Since the anti-globalization movement burst onto the world stage in Seattle two years ago, nearly every major meeting of global trade or finance organizations around the world has been marked by massive public demonstrations. Although the message has been diffuse, the common theme has been that corporate power must be reined in, and that the levers of government–particularly when it comes to international trade–are too often controlled by unaccountable elites, at the expense of the environment, workers rights, national sovereignty, and democracy itself.
Most recently, an astonishing 150,000 people marched last month against a summit of the G8, an association of the world’s leading economic powers, held in Genoa, Italy. As in each of the demonstrations, the vast majority of the protestors avoided direct confrontation with the police; which is to say, when the police became aggressive–using pepper spray, gas, and water cannons against the crowds–they fell back. A small group did not, resulting in the type of fighting that killed Carlo Giuliani, who was shot to death as he and several others attacked a police vehicle that had become trapped against a barricade. It’s difficult not to make comparisons with the infamous killings of anti-war protestors at Kent State thirty years ago. Giuliani was shot by a young paramilitary policeman not unlike the Ohio national guardsmen: in a situation out of control, scared, they started firing. Like Kent State, the Genoa shooting was captured in a series of stunning photographs; thirty years from now, the textbook history of this movement will likely be illustrated with those photos.
Like all history, the story of this movement will be written from the perspective of the winner. In the years preceding the Kent State killing, Vietnam War protestors were widely disparaged by the mainstream media, routinely ridiculed by politicians, despised by the AFL-CIO, and ignored by the civil rights movement, with the notable exception of Martin Luther King, Jr. Today they are looked upon differently, chiefly because their message prevailed. The amazing speed with which the anti-globalization movement has taken shape suggests that the kids once again have a message whose time has come. Of course, they’re not just kids–the coalition is a broad one, linking environmental groups with third world debt relief organizations, labor unions, clergy, and many others. This time around the AFL-CIO, with its millions of members and giant war chest, is on board. But the movement is at a precarious point. Images of violence in the mainstream media–alarmingly devoid of context or analysis–threaten to turn the larger public against the movement, and some U.S. activists are suggesting that the street demonstrations should be ended.
This would be a mistake. As long as the movement has no voice inside the halls of power in Washington, where the ruling wings of the Democratic and Republican parties speak with one voice on trade, then the movement is the street demonstrations. Organizers must take steps to rein in those who openly attack the police, while still preserving the militancy of the movement. It hardly needs to be said that the police, for their part, must keep live ammunition off of the streets and exercise the restraint that was glaringly lacking in Genoa, as news reports about widespread brutality are now beginning to confirm. But confrontation is inevitable. Indeed, it is the whole point: When the state realizes that 20,000 cops will be required each time such a meeting is held, the situation will become untenable and decisions will have to be made. The authorities can continue to build higher fences, or move to more remote locations, like Qatar, the site of the next round of World Trade Organization talks, or they can begin to address the concerns of their constituents. The next major demonstration will be in Washington, D.C. from September 28 to October 3, to protest the annual meeting of two international lending agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Information about how to participate can be found at www.september30.org. More information about the anti-globalization movement, including issue briefs, can be found at www.global exchange.org. See you in Washington!