[sixties-l] The Free Trade Of Subversive Ideas

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sun Jun 11 2000 - 03:01:42 CUT

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    Wednesday, June 7, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

    You Can Arrest Protesters,
    But You Can't Stop The Free Trade Of Subversive Ideas

    by Naomi Klein

    "This is David Solnit. He's The Man."

    That's how the activist legend from San Francisco was
    introduced to me last Friday. We
    were at the University of Windsor at the time, both giving
    speeches at a teach-in on the
    Organization of American States. Of course, I already knew
    that David Solnit was The Man.
    He was one of the organizers of the shutdown in Seattle
    during last November's World Trade
    Organization meeting. And I have been hearing his name for
    years, usually spoken with
    reverence by young activists who have just attended one of
    his Art and Revolution

    They come back brimming with new ideas about protests. How
    they shouldn't be
    quasi-militaristic marches culminating in placard-waving
    outside locked government
    buildings. How, instead, they should be "festivals of
    resistance," filled with giant puppets
    and theatrical spontaneity. How their goals should be more
    than symbolic: Protests can
    "reclaim" public space for a party or a garden, or stop a
    planned meeting the protesters
    believe is destructive.

    This is the "show don't tell" theory that holds that you
    don't change minds just by
    screaming about what you are against. You change minds by
    building organizations and
    events that are a living example of what you are for.

    Not schooled in this theory myself, my speech to the
    students was a straight-up lecture
    about how the protests against an expanded free-trade
    agreement for the Americas is part
    of broader anti-corporate movementagainst growing
    corporate control over education,
    water, scientific research, and more. It was the usual
    "inchoate" mess of issues that get
    slammed in papers such as this one for lacking a
    media-friendly message, such as "Hell
    no, we won't go!"

    When it was David Solnit's turn, he asked everybody to
    stand, turn to the next person, and
    ask them why they were here. As a child of hippie parents
    and a survivor of alternative
    summer camps, these instant intimacy rituals have always
    made me want to run to my
    room and slam the door.

    So, of course, David Solnit had to choose me as his
    partnerand he wasn't satisfied with "I
    came to give a speech." So I told him more, about how
    writing about the commitment of
    young human-rights and environmental activists gives me
    hope for the future and was a
    much-needed antidote to the atmosphere of cynicism in
    which journalists are so immersed.

    It wasn't until we had to share our discoveries with the
    room that I realized this wasn't just a
    get-to-know-you game: It was also an effective way to
    torment barely undercover police
    officers. "Yeah, uh, my partner's name's Dave and he's
    here to fight oppression," said a guy
    in a nylon jacket and buzz cut.

    Less than 24 hours later, David Solnit was in a Windsor
    jail cell, where he stayed for four

    On Saturday, the day before the large demonstration
    against the OAS, Mr. Solnit led a
    small puppet-making workshop at the university. After the
    seminar, only a block away from
    the campus, the police pulled him over. They said he had
    been convicted of crimes in the
    United States and was thus considered a criminal in this
    country. Why? Because 15 years
    ago, he was arrested at a protest against U.S. military
    involvement in El Salvador; he had
    written (in washable paint) the names of executed
    Sandinistas on the wall of a government
    building. Yesterday, an Immigration Review Board inquiry
    found that Mr. Solnit's arrest was
    wholly unfounded, and he was released.

    David Solnit preaches revolution through papier-mch,
    which makes it tempting to dismiss
    the police's actions as raving paranoia. Except that the
    authorities are right to see Mr.
    Solnit as a threat, though not to anyone's safety or
    property. His message is consistently
    non-violent, but also extremely powerful.

    Mr. Solnit doesn't talk much about how free-trade
    agreements turn culture, water, seeds
    and even genes into tradable commodities. What he does in
    his workshops is teach young
    activists how to decommodify their relationships with one
    anotheran original message for
    a generation that grew up being targeted by ads in their
    school washrooms and sold canned
    rebellion by soft drink companies.

    Though Mr. Solnit was locked away, his ideas were all over
    Windsor: Art was not something
    made by experts and purchased by consumers, it was
    everywhere on the streets. Activists
    even developed a free transportation system: a battalion
    of "blue bikes" repaired and painted
    for protesters to use at their discretion.

    Communications theorist Neil Postman once wrote that
    teaching is a "subversive activity."
    When teaching puts young people in touch with powers of
    self-sufficiency and creativity
    they didn't know they had, it is, indeed, subversive. But
    it is not criminal.

    David Solnit was the subject of a well-planned,
    cross-border police operation. He was
    identified as a political threat before he arrived in this
    country. His past was researched, he
    was followed, then arrested on trumped-up charges. All
    Canadians should be ashamed of
    the actions of our police. But most ashamed should be the
    trade bureaucrats in Windsor. It
    seems there is still one aspect of human life not covered
    by free trade: the free trade of
    subversive ideas.

    Copyright 2000 Globe Interactive

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