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(en) US, Washington, alt. media: Converging Against Capitalism

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Fri, 4 Oct 2002 06:44:04 -0400 (EDT)


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"Capitalism now has the black eye they tried so hard to give it."
Converging Against Capitalism

by JENNIFER BERKSHIRE

No topic divides the globo protest movement like the diversity of tactics
question. Anarchist snake marches or well-marshaled parades of opinion? A
brick through a window or a seat at the table?

And while the better-coifed protesters nearly always prefer the second set of
options, even they'll concede that it's the first set--tactics intended to
disrupt and piss off the cops--that gets the headlines. The demonstrations
against the IMF and World Bank last month were no exception. By the time DC
rush hour was over on Friday, the first projectile had been lobbed through
the window of a Citibank office. By mid-afternoon, some 650 protesters, most
part of the loosely organized Anti-Capitalist Convergence, would be in jail.
The US anti-globalization movement was back in the headlines.

Whose Streets?

"I'm so sick of these protests," a journalist friend complained to me as we
walked through Adams Morgan, a formerly diverse DC neighborhood that is now
home to interns from a diverse array of non-profits. "I feel like I'm under
siege," he said. To protect the neighborhood from marauding globo-kids, city
workers had removed all of the trashcans for blocks; urban detritus was
already piling up. Minutes later, a caravan of police cars sped by, providing
a shrill, high-speed escort service to someone important. "That must be one
of delegates," my friend said, referring to the IMF/World Bank meeting
invitees who now merit as much security as Dick Cheney. "They don't like to
go outside without their taxpayer-financed escorts."

Their Streets

While the globalization protesters did succeed in getting back in the
news--no small feat for a movement that seemed all but washed up after
September 11--they didn't rack up many points with the locals this time. With
posters wheat-pasted all over downtown, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence
called on demonstrators to "shut down DC." The ACC even had an image of what
the ensuing chaos would look like: a fist choking off the metro roadway
system. A powerful symbol, certainly, but perhaps not the best way to grow
the movement, as they say. "Peaceful demonstration is fine, but if people
can't get to their jobs, its disruptive," a DC construction superintendent
told the Washington Post. "They should lock them all up." Elsewhere in the
city, another group of demonstrators was handing out leaflets to passing
motorists, apologizing for any disruption. The massive police force brought
in from as far as Chicago wasn't charmed by such niceties. The friendly kids
ended up in jail too.

Knowing they were outnumbered, the Friday protesters had a strategy to bite
back at the cops: fake 911 calls intended to divert the men and women in blue
to mock emergencies all over the city. A victory of sorts for those who
lamented the heavy-handed tactics of the police, but also a concession to
charges that the demonstrators are from elsewhere, "invaders," as my
journalist friend might say. Who else would intentionally divert emergency
services away from Southeastern DC, one of the most notoriously under-served
communities in the country? When Public Enemy rapped that "911 is a joke,"
and "Now I dialed 911 along time ago. Don't you see how late they're
reactin'?" I don't think Chuck D. and Flava Flav were complaining about fake
calls from globo-kids.

By Saturday, cooler heads were prevailing. There were few of what the press
terms "black-clad protesters" in the crowd; most were cooling their heels in
the central DC lock up. The afternoon march from the Ellipse felt more like a
parade or a pageant than a political protest. Somewhere near 17th and K
streets, the procession stalled and the crowd began chanting that perennial
favorite: "Whose streets? Our streets!" "I feel a little embarrassed chanting
this," my marching partner confided. "They're so clearly not our streets."

All Capitalists Converge

Despite smaller than predicted crowds -- organizers estimated 20,000
participated in Saturday's march and rally; cops put the number at closer to
5,000 -- the protesters no longer represent a fringe element within political
discourse. A majority of Americans would now seem to agree with the sentiment
espoused by one popular poster: "Capitalism Sux."

Ralph Nader, the rally's star speaker, summed up the oddity of this
particular American moment best. "It doesn't matter whether you're listening
to Rush Limbaugh or Amy Goodman," Nader told the screaming crowd on the lawns
of the Ellipse. "Right now everyone is saying the same thing: 'send the
corporate crooks to jail.'"

While Nader maybe right, this particular crowd was all Goodman fans. The only
likely Limbaugh listeners were corralled into a tiny counter protest
encircled by police protectors. They stood stone-faced, holding up signs that
read "Daddy Wants His Credit Card Back," "Fry Mumia," and "All Capitalists
Converge," and "Hold the Tear Gas - I'm a Conservative."

"I'm more of a pro-capitalist myself," a well-dressed bystander told me. In
town from Florida, he was wearing an oxford cloth shirt in pink, a favorite
color among the moneyed. But when pressed, the gentleman, who makes his
living as an investment manager, launched into a tirade against capitalism to
rival that espoused by any of the marchers-by. "What's happened in this
country with corporate corruption is a disgrace," he told me. "These CEO's
have stolen more money than they could ever spend. It's really bad." When I
broached the subject of his personal money, he became glummer still. "I've
lost a fortune. Everyone I know has lost money."

What Next?

The months since September 11 have not been kind to the US anti-globalization
movement. Unlike Europe, where protests against mondialisation neo-liberal,
have continued to attract hundreds of thousands, the ranks of the US
demonstrators have thinned considerably. The war is a big reason: much of the
activist crowd that once denounced genetically modified food and structural
adjustment has since moved onto Bush's wars. And the labor movement, nervous
about the easy camaraderie between said war protesters and the globo forces,
has pulled much of its support too.

But despite the absence of density on the streets, the US movement now exerts
more influence on the debate about globalization than ever. The famously
leaderless protests have spawned a generation of savvy movement leaders who,
if they don't yet have a seat at the table, are now standing close to the
door. To put it bluntly, we've won, something that no-less a capitalist tool
than the Wall Street Journal now freely admits. "This weekend, the protesters
returned," Alan Murray wrote in a recent column. "Their zeal is undiminished.
But to a degree many of them still don't recognize, they have won the
argument. Capitalism now has the black eye they tried so hard to give it."

The procession through the streets of DC did not have the feel of a victory
march, though. And few of the protesters seem to have any idea of the depth
of the despair felt by real capitalists right now. "People are shocked," the
investment manager from Florida told me. "They're holding on to stocks that
are close to worthless with no end in site. What can I tell them? Get into
cash? The fact that greedy and corrupt CEO's are to blame just makes it
worse. They should have a protest about that," he said, pointing to the
demonstrators winding slowly by.

Maybe next time they will.

Jennifer Bershire can be reached at: jenniferberkshire@attbi.com

CounterPunch
October 2, 2002


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