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Solidarity in New York City
31 Jan 2002
The attacks of September 11 have provided the international event?s organizers the opportunity to display their own brand of capitalist camaraderie by moving the Annual Meeting to New York in ?a sign of global solidarity with the people of New York.?
Solidarity in New York City
by Jaggi Singh
January 31, 2002
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 today in New York City. Over 3,000 delegates will be meeting at the super-posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan from January 31 to February 4. Mixing in the crowd will be more than 1,000 corporate executives, as well as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew.
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 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 any groups of three or more individuals that 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 1,000 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 forum 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, which sees the WEF as a key force behind:
* various ?free trade? treaties;
* the agenda of institutions like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund (IMF);
* the policies of an array of neo-liberal governments.
The past two meetings in Davos 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 international event?s organizers the opportunity to display their own brand of capitalist camaraderie by moving the 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 of its 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 World Economic Forum, 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 forum to co-opt 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 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 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are opting out of a major street-level mobilization against the forum ? 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 Coalition (AWIP) 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!?
Jaggi Singh is a writer and activist based in Montreal. He wrote this piece a few hours before getting on the train to New York City yesterday. At the time, he was worried about crossing the border, but was hoping to file more pieces for rabble.ca directly from New York City. Jaggi is also active with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) of Montreal. His previous piece for rabble news was ?Keeping Tabs? (January 7, 2002).