For some 20 months, from Seattle through Washington, D.C. and Melbourne
and Windsor and Philadelphia and Los Angeles and Prague and Davos
and Quebec and Gothenburg, tactics have been escalating on both
sides as the protests against gatherings of the world's political
and economic elites have grown larger and more raucous. In Seattle,
some 50,000 nonviolent protesters and blockaders, enraged by international
institutions that exacerbate global poverty, environmental destruction
and the loss of democracy, were overshadowed by a few dozen window-breaking
vandals. By the time of Quebec and Gothenburg, large blocks of protesters
had come to tolerate property destruction, and the hurling of everything
from teddy bears to Molotov cocktails, to make their points.
On the police side, the brutality that shocked the world in Seattle
was actually a step
removed from what it could have been. National Guard troops with live
ammunition stood by but never opened fire. As the protests have escalated,
the wholesale use of chemical warfare against protesters--
Did the message get out?
whether they were breaking any laws or not--has, at least in the public
eye, become old news, an acceptable price to pay to keep the "hoodlums"
at bay. The media surely have helped; in Quebec and Gothenburg, the
worst of the police mayhem was best reported not by the combined resources
of the world's elite media, but by www.indymedia.org.
The U.S. networks almost uniformly ignored it, blaming the victims
of police violence.
And now, in Italy, a man is dead.It was coming to this.
Perhaps more telling, even, than the death of 23-year-old Genoa
anarchist Carlo Giuliani at the hands of a terrified paramilitary
conscript three years his junior, are the hundreds of serious injuries
that occurred as Italian security forces launched repeated, unprovoked
attacks on G8 Summit protesters. Of the 150,000 or so estimated
to have gathered on the streets of Genoa, all but about 2,000 are
thought to have been committed to the nonviolence pact agreed upon
in advance by the Genoa Social
Forum, a coalition of some 1,300 groups that was an umbrella
group for many of the protests. It didn't matter. Italian authorities,
working closely with U.S. and other police agencies, dramatically
escalated the levels of violence with which these protests, now
inescapable at international summits, would be met.
There are numerous chilling accounts of the contempt for civil
liberties and human
rights that marked security during the Genoa summit, but the image
that has circled the world is the prone body of Giuliani. He died,
in part, because he and his comrades cornered terrified young paramilitary
officers in a tactically foolish way. But he also died because Italian
police weren't carrying rubber bullets, only live rounds. And beyond
Giuliani, hundreds more people--anarchist black bloc, "pacifisti,"
journalists and bystanders alike--were seriously wounded, not because
of their actions or tactical mistakes, but due to intentional, premeditated
attacks by militarized police. It was a bloodbath. War.
Tens of thousands march on
SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES
When the weekend was over, each side saw what they wanted to see.
Establishment politicians and media, as well as a few of the more
moderate protest groups, railed against violent protesters bent
on disrupting the gatherings of democratically elected leaders.
But it was individuals who engaged in the thuggery and vandalism;
the pools of blood and a dead body were the calculated work of 20,000
public employees. Those are the images that will resonate.
Genoa is reminiscent of nothing so much as Kent State, where, after
(at least) hundreds of thousands of deaths in Southeast Asia, it
took the deaths of four young, privileged American students on a
Midwest campus in May 1970 to galvanize opposition and transform
the U.S. anti-war movement into a force that shut down campuses
across the country. At the time of Kent State, public opinion, shaped
by contemptuous politicians and judgmental media, was that the guardsmen
acted properly and the Kent State students were anti-American thugs
who had it coming.
This time, unlike at Kent, the violence was planned and approved
by the highest levels
of government. In tandem, the Italian Constitution was thrown out
the window, starting with the government's suspension of E.U. rules
allowing free passage of citizens among European countries, all the
way through overtly fascistic, Mussolini-
Tony Blair, George W. Bush,
Jaques Chirac and
Silvio Berlusconi gather in the "red zone."
invoking cops who brutalized thousands without provocation. Such dangerous,
menacing behavior--intended as much to dissuade future demonstrators
as to control crowds at Genoa--is likely to continue to escalate until
it proves either politically ineffective or no longer necessary.
Global justice activists may be in shock after Genoa, their largely
abstract concerns (at least in the Western countries where these
protests have blossomed since Seattle) grounded by the realization
that they, too, could be shot for their opinions. In the Third World,
of course, this has been the reality for decades, with the grave
sites to prove it.
And, as in the Third World, the threat will not suppress the movement.
Bush's smug platitudes notwithstanding, things are getting worse,
at times rapidly, even irreversibly. And since the global justice
movement itself is essentially leaderless--or full of leaders--and
transcends so many different issues and places, it cannot easily be
co-opted or repressed. Yet politicians can't satisfactorily address
any of its core demands without damaging at least some of the corporate
and economic interests that put them in power. This leaves policy-makers
with three generally unworkable options: 1) dramatically change policies;
2) use reforms to split or coopt the movement; or 3) repress the movement,
violently if necessary.
Mayhem in the streets of
In the face of escalating security measures, global justice advocates
have managed to
disrupt summits exceedingly well, repeatedly drawing the attention
of the world media and the ire of paramilitary state forces. They
also, in some arenas (especially around debt relief), have won reform-
oriented gestures that are grossly inadequate but still far better
than could have been imagined two years ago. They have broad public
support in some parts of the world, especially in the Southern Hemisphere.
In Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, the world sees an ignorant
American fool with terrifying power; and Dubya, unlike Bonzo's buddy,
has no competing superpower to either slow him or scare allies into
submission. Bush's friendly, arrogant, clueless face may turn out
to be the best recruiting tool global justice activists ever could
But is public opinion enough? As enraged activists rightly charge,
institutions like the G8, the WTO, World Bank, IMF, NAFTA, FTAA and
so on have no provisions for democratic input on policies that are
literally reshaping the world. And the spectrum of changes demanded
by advocates is so sweeping, and the principles invoked so counter
to the interests of corporate rule, that they are in fact revolutionary.
The global justice movement, so far, has been a spectacle, but hardly
the stuff of such changes.
We saw, a dozen years ago, how rapidly a popular movement can take
hold and shake a world. More than 30 countries experienced nearly
entirely bloodless revolutions in the span of a few months in 1989-1990,
and nobody saw it coming. The people in those countries were often
responding to generations of cruel repression, but they were also
rebelling against forces thought to be impervious that proved (except
in Beijing) to be deadly but paper-thin. And in 12 years, there
have been vast changes in the speed with which the planet can be
circled by information, tactics, inspiration and images like a dead
Genovese man in the street.
The global justice movement may be on the cusp of something, but
nobody seems to
know what. It is far too multi-faceted and scattered to "lead," or
even steer. Here at home, a majority of the public knows that these
protests are occurring, but doesn't even have a clear idea of what
the protesters are upset about, let alone what they want. Clearly,
the global justice movement is not going to get any significant help
from mainstream media or politicians in popularizing either its grievances
or any possible solutions.
But even as American activists point toward IMF/World Bank meetings
in Washington from September 28 to October 4, they must start envisioning
beyond the street warfare. What must emerge are not ideologies or
utopian blueprints, but practical, just, achievable and necessarily
imaginative solutions to vexing problems and conflicting needs--and
ways to make those solutions visible, understandable and desirable
to the public. It's a tall order. But if activists show that an
entire constellation of global policies is fundamentally flawed,
and don't give others a clear idea of what they want instead and
how to get it, somebody else will fill that vacuum. And it won't
Now read David Graeber's report from Genoa, "Among