Wednesday 28 March 2001
Internet links anti-globalists
Web sites, E-mail, chat rooms, news groups all abuzz with summit plans
by ALLISON HANES
The Montreal Gazette
In the 1960s, it was the music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
that empowered the protesters who fought for civil rights,
the banning of nuclear weapons and an end to the Vietnam
Today, it's the Internet that powers the anti-globalization
activists who descend on international summits to fight
against what they see as corporate influence and the
sacrifice of human rights for the sake of trade.
For protesters preparing for the Summit of the Americas in
Quebec City next month, the Internet - from Web sites to
E-mail, to chat rooms, to news groups - is abuzz with plans
for organizing and mobilizing hundreds of groups from dozens
"It makes certain things possible that could never happen
otherwise, mainly the co-ordination of information and ideas
over long distances," said David Graeber of the New York
City chapter of the protest group Ya Basta!.
Many participant groups have posted long polemics outlining
their reasons for opposing the Free Trade Area of the
Americas, which is to be negotiated April 20-22 in Quebec by
the leaders of 34 countries.
Local groups are using the Web to co-ordinate activities
with protesters coming from Latin America, the United States
One Quebec City group, Operation Quebec Printemps 2001, is
taking requests for lodging via E-mail. "We have 10,000
requests for housing," OQP2001 member Shawn Stensil said. "I
had one call from Thunder Bay (Ont.) and another from South
Public Citizen, a group founded by consumer activist Ralph
Nader, has everything from what to expect from police to
tips for driving in Quebec.
"Turning right on a red light is illegal in the province of
Quebec (except in a few trial cities,)" a link on Public
Citizen's site advises. "Drivers are as bad as in Boston.
... In Quebec City, they have a specialty for ignoring
While the Internet is an essential organizational tool and
useful for sharing ideas, anti-globalization activists say
it has its limitations.
"In a certain way the whole spirit of the movement is
against what the Internet stands for," said Graeber of Ya
He calls it a terrible medium for debate and decision-making
because the leaderless groups that make up the
anti-globalist movement tend to operate by consensus - a
task that requires compromise and understanding.
"The Internet tends to bring out macho posturing ... and
create a contentious and competitive atmosphere," Graeber
said. "Debate is still done face to face, mostly over beer."
Philippe Duhamel, a member of the Montreal-based group
SalAMI, said access to the Internet is an issue for those in
the international movement.
"Those who are plugged in tend to be middle-aged white men,"
Duhamel said. "More than 50 per cent of the world population
has never touched a phone."
Still, outside observers see the Internet and anti-globalist
forces as inextricably linked.
"Like the Internet itself, the anti-globalist movement is a
body that manages to survive and even thrive without a
head," states a confidential Canadian Security Intelligence
Service brief about the outlook for protests to be held in
Canada. "The agile use of the Internet allows co-ordinated
actions with minimal resources and bureaucracy."
The documents also say CSIS needs to be on the alert for
anarchist groups that might be hatching plans for
politically motivated violence.
"Encryption by some groups suggests that some of the
activities planned could be illegal," a declassified
And, CSIS points out, the Internet itself has been used for
protest: anti-globalization "hacktivists" launched attacks
against corporations in conjunction with protests at the G8
summit in Cologne, Germany, in 1999.
One expert believes the Internet has been a major catalyst
in the evolution of the present-day protest movement - which
like the Web itself is international in character, global in
outlook and immense in scale.
"It can't be underestimated. It's absolutely huge," said Ron
Deibert, a professor of political science at the University
of Toronto. "It has boosted the organizational and
intellectual capacity of civil society around the world."
Deibert has traced the roots of the use of the Internet by
the anti-globalist movement to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio
Though the technology was rudimentary, civil society groups
used the Internet to draft an Earth Charter.
The next landmark, he said, was the movement against the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI.
Deibert said he was struck by the Internet's mobilization
power when he learned that a motion adopted against the MAI
by Mississauga, Ont., city council and one passed in
Berkeley, Calif., were identical - both taken from a sample
motion posted on the Web site of Public Citizen.
"(The Internet) is fueling this revolution," Deibert said.
"In the past, world politics was a game of states and
citizens were spectators. It's very simple when you're
only dealing with states, but what happens when you open the
doors to other groups? How you include them and who gets to
decide? That's the question of the 21st century."
Some Web sites:
- Public Citizen: http://www.citizen.org
- OQP2001: http://www.oqp2001.org
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