Protest puppet, Seattle, N30, 1999
So far I have spoken of territory as a space of potential, where an aesthetic impulse encounters an affective and sexual body, releasing desire and a nascent sense of agency that leads the individual and the group outside their familiar confines, toward something new. It’s clear that the demonstrators and activists of the counter-globalization struggles heard such a call to leave their habitual forms of existence, and were able to create both concrete social processes and abstract philosophical concepts to extend their activities beyond whatever local scene they were initially involved in, so as to constitute a transnational movement. The word “art” is at once too precise and too incomplete to describe whatever it is that helps shake people from their familiar lives, into an experimental flow whose outcomes are radically uncertain. Yet specific forms of art – as well as the living aesthetics of Zapatismo – were nonetheless an important part of the global mobilizations.
The intriguing thing is that what the activists created on the ground, each time, over a period of around two years of intense activity, was the potential of a new territory: the street where bodies mingle and identities become more fluid. Those who took part in this cycle of struggles know that despite the tremendous social, political and cultural differences between each locale, the street that erupted into protest at each of the transnational summits where world destines were supposedly being decided was a single territory, a continuous embodied flow whose very lack of habitual bounds and limits became, for a short time, strangely familiar. Activists were able to invite local inhabitants onto this new territory, much in the same way that protesters and revolutionaries in Egypt, in Spain and in New York City were able to invite people around the world onto the territory of what came to be called the Occupy movement.
There is a paradox of the existential territory, however, which is this: it only becomes a space of potential through a process of disembedding, or of deterritorialization. The reasons for this may well have to do with some kind of inertial propensity at the roots of humanity, a fondness for the traditional and the known, which keeps human groups stable and provides the foundations of mutual aid and social solidarity. Far more important, though, are the forces of routinization, hierarchical authority and social control, which act to bind people to their habitual territories, to fix them into predefined roles and identities, or to channel their mobility into sanctioned and more-or-less predictable patterns. As technology progresses and capitalism continues to revolutionize not only daily life, but also the forms of production, distribution, communication and government, these immobilizing or channeling forces exert what can seem like a veritable paralysis, which is typically engineered and maintained, in ways both coarse and subtle, by the elites who profit from it.
Such was the case in the Nineties when, amidst a whirlwind of change, pundits and official philosophers deemed that history was over, that the ultimate form of society had been achieved – namely, capitalist democracy – and that its existing rules needed only to be “globalized” along American lines, according to a set of norms which together were known as the “Washington Consensus.” In practical terms, the concept of globalization – or what the French critics called “one-way thinking” – meant that the process of change would be dictated from the top, with no participation or insurgency from the subordinated peoples, classes or communities. The transnationalization of the economy swept jobs away to distant lands, made the world market into the sole arbiter of prices without any room for trade regulations and forced decision-making to move to a scale beyond the purview of individual nation-states, leaving traditional counter-forces such as unions practically powerless. “Resistance is futile,” gloated the corporate leaders. Or as the British prime minister and neoliberal ideologue Margret Thatcher used to say, TINA: “There is no alternative.”
How then did a popular protest of a scale and complexity like that of the five-day quasi-insurrection against the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in the city of Seattle, Washington, beginning on November 30, 1999 (or “N30” in movement parlance) ever come to pass? The question is still debated, not least because of the unlikelihood – and potential power – of the alliance between labor unions and environmentalists (“teamsters and turtles”) that temporarily emerged during and after those five days. The activist-anthropologist Jeffrey Juris has drawn up a table of the diverse social sectors that took part in the “Battle of Seattle” (see it here). The table identifies organized labor, environmentalists, economist justice organizations, farmers and indigenous peoples, women's groups, grassroots media activists, non-violent direct action protesters and anarchist “black blocs.” For the Battle of Seattle to happen, all these groups had to consent – however uncomfortably – to act alongside one another, or even together, on the streets.
To be sure, most analysts concede this would never have happened, at least not on such a scale, without the veritable police riot that was almost immediately unleashed by heavily armored law-enforcement officers who had unprecedented recourse to tear gas, rubber bullets and other “less lethal” weapons (whose authorization for use against peaceful civilians the Seattle police chief, Norm Stamper, would soon very publicly regret). Despite these exceptional conditions, we can also try to apply the logic of opportunities and resources used by contemporary social movement studies. On the one hand there was the opportunity presented by a very clear deficit of democracy in a crucial organ of global government whose decisions could not be overseen or validated by any form of popular representation. In addition, the acceleration of world trade caused widespread distress, among manufacturing and farm sectors that were losing jobs, among environmentalists shocked by the ravages of unregulated resource extraction, among traditional communities threatened by the incursions of industry and the deregulation of food markets, among women’s groups concerned about the exploitation of female and child labor in the export processing zones, and so forth. What's more, the aftershocks of the so-called Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 – which also struck Eastern Europe and Latin America – contributed greatly to the distress around the world. For the leaders of unions and NGOs, all this presented an undeniable political opportunity.
However, there is something more. It should be remembered that in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Western Europe, the late Nineties were a period of rapid economic expansion and technological change. Under these conditions, advanced workers – including those educated sectors which at the time were being called “immaterial labor” – may experience their rising productivity as a potential for increased autonomy, matched by the desire to manage their own working conditions and living environments, or in short, to take their destinies into their own hands. This was clearly the case for many thousands of participants who were able to use computer technology and other communications media to vastly extend the capacities of self-organization that had been built up since the affinity-group style of modular or cellular organizing had been introduced into grassroots movements during the anti-nuclear struggle of the late Seventies and early Eighties. These capacities of communication and self-organization brought very important resources to the counter-globalization movements, not only in the US but around the world – the Peoples' Global Action alliance and the grassroots global media network, Indymedia, being only the most emblematic examples.
Finally, there is one further factor that is rarely taken into account by academic social-movement theory: namely, the growth since the Sixties of sectors who see nothing to be gained from negotiation of any kind with the representatives of the existing political-economic system. Frequently, these sectors will call themselves anarchists. And human beings are intensely contradictory, people with such leanings may also be found among all the previously mentioned categories, especially those deploying advanced technologies. To speak of the resources and opportunities at the disposal of the leaders of large organization, as the social-movement theorists do, is to ignore the protagonism of grassroots groupings and networks whose participants may explicitly refuse leadership, or any form of political representation. Yet it is these sectors – the direct actionists – who spearheaded the movements of the late Nineties and early Naughts, provoking the formation of new alliances on the ground, in city after city.
While browsing through the scattered archives of American social movements in the Nineties, it’s fascinating to come upon the documents of the Active Resistance conference, held in Chicago in 1996 on the occasion of the Democratic National Convention (I believe Daniel Tucker has more extensive information on this). It was a major anarchist gathering, the biggest in North America since the fall of the Berlin Wall had set off the shift to economic globalization. In the Nineties, the capacity of the nation-state to serve as an adequate political "container" for its inhabitants came increasingly into question. One participant in the Chicago conference, Jeffrey Shantz, saw the specific role of anarchists to be that of disrupting what he called “a ‘territoreality’ of the political wherein anything which overflows the containers is considered to be outside of political reality.” Quoting Leslie Sklair – a major sociologist who for decades has sought to identify the characteristics of the “transnational capitalist class” – Shantz insisted that this force of disruption was the best possible tactic that grassroots forces could use against a globalizing capitalist order whose domination was based, at least in part, on its control over the forms of political representation.
It is equally fascinating to discover that Art & Revolution, a West Coast alliance of political puppet-makers including the remarkable direct-action artist David Solnit, traces its origins to the same Chicago conference, which included a strong street-art component. The aesthetic of Art & Revolution descends irectly from the group Bread & Puppet, which had been politically active in the Sixties and Seventies but had since retired to a different kind of cultural politics out on a piece of land in Vermont. Art & Revolution can be seen as a reactivation of this powerful protest aesthetic. It’s not exactly anodyne to take your art back out onto the streets. Indeed, from the viewpoint I am adopting here, the street can only become a new territory – a deterritorealized space of potential – when some kind of aesthetic element is present to disrupt the inscriptions of power and domination within ourselves, as affective or resonant bodies. When one speaks of “prefigurative politics,” what’s at stake, I believe, is the aesthetic element of potential that alone makes actual political confrontations possible.
Of course this disruption does not guarantee anything, least of all success. The clashes between organized social movements, non-violent direct actionists and anarchic insurrectionalists, which were so visible and so memorable in Seattle, have not ceased to be a major blockage to leftist coalition-building, right up to the Occupy movement and beyond. What the most clear-sighted people argued ten to fifteen years ago was that direct action was the key to breaking up compartmentalized political identities and achieving the scalar transformation necessary to take on political-economic issue in the era of global industry and networked finance. Today, rather than lamenting such clashes, we should invent new spatial combinations to overcome them, as the counter-globalization movements did by separating protests according to the “diversity of tactics,” while at the same time arguing for the legitimacy of these diverse tactics in the confrontation with overwhelmingly powerful political forces.
Looking back on the political fortunes of the counter-globalization cycle of struggles, it’s a mixed bag. As one can see by the rising political autonomy of the former Third World countries, the Washington Consensus has been dissolved, with an important swing to the left in Latin America. The tremendous resistance to the WTO did not, however, prevent the entry of China to the global free-trade system, leading to intensified international competition and a veritable collapse of the manufacturing sectors in the former West (especially the US), as well as the increasing pressure brought to bear on the planetary ecology by the acceleration of trade and resource extraction. As for the perils of unregulated global finance, so hotly debated at every counter-summit a decade ago, time has now told exactly how right we were – without that being any consolation. The enduring gains of the counter-globalization struggles are not to be found in national or transnational political policy, but in the desires of an almost infinite range of grassroots groups around the planet to communicate and share their struggles, and in their effective capacity to do so. The World Social Forums, with their prodigious production of both concepts and organizational forms, are one illustration of these gains. And none of that communicative capacity has been lost since then.
If you do it right, looking back over the history of counter-globalization cycle could be a bit like looking into the crystal ball of the future.
posted by Brian Holmes
Bare Bones of the Counter-Globalization Movement
by David Graeber
What follows is a bare-bones account, and it reflects a very North American perspective, but readers may find it useful to consult, now and again, while reading this work:
January 1, 1994. North American Free Trade Agreement goes into effect. Uprising by the EZLN (or Ejerdto Zapatista de Liberacion Nadonal, or Zapatistas) in Chiapas begins with a surprise military offensive that leads, briefly, to the seizure of Chiapas' capital, San Christobal de las Casas. 1he Zapatistas, however, quickly transform from an offensive force to a defensive one, creating a series of self-governing autonomous communities, seeking international allies, and promulgating a p olitics of direct action, democratic experimentation, and a new approach to revolution that converges with the anarchist tradition in its refusal of traditional attempts to transform through the seizure of state power.
August, 1997. Second Zapatista "International Encuentro For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism" in Spain ends with a call to create an international· network, that ultimiltely comes to be known (in English) as Peoples' Global Action. Aside from the Zapatistas themselves, the core ofPGA, at first, consists of the Brazilian Landless Farmers' Movement (MST), the Indian Karnataka State Farmers' Association (KRRS, a mass-based Gandhian direct action movement), anarchist or anarchist-inspired groups including Ya Basta! in Italy and Reclaim the Streets in the UK, and various indigenous and agrarian move ments and radical labor unions.
June 18, 1999. "JI8," the first massive PGA-sponsored global day of action, known alternately as the "Global Day of Action Against Financial Centers" or "Carnival Against Capitalism" to coincide with the G8 meetings of leaders of the major industrial powers, with coordinated actions in over a hundred cities world wide from Australia to Zimbabwe. In America, several demos are organized, mostly under the banner of new American versions of Reclaim the Streets.
November 30, 1999. "N30" actions against the WTO ministerial meetings in Seattle, another international day of action proposed by PGA. The action is long in the planning but comes as a total surprise to the mainstream media, who see it as the birth of a movement. Seattle saw sharp divisions over tactics between nonviolent protesters conducting the lockdowns and blockades of the hotel where the ministerial is taking place, organized by the newly created Direct Action Network (DAN), and participants in a smaller "Black Bloc," mostly made up of anarchists and radical ecologists, who have a more militant interpretation of nonviolence, and 'who, after police begin to attack the blockaders, start a campaign of targeted property destruction against symbols of corporate power (mostly windows) downtown. On the first day, the meetings ate actually shut down, and negotiations end in failure. 1he next few days see massive repression, culminating in the declaration of martial law and the summoning of the National Guard. The months immediately following Seattle are filled with a burst otnew organizing and activity, and the creation of autonomous chapters of DAN in cities across the US, and even Canada.
April 16, 2000. "A16" actions against the meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC. While not as tactically successful as Seattle (the meetings are not shut down), A16 marks the beginning of a rapprochement between the DAN organizers and the autonomous Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc-the Black Bloc assembled for the occasion-with the RACB refraining from property destruction and instead providing support for blockaders and those in lockdown.
August 1, 2000. "R2K" actions against the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. Combined with D2K actions against the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, these are collectively known among activists as R2D2. While LA DAN rejects widespread direct action for a strategy of marches in alliance with community groups, the Philly actions, organized above all by DANs in New York, Philly, and DC, mark further integration of Black Blocs and blockaders, with the "Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Bloc" in this case providing a diversion to draw police away from the lockdowns. Philly is also marked by an attempt to create alliances between the mostly white DANs and radical people of color organizations, with mixed success. Retrospectively, it is seen as the point where the lockdown/blockade strategy has largely run its course, prompting an interest in creating more mobile tactics.
September 26, 2000. "S26" actions against the IMF/World Bank meetings in Prague, Czech Republic. 'Ihis is the first large and dramatic action in Europe after Seattle. Like many European actions, the level of militancy is much greater than in the US. The actions see fierce clashes between Black Bloc anarchists and police, the first appearance of the festive "Pink Bloc," and the first international debut of the Italian "white overalls" tactics (the "Tute Bianche," organized by Italian Ya Basta!), a kind of comic mock army of activists in helmets, padding, shields, and often inflatable inner-tubes, who attempt to storm police lines armed, among other things, with balloons and water pistols. January 20, 2001. "J20" protests at Bush's inauguration, the second largest inaugural protests in American history, though they receive almost no attention from the mainstream media. Most members of NYC DAN end up joining another Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Bloc. The Black Bloc manages to crash through police barricades and temporarily occupy Naval Memorial, hoisting a black flag and blocking the parade route, and Bush's motorcade, for some time before finally being forced out by secret service and police.
January 25-30, 2001. The first World Social Forum (WSF) is held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Originally conceived as the radical alternative to the World Economic Forum (WEF) - a kind of junket and networking session for global officials and bureaucrats, usually held in Davos, Switzeriand - the WSF rapidly becomes the intellectual center of the global movement against neoliberalism, with thousands of different organizations and individuals participating in hundreds of sessions.
April 20-22, 2001. Actions against the "Summit of the Americas," negotiations over the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact (FTAA) in Quebec City, Canada. This is the first action where the authorities organize their strategy around building a large fence ("the wall") around the section of the city where the summit is to take place. The actions, organized primarily by the Montreal based Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes, or CLAC, mainly aim attacks at the wall itself, as a symbol of the contradictions of neoliberalism.
July 19-21, 2001. Several hundred thousand protesters converge on Genoa, Italy, for the G8 meetings of the heads of industrialized nations. The wall strategy is again employed, and Italian police, who had traditionally been relatively tolerant of white overall tactics, adopt a strategy of extreme repression this time, refusing any contact with protest leaders and employing a systematic strategy of encouraging fascists and agent provocateurs to provide excuses to attack, arrest, and afterwards, systematically abuse and even torture activists. Genoa is seen as a watermark of repression in Europe and causes European groups to scramble to formulate a new strategy.
September 11, 2001. Attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Anarchists in New York are among the first to mobilize against the upcoming war, with marches culminating in a march of six thousand people to Times Square a month after the event. These are almost completely ignored in the mainstream media. Actions being planned for the upcoming World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington DC are radically scaled back as the movement is forced to reconsider its overall strategic direction.
February 3-4,2002. World Economic Forum protests in New York City. In the immediate wake of 911, the WEF announces it will relocate, this year, from Davos (where it has become the object of frequent activist sieges) to the Waldorf Astoria in New York "as an act of solidarity." Anarchists in NYC DAN and the newly created NYC Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) are forced to throw together an action in a matter of months, abandoned by almost all of their usual NGO and Labor allies. The action is successfully and nonviolently pulled off, but is met by massive police intimidation and hundreds of arrests. The stress of 9/11, and of being forced to create a national mobilization out of nothing in such a short time, creates endless tensions within the New York scene and eventually leads to decline and eventual dissolution of DAN over the course of the next year.
September 10-14, 2003. WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico. Mass actions by Mexican and global activists-including the dramatic suicide of a South Korean farmer-end in a definitive check of the WTO process.
November 17-21 2003. FTAA negotiations in Miami, met by the first genuinely large-scale national convergence in the US since 911 . These meetings also see the first use, in the US, of a new policy of massive preemptive attacks and extreme police violence against protesters-an approach that comes to be known as the "Miami model" after Homeland Security announces it as the way to deal with such actions in the future. The free trade negotiations, on the other hand, come to nothing, marking the definitive end of the FTAA process.
Dreaming of a Reality where the past & future meet the present
A report on the Second Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism
by Andrew Flood
Second Encuentro, Barcelona, August 1997
Imagine for a moment marching up a hill, lit only by starlight and a distant bonfire on a hot July night in August, in Andalucia, near the very tip of southern Spain. Looking at the stars you point out the red twinkle of Mars to the comrade whose arm you entwine. She comes from the opposite end of Europe. Behind you lies an agriculture estate, left derelict by its owner but now seized by agricultural workers. Behind you hundreds of comrades queue to try and ford the shallow river in the dark. On either side olive grooves stretch up the hills in neat rows, the red soil now dark and cool.
Someone on the road ahead starts singing 'A Las Barricadas' (To the Barricades) in Spanish, slowly this is taken up by others behind and ahead, in Italian, Turkish and other languages, sometimes just hummed or whistled by those who don't know the words. The Spanish version is familiar to me from a scratchy recording an Italian comrade passed on to me on tape. The original recording is of 500,000 people singing this working class anthem at a rally of the anarchist CNT in Barcelona, July 1936, days after the revolution there.
Those on this road have gathered from all over the world, over 50 countries in all. They have temporarily left the struggles in their own countries to come here to dream of a new reality together. Here the weather beaten features of a male campesino from Brazil, are found beside the sunburned features of an 18 year old female squatter from Berlin. Do you feel you are imagining something impossible, something from a Hollywood blockbuster or the past? Then add one more detail, a gasp goes up from those on the road for overhead a shooting star briefly appears. Were it not for the collective gasp each of us may have imagined this was a vision we alone were seeing. But no, we look around and realise we are marching, seeing and dreaming together....
The sub-group I worked with dealt with the issue of how to form the network of information between struggles. The call for this network had emerged from the previous encounter in Chiapas and was contained in the closing statement.
"That we will make a network of communication among all our struggles and resistance's. An intercontinental network of alternative communication against neoliberalism, an intercontinental network of alternative communication for humanity.
This intercontinental network of alternative communication will search to weave the channels so that words may travel all the roads that resist. This intercontinental network of alternative communication will be the medium by which distinct resistance's communicate with one another.
This intercontinental network of alternative communication is not an organising structure, nor has a central head or decision maker, nor does it have a central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who speak and listen. "
The group developing on this started with people from the USA, Denmark, Barcelona, Italy, Mexico, France, Ireland and Turkey and we were soon joined by others including people from Belgium and Columbia. Most but not all of these people had experience in communication, from Pirate Radio and small circulation magazines to regional TV stations. We decided to work in English and Spanish as everyone there had a working knowledge of one of these languages.
This seems a fitting place to comment on the purpose of the encounter. Too often such meetings are designed and judged only in terms of concrete written outcomes. So everything becomes streamlined to reach these outcomes and commonly democratic process goes out the window. This may occur directly by having a pre-set and rigid agenda and eliminating all discussion off this or in an indirect way by not allowing time for translation and understanding of what is being said.
It was a strength (if perhaps also at times a source of frustration) that at the information table at least this was not allowed to happen. Despite the fact that we were some 100 people speaking many different languages and from widely varied experiences, our discussions aimed at generating if not a consensus then at least the formation of a question to be voted on that was reached by seeking consensus. Perhaps using the more traditional way we would have emerged at the end of the week with a massive blueprint of intermeshing cogs in a global information network but like so many grandiose documents before it this would have represented another paper tiger destined to spontaneously combust in the heat of any real struggle.
What we discussed
We spent much of our time deciding what needed to be discussed, this in itself of course highlighted many vital questions. In time I hope some of the detailed agreement reached in these discussion will be made available on the net, for we made some effort to produce agreed documents/statements. What follows is a sketch of the discussion taken from notes and reports I kept at the time.
A. What is the purpose of the network
How can we make sure the news/information we transmit is reliable, what sort of guidelines can we have to also ensure it is relevant?
How can we prevent the exclusion of women and other groups from the network?
We did succeed in producing an agreed statement of purpose after much debate.
B. The Internal organisation of the network
Should we be based only on local media, is this the same as alternative media?
How can we have solidarity between different information networks, how can we make our information reliable?
Should we have a logo to identify the network and if so which logo?
How can we finance this work?
How can the network make 'expert' opinion and analysis available to any and all of the nodes.
How can we defend the network?
Much of the discussion around the internal organisation of the network took place in a visual manner that is not easy to relate in words. We started off by rejecting the traditional pyramid structure of news media where local sources feed up to region level, which feed to national and perhaps the global level before news trickled down again to other regions. In discussing what a network without a centre could look like but in recognising that some people have more time and resources to dedicate to the flow of information then others, we came to use the human brain as an analogy. Here the many nodes have major paths that carry information between them but it is possible for any two nodes to form a connection and for any connection to improve in speed and the amount of information it can carry if this is needed. Therefore many minor paths also exist. There is also a two way flow of information and feedback on the information that is sent.
This image flowed out of what the network already is in practise. We considered for instance the path a communique from Marcos might take after he has written it in the heights of some Ceiba tree in the mountains of the Mexican south east. Perhaps it goes on horseback to the nearest settlement, from there by car to San Cristo'bel where it is typed onto a computer, translated and suddenly takes more paths, perhaps by fax to newspapers and solidarity groups on the one hand, on the other it jumps onto the internet and runs down the telephone lines to listserv's like Chiapas95. Here it replicates hundreds of times and make its way onto a desktop in Ireland where it jumps onto web pages and more lists but also gets printed out and stuck up as a poster in a bookshop or reproduced and distributed in the Mexico Bulletin. Simultaneously it has arrive in Istanbul, where it is also printed out and travels by bus to some distant town and a union meeting. Multiply this path by thousands and consider all the alternatives and we see the network already exists without a centre, indeed the different nodes have not only never met but can be unaware of each others existence.
So rather then invent and plan a new network our task was to see what existed and see how we could, in a few days develop this existence and improve the flow of information.
C. What methods of communication should we use.
There was a tendency to confuse the idea of the network with the internet and many people there had either no internet access or very poor internet access. So while the internet may form one of the major fibres of information flow it could only be one among many which would include printed words, fax, phone, radio and horseback messengers. We also needed to be open to use new forms of communication and indeed one of the most ambitious papers at our table called for the setting up of a global TV/Radio satellite channel.
Outside of the physical methods of communication we also discussed other problems with communication.
How do we minimise language and cultural barriers?
How do we prevent a flood of useless information which drowns the useful content in a sea of words?
Can we have different layers of information so more information can always be obtained from summaries?
What sort of feedback mechanisms are possible?
How can we show solidarity between the different nodes of communication?
How can we develop the many media forms?
Can we construct a network of exchange of people so those travelling can come into contact with local activists.
How do we prepare to defend the nodes of our network and the network itself from the repression which will inevitable follow success?
How can we arrange an exchange of skills within the network so that people can be trained where this is needed?
One problem with this discussion was the different expectations people had of the network and of what was possible. Some had clearly come with the idea that at the end of the week we would have a detailed plan of a new network of communication and how it could be put into operation. But the network we have described is an organic one already in existence and already growing. Our role was more to begin a description of it and come up with ways to encourage its growth...
Peoples’ Global Action
the grassroots go global
by Olivier de Marcellus
First PGA action, Geneva, WTO Ministerial, May 16, 1998
“It is difficult to describe the warmth and the depth of the encounters we had here. The global enemy is relatively well known, but the global resistance that it meets rarely passes through the filter of the media. And here we met the people who had shut down whole cities in Canada with general strikes, risked their lives to seize lands in Latin America, destroyed the seat of Cargill in India or Novartis’ transgenic maize in France. The discussions, the concrete planning for action, the stories of struggle, the personalities, the enthusiastic hospitality of the Genevan squatters, the impassioned accents of the women and men facing the police outside the WTO building, all sealed an alliance between us. Scattered around the world again, we will not forget. We remain together. This is our common struggle.”
– Letter from the Geneva PGA Welcoming Committee
For Geneva, the job of hosting the PGA conference was an interesting challenge. As in many places, the Genevan activist scene, allergic to traditional organization and hierarchy, has never been capable of organizing itself in numbers that go beyond 15-20 which can function in spontaneous small group dynamics. In practice, other potentially interested people were excluded simply because it isn’t possible to give more people a hearing, or a clear task to do with that sort of organization. And of course people who didn’t correspond to the usual profile of the ‘alternative’ scene rarely felt like they could fit in. The huge practical necessities and the amazingly wide response to the PGA perspective got us past that way of functioning. Already the Zapatista calls “against neoliberalism and for humanity” had attracted very diverse kinds of people to meetings. Preparing the conference allowed us to organize half a dozen different practical groups for accommodation, food, visas, translations, fund raising, etc. At least a hundred people worked on it in one way or another, none of them receiving a wage, of course...
Typically for PGA, it all seemed megalomaniac and doomed until the last moment, when more than 300 delegates finally made it, almost half of them from the global South – 71 countries in all. It was preceded by four days of workshops and six large public meetings which drew an unprecedented number of Genevans to hear and discover the most diverse people and struggles: from Medha Patkar from India – with her goddess-like style and gestures – denouncing the Narmada Dam project, to a towering Maori – expert activists on neoliberal policy. A particularly significant discovery for the Genevans and other Europeans was from less far away – the attractive example of that strange post-Thatcherite phenomenon called Reclaim The Streets, whose practice of ‘street parties’ would be imitated the world over during future global days of action. The press was very good, particularly the local progressive daily that worked with us on an excellent 12 page supplement, entitled ‘WTO: A world government in the shadows’, and even designed a snappy PGA logo, which we promptly adopted.
The conference itself brought together far too many fascinating people and experiences for anyone to appreciate them all (and we Genevans were generally too busy carrying around mattresses etc, anyway). I am often still surprised when looking through the list of participants to see how many organizations we work with now were present back then!
The most important part of the conference was devoted to a collective elaboration of the manifesto by the delegates meeting in different working groups: indigenous peoples, peasant, trade unions, gender, education, migrations, and racism. The conference was finally prolonged a day to finish the job. Just by totally random chance, and unknown to us at the time, this was occurring during the week of the one hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the writing of the Communist Manifesto! Our manifesto, evolving slightly from one conference to another, has proved to be one of PGA’s most important tools. With the four (later five) ‘hallmarks’, it gives a pretty clear picture of what the organizations and movements involved in the PGA network are like and stand for. It spares us a lot of tedious discussion with organizations and people that we don’t really have enough in common with. The manifesto, as it took form in Geneva, already reflected a significant evolution. PGA was conceived as a tool to radically oppose the WTO and ‘free’ trade, but it became increasingly clear that the movements committed to direct action against this latest form of capitalism, were in fact also for the most part against capitalism as such, and were looking for ways to reaffirm a revolutionary perspective internationally.
The last day of the conference, a demonstration marched from our meeting hall to the WTO headquarters. It was the moment when a unifying characteristic of all those disparate delegates appeared: we like to talk, but we love to get into the streets! It was not a large demonstration, just a few hundred people, but no one there will ever forget it, for the sheer energy and passion that expressed itself. The Genevan police, used to dealing with unruly young people, were thunderstruck. Medha Patkar and other very ‘respectable looking’ women in magnificent saris suddenly were swinging themselves gracefully over the police barriers; a huge Maori woman, six feet tall and very broad, leaning over a helmeted young policeman, sticking her tongue out about six inches in the traditional grimace of provocation; an irrepressibly jolly young Spaniard, diving into the police lines, consistently being thrown back over the barriers and then diving over again; a nimble elf from Reclaim The Streets climbing like a monkey to the top of the WTO gates; the incredible, from-the-gut speeches of a Canadian postal worker, of our local passionaria. Finally, a woman from the Bangladesh garment workers’ organization burst into a diatribe of such fury that I (who was holding the mike) was actually a little afraid that she might have some sort of a fit. Absolutely rigid, her eyes fixed on the top stories of the WTO building, she was asking for nothing. She was telling them, positively screeching, “We are warning you! You have caused enough suffering! Enough deaths! That time is going to end, because we are going to stop you!” The external relations officer of the WTO abandoned his attempts at dialogue and retreated into the building, no doubt thinking, “So that was what they mean by being opposed to lobbying.” And we marched back to dinner, I think each of us saying to ourselves: “These are people after my own heart!”
Olivier de Marcellus fled the US (and Vietnam) in 1966, and has been happily hyper-active in many movements: anti-imperialist, anti- nuclear, squats, etc. They all pale, however, in comparison with the impetuous piece of history unleashed by the Zapatista uprising.
1. A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalisation.
2. We reject all forms and systems of domination and discrimination including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds.
We embrace the full dignity of all human beings.
3. A confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and undemocratic organisations, in which transnational capital is the only real policy-maker.
4. A call to direct action and civil disobedience, support for social movements' struggles, advocating forms of resistance which maximize respect for life and oppressed peoples' rights, as well as the construction of local alternatives to global capitalism.
5. An organisational philosophy based on decentralisation and autonomy.
Global Day of Action: June 18th 1999
J18 – Carnival Ambushes Capital
by Notes from Nowhere
Desiring to strengthen the global resistance networks following the success of the first global day of action in May 1998, various UK groups including Reclaim the Streets, Earth First! and people from London Greenpeace (not the NGO!) who had been involved in the 1980’s Stop the City actions, circulate a proposal for an “International day of protest, action and carnival aimed at the heart of the global economy: the financial centres and banking districts” to take place on Friday 18 June, the opening day of the 1999 G8 summit in Köln, Germany. The proposal identifies capitalism, not just ‘free’ trade and multilateral institutions, as “the root of our social and ecological problems“, and is taken up by the Peoples’ Global Action network, translated into seven languages, and distributed by email and post to thousands of groups worldwide.
Unable to find a catchy name for the day, the simple tag J18 is used, a practice that continues with each global action, N30, S26, A20, and so on.
From Brazil to Malta, Nepal to Zimbabwe, actions take place in 40 different countries. In the City of London a Carnival Against Capital attended by 10,000 turns Europe’s largest financial centre upside- down. Hackers try to get into the London Financial Futures Exchanges’ computer systems, while angry traders fight off an attempt to physically occupy the building. After a day of partying, riot police finally gain control and clear the city.
Simultaneously, a Carnival of the Oppressed in Nigeria brings nearly 10,000 Ogoni, Ijaw, and other tribes together in closing down the country’s oil capital, Port Harcourt. In downtown Seoul, Korean activists dressed as Subcomandante Marcos and financial speculator George Soros engage in a street theatre debate about ‘free’ trade. Stock exchanges are invaded in Madrid and blockaded in Amsterdam, Vancouver, and New York. In Melbourne, anti-logging activists deposit roadkill wombats on the steps of the Australian Exchange. A spoof trade fair in Montevideo invites Uruguayan garbage haulers to deposit their refuse in local bank branches before a festive invasion of the stock exchange takes place. In Israel, a ‘goodbye to the mall’ street party is held in Tel Aviv’s financial district, while in Barcelona, a piece of squatted land is turned overnight into an urban oasis complete with vegetables, medicinal herbs and a lake, and a street party hands out free food to drivers stuck in traffic. A multi-faith assembly marches through the Buenos Aires financial district demanding an end to Argentina’s debt, while Bangladeshi domestic and garment workers demonstrate against the IMF in Dhaka. A simulated bank demolition takes place in Lisbon, Portugal; real banks are attacked in Eugene, US, painted pink in Geneva, occupied in Bordeaux, France, and picketed in several Spanish cities. In Minsk, Belarus, two groups organize a picket at McDonald’s, handing out pamphlets and toilet paper to people entering the restaurant and an illegal No Corporations open-air festival is staged. Los Angeles holds its first street party complete with sound system, trashed car, and a skate park, during which 17 people are arrested and the bomb squad is called to investigate the trashed car. In Bologna, Italy, overnight autonomous zones block traffic and stage interactive street performances. Similar actions happen in Milan, Rome, Siena, Florence, and Ancona. In Senegal, 600 people assemble for performances and speeches in protest against child exploitation. On a more virtual level, the Electronic Disturbance Theatre launches an international internet blockade of the Mexican embassy in solidarity with the Zapatista communities; 18,000 people from 49 countries participate, clogging the embassy website all day.
Meanwhile, in Köln, the Intercontinental Caravan, made up of 400 Indian farmers and other activists from the global South, plans to conclude its tour with a Laugh Parade but police detain 250 of them before they get the chance to guffaw at the G8. For the first time reports of the global events are transmitted over the internet by alternative media activists, with news, video, and photos uploaded by street reporters using innovative software that later becomes the backbone of the Indymedia network.
“The enemies of capitalism will be back,” proclaims the editorial of the London Times the following day, perhaps predicting the shut down of the World Trade Organization in Seattle five months later.
Global Protest and Artistic Process
by Lothar Blissant
4-field diagram, J18 1999, London and worldwide (click for enlargement)
Vanguard art, in the twentieth century, began with the problem of its own overcoming – whether in the destructive, dadaist mode, which sought to tear apart the entire repertory of inherited forms and dissolve the very structures of the bourgeois ego, or in the expansive, constructivist mode, which sought to infuse architecture, design and the nascent mass media with a new dynamics of social purpose and a multiperspectival intelligence of political dialogue. Though both positions were committed to an irrepressible excess over the traditional genres of painting and sculpture, still they appeared as polar opposites, and they continued at ideological odds with each other throughout the first half of the century, despite zones of enigmatic or secret transaction (Schwitters, Van Doesburg...). But after the war, the extraordinarily wide network of revolutionary artists that coalesced around 1960 into the Situationist International (SI) brought a decisive new twist to the dada/constructivist opposition. With their technique of “hijacking” commercial images (détournement), with their cartographies of urban drifting (dérive) and above all, with their aspiration to create the “higher games” of “constructed situations,” the SI sought to project a subversive practice of art into the field of potentially active reception constituted by daily life in the consumer societies.
The firebrand career of the group was overshadowed by the political analysis of the Society of the Spectacle, a work that deliberately attempted to maximize the antagonism between the radical aesthetics of everyday life and the delusions purveyed every day by the professionalized, capital-intensive communications of the mass media. The SI foundered over this antagonistic logic, which led to the successive exclusion of most of its members. But with the notion of subversive cartography and the practice of “constructed situations,” it was as though something new had been released into the world. Without having to ascribe exclusive origins or draw up faked genealogies, it’s easy to see that since the late 1960s, the old drive to art’s self-overcoming has found a new field of possibility in the conflicted and ambiguous relation between the educated sons and daughters of the former working classes and the proliferating products of the consciousness industry. The statistical fact that such a large number of people trained as artists are inducted into the service of this industry, combined with the ready availability of a “fluid language” of détournement which allows them to exit from it whenever they choose, has been at the root of successive waves of social-and-aesthetic agitation that tend simultaneously to dissolve the very notion of a “vanguard” and to reopen the ambition to construct a real democracy. And so the question on everyone’s lips is, how can I participate?
“This is a chord. This is another. Now form a band.” The punk invitation to do-it-yourself music gives instant insight into the cultural revolution that swept through late-1970s Britain. The unpredictable mix of hilarity, transgression and class violence in punk performance comes very close to the SI’s definition of a situation: “A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a play of events.” The relation between punk and situationism was widely perceived at the time. But there was also something else at stake, which was new by comparison to the disruptive tactics of the 1960s. Because the D.I.Y. invitation had another side, which said: “Now start a label.” The proliferation of garage bands would be matched with an outpouring of indie records, made and distributed autonomously. In this way, the punk movement marked a widespread attempt at appropriating the media, which in a society dominated by the consciousness industry is tantamount to appropriating the means of production. There is a constructive drive at work here: a desire to respond, with technical means, to the recording companies’ techniques for the programming of desire. In other words, this was a societal attempt to construct subversive situations on the scales permitted by modern communications.
Something fundamental changes when artistic concepts begin to be used against a backdrop of potentially massive appropriation, with a blurring of class distinctions. A territory of art appears within widening “underground” circles, where the aesthetics of everyday practice is considered a political issue. It is precisely this transformation that must be understood, and theorized for the sake of a post-vanguard practice. It could be tracked through the radical fringe of the techno movement in the 1980s, with its white-label records produced under different names every time, its increasing recourse to sophisticated computer technology, its nomadic sound systems used for mounting concerts at any desired location. It could be explored in the offshoots of mail art, with the development of fanzines, the Art Strike and Plagiarist movements, the Luther Blissett project, the invention of radio- or telephone-assisted urban drifting. It could be grasped in community-oriented video art, alternative TV projects and the initial theories of “tactical media.” But rather than engaging in an archaeology of these developments, let’s leap directly to their latest period of fruition, in the late 1990s, when a rekindled sense of antagonism once again pushed aesthetic producers along with many other groups into an overtly political confrontation with social norms and authorities.
This time, the full range of media available for appropriation could be hooked into a world-spanning distribution machine: the Internet. The specific practices of computer hacking and the general model they proposed of amateur intervention into complex systems gave confidence to a generation which had not personally experienced the defeats and dead-ends of the 1960s. Building on this constructive possibility, an ambition arose to map out the repressive and coercive order of the transnational corporations and institutions. Its corollary would be an attempt to disrupt that order through the construction of subversive carnivals on a global scale. Collective aesthetic practices, proliferating in social networks outside the institutional spheres of art, would be one the major vectors for this double desire to grasp and transform the new world map. A radically democratic desire that could be summed up in a seemingly impossible phrase: do-it-yourself geopolitics.
The Battle in Seattle
by Jeffrey Juris
Seatlle N30 1999
We arrived in Seattle shortly before midnight. The streets were empty, and there was no indication of the gathering storm that would hit the following day. After a brief night's sleep, we made it down to the port for the action at 7:30 the next morning. We quickly downed some fresh coffee at the pier and then decided to join a large, motley group of protesters heading toward the conference center. We saw colorful costumes, huge puppets depicting world leaders, and protesters dressed as giant green sea turtles. The sound of drums was everywhere. Protesters wore backpacks stuffed with food, gas masks, and lemons, and many wore bandannas around their necks in preparation for the street battle to come. Just before reaching the conference center, we passed an intersection locked down by fifteen activists, blocking oncoming traffic. I would witness similar scenes around the world during the next few years, but this was my first mass direct action, and I had never seen anything like it. We were thoroughly unprepared.
As we approached the conference center, small groups began to break off from the larger crowd, taking up distinct positions around the perimeter. Activists communicated by cell phone, and everything seemed extremely well organized, but there was no central command. Indeed, the networked form of the various protest blocs reflected what I would come to recognize as an emerging networking logic, mirroring the decentered structure of the e-mail lists activists had used to mobilize for the action. All of a sudden, people began forming a human chain around the conference center. We decided to join in. It was cold and drizzling, but locking arms together with strangers united in common cause produced a feeling of human warmth. Fifteen minutes later, we caught word the building had been surrounded and most of the major downtown arteries shut down. Everyone cheered. Many clusters like the one we had joined that morning had gone out from different points around the city, some taking part in the blockade, others locking down intersections, still others occupying major bridges and overpasses.
For the next several hours, we held our position in front of the conference center, blocking delegate after delegate from entering the building. Some smiled and walked away, others protested violently, and some even tried to slip through by pretending to be protesters. As I would later learn through direct-action trainings, we had organized a flawless "hassle line." Activists organized similar scenes around the city, and many delegates remained blocked inside their hotels, including a reportedly furious Madeleine Albright. As we held our position, chanting slogans such as "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" and "No Justice, No Peace!" giant turtles and butterflies occasionally passed by with colorful signs proclaiming "Teamsters and Turtles: Together at Last!" and "No Globalization without Representation!"
Everything appeared calm throughout the morning, and we even chatted with police officers stationed directly behind us. Little did we know the first tear gas canisters had already been fired at protesters around 10:00 a.m. Those first groups held their ground, but the city would soon be engulfed in a major police riot. After a while, we caught our first whiff of tear gas floating with the shifting winds from the other end of the convention center. As the tension began to mount, we soon saw our first "Black Bloc" contingent. Dressed in black, gas masks buckled to their waists, wearing hoods and bandannas to cover their faces, they moved swiftly and purposefully, darting in and out of a stunned group of dancing turtles. That afternoon they began smashing the windows at major corporate outlets in downtown Seattle: Nike, Starbucks, the Gap, and Bank of America.
At around 1:00 p.m. the massive labor march approached the conference center. I decided to walk over and have a look. In addition to the Teamsters, longshoremen, and steelworkers, there were colorful contingents of Korean workers, Latino immigrants, indigenous activists, and French farmers. Many activists later criticized the "lack of color" in Seattle, pointing to the predominantly white middle-class backgrounds of the protesters, but this charge was less evident at this particular intersection. Organizers had expected the labor marchers to join the direct action, but marshals directed them away from the conference center. Many of the thirty thousand labor marchers broke ranks, however, and joined the protesters in the streets, swelling our number to more than fifty thousand.
Before heading back to the blockade, I followed several activist groups who were playing cat and mouse with riot cops through the side alleys next to the Paramount Theater. The streets were overflowing with people, some playing instruments, others dancing and singing, still others holding puppets and banners. It felt like a huge street carnival, with the added excitement of periodic confrontations with the police. The tension was intoxicating. At one point, I walked over to a group of people holding a meeting next to a large fence. Someone had a sticker on his shirt that read "Direct Action Network," the coalition that had organized the protests.
Rumors had already begun circulating that the WTO ministerial had been canceled; the excitement was mounting. After reloading on coffee, we walked through the streets on the other side of the conference center, back down toward the pier. At one intersection, protesters had set up a makeshift stage with speakers blaring music and periodic speeches and spoken word performances. A large group began dancing circles around an affinity group locked down in the middle of the street. Occasionally, protesters would step up to the microphone and recite spoken-word poetry. Although I had been to many mass gatherings, I had never felt such ecstatic freedom and spontaneous communitas. We had slipped into a time out of time, a moment when the prevailing order had been overturned, creating what the anarchist writer Hakim Bey calls a "temporary autonomous zone." This was highly charged carnival indeed.
It turns out we were in the midst of a two-hour hiatus when the police had run out of tear gas and pepper spray. But they soon refueled and initiated another round of indiscriminate assaults. Shortly before 4:00 p.m., we walked over to the next corner and witnessed riot cops launching tear gas canisters into the middle of an affinity group blockading an intersection. They soon began shooting pepper spray at protesters' faces and lobbing tear gas canisters into the crowd. My eyes started to burn violently. A woman offered us wet rags and lemon, but after the next loud bang, the crowd began to stampede. My friend and I quickly turned and ran to avoid being trampled. Over the next few hours, we darted through the streets, moving in toward police lines, only to run away frantically after more tear gas was fired. There was something eerily addicting about the whole experience, and during my field research over the next two years, I would relive similar encounters over and over again in cities like Prague, Barcelona, and Genoa.
After nightfall, looting began at Starbucks and other downtown stores. Many activists tried to intervene, shouting, "No violence! No violence!" but to no avail. The mayor of Seattle declared martial law, bringing a curfew into effect. The situation in the streets quickly deteriorated, so we went back to the hotel, as we were not planning to risk arrest. We met up with our friends and decided to have a drink at the bar next door. Exhausted, we watched the live scenes on the evening news, our eyes still burning. Images depicted looting and chaos, interspersed with an occasional festive scene. Meanwhile, broadcasters denounced the violent anarchists in black. Similar images were broadcast across the United States and around the world. Over the next few weeks, the WTO would become a household name, and globalization the center of an intense public debate. Although the protests continued for several more days, including continued mass arrests and jail solidarity actions, my friends and I headed back to San Francisco the next morning.
Tactical Frivolity and Rhythms of Resistance
by Nuria Vila and Marcelo Expósito
The Carnival is a Counterpower Too
by Brian Holmes
The world is upside down. Democracy has its face in the mud. 34 of the most violent people in the world are enclosed behind their own wall in Quebec. Outside, crowds move freely beneath the cameras of the police. The crimes inside are unbearable, the tension is too great. The Carnaval against Capital is about to start. Already last night, thousands of bandannas began to appear - orange, red, yellow, the colors of fire. They are hand printed with a fantastic, grotesque, carnavalesque smile. They are masks. Folded carefully, like a soft weapon. Every gesture, every word of resistance counts. The weapons have these words inside:
The Gift of Masks
"A classic crisis of legitimacy has overtaken the key institutions of global economic governance. If legitimacy is not regained, it is only a matter of time before structures collapse..." Walden Bello
Inevitably as the global movements against neoliberalism and for life have grown and become more vocal, so has the repression. But with each act of repression, the men of money reveal themselves further. No longer can they meet in relative anonymity. Their unmasking has become a carnivalesque ritual, repeated in Seattle, Prague, Seoul, and Buenos Aires... Now, the fences grow ever higher and the meeting locations ever more remote as the mask of "tolerance" continues to slip further, revealing an animal that is cornered, knows its time is up, and is fighting for its survival. Besieged by those who desire justice, the men of money are getting scared. They want to name the faces of resistance name them thugs, terrorists, flat-earthers, delinquents, dreamers. They want to capture, catalogue and criminalise the faces of those who are saying "enough is enough." They want to wipe the smile of resistance off these faces forever.
"Resistance is the secret of joy" Alice Walker
Carnival and rebellion have identical goals: to invert the social order with joyous abandon and to celebrate our indestructible lust for life. Carnival breaks down the barriers of capital, and releases the creativity of each individual. It throws beauty back into the streets, streets in which people begin to really live again. During Carnival, as in rebellion, we wear masks to free our inhibitions, we wear masks to transform ourselves, we wear masks to show that we are your daughter, your teacher, your bus driver, your boss. Being faceless protects and unites us while they try to divide and persecute. By being faceless we show that who we are is not as important as what we want, and we want everything for everyone.
So we will remain faceless because we refuse the spectacle of celebrity, we will remain faceless because the carnival beckons, we will remain faceless because the world is upside down, we will remain faceless because we are everywhere. By covering our faces we show that our words, dreams, and imaginations are more important than our biographies. By covering our faces we recover the power of our voices and our deeds. By wearing masks we become visible once again.
Carnival against Capital
20-22 April, 2001
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How to create new forms of expression, exchange, debate and decision? How to maintain them over time? How and where - at what scale - to take and institute new spheres of popular sovereignty, and how to link those spheres together in the planetary society?
You think about these kinds of questions, after... After the "legislative theater" of the Peoples' Summit and the street theater of the Peoples' March, orchestrated on a vast scale, blending new democratic procedures and old, raising echoes in the press and elsewhere, creating spinoffs and facing parallels in the city, the province, the nation, and across the the hemisphere. After the Carnaval against Capital, where so many individuals - from the blackest clad anarchists to teachers, local residents, intellectuals, artists, children, average folks if there were such a thing - all felt the need to touch the violence of the state, to feel and shake the wall it builds around corporate interests, to taste the tear gas it spits out into the faces of the crowd.
We are not the only ones. Think back on the recent decades: How many anti-IMF riots in Latin America, Africa, Asia? How many local commitees, social movements, single-issue and electoral campaigns, how many formal victories for democracy that brought back the police with other explanations?
The ethics, the intelligence, the analysis, the openness, the energy, the creativity, the disruptiveness and the violence of this dissidence are changing my life, changing the lives of everyone touched by it, from near or far. The stakes are the autonomy and coexistence of all the varieties of human time, against the clock and grid of market exchanges. When we reflect, read and debate for years, not as experts but as passionate amateurs, it's a very different kind of time. When we dance all night around a huge fire beneath a freeway bridge, drumming with rocks and sticks, it's a different kind of time. When we talk between the bursts of tear gas and the intense work on out own projects, we open up an infinite well of freedom. We are fighting for another time, each other's time.
For anyone who went to greet the IMF in Prague, or who took part somewhere in June 18th, Quebec could come as a kind of revelation. Here, the city gave protestors the warmest welcome - because it was mobilized first, long months ago. And support poured in from across the country. All the complexity and agency of a highly articulated political society was with us. Tactical debates nothwithstanding - "civil" disobedience, or just plain disobedience - the movement in its different facets showed a coherency that will affect the province of Quebec and the nation of Canada in enduring ways, while serving as a model and an inspiration to the worldwide effort that made these revolutionary days possible. The neoliberal project is being torpedoed by those who were to be its "beneficiaries" - the citizens. Its rhetoric is proving as weak as the wall that fell at the first blows of the crowd.
Violence in Genoa:
The Target and the Turning Point
by Brian Holmes
G8 summit, Genoa, J22 2001
Genoa is a turning point for the movement against globalized capitalism. The tactics and overall style of our very loose coalition of forces have reached their limits after huge sucesses, and now if we really want to stop the capitalist take-over and produce a social revolution, we must find a new political relation to the inevitable presence of violence.
In London on June 18th, 1999, someone taped up a poster of a target - a crossed-out target actually, a protest against the recent violence of the Kosovo war - onto the display window of a Mercedes dealership. Crossed-out or not, the target guided one of the blows that shattered the window. Nearby, the glass portals of the huge LIFFE building (London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange) were also smashed - a direct attack on what is arguably a nerve center of globalized finance capitalism.
From the start, the movement against corporate globalization has thrived on the ambiguous relations between political-economic critique, non-violent carnival, and urban guerrilla actions involving battles with the cops and destruction of private property. The ability to bring these things together at strategically targeted places and times has lent the movement its startling, seemingly inexplicable strength and agency, its force of attraction and its sense of a multivalent threat to the dominant order. But that dynamic suddenly changed directions, in Goteborg and above all in Genoa. Through the use of undercover agents, provocation and the cynically good timing of their charges, the police were able to turn the street-fighting and destruction of private property into an excuse to attack the movement as a whole, in a calculated attempt to destroy not only its agency on the ground, but also its credibility in the public eye. In Genoa, at the height of what is now clearly a mass movement - able to bring 200,000 people of all kinds onto the streets - suddenly WE became the target, both of violence and of a deliberate defamation campaign.
Of course the cops themselves are unfathomably stupid, in Genoa as they were in Prague, and police acting without any political direction carried out a bloody and totally unjustifiable raid on the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum/Indymedia on Saturday night after the demos were over, savagely beating people up, smashing equipment and confiscating computers from the legal and medical teams without proper warrants - a blunder which will cost the Berlusconi government dearly. Demonstrations are planned in at least 30 Italian cities today (June 24) and the center-left opposition, which actually organized the G8 in Genoa before the recent arrival of Berlusconi, is now calling for the resignation of the Interior minister Scajola.
It is no accident that this is all coming to a head in Italy, where one of the key members of the Genoa Social forum - the splinter political party Rifondazione Communista - also withdrew its support from the center-left coalition in the recent elections, denouncing the false alternative offered by the pseudo-left but at the same time indirectly helping Berlusconi into power. The idea is to break a useless consensus, whereby the left sits in governments at the cost of ceasing to have a left politics. The participation of working-class Rifondazione, but also of elements of the center-left, of the religious drop-the-debt campaign and of pacifist ecological and fair-trade networks like Reta Lilliput, in an unpredictably violent anti-globalization demonstration has finally placed the new forms of capitalist domination at the center of a full-scale national debate - showing that the price of breaking the ruling consensus is a small-scale civil war.
There is a before and an after Genoa. The death of Carlo Guiliani, an essentially innocent young man caught up in a political firestorm, marks this turning point. The value and the extreme danger of mass movements in our intensely alienated cities leaps out into daylight, precisely in the country where the strategy of leftist political violence was tried and failed in the seventies. From this point forth everyone must be much more clear about the kinds of coalitions, voluntary or not, that they engage in. I want to be precise here. In Genoa, there was a clear target for the destruction: banks and corporate headquarters. At least some of the street fighters were acting politically, in their way. But dozens of private cars also became burning barricades while many more were damaged, and far too many small shops were also trashed (by police provocateurs or not, we may never know for sure). All that looked very bad in the media. And anyone honest has to admit that the generalized violence originated not only from the agent-provocateurs and not only from the consciously anticapitalist anarchists who have been part of the movement from the start, but also from disaffected youth, apolitical gangs, Basques and other nationalists, and even a few Nazi skins looking for a good time. Relatively small groups are enough to draw whole crowds into the clash, especially in a country like Italy where that's just what the police are looking for. Can the violence be kept on target, when the movement against capitalist globalization rises to the mass scale that it must reach to become politically effective?
"According to authoritative American sources there were 5 thousand violent demonstrators in the Black Bloc," said Interior minister Scajola in parliament on July 23, dramatically upping the count from the three to four hundred serious window-smashers that most people saw during the demonstrations. The hard line from Bush, Blair and Berlusconi is clear: criminalize the movement, paint over critique into terrorism and aimless rioting. This is what Berlusconi finally means when he says "fiction is better than reality." And it's a tactic that can work, that has already worked in the past. The only answer is to politicize the movement much further, to give it a powerfully dissenting voice within a public debate that has been reduced since 1989 to substantive consensus between left and right. That's the strategy that the Genoa Social Forum has brought into play. I think it requires that the violence of Genoa, Goteborg and the movement as a whole must not be denounced or explained away, but recognized for what it is: the harbinger of a far wider and more intense conflict to come, if the exploitative and destructively alienating tendencies of capitalist globalization are not reversed. But to make that claim, politically, in the parliamentary and media arenas, also means backing it up with a more deliberate and legible relation to the violence on the ground during the demonstrations. And that in turn means walking a tightrope, between the chaos of urban warfare in which we become the target, and the more insidious slide back into a gentle consensus that just stretches a veil over the deadly contradictions of globalized capitalism.
The more coherent and serious organizations know this very well, but they can neither control nor do without the mass movement on which they depend. The civil-society associations are getting scared. The cops, the hard-line neoliberals and the apolitical gangs will clearly not change their tactics. A lot depends on the people in between: the genuine anarchists, the Tute Bianche style direct actionists, and the average person in the demo who sees red and picks up a stone. It's time for everyone, not to pull back from the movement - not after the vast success of the Genoa demonstrations - but to think a lot more about what their targets really are, and exactly how to reach them. The ambition to block the summits is attaining its limits, and the tremendously productive balance between critique, carnival and illegal action has come to a point of extreme fragility. The political debates in Italy, the social movements that are likely to ensue there this fall, and the diffuse, worldwide protest against the unreachable WTO meeting in Qatar this November may help set into motion a new language and a new strategy - which we urgently need before the next inevitable mass protest on the dangerous European streets.