 is very different from 1999, and New York, in particular, is not the same place. Even some sympathetic long-time activists have doubts about the wisdom of radical street protest in these conditions.

Says one such skeptic, who lives in New York, “I don’t see any possible positive outcome to it. ... I just don’t see the wisdom. This action is a continuation of a political logic that is now outdated and inappropriate”—not, she says, because the issues have changed or become less urgent, but because the political and cultural climate has changed. “If the anarchists wear balaclavas, the cops won’t beat them up. The public will.”

Conversely, it’s hard to imagine that the WEF could hold a meeting in New York at any time and not have protests—let alone now, when the city’s finances as well as the Twin Towers are in ruins. Organizers are attempting to rally public support by calling on the city to spend money on disaster relief and economic assistance, not on the WEF meetings. And at least one group, Reclaim the Streets, is hoping to finesse the awkwardness through humor: an invitation to activists to dress up in “rich person” drag and attend a “Dance Upon the Ruins of the World.” (The dance, specifically, will be the Argentine Tango.)

Regardless of their size, larger or smaller than expected, the New York protests may not be a fair measure of the ongoing strength of North America’s global justice movement post-9/11. Meanwhile, in Brazil—away from the cameras and newscasts—the task of designing a better world will continue.


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