Capitalists and Anti-Capitalists: Two kinds of

vieuxcmaq, Lunes, Febrero 4, 2002 - 12:00

Jaggi Singh (

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In what is perhaps global capitalism's ultimate annual general meeting, the World Economic Forum (WEF) begins another round of high-powered panels, cocktail parties, and networking sessions later this Thursday in New York City. Over 3000 delegates -- including more than 1000 corporate executives, as well as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew -- will be meeting at the super-posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan from January 31 to February 4.

Dubbed "Fortress Waldorf" by security officials, the hotel will be surrounded by concrete barricades protecting a five-block "frozen zone" where entry will be restricted strictly to official delegates. City officials have brushed off pre-Civil War statutes, dating back to 1845, which ban the wearing of masks. And the thousands-strong New York Police Department (NYPD) promises to arrest on-sight any groups of three or more individuals that may dare to mask-up.

If delegates -- who are paying about US$ 25,000 for the privilege to hobnob at the WEF -- decide to venture out into the streets of Manhattan, they'll have their own roving security perimeter. According to the New York Times: "When the conferees seek to navigate the streets outside the Waldorf- Astoria, at least 100 of them will be passengers in new Audi automobiles driven by armed retired and active law enforcement officers. When they get to their cocktail parties or other soirees, armed guards will be mingling among them."

The WEF, founded in the early 1970s, usually meets in the relative isolation of the Swiss Alps, at the ski village of Davos. Funded by the largest 1000 global corporations, the WEF aims to create an exclusive, high-powered environment where "governments and business can freely and productively discuss challenges and work together to mold solutions." According to a WEF press release: "The unique atmosphere of the Annual Meeting creates opportunities for the formation of global partnerships and alliances."

It's also become the target of the global anti-capitalist protest movement, that sees the WEF as a key driving force behind various "free trade" treaties, the agenda of institutions like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, as well the policies of an array of neo-liberal governments.

The past two Davos meetings have been significantly disrupted by demonstrators, despite the logistical challenge of protesting at a ski village (and even an official ban on protests by Swiss authorities last year). Major mobilizations have also accompanied recent WEF regional gatherings in Melbourne, Australia (September 2000), Cancun, Mexico (February 2001) and Salzburg, Austria (July 2001).

The attacks of September 11 have provided the organizers of the WEF the opportunity to display their own brand of capitalist camaraderie by moving their Annual Meeting to New York in "a sign of global solidarity with the people of New York." To oppose the WEF, in the minds of some WEF sponsors and organizers, is to be somehow complicit with terrorism, or at least disrespectful of the victims of September 11. A recent New York Daily News editorial makes the case against protest and protesters quite bluntly: "New Yorkers have suffered enough of late. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. You have a right to free speech, but try to disrupt this town, and you'll get your anti-globalization butts kicked."

The "solidarity" of the WEF, and the almost ritualized demonization of protesters by the corporate media, outrages New Yorkers like David Graeber, Christina Karatnytsky and Yvonne Liu. They are all organizers with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) and, each in their own way, they consider the WEF's move to New York as nothing less than "hiding behind our dead" (a slogan that has become common among New York's progressive and radical activists since the WEF meeting was announced).

To the suggestion that protests might not be appropriate after September 11, Graeber responds, "The people laying the groundwork for this mobilization [against the WEF] _are_ New Yorkers." He adds: "We're outraged at the cynical manipulation of our grief by the WEF."

Karatnytsky, a librarian, rejects the attempts by the WEF to coopt the horror of September 11: "I spent three days serving food at Ground Zero, and I experienced that pain," she recounted this week. "People are trying to separate protesters from the people who live in this city, and that's purely self-serving."

Liu -- who also works with Students for Global Justice -- finds the WEF a particularly appropriate target for the first major direct action style protest in New York since September 11: "The WEF's obscurity makes it all the more dangerous. People are not even aware of the role it plays in determining global economic policy." Liu emphasizes that anti-WEF teach-in and demo organizers will be underlining their own brand of solidarity -- particularly with resistance movements in the global South, and most particularly with the ongoing anti-IMF and anti-government revolts in Argentina.

Consistent with their strategy of "reflection" after September 11, most reform-minded unions and NGOs are opting out of a major street-level mobilization against the WEF -- and many of their leaders are opting to travel to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. That means the main street protest organizers in New York belong to cash-poor but dynamic new grassroots organizations like the Another World is Possible (AWIP) Coalition and the ACC.

Karatnytsky describes the ACC as "an antidote to the NGO-ism and liberalism we often see at these protests -- watering down messages to try to reform institutions that are inherently corrupt." She adds critically: "The trend of the NGO, like the trend of the charity, is to perpetuate its own existence."

Consistent with the ACC approach, Liu offers the following reminder: "People should know that direct action is being planned. Now, more than ever, it's important to be on the street."

In Graeber's view: "If radical direct action is still possible in New York, that sends a message everywhere that the door that was opened in Seattle remains open."

Paraphrasing a common Quebec City slogan, Karatnytsky can't resist adding: "It didn't start in Seattle, and it won't stop in New York City!"

Written by Jaggi Singh. Jaggi is a writer and activist based in Montreal. He is also active with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) of Montreal.

New York City Independent Media Center, The Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) of New York, Another World is Possible (AWIP) Coalition, World Economic Forum (official site): , Interesting article: "Keepers of the Flame: As Moderate Groups Turn Down the He

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