[sixties-l] Fwd: The New Face of Activism

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Aug 16 2000 - 20:28:46 CUT

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    >The new face of activism
    >Today's wide variety of reformers gathering in Los Angeles
    >are united in their opposition to the global economy
    >Sunday, August 13, 2000
    >By Bryan Denson and Robin Franzen of The [Portland] Oregonian staff
    >The new protest movement against the global economy is
    >out to keep jobs in the USA, save sea turtles, free Tibet,
    >cancel the debt of poor nations, stop biotechnology,
    >smash sweatshops, spare the rain forests and -- depending on
    >the activist -- mend or mutilate the capitalist system.
    >Will the real revolution please stand up?
    >The movement is converging on the Democratic National
    >Convention in Los Angeles, which begins Monday. Some
    >estimate as many as 50,000 people will gather outside
    >Staples Center, where Vice President Al Gore will accept his
    >party's presidential nomination.
    >This is a movement with no name, but some nifty Web sites.
    >It looks like the '60s, and sounds like a percussion ensemble.
    >Its primary gripe is corporate greed -- yet some key organizing
    >groups have accepted money from corporate luminaries such as
    >Ted Turner.
    >Activists headed to Los Angeles largely are a mixed bag of
    >reformers, with a few doomsayers who'd just as soon
    >tear it all down and start over. Their demonstrations are
    >free-for-alls of human-rights activists, environmentalists and
    >union workers, although organized labor -- generally
    >supportive of the Democratic platform -- isn't expected to
    >have much of a presence.
    >They are civilly disobedient, sometimes riotous, and don't
    >always get along. But they are unified by a common belief:
    >Big corporations are gaining more of the world's wealth on
    >the backs of poor people, while tearing up the natural world.
    >Los Angeles police have canceled vacation time for more
    >than 9,000 sworn officers during the convention. They have
    >warned corporate chains such as Starbucks to be alert for
    >vandals. And Mayor Richard J. Riordan has alerted
    >activists that police will be tough on lawbreakers.
    >Mass protests already have turned three big U.S. cities on
    >their ears since last fall. The movement clogged Seattle's
    >downtown streets with perhaps 30,000 bodies during last
    >fall's protests of the World Trade Organization, forcing early
    >meetings to be canceled. Lesser disruptions met officials
    >of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in
    >Washington, D.C., last spring, and delegates with the
    >Republican National Convention two weeks ago in Philadelphia.
    >If recent mass demonstrations are any indication, Los
    >Angeles can expect clogged streets, sit ins, lock downs,
    >spray-paint graffiti, perhaps a few smashed windows and
    >tussles between police officers and demonstrators.
    >The mayor can also expect Craig Webster, a 24-year-old
    >minister's son from Portland, who was tear-gassed, shot
    >with rubber bullets and jailed for six days at the WTO last
    >A native South African and graduate of Princeton,
    >Webster said he is willing to throw his body on the gears of
    >the global corporate machine to prevent it from chewing up
    >poorly paid workers, such as those laboring for Nike in Asia.
    >"This is not a joke," he said. "I'm ready to die for this, if
    >I really felt it would make a change."
    >Common criticisms
    >The movement is accused of having too many special
    >interests to foment a real revolution. It's been criticized
    >for being vastly white and middle-class. And some say it
    >attracts comfortable American kids who lack the powerful
    >causes their parents marched for in the 1960s -- civil rights
    >and an end to the Vietnam War.
    >But Shannon Wright sees something building that
    >already has refocused activism in America. As an
    >organizer for the 20,000-member Rainforest
    >Action Network, based in San Francisco, Wright has looked
    >into the face of the movement and likes what she sees.
    >"I do think we are seeing a new era of activism that we
    >haven't seen since the '60s," Wright said. "It represents
    >many walks of life: students, stay-at-home moms, retired
    >people. We're getting back to free-speech demonstrations
    >and writing letters to Congress. It's a new era of
    >citizen participation."
    >The reasons? Too many people think government
    >responds to corporate interests first, citizens'
    >interests later, she said, and they are worried about the
    >environment. "People," she said, "feel it's time to get
    >And it's easier than ever to get involved, especially if
    >you have a personal computer and a modem.
    >Groups organize protests on Internet sites that outline the
    >time and date of the next demonstration, when to gather
    >and what to bring. These home pages list local
    >organizers, who set up meetings in advance so
    >protesters can form into affinity groups.
    >Those groups, typically five to 20 people, meet to decide
    >strategies. They designate members to mediate with
    >police, speak to news reporters, run video cameras,
    >act as peacekeepers and get their friends out of jail.
    >And they train.
    >Last Nov. 13, two dozen people brought together by
    >Direct Action Network gathered in the University of
    >Oregon's student union to set up affinity groups and practice
    >the art of peaceful protest before the WTO. Veteran
    >activists, including Karen Coulter of Fossil, spelled out
    >the rules of engagement for Seattle: no weapons, no drugs
    >or alcohol, no vandalism and no violence -- physical or
    >"You have the entire city to play with," Coulter said.
    >The activists, mostly college students, sat on a tan
    >linoleum floor and locked arms in role-plays to simulate
    >confrontations with police, such as being pried apart and
    >clubbed with nightsticks. They learned helpful hints: Tie
    >your hair back so it can't be yanked. Remove earrings so
    >they can't be ripped out. Avoid boots because in tangles of
    >protesters they always end up in someone's face. And
    >screech in pain when police grab you, whether or not it
    >Many activists get news of the revolution from other activists,
    >logging on to various independent media Web sites
    >specifically for mass mobilizations.
    >Dennis Moynihan, a Boston carpenter by day and protest
    >organizer by night, helped set up the so-called "indy media"
    >site for the WTO. It came together hours before protests
    >with the help of donated computers and a slew of
    >volunteer techies. It was a low-budget affair in which
    >volunteers worked around the clock, eating "dumpster-dive
    >food," Moynihan said.
    >The site got more than 1 million hits in the first 24
    >hours, he said.
    >Shaming the militants
    >The movement's harmonic convergence isn't always
    >When roving bands of militants -- including anarchists from
    >Eugene -- left more than $2 million in damages to the
    >downtown Seattle business district at the WTO demonstration,
    >many peaceful protesters blanched. A few stood between the
    >black-clad militants and the plate-glass windows of
    >corporate chain stores to prevent them from being broken,
    >shouting, "Shame, shame." They felt vandalism would give the
    >larger protest movement a black eye before the world's media.
    >The incidents reopened a debate as old as the Boston Tea
    >Party: Are nonviolent crimes an appropriate form of
    >Many activists argue that "direct action," a movement
    >euphemism for a wide range of crimes -- from civil
    >disobedience to arson -- should not surpass sit ins and
    >passive resistance. But they acknowledge that peaceful
    >marches don't always draw much attention from the public.
    >The news media's interest in vandals at the recent mass
    >demonstrations frustrates many mainstream activists,
    >especially union workers. A peaceful United Farm Workers
    >march on behalf of Northern California field hands in 1997
    >drew as many people as the WTO protest, but got little
    >press, said Don McIntosh, who writes for Portland's
    >Northwest Labor Press.
    >"When they mobilize 35,000 strong in Watsonville, Calif.,
    >they get hardly a mention," McIntosh said. "But the first
    >time a brick goes through a window in Seattle, the press is
    >all over it."
    >Anarchists weren't gunning for headlines at the WTO, said
    >Eugene anarchist John Zerzan, but it just so happens they
    >upstaged mainstream marchers. Zerzan returned from
    >Seattle and spoke out against activists who bad-mouthed
    >the vandalism -- or tried to stop it -- saying their
    >allegiances were to corporations, not the movement.
    >Such comments didn't sit well with many activists, some of
    >whom gathered at Portland State University in late May to
    >dissect the mass demonstrations in Seattle and D.C. at
    >the third annual End Corporate Dominance Alliance
    >"Revolution is a mass undertaking," said Gary Bills, a
    >50-year-old Teamsters member who drives a forklift for
    >Freightliner in Portland. It disturbed him that a bunch of
    >rogue anarchists in baggy black clothes had decided for
    >themselves to smash up windows, rather than operate
    >within the coalition of peaceful protesters. "Zerzan," he
    >said, "broke solidarity with me."
    >Black-clad anarchists at the gathering bristled at the slight.
    >They argued that mainstream activists shouldn't decry
    >militant tactics, especially those that draw headlines. And
    >they said it was time to quit pretending they shared the
    >same goals.
    >The anarchists criticized polite protesters and the salaried
    >"professional activists" who organize mass
    >demonstrations. And they insisted it will take more than
    >glossy mailings and tax-deductible donations to bring
    >about a revolution against the global economy.
    >Movers and shakers
    >Much of the mass movement's organizing is performed by
    >a trio of Bay Area groups that have come into existence
    >since 1985: The Ruckus Society, which trains activists in
    >nonviolent civil disobedience; Global Exchange, which
    >directs attention to labor and human-rights issues; and the
    >Rainforest Action Network, which focuses on the
    >Ruckus was founded five years ago by Mike Roselle, a
    >co-founder of Earth First, the radical environmental group.
    >With a budget of more than $350,000, the Berkeley-based
    >group trains activists in tactics such as street theater,
    >body blockades and scaling buildings. The group sponsors
    >"action camps" nationwide.
    >Media magnate Ted Turner paid for some of that training
    >through grants from the Turner Foundation that amounted
    >to about $50,000 last year. The foundation also gave
    >money to the Rainforest Action Network, which this year
    >claims a $2.7 million budget. But Turner recently pulled the
    >plug on Ruckus' money, after its well-publicized
    >involvement at the WTO, said Han Shan, the society's
    >27-year-old program director.
    >"From our foundation office the word was, 'Ted likes the
    >WTO,' " Shan said with a laugh.
    >Yet, no matter how much funding grass-roots groups such
    >as the Ruckus Society get, it's but a fraction of the money
    >being spent to counter them, observed Dick Roy, a former
    >corporate attorney. Roy quit his comfortable full-time job in
    >1993 to co-found the Portland-based Northwest Earth
    >Institute. He remains unsurprised by the money
    >corporations spend to counter grass-roots protests.
    >For example, seven biotech companies ponied up $50
    >million earlier this year to launch a council that puts a
    >positive spin on genetic engineering of agriculture. The
    >science concerns many environmentalists.
    >"It's not like we are a tiny, tiny minority of people who want
    >to safeguard the environment, protect human rights and get
    >rid of sweatshops," Shan said. "I think that we are the vast
    >majority. But there's this thing called money. . . . We've
    >got a culture that values that more."
    >Research director Gail Hulden and researcher Margie
    >Gultry contributed to this report.
    >You can reach Bryan Denson at 503-294-7614 or by e-mail
    >at bryandenson@news.oregonian.com.
    >You can reach Robin Franzen at 503-221-8133 or at

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