Social democracy in peril.
The new fascism.
Coming Together at the Seams
The view from Porto Alegre ...
... and direct action in New York.
Not Just Black and White
LOCAL MOTION: Oak Park, Illinois
A Scandal Bigger than Enron.
An Open Letter to George W. Bush
Kenny Boy? Never heard of him.
The military busts the 2003 budget.
Bush stealth-attacks reproductive rights.
Bush hands AIDS policy to the Christian right.
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
Ann Pettifor: Discrediting the Creditors.
BOOKS: Micah Sifry follows the third way.
BOOKS: Randall Kennedy's Nigger.
MUSIC: Something is in the water.
FILM: Let's play Rollerball.
February 19, 2002
NEW YORK The way you usually read about globalization protests in the
mediaeven the progressive mediathere are good protesters
(labor unions or NGOs like Public Citizen and Global Exchange) and then there
are bad protestersscary, window-smashing anarchist kids whose
senseless violence only acts to bring down police repression and
undercut the good protesters message. This was always a ridiculous dichotomy,
but the January protests in New York surrounding the World Economic Forum ought
to lay this myth to rest.
The World Economic Forum, essentially a dining club for the worlds ruling
class, had been held every year for decades in the resort town of Davos, Switzerland;
that is, until a concerted campaign of direct action made things so unpleasant
for them that they were, for all practical purposes, driven out.
So after September 11, the World Economic Forum declared, for this year at
least, that they were relocating to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
It seemed a perfect formula: New York had the largest police force in the entire
world, not to mention one already made heroes in the media. A single shard of
broken glass would be enough to give the pundits an excuse to frame the global
justice movement as another al-Qaeda come to terrorize an already traumatized
Certainly, the unions and NGOs were terrified; one by one, they effectively
dropped out. All that remained were the anarchists, students and direct action
people, who were left with the responsibility ofin a matter of weeksputting
together a nationwide mobilization effort, organizing housing, press conferences
and seminars, and even applying for a police permit for a legal march (something
none of us had ever done before, but which had to be done if a safe space was
to be provided for ordinary citizens who did not wish to risk arrest). This
was all done with no funding, no real budget, no professional organizers and
no leadership structure.
And it worked. In that sense, at least, it was a magnificent success. This
is what the direct action movement is ultimately about: reinventing democracy.
Far from lacking an ideology, those new forms of radically decentralized direct
democracy are its ideology. If nothing else, the bad protesters
have managed to prove that they can do anything the (hierarchical) NGOs or unions
can, probably much better.
The hardest of the hard core showed upeveryone from the notorious
Eugene anarchists to the Urban Guerrilla Division of the Earth Liberation
Front, to groups like the Divas for Democracy and the Tute Neri (Black Overalls).
Not only did they respect the mood of the city, they filled it with samba bands,
tango dancers, giant puppets of the Statue of Liberty and Ken Lay, and chorus
lines of Radical Rockettes.
If anything, they were victims of their own success: When something like 20,000
people magically appeared for the start of the march, the organizers hardly
knew what to do with them. But alas, we were not only victims of success. We
were also victims of the very logic of our compromise with powerand many
of us will not forget this.
Anarchy and direct action are not about transgressing laws simply for the sake
of it, but ultimately about creating spaces that can stand outside of power,
autonomous zones in which one can begin experimenting with things like direct
democracy. Its about a vision for what a truly free society might look
like. But in order to do this, one must transgress the law. At least, this is
what we discovered as soon as anyone applied for a permit. The moment you start
submitting to the logic of the state, everything changes.
Organizers ended up submitting themselves entirely to the whims of the police,
who predictably broke every agreement theyd made and began arbitrarily
stopping, randomly attacking, delaying and generally harassing the marchers.
By the time they reached the depressing, barricaded protest pens
two blocks from the Waldorf, 20,000 people had dwindled to 2,000, and CNN could
dutifully report 2,000 protest in front of Waldorf without even
broaching the question of why 90 percent of the marchers had dropped out before
they even got thereor, in fact, that the 90 percent had been there at
Nightline had taped an elaborate segment which, for once, actually would
have discussed the central issues of the globalization movement. But producers
cancelled the show because of the lack of violence in the newseven
after police pre-emptively swept up 150 activists the next day for the crime
of walking down the street. The prisoners were held for days, and as they emerged
from jail, nursing broken fingers and black eyes, almost all had exactly the
same reaction: We tried being nice. Now we know where that gets us.
David Graeber, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale, is active
with the Direct Action Network and Ya Basta!.