>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
>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
>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
>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
>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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