directions for the anti-corporate globalization movement

Amory Starr

roundtable on “directions for the anti-corporate globalization movement”

with Bernard Cassen (President of ATTAC, France), Gerald Horne (U of Noth Carolina), Dennis Brutus (Jubilee), Barbara Garson (author), Dot Keet (Institute for African Alternatives)

Socialist Scholars Conference

Cooper Union

New York City

14 April 2002


Who knows why i’m wearing a tutu? Who’s heard of the Blakc Bloc? Pink Bloc? Good. the Prague September 2000 IMF protests was, as far as i’ve been able to discover, the first manifestation of tactical frivolity, which has the effect of celebrating that we are in resistance, asserting our coinfidence in the thousands of alternatives to the system we are fighting, and reflecting back in the form of the protest the absurdity of the policies and institutions in power.

i want to start by saying that i am not representing the movement. i am reflecting on it as a scholar who is also an activist. i want to say something about the perspective that i’m coming from. i am part of what i call a “rank and file” affinity group. We are not part of the non-leadership of the movement. We have taken 69 people to mass actions in Seattle, DC, both party conventions, Cincinnati, Québec City, DC again last September, and the recent WEF protests here in New York City. For a total of 100 person-trips. And we drive. We also have organized at home on a range of issues, including World Bank Bonds Boycott, war=profit, WTO, FTAA, police brutality and racial profiling, fuck starbucks, fuck gap, transform Columbus Day, etc. As far as I can tell, such multi-issue work is normal. Also i have been tracking the emergence of the movement internationally since 1995.

Since others here can best speak for other parts of the world, i’m going to speak today about the North American anti-globalization movement, but not because i think i’ts most important. I have 12 quick points, maybe fewer if I don’t get to them all.

1.       Within the “diversity of tactics” approach we are spending a lot of time figuring out how to provide people with “safety” at protests. i’m really interested in hearing from international colleagues what you think about that. i’ve heard some of you talk about the responsibilities you hold us to, and I know that people elsewhere are taking a lot of risks, so i’d like to hear your perspective about the whole idea of “safety” in the US.

2.       i noticed that at the Cochabamba meetings, Peoples Global Action revised their hallmarks to remove the term ‘non-violent’. They did this for two reasons: First because there were disagreements about the definition of violence (life vs. property) and second because it suggested lack of respect for the history of some struggles. But i’m wanting to hear some international perspectives on the specific claim made by North American pacifists that if we use tactics described as ‘violent’ that it will inevitably undermine our struggle.

3.       Sticking with violence for a moment, i want to make another point which i’m in the process of elaborating in a paper. i think that we have dichotomized “violence” and “non-violence”. What actually happens in the street is much more interesting and complex. I’ve counted eight types of events which be construed as violence:

  • moving or appropriating for defensive purposes state property put in place to prevent protest
  • property crime street theater which rejects its legal sacredness
  • unarresting, which could be crucial in protecting vulnerables such as immigrants, from detention
  • protecting physically from police people who are in vulnerable positions, such as lockdowns.
  • throwing back tear gas canisters since they are much safer among the police who are wearing protective gear
  • throwing a donut, teddy bear, or plastic water bottle at police in riot gear
  • throwing your empty beer or wine bottle at forces who have been occupying your neighborhood for several days
  • crossing police lines with arms up
  • engaging police with cardboard shields and mattresses as defense

…None of which are armed struggle.

4.       (didn’t say this one during the talk for reasons of time): We have recently elevated the concept of “security culture” as a goal of organizing. What it means is that we’re so scared to talk to each other or tell each other our real neames that we can’t actually organize anything. It’s got to stop. Building community and learning how to work together is more important than evading police intelligence. They know anyway. And we need to be working to take risks. It’s very important that people read Brian Glick’s War at Home in order to fight the paranoia.

5.       Several kinds of sectarianism are happening. Marxist factions are driving everybody crazy. And that is going both ways. The direct action folks organizing for the WEF in New York city wouldn’t work with ANSWER because “they’re trots”, whatever that means, and ended up organizing an identical parallel permitted march directly across the street. You couldn’t even tell them apart — well ANSWER has all matching signs. And anarchists are calling everybody reformists. And so-called “anti-racists” are demanding, in very sectarian fashion, that everybody take a training in their very specific ideology or they’re leaving. They’re also promoting some very strange stories, which, i’m sad to report, include the claim that working on third world issues is easy and escapist. It makes me a little ashamed in light of some of the things that have been brought from a third world perspective here at the conference in the last days. We need more than diversity of tactics. We need diversity of ideology, we need to get back to “teamsters and turtles”.

6.       The whole terminology of ‘protest hopping’ has actually been picked up by the North American movement and people are trying to get each other stop doing it. Once again, in the context of Dot Keet’s explanation of how important our protests are to people elsewhere, telling them that we’re with them — which is what i thought we were doing. It’s incredibly parochial to think that the movement is ours. Of course we should do local actions — they’re not mutually exclusive and it’s creating a false dichotomy to talk about quitting mass actions and working on local issues.

7.       i’ve stopped counting how many times people in the movement have said “we’re not really anti-globalization.” I am. The U’wa and the Ogoni are, as are those for whom globalization arrives not in the form of cell phones, but as SAPs. We have to defend the right to say “no” to globalization, defend the “anti”.

8.       Anarchism. Anarchism. Anarchism. i have to say it three times, because it’s being talked about so little at this conference. It’s back on the map, but still marginalized everywhere. At Puerto Alegre, at the Socialist Scholars Conference. i don’t get it. It seems like there are some good ideas there.

9.       Consumption politics. We went home from Seattle and painted our shirts with “Fair Trade sucks too!” It’s still export based, consumption-based, encouraging people to shop for justice. Like you can get Nike or you can get Justice. It’s not enough. But i want to go a little further with the whole idea of consumption which is the more basic issue of individualism. A lot of scholars and academics who are working on the movement are like making their bread from critiquing it. And i want to ask them to refrain from appropriating the movement in that way. Also i want to point that the International Forum on Globalization is providing wonderful role models in terms of doing praxis. They have on their roster out of 60 or 70 scholars only one or two academics. All the rest are both scholars and activists.

10.   Labor unfortunately has the least vision. And they’re not even informing people and giving them choices about how to participate in the movement. In Québec City a lot of union members were really angry that they weren’t informed about being able to choose to go to the fence and they ended up in a parking lot far away from the Summit. We need to work with the insurgent movements in the unions and the democratization movements.

11.   When i hear a siren and i am in a city it means that my people are raising hell somewhere in the city. This trip i keep having to remind myself that that’s not what those sirens are for. They are just a signal that the poor are being harassed again. And i want to bring your attention to something: We have come to recognize ourselves by the glint of riot helmets. This has become an identity for a generation which does not know community and has little access to meaningful work to do. We have come to recognize ourselves by the glint of riot helmets. i don’t know what this means yet, but i hope to see you in Alberta.