>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
>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."
>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
>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
>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
>You can reach Robin Franzen at 503-221-8133 or at
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Aug 17 2000 - 01:06:28 CUT