A WEF Protester Explains Why He Bothers, p.2

So the police weren't the best audience for us to explain our position. But nonetheless, I found myself wishing that I had had a chance to meet with Jets-cop in a one-on-one, quieter setting (maybe even "at Starbucks," as he had oh-so-wittily proposed at one point). Because his question, "What's your point?" went straight to the heart of one of the major problems of the global justice movement (and yes, I think that's a better name than "anti-globalization" or even "anti-corporate-globalization" - in addition to the disadvantages of having a movement defined in the negative, we shouldn't be saddled with a ten-syllable name). "What's your point" is just about the most valid question you can ask of a demonstrator. And if they can't answer it, they have no business being in a demonstration.

Yet unlike the civil rights movement, which had the most blatant and obvious local injustices to fight against, the wrongs the nascent global justice movement seeks to right take place further away. The average American doesn't even know about the institutions we protest against. And furthermore, while it remains next to impossible to make an argument for racism based on rational criteria (though David Duke keeps trying), issues of international economics are more complicated. The arguments on the other side sometimes make sense, at least until you really take them apart. I've heard many times, for example, that sweatshops are good for third world nations because they bring in international investment and that, after all, even inhuman and degrading jobs are better than no jobs at all. Of course, there are flaws in that argument, but it has more "common sense" appeal than anything a racist might have said against Martin Luther King.

The global justice movement also lacks the consensus that marked previous struggles. Many liberals and others who honestly care about the world's poor and downtrodden believe also that the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and other institutions of neoliberal economics do good work. Some of these people even work for these institutions. Global justice doesn't have an established 'base' in the mainstream media. And it's not easy for the relatively new movement against corporate globalization to claim the moral high ground while at the same time being written off and accused of ignorance by the newspaper editorial elite.

Still, our message is beginning to be heard in the halls of power. Bill Gates was heard to comment in a WEF meeting: "I think it's healthy that there are demonstrators in the streets. They raise the question of whether the rich world is giving back enough." And though many of the protesters demand far more than ol' Bill would probably be willing to give (Gates Foundation notwithstanding), his comment reveals, perhaps, part of "our point."

What was my point? The rich world needs not only to "give back more," but to work out new systems of trade in which it doesn't take so much in the first place. Surely, anyone with a conscience would agree that it is shameful that in the 21st century so many of our fellow humans still languish in poverty and suffer from curable disease, while some individuals are richer than entire countries. It's as simple as that. And for corporations and neo-liberals to continue to focus on increasing corporate profits in this world, maintaining all the while that such increase will be "better for everyone," is unacceptable.

What is our movement's point? "Human need, not corporate greed." Yeah, it's a bumper sticker, but then again, to explain ourselves to the Jets-cops of the world, that's what we need.

The first thing we need to do, though, is start educating people about our "point." If people don't even know what the WTO, WEF, IMF, World Bank, et al are, it's hard to expect them to get upset about them. And on this front, I think we're making progress. Before this movement, the World Economic Forum and the World Trade Organization were barely reported on at all, except in the business pages. Before this movement, the tiny fraction of the population that gets to set the world's economic agenda operated in complete freedom from scrutiny, and with carte blanche from the world's governments, to implement whatever policies they wished. Now, they have been checked. Stalled, or at least, we hope, slowed. Resisted.

There's still a tremendous amount of ignorance out there - lots of people think our 'point' is just to make noise or break stuff. For example, the major news media continues to report on the movement only to the extent they can talk about "violence" (read: property damage), ignoring the fundamental ideological arguments in play whether windows get smashed or not. When no "violence" on the part of protesters takes place, as was the case with the February 2 rally against the WEF, the media drastically reduces its coverage. Nightline, for example, had been planning for months to do a special on a group of WEF protesters, but dropped the special the day of the protests. Why? Producers admitted that the decision not to cover the protesters was due to the lack of violence and sensationalism at a protest that was - talk about bad TV -- disciplined and joyful. And when the media does report on protesters, we are presented either as mindless teenagers rebelling against the world who know nothing about the subjects they protest, or as dangerous menaces to society. Witness the New York media's treatment of the WEF, focusing obsessively on police preparations for the protests. "We're ready for the worst," said the cops. Editorials declared protesters to be "loonies," "wackos," and worse things.

But I wasn't there to let off steam. I was there because I think I know what justice is. I was there because if we can keep up this momentum, we will have to be heard. And if a few cops have to work overtime or miss the Super Bowl on the way to that goal, just so they can keep us "violent anarchists" in line, well, it's better than being stuck in a dead-end, sub-survival-wage job in a country without decent sewers or healthcare, all so that Starbucks can make $4 off of someone's Mocha Frappuccino. And that's my point. Chief.

[<-]       [1]       2

March 2002

jay's head
teevee girl