You can follow all the action in Genoa this weekend at www.indymedia.org and
on my Web site.
Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2001 in the Los Angeles Times
Genoa on Minds of Protesters
Activists in a populist movement that besieged Seattle in 1999 are
mobilizing Europeans against globalization at this week's G-8 summit.
by Richard Boudreaux and Marjorie Millers
GENOA, Italy -- Judging from magazine covers, Luca Casarini's outfit is all
the rage in Italy this summer--white overalls, plexiglass shield and a
helmet over his long, disheveled hair.
It's more than a fashion statement. The White Overalls is a militant leftist
band whose activists, led by the burly 34-year-old, are coming here to
disrupt this week's summit of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.
French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove participates in a "genetically
modified food" protest upon his arrival in Genoa, Italy, Wednesday, July 18,
2001. The port city, host of the July 20-22 G-8 summit, was partially sealed
off in expectation of anti-globalization demonstrations expected in the next
days. (AP Photo/Marco Di Lauro)
Sister Patrizia Pasini, 60, is more subdued in her style but not in her
politics. The Italian missionary is leading a group of Roman Catholic
activists, she says, "to fight the G-8 with prayers and hunger strikes" on
the soon-to-be-embattled streets of Genoa. The nun and the hell-raiser are
unlikely allies in a populist movement that accuses the world's richest
governments of neglecting the poor and harming the environment. Since
wrecking the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the network
has spread from America to nearly every corner of Europe, growing in size
and sophistication while besieging one international summit after another.
The swarming of Genoa, starting Thursday, could be the movement's biggest
show so far. Italian organizers, who struggled to unite pacifists and street
fighters under a single set of rules, say 1,170 groups with labor,
environmental and humanitarian agendas have signed up for Genoa and could
deliver as many as 100,000 protesters from across the continent.
"It's an enormous range," said Jonathan Neale, a U.S. veteran of the
anti-Vietnam War movement who is working with the Genoa-based organizers.
"It's people who before this started really didn't think they could agree."
>From London to Athens, an unusual number of activists has assumed
specialized but loosely coordinated tasks in mobilizing Europe's citizens to
rant against President Bush and their own leaders, rethink the continent's
march toward standardization, defy the cops and party for days on end.
The summit-hopping movement for global justice is largely a Western
phenomenon. In Europe, it embraces Greenpeace environmentalists, Greek trade
unions, Basque separatists, German punkers, faith-based groups such as
Christian Aid and more. It backs mandatory curbs on "greenhouse gas"
emissions, debt relief for poor countries and cheaper drugs to help them
The call to Genoa has multiplied over the Internet, drawing a network of
idealists who use global tools to rail against globalization--or at least
demand a fairer distribution of its benefits.
"It's all about how we're being mass-produced, all becoming little
Americans--talking, eating, wearing the same things," said Maria
Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old piano teacher from Athens who has no students
over the summer and feels lured to Genoa because "it is supposed to be the
biggest thing since [the European student protests of] 1968."
The movement has gained momentum in Europe as its key demands win public
acceptance and as leaders of the G-8--the United States, Canada, Britain,
Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia--make limited concessions on debt
and AIDS relief.
Pope John Paul II has urged the leaders to "listen to the cry of the poor"
and lead the process of globalization "for the common good of the whole
world, on the basis of justice and solidarity."
At the same time, G-8 leaders have belittled the protesters and condemned
violence that has driven summits behind growing layers of armed protection.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month denounced the movement as "an
anarchists' traveling circus."
Italy has mobilized at least 15,000 police and troops to protect an
inner-city perimeter that includes within it Genoa's Ducal Palace, where
Bush and other leaders will gather Friday, and the city's Mediterranean
port, where most of them will sleep on a luxury cruise ship.
Police Chief Francesco Colucci is monitoring this top-security "red zone" on
computer screens in a central command bunker at police headquarters.
Across town, the protesters have set up their own nerve center--a cramped
office suite holding three computers, several boxes of anti-G-8 posters and
T-shirts, and a few casually dressed, heavily pierced young Italians
furiously sending and receiving e-mail.
This is the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum, created last year to
coordinate protest groups converging here against the G-8. "It's a very
informal network, about 30 people with cell phones," said Carlo Bachschmidt,
35, the oldest organizer in the office.
The Forum has a technical team with a $300,000 budget. The team's 11 members
have solicited scores of volunteers to pitch tents for the protesters at
schools and sports fields and to provide free legal aid for anyone arrested.
Money comes from grass-roots subscriptions, a few rich individuals and
well-endowed advocacy groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Major
Italian and foreign affiliates of the Forum have pledged $750 apiece for its
Protesters pay their own way to Genoa, but many get "sponsorship" from
teachers, co-workers and friends--the wider public that supports the cause.
But the biggest protest booster is Genoa's leftist-run City Hall. Lobbying
for peaceful debate around the summit, it dispensed $1.5 million for tents,
running water, electricity, portable toilets and a teach-in venue--even as
national police shut down the city's airport and train stations to keep
The Genoa Social Forum also has an 18-member political board, which bickered
for weeks over the meaning of nonviolent resistance before agreeing on some
ground rules: The White Overalls and other groups trying to breach the red
zone will not wreck the city or use offensive weapons against the police.
(Shields are OK; clubs are not.) Nor will they intrude on space occupied by
more passive protesters. Otherwise, no group will criticize the methods of
Veteran protesters welcome the accord as a step to broaden their movement
and limit the kind of violence that has obscured its messages at previous
summits. It is supposedly binding on the Forum's 1,170 affiliates.
Organizers admit, however, that up to 2,000 violent anarchists not pledged
to the Forum's rules--gangs with names like Class War and Reclaim the
Streets--may show up and hijack the event.
Grass-roots disorder has been the rule since international summits became
favored targets of street protest. Once a summit is scheduled, decentralized
networks of crusaders and anarchists alike swing into action to rally their
troops, deliver them to the site and deploy them on the front lines.
The very nature of the movement makes central command impossible.
"In reality, this is all very spontaneous," said Andrezej Zebrowski, 47, a
Polish Marxist who began recruiting for Genoa last month as he worked a
Warsaw crowd protesting Bush's visit there.
"Even if there were no organizers, thousands of people would go anyway, just
as thousands of people always follow the pope," he added. "The situation
with ideas is similar to rock music. People live in a global system. What
happens in one country quickly spreads to another."
Still, the Genoa counter-summit is a huge production with a list of credits
as long as a blockbuster movie's.
* Casarini, the White Overalls leader and Seattle protest veteran, is a
recruiter. The white attire, he says, is meant to suggest ghosts--the
"invisible victims of neoliberal globalization."
A charismatic speaker at rallies across Italy, he lists Subcommander Marcos,
the Zapatista rebel leader in Mexico, as a hero. To justify the group's
planned assault on the red zone, he organized a public referendum on its Web
site; more than 70% of the 12,692 respondents supported the right to "invade
forbidden zones" and "arrange forms of self-defense" if police react with
* Petros Constantinou is a fund-raiser. From a kiosk in central Athens, the
40-year-old Greek labor activist sells a broadsheet titled "Financial
Crimes," which brands the G-8 as "a gang of rich, spoiled murderers." The
modest income pays for leaflets, posters and concerts in Greece publicizing
the Genoa protest.
* Francesco Caruso, 26, is a "travel agent," one of many arranging anti-G-8
group charters. His Italian organization, Inflexibles of the South, plans to
sail from Naples with 1,150 protesters on the Greek ferry Odyssey and invade
Genoa's red zone by sea. If the ferry is attacked, he says, the 50
journalists aboard will become human shields.
"In any case," he assured reporters, "we have enough lifeboats for
* Lisa Fithian, 40, of Los Angeles is a nonviolence trainer. A French group
has paid her way here to conduct classes at the protesters' "welcome center"
on direct action, mobile street tactics and techniques of self-protection
against police clubs and tear gas.
* Chloe Davis, 18, just out of high school in Nottingham, England, is a
first-time protester. Her Anglican parish church supports a London charity
whose magazine turned her on to Drop the Debt.
She and some school friends are coming here in a caravan organized by the
debt-relief advocacy group to take part in pacifist protest. "I am quite
excited and slightly scared," she said, but added, "I feel strongly about
The list goes on. A 20-year-old Italian student won a design contest and got
his logo enshrined on the official Genoa protest T-shirt: eight red stick
figures besieged by a sea of black stick figures representing the Earth's 6
billion people. Manu Chao, one of Europe's hottest pop singers, will kick
off the entertainment tonight with a free concert.
Dozens of Italian Parliament members have volunteered as "guardian angels"
to walk among protesters and monitor police behavior. Father Vitaliano della
Sala, an Italian priest who wields a water pistol at protests, promises
To anyone who observed America's civil rights and antiwar movements of the
1960s, or Europe's student protests of that era, the preparation for Genoa
looks familiar. The Europeans running this show share the casual dress,
democratic ethic and one-world idealism of that generation.
But the Internet makes today's protesters less provincial than their elders.
It decentralizes organizing capacity, making the composition and conduct of
a Genoa-type protest wildly unpredictable.
"The Internet is instant and interactive," said Rodney Barker, professor of
government and modern political ideologies at the London School of
Economics. "One person can say, 'Let's go to Genoa dressed as inflatable
George Bushes,' and hundreds will show up that way."
The Genoa protest is certain to fuel the global movement, organizers say,
because many of those coming are first-timers.
Several factors are driving expectations of a huge turnout, including the
G-8's perceived identity as the ultimate ruling elite. For Western
demonstrators, it's the first accessible G-8 summit since the muscle-flexing
in Seattle. (Last year's G-8 was in less-accessible Okinawa, Japan.)
For the Italian left, it's a chance to play havoc with Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi, the right-wing media tycoon elected in May.
Then there's Bush, whose election "has provided a focus, a convenient enemy"
for advocates of the arms-control and global-warming treaties that the
president opposes, Barker said. "All of a sudden you have a new 'rogue
state' tearing up all the treaties and unifying what had been disparate
A hint of the momentum came in London in February when a tiny new advocacy
group called a meeting to organize for Genoa and 230 people showed up.
The group, Globalise Resistance, had been formed to shape debate on global
issues in Britain in the wake of street protests at a World Bank meeting in
Prague, the Czech capital, last fall. Suddenly it became a travel agency,
organizing a ferry, train and bus relay from Dover to Genoa.
Nearly 500 people, ages 16 to 84, have signed up for the charter.
"The anti-capitalist movement is growing immensely," said Guy Taylor, a
34-year-old co-founder of Globalise Resistance. "We're getting 30 to 40
e-mails a day. People want to find out what's going on, get a piece of the
Boudreaux reported from Genoa, Miller from London. Times researchers
Christian Retzlaff in Berlin and Ela Kasprzycka in Warsaw contributed to
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
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