[sixties-l] Fwd: The Year of the Protest

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 01/01/01

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    >The Boston Phoenix
    >December 28, 2000 - January 4, 2001
    >The year of the protest
    >2000 brought us tear gas, rubber pellets, black ski masks, and giant
    >puppets. Will it continue?
    >by Kristen Lombardi
    >   History will find it fitting that 2000 neared its end in a burst of
    >anti-capitalist dissent. The news that Seattle had erupted in mini-riots on
    >November 30 called to mind the destruction that occurred there 365 days
    >earlier, when anti-free-trade protests paralyzed the city's downtown. To
    >commemorate the historic 1999 event, protesters went after a popular
    >corporate target -- Starbucks -- smashing windows and spray-painting walls
    >at nine of the chain's coffee shops.
    >The raucous affair pretty much sums up 2000. Y2K might not have sparked the
    >end of civilization, but it brought us street riots all the same. The past
    >12 months witnessed one rowdy protest after another in cities across the
    >nation, from Seattle to Washington, DC, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
    >Even places known more as sunny vacation spots than as hotbeds of political
    >activity (hello, West Palm Beach) became home to mass marches and
    >To be sure, a certain amount of public dissent could be expected -- it was,
    >after all, a presidential-election year in which no incumbent was running.
    >Still, people took to the streets with a passion and ferocity that this
    >country hadn't seen since the late 1960s. What made the 2000 protests so
    >unusual was that they weren't rooted in a single issue like Vietnam -- an
    >issue that divided the country and touched the lives of virtually every
    >American. Under the loose rubric of curbing "corporate globalization" --
    >the year's hottest political buzz-phrase, referring to the unchecked
    >expansion of global capitalism -- activists spoke out against everything
    >from old-growth forest destruction to Third World debt to racism, sexism,
    >and homophobia. In retrospect, it seems, a spirit of protest once again
    >became the national Zeitgeist.
    >Technically speaking, of course, the mother of all recent protests took
    >place at the tail end of 1999, during the now-famous World Trade
    >Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle. As many as 50,000
    >environmentalists, labor leaders, human-rights advocates, and self-styled
    >anarchists shut down the city with demonstrations, giant papier-mch sea
    >turtles, and vandalism. Police responded with tear gas, rubber pellets, and
    >mass arrests.
    >The tumultuous affair began on November 30, 1999: armies of demonstrators
    >linked arms to block access to the Seattle convention center, where WTO
    >delegates were trying to start a round of global-trade talks. Coverage of
    >the event riveted the country. Newscasters broadcast dramatic footage of
    >anarchists in black ski masks kicking in windows at the Gap, of cops in
    >full riot gear tossing tear gas into the crowds. By the time the protests
    >ended, activists everywhere had been inspired. In shutting down the WTO
    >talks, the demonstrations proved that ordinary people who mobilized could
    >make a difference -- and this intoxicating notion set the tone for 2000. No
    >sooner had the World Series of demonstrations ceased than organizers looked
    >to re-create the magic.
    >   And they did. Yet for all the comparisons that were made between
    >2000-style outrage and the social unrest that punctuated the 1960s,
    >observers often missed one crucial point. Yes, the Greens, unionists,
    >black-clad anarchists, and other advocates who spilled into the streets
    >this year had much in common with their '60s counterparts -- both
    >identified serious societal problems. But '60s protesters could say what
    >they were for -- namely, peace. Protesters today couldn't do the same, at
    >least not without ticking off a list of causes ranging from the inspired
    >(stop the environmental scourge of globalism) to the tired (free Mumia
    >Abu-Jamal). Their crusade's lack of coherence -- not to mention their
    >penchant for parading around with puppets -- prompted many critics to
    >dismiss them out of hand.
    >That would be a mistake, however. These activists not only highlighted the
    >downside of American economic success (which, after all, is due largely to
    >free trade), but also thrust prosperity's price into the American media
    >spotlight -- which is no small feat in our hyperactive, attention-deficit
    >culture. That protesters drew scores of once-apathetic young people into
    >the political process -- witness the strength of Ralph Nader's presidential
    >run -- has proven their biggest achievement yet. And it's one that could
    >pave the way for long-term political action.
    >Flush with the success of Seattle, activists spent the year crisscrossing
    >the country from one major event to another. And like their '60s-era
    >counterparts, who used mischievous, attention-grabbing tactics like taking
    >over university buildings, the 2000 rabble-rousers tried to shut down city
    >neighborhoods that hosted nefarious gatherings -- though they never quite
    >succeeded in doing so after Seattle.
    >In April, some 10,000 activists flocked to the nation's capital to protest
    >a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which regulates
    >international currency and helps countries in debt, and the World Bank,
    >which funds development projects around the globe. Loosely organized by
    >groups like the Ruckus Society, in Berkeley, California, and the San
    >Francisco-based Global Exchange, protesters arrived a week early for
    >teach-ins and marches. Their ultimate goal, though, was to stop the
    >meetings on April 16 (dubbed "A16" by activists). Yet unlike Seattle's
    >police force, which was overrun by protesters, DC's finest were prepared
    >for the demonstrations -- perhaps too prepared. The day before A16, police
    >raided a DC warehouse known to activists as the "convergence space."
    >Claiming that the demonstrators possessed Molotov-cocktail ingredients,
    >officers then confiscated the activists' art tools -- the paint,
    >turpentine, and brushes used to construct the movement's signature giant
    >The day before the A16 action was supposed to occur, police also swooped in
    >and arrested 600 people on K Street. For every protester hauled in and
    >charged with parading without a permit, there was a DC resident observing
    >the activities or a commuter on the way to work who ended up pinched as
    >well. Police were embarrassed when it was later revealed that they'd netted
    >a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post photographer in the sting.
    >Their methods were crude -- and their intent all too apparent: the police
    >had done their damnedest to rid the streets of as many protesters as
    >possible, locking them up in jail until the crucial IMF/World Bank meetings
    >were completed. In the end, though, the Washington affair may have
    >solidified the budding movement against corporate globalization. What might
    >have happened if the DC police had played by the rules? Would the action
    >have collapsed under the weight of its unmet expectations? Indeed, despite
    >the hype, nowhere near the number of protesters who had descended on
    >Seattle showed up in the nation's capital. Even if police hadn't locked up
    >so many, the demonstrators probably wouldn't have succeeded in shutting
    >down the city and blocking the meetings. But ironically, the DC cops may
    >have given protesters a unifying goal -- that of "fighting the Man," as
    >their '60s brethren used to say. After the gross injustices committed by
    >the DC police, who could blame activists when they seized the opportunity
    >to strike back at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in
    >Philadelphia and Los Angeles?
    >The four-day Republican National Convention, held at Philadelphia's First
    >Union Center July 31 through August 3, boasted its share of bold,
    >Seattle-style stunts. Activists wearing George W. Bush and Al Gore masks
    >duked it out in a staged mud-wrestling match. They parodied Bush's
    >"compassionate conservatism" with a makeshift homeless camp dubbed
    >Bushville. They poked fun at corporate America with an 80-foot float
    >christened Corpzilla. Even conservative political columnist Arianna
    >Huffington showed up to object to the lack of debate over substantive issues.
    >Activists continued to challenge authority -- in far more peaceful,
    >productive ways. They called attention to police brutality by marching to
    >the LAPD's Rampart division, which is now under investigation for
    >widespread abuse of citizens. Hours later, they gathered outside police
    >headquarters to protest the criminal-justice system. But activists had not
    >come to take on the police. They came to say that Democrats were just as
    >guilty as Republicans of pushing a domestic policies that promote the
    >almighty buck over every other consideration. They even put Gore to the
    >test, organizing a well-attended march against his investment in the
    >Occidental Petroleum Corporation, whose Colombian operations threaten to
    >wipe out the indigenous U'wa people. Rallies and teach-ins went on without
    >a hitch all week -- although ultimately they had little effect on the
    >convention itself.
    >Despite the failures in LA, protesters remained undeterred. No sooner had
    >the political conventions ended than they set their sights overseas. In
    >late September at least 8000 activists arrived, as eager as ever, in the
    >Czech Republic to try to shut down a meeting of the World Bank and IMF in
    >Prague. They failed -- but this time they blocked all exit routes to the
    >city's convention center, trapping delegates from 182 countries inside for
    >six hours.
    >Prague turned the anti-corporation protest into a bona fide worldwide
    >institution. American activists joined Italian, British, and German
    >advocates who had long spoken out against globalism. By doing so, they made
    >their commitment clear: they weren't about to stop until policymakers took
    >their complaints seriously.
    >Locally, too, protest fever hit hard. In late March, thousands of
    >biotechnology bigwigs flew in to the Hub to attend the Bio 2000 conference
    >at the Hynes Convention Center, where 2500 chanting demonstrators met them.
    >Protesters made sure to dress in costumes, many of which resembled
    >regurgitated fruit, to symbolize the dangers of genetic engineering. Comic
    >flair aside, the protest's high point came just before dawn on March 28,
    >when four merry pranksters, hoping to send Bio 2000 attendees down, dumped
    >30 gallons of what they claimed were genetically altered soybeans in front
    >of the Hynes. The activists were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
    >Passions erupted in Boston again on October 3, when Bush and Gore squared
    >off at the UMass Boston campus for the first of three presidential debates.
    >The barricaded lawn outside UMass was dubbed the "protest pen" by the
    >media, and rightly so. Thousands of protesters turned out, ostensibly to
    >object to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's exclusion. But drums were
    >beaten for everything from ending capital punishment to campaign-finance
    >reform. Nader and Gore supporters went mano a mano over who backed the
    >better candidate. As the dust settled, police arrested 16 people, some of
    >whom were caught throwing an eight-foot steel fence at passing cars.
    >The fracas surrounding the first debate was more than appropriate, given
    >the rage over the political process that has ensued since Election Day. No
    >sooner had November 7 passed than Jesse Jackson led the rallying cry
    >against voting snafus that had resulted in thousands of African-Americans'
    >being denied the right to vote in Florida -- in a year when blacks went to
    >the polls in record numbers. The AFL-CIO brought in scores of union members
    >to boost Democratic demonstrations over the Florida recount; it bused in
    >hundreds for a December 6 demonstration on Capitol Hill, during which
    >demonstrators decried action from the Florida State Legislature, which was
    >preparing to call a special session to name the state's 25 electors. And a
    >parade of Democratic officials traveled from DC to Tennessee to Florida to
    >demand an accurate tally of all ballots.
    >   But when it came to sheer, unbridled rage, the Republican camp -- with
    >its rent-a-mob partisans -- truly outdid everything the year had witnessed
    >up to that point. Of course, the act of protesting was about the only thing
    >the GOP demonstrations had in common with those of the youthful Y2K
    >activists. Overwhelmingly, Republicans spilled into the streets not out of
    >idealism or a desire to better the system, but because their political
    >party had appealed to their economic self-interest. W. attracted them with
    >the very item that made their counterparts recoil in disgust: the dollar bill.
    >And the Bush camp -- which, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, paid
    >party operatives to travel to Florida and protest -- got its money's worth.
    >As soon as the recount of Florida ballots commenced, far-flung GOP
    >followers poured into the Sunshine State and proceeded to lash out in mass
    >gatherings orchestrated by the Republican Party. In Broward County, a crowd
    >of angry GOP protesters chased down one Democratic official who was
    >suspected of stealing a ballot; it turned out to be a sample. The day
    >before Thanksgiving, demonstrators in Miami-Dade County showed their
    >gratitude by screaming, pounding walls, and waving fists while storming the
    >offices of the election commission. Amid the vitriol and confusion, some
    >GOP protesters shoved, kicked, and punched Democratic spokesman Luis Rosero.
    >When the Florida Supreme Court handed down its December 9 decision to allow
    >14,000 contested ballots to be recounted, hundreds of Bush loyalists
    >flocked to Gore's DC residence -- only to turn their jeers into cheers less
    >than 24 hours later with the US Supreme Court's ruling to halt the count.
    >Spontaneous outbursts soon shifted to the front of the US Supreme Court,
    >where hundreds of Republicans and Democrats spent December 11 in a partisan
    >shouting match while the nine justices heard legal arguments on the Florida
    >recount. The clamoring grew so intense that DC police in riot helmets
    >separated the two sides with metal barricades.
    >The election outbursts provided the perfect end to a perfectly tumultuous
    >year. But the very people who had expressed the most vigorous dissent over
    >the previous 12 months were conspicuously absent: the young activists. This
    >could be because many of them voted for the anti-corporate Nader, derided
    >as a campaign spoiler. Maybe Y2K activists were nursing their wounds after
    >their man had been blamed for the election fiasco. (Under other
    >circumstances, it was Patrick Buchanan who might have been the spoiler: he
    >won crucial votes in four states -- Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin
    >-- that, had they gone to Bush, would have won the Republican 30 additional
    >electoral votes and thus the presidential election.) Maybe their
    >anti-establishment mindset simply prevented them from taking up the fight
    >for a major-party candidate. Whatever the reasons, in retrospect it may be
    >that, ironically, Republicans and Democrats who engaged in spontaneous
    >outbursts (as opposed to the meticulously planned "actions" by the Ruckus
    >Society, complete with training sessions on how to avoid arrest by secoring
    >oneself to a fence with a U-lock) will be credited with preparing the
    >ground for immediate change. After the mess that was the Florida recount,
    >who doesn't believe that the next crusade on Capitol Hill will be an
    >attempt to overhaul the way we vote?
    >After such a spirited 2000, 2001 seems destined to carry the fiery flame
    >forward. True, we probably won't see the numbers we saw during the last
    >great period of activism, the 1960s. For one thing, today's protesters
    >embrace such a buffet of causes -- everything from environmental damage to
    >sweatshop labor -- that they confuse the rest of us. And a confusing
    >message makes for a tough sell with mainstream audiences.
    >Still, the seeds for widespread mobilization were planted with the
    >remarkably odd coalition of activists that organized demonstrations this
    >year. Labor leaders, environmentalists, death-penalty opponents, gay-rights
    >activists -- a host of advocates worked together under the anti-corporate
    >banner. These seeds should grow and bloom before they wither. After all,
    >when it comes down to it, Y2K activists are not all that different from
    >their counterparts in the '60s. Like their forerunners, young people spent
    >the year protesting because they expect their country -- their government
    >-- to live up to its ideals.
    >Besides, the passion that characterized 2000 is bound to be fueled further
    >once Bush and his fellow Republicans come into power. Talk of a
    >Seattle-like demonstration at the January 20 inauguration has already
    >circulated among this year's young crusaders in more than 30 states,
    >including Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. They will join Jesse
    >Jackson and others in speaking out against what they call the
    >anti-democratic US electoral system, as well as the "gross
    >disenfranchisement" of black voters in Florida. If the GOP's hungry
    >ideologues succeed in passing even a fraction of their regressive policy
    >agenda -- if they reverse the social, environmental, and educational gains
    >made under the Clinton-Gore administration -- we can expect the outcry to
    >be amplified. Says Boston University professor Joseph Boskin, who studies
    >social movements: "Conservatives in the Republican Party are nasty, nasty
    >people, and their nasty policies will translate into greater activism."
    >And if that happens, then maybe, just maybe, we can watch the Year of the
    >Protest turn into a year of sustained political action.
    >Kristen Lombardi can be reached at klombardi@phx.com.

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