[sixties-l] Fwd: What a Difference a Generation Makes

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Jul 06 2000 - 09:13:02 CUT

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    >What a Difference a Generation Makes
    >Don Hazen, AlterNet
    >April 21, 2000
    >Twenty nine years ago, in the spring of 1971, Washington DC
    >was convulsed with massive protests against the war in
    >Vietnam. As DC activist Sam Smith wrote at the time:
    >"Between May 3 and May 5, more than 13,000 people were
    >arrested -- the largest mass arrest in our country's history.
    >The action was the government's response to anti-war
    >demonstrations, including efforts to block Washington
    >rush-hour traffic."
    >According to an ACLU report, "People on their way to work,
    >patients going to see their doctor, students attending
    >classes, reporters and lawyers were all caught up in the
    >sweep arrests. The court system, unable to cope with this
    >grand scale emergency caused by the police, was thrown
    >into chaos."
    >Fast forward to April 16 and 17, 2000. Powerful
    >demonstrations have again rocked the streets of DC, this
    >time aimed at the World Bank and the International Monetary
    >Fund. Based on large-scale direct action, these protests had
    >significant organizational parallels with the 1971
    >demonstrations. But today's picture is dramatically different.
    >If memory serves me, I'm standing on the same intersection
    >of Pennsylvania and I St. where I was arrested in 1971. Even
    >though there was an attempt at decentralized organization
    >back then, we ended up moving around in DC roving bands,
    >running willy nilly, trying to block traffic while cops gassed and
    >beat us indiscriminately. Today, thousands of disciplined
    >young hands are linked together, blocking the streets,
    >attempting to keep the International Monetary Fund meeting
    >from taking place. Organized in pairs, then "affinity groups,"
    >(as small cadres of mutual support are called), then in
    >clusters, the protestors encircle a huge 90-block area. Every
    >street corner, every parking lot, every alleyway is covered.
    >String is woven around street signs, covering many
    >intersections with a colorful web. An impressively organized
    >Across the barricades are Darth Vader-like cops, with the
    >latest all-black high-tech security paraphernalia -- far more
    >intimidating in appearance than the riot gear of 29 years ago.
    >And again, there is a big difference. Despite some galling
    >preemptive actions by the DC police to undermine legal
    >protests and their sporadic displays of unnecessary force,
    >the cops were mostly in check, avoiding the out-of-control
    >displays of the May Day demonstrations of 1971.
    >After all was said and done and the media spinning took
    >over, the great Washington demonstration of 2000 was
    >declared a draw, a "win win," according to police chief
    >Charles Ramsey. The men in blue, falling back on some
    >classic good cop/bad cop routine, were able to claim a
    >victory -- violence and disruption were controlled. But the
    >demonstrators also made their mark. Much of Washington's
    >downtown was bottled up on Monday, and on Sunday IMF
    >delegates had to brave 5 am wake up calls and be bussed
    >into their meeting; not exactly business as usual.
    >But the cops weren't the enemy at the protests. They were
    >just in the way. In important measures, the demonstrations
    >succeeded by dominating the news and challenging the
    >assumptions and record of the World Bank and IMF. By dint
    >of the wide media coverage and the sheer numbers of
    >people asking tough questions about global poverty in this
    >so-called "period of prosperity," the message got out.
    >The Washington demonstrations added to the momentum of
    >the political organizing miracle of Seattle. It further solidified
    >the growing sense that finally, 30 years after the women's,
    >civil rights and anti-war movements, a mass movement of
    >young people is emerging with the ability to change the
    >nature of the debate about the future of the globe, with help
    >from their elders whose political values may be coming out of
    >hibernation to join the fray.
    >As activist writer and historian L.A. Kaufman writes
    >"History has turned a corner. Suddenly as this new century
    >begins, a new radicalism has emerged; broad, confident and
    >compelling. The WTO meeting in Seattle was the first big
    >victory and media triumph, but there is activism in a lot of
    >places. Dissent is growing more vocal and spirited. Groups
    >are finding new common ground, from the increasingly
    >multiethnic and multi-generational campaigns against police
    >brutality and the prison industrial complex, to the new
    >collaborations between organized labor and immigrant
    >groups to secure amnesty for the undocumented."
    >The role of labor to the mix is crucial. This movement is being
    >taken seriously, in part, because the powerful and activist
    >labor establishment has opted in, facilitated by beltway issue
    >activists and community-oriented labor groups like Jobs with
    >Justice. Furthermore, there exists a sophisticated
    >infrastructure of issue groups, many of them linked to Ralph
    >Nader's gaggle of effective organizations. (Nader ally Mike
    >Dolan is universally credited for laying the groundwork for
    >Seattle.) Coalition groups like Rain Forest Action Network,
    >Global Exchange, Direct Action Network, The Ruckus
    >Society, The Institute for Trade and Agriculture Policy and
    >Fifty Years is Enough are all highly capable organizations,
    >with savvy and experienced leaders. This may be the first
    >time that students, labor and the progressive advocacy
    >community have worked so closely together and seemed
    >primed for more.
    >During the siege of the IMF and the World Bank, a large
    >"permitted" rally was underway at the Ellipse, adjacent to the
    >White House, to be followed by a solidarity march. I left the
    >tense crowd at 7th and F, just after the cops had put their gas
    >masks on and then taken them off again in a little display of
    >guerrilla theater. I strolled over to the rally and wandered
    >around. Thousands were laying on the ground, soaking in the
    >sun, chatting with friends, enjoying the many live
    >performances and the endless list of speakers from every
    >possible constituency. The MC was Michael Moore, who
    >unless he's been eclipsed by Julia Butterfly Hill, is still the
    >most famous leftist in America.
    >The "legal" rally was all fine and good, but I felt I had been
    >there many times before. The real energy was coming from
    >the kids blockading the IMF and World Bank buildings. So I
    >didn't stick around the rally for very long and went back to the
    >barricades, which by the way is where most of the television
    >cameras and the print scribblers were as well, conveying a
    >message of persistent protest.
    >Coverage of the demonstrators and their issues has been
    >comprehensive, respectful and generally favorable and has
    >clearly helped the momentum of the anti-globalization cause.
    >Media coverage of the events has been enhanced by a new
    >breed of non-corporate media activist, increasingly making
    >use of the Web and affordable technology and insisting on
    >telling the story from the ground up -- making their work a
    >cinema verite for direct action.
    >Many sympathetic activist eyes and ears were fed across the
    >globe. As writer Norman Solomon notes, the "independent"
    >media even received mainstream attention on a CNN
    >segment, in which Brooks Jackson, the segment's field
    >correspondent, said of the feisty media guerillas, "They don't
    >like us very much. They want to tell their story their way."
    >Travel back to May 1971 and the media message was the
    >uncontrolled anger of demonstrators, of chaos, of the center
    >not holding. The corporate media worked hand-in-hand with
    >Republican spinmeisters to generate a message of the
    >country being on the verge of anarchy. I can remember being
    >in DC, looking up at the hated Attorney General John Mitchell
    >as he stood on the roof of the Justice Department, smoking
    >his pipe and looking at the chanting students with disdain. I
    >felt hugely angry but ultimately impotent. My sense is that
    >today's demonstrators felt empowered.
    >Back in '71 the fear and weariness felt by the population after
    >years of protest, political assassinations, the shooting of
    >students at Kent and Jackson State were seized on by the
    >Republicans to effectively scapegoat and demonize a
    >generation of activists. We were successfully labeled drug
    >addicts, anti-American anarchists and communists. While
    >many credit the enormous display of militance during May
    >1971 with helping bring the war in Vietnam to a close,
    >Richard Nixon would return to the ballot a year later, winning
    >reelection in a rout, taking 49 of 50 states from George
    >McGovern, the thoughtful liberal alternative. This was quite a
    >shock to many idealistic young people.
    >In contrast, there is no symbolic demon for this generation of
    >protestors, except for the typical cranky conservative
    >columnist or editorialist. One major beef some activists have
    >is that media can't help but fetishize the image of the
    >masked, black clad anarchists -- a small, angry, impotent
    >group in the larger sea of disciplined, nonviolent protestors.
    >You might ask: Why is there tacit support of the protests by
    >the corporate media? Isn't it against their class interests?
    >The global media, despite its continuing, undemocratic
    >consolidation, is, one must remember, still complex and
    >multi-layered. Sometimes there are openings for powerful
    >messages to get through. The media likes winners,
    >especially underdogs that make a good narrative. In Seattle,
    >the protestors were definitive victors, and some of that
    >momentum surely carried over to the DC coverage.
    >Some media workers may have cross-generational sympathy
    >for the protestors as well. But the biggest media appeal is the
    >authenticity and the sincerity that most of the young activists
    >convey. Their idealism and commitment is a stark contrast to
    >the zeitgeist archetype of the dot-commers -- hustling for their
    >first Beamer with cynical, apolitical drive.
    >These new protestors, despite their wild clothing and multiple
    >body piercings, are transcending the old image of
    >marginalized leftists. If you spend any time with these young
    >people, a set of fundamental values emerges -- sincerity,
    >preparedness, patience, stubborn idealism and the desire to
    >create a just world. Berkeley activist and protest veteran Kate
    >Coleman explained: "These kids invoke the old idealism as
    >opposed to the ugly, angry rhetoric of past decades. They are
    >not crazy 'yah yah' kids. They pick their targets more carefully
    >than we did; they are not as jargon-happy. Their vision is well
    >articulated, which makes them, all in all, surprisingly creative
    >and attractive."
    >One factor fueling activism is that many of today's protestors
    >are the progeny of protestors of yesteryear. The millions who
    >came out to march against the war in Vietnam had a lot of
    >babies. Another link to the past is the fact that these
    >protestors are living in a time of affluence like their 60's
    >predecessors. Many of these well-educated, techno-savvy
    >kids could and maybe will get high paying jobs whenever they
    >want. But the point is that they care. They haven't been
    >seduced by the call of the marketplace. They want to change
    >the way the marketplace works.
    >In fact, the desire to fight off invasive commercialism may be
    >at the root of the protests. Gen X writer Tamara Straus says:
    >"I think today's activists are organizing around the fact that
    >there is a pervasive corporate and consumer culture. For
    >them, this culture is what gives them juice; it's their Big
    >Brother. Because they are the target of so much advertising,
    >they have begun to strike back at corporations like Nike and
    >at a system that has great economic inequalities."
    >The issues are different, too. A group of students from Bates
    >College that I met at the protests explained that activists in six
    >colleges in Maine had banded together through the Campfire
    >Coalition, where they share projects and inspiration. Many
    >came to Washington. A student by the name of Maia
    >explained, "This issue of the global economy helps brings us
    >together. If it were just abortion rights or the environment we'd
    >be meeting separately. But here we are addressing the big
    >picture." Her allies, Eliza and Nick, sitting, blocking the street,
    >nodded their assent.
    >Apparently some of their elders agree. Long-time activist and
    >California legislator Tom Hayden told Mojo Wire's Vince
    >Beiser: "This is a new movement. Globalization is the issue
    >that allows these multiple constituencies to coalesce.
    >Environmentalists, unions, they all have their issues, but they
    >all see the government as not protecting them from the
    >effects of globalization."
    >The linkage of issues around globalization and the
    >impressive knowledge of the facts -- at least the facts that
    >support their view of the ravages of the global economy --
    >make many activists ready for a conversation. As organizer
    >Juliette Beck from San Francisco's Global Exchange writes:
    >"The spirit of Seattle has spread like wildfire and inspired
    >grass-roots activists to clearly identify how corporate
    >globalization effects all of our efforts, from ending
    >sweatshops to saving endangered sea turtles to stopping
    >global warming."
    >Communications and technology skills are helping this new
    >generation of activists as well. Roaming the activist
    >landscape there were cell phones galore and dozens of
    >listserves and Web sites on the Internet aiding the organizing
    >and providing people with the facts they needed for
    >marshalling their arguments.
    >Veteran protestor and DC-based former foundation
    >executive Cathy Lerza commented: "It has been incredible to
    >see all these twentysomethings here, all determined to
    >change the world. Things are much the same as in the old
    >days, but with much more sophistication. Information is no
    >longer the missing link. When we were the ones on the
    >frontlines, just getting info about what was really going on was
    >70 percent of the struggle. Now that's the easy part -- it's the
    >'what do we want and how do we get it' that's the difficult
    >piece. With info in hand, these guys can really focus on goals
    >and strategies for winning them. I feel encouraged by that,
    >and by the fact that they are building on what we did."
    >Of course, the obvious question is what's next? Where does
    >this all lead? The one person thinking most strategically
    >about this movement is Mike Dolan, architect of the Seattle
    >protests who deputy director of Global Trade Watch. His
    >goal, as reported by Marc Cooper in the LA Weekly, "is to
    >turn the action in the streets to an effective and credible
    >fair-trade political movement that can win tangible policy
    >The next stop for the new activism is the Democratic
    >convention in Los Angeles this summer. The focus will be
    >China, as the Clinton administration is pushing hard on
    >Congress to grant China permanent normal trading status,
    >paving its way into the WTO. If China, "with its abominable
    >human and labor rights record is granted membership,"
    >Dolan argues, "there is no hope for civilizing the global
    >Dolan plans on making trade policy the issue for Democrats.
    >Dolan vows that D2K, as the convention protests are being
    >called, is going to reach out to a more diverse community
    >than Seattle and bring many thousands to the streets of LA.
    >Given the history of protest and backlash at the Chicago
    >convention in '68, the Democrats are going to be in a pickle.
    >Whatever happens, the spring of the new millennium has
    >brought more political activism and debate to the country than
    >in many years. And for once, the future looks brighter.
    >The Grassroots Media Network
    >1602 Chatham St
    >Austin, TX 78723

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