Thousands Protest World Economic Forum


NEW YORK-Undaunted by freezing temperatures and attempted police intimidation, close to 10,000 people demonstrated here on Feb. 2 against the meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The demonstration, called by the Another World Is Possible Coalition, began at noon with a rally at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, just outside Central Park. The crowd, composed of people gathered from around the United States and a number of other countries, listened enthusiastically to speakers from unions, student groups, social justice organizations, and other movements.

The main themes presented at the rally included opposing the policies of economic and social inequality that are being developed and carried out by the WEF, IMF, World Bank, etc., defending civil liberties here and human rights around the world, and opposing U.S. military intervention-both in Afghanistan and against possible future targets, such as Iraq, Somalia, or Colombia.

The most enthusiastic response was for speakers from Argentina. The fighting example given by the Argentine working people has been a great inspiration to everyone in showing that is possible to successfully resist ruling-class “New World Order” style austerity programs. One of the most popular slogans of the demonstration was, “They are all Enron, we are all Argentina!”

Following the initial rally, the crowd, led by a colorful array of giant puppets, marched along a circuitous route that led them past the offices of some notorious IMF-type corporations (like Citigroup) and sweatshop employers (like The Gap).

Some of the main chants were: “There will be nothing left thanks to the WEF!” “Whose world? Our world!” and “People over profits!”

The marchers arrived at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the WEF was meeting, at 4 p.m., filling the west side of Park Avenue.

Earlier, a rally called by International ANSWER had taken place nearby. Organizers said over 5000 participated in this separate event.

NYPD tries to provoke violence

The roundabout march route was probably also needed to avoid the “‘lockdown” zone the New York City Police Department had established in Manhattan for the duration of the WEF. Entire streets around the area of the Waldorf were closed to traffic, and metal barriers severely restricted what movement was possible. More than 4000 cops were on special duty, as Newsday put it, “insulat[ing] the delegates.”

The NYPD, under the slogan, “New York is not Seattle,” had declared a “zero tolerance” policy toward violent protesters, clearly trying to paint the entire movement as violent-and probably terroristically inclined-as a means of frightening people off the streets as well as justifying repressive measures.

This stance was accentuated by threats to arrest people for minor infractions like littering or jaywalking, and to strictly enforce obscure and normally ignored laws-like the 1845 statute making it illegal for more than three people to wear masks in public.

The Feb. 2 march was cordoned off on both sides by cops (on foot and on motorcycles) in full riot gear, and carrying the now very popular plastic wristcuffs used for mass arrests. Several dozen demonstrators were arrested during the course of the march-including stragglers picked off by plainclothes cops and some who were caught when sections of the march had been deliberately cut off and isolated from the main body.

When the march reached the Waldorf, a final rally was held. The last speaker of the day was Amy Goodman, whose “Democracy Now!” news commentary program has been recently reinstated at Pacifica Radio station WBAI. Goodman received the best response of the day other than the Argentines. She lauded the anti-WEF demonstrations as an exercise of constitutional rights and denounced the cops and city government for trying to create a climate of fear in order to attack those rights.

As the rally was winding down, the police tried a major provocation by erecting a barrier across 48th St., cutting the crowd in two, and refusing to let marchers (who were still arriving from the long march route) from reaching the rally site at 49th.

Despite some tense moments, punctuated by chants of “Let them cross!” by the demonstrators, the violent reaction the cops were obviously hoping to incite wasn’t offered to them. About 5 p.m., with the sun beginning to set, the march organizers were able to arrange an orderly exit of the crowd from the rally site.

Which way for the movement?

The organizers of Feb. 2 have declared: “We are not an anti-globalization movement. We are a global justice movement.” This may be an advance form the early days of the movement, when there was much confusion over this, leading some to support capitalist nation states against “global” institutions, or to support protectionism at home with radical rhetoric.

This is still uncertain, though. The Another World Is Possible demonstration leaflet states: “Any ‘partnership’ between corporate power and civil society is a ‘partnership’ between wolves and sheep. The ultimate power must always be with free citizens of democracies….” And “so long as corporate power is unrestrained the results will always be the same: ecological devastation and loss of liberty for most the world’s inhabitants.”

This sounds promising, but on the other hand, the leaflet also states:

“There are many corporate-sponsored agreements that already undermine the sovereignty of elected governments, such as NAFTA, the WTO, and the FTAA. But these agreements at least have specific mandates which are supposed to be limited by laws if not by public accountability.

“The WEF, however, as an informal gathering of extremely powerful people, is accountable to no one. In fact, many of these trade treaties which do so much to impoverish working people, ruin the environment, and put developing countries into debt-bondage were first spawned at meetings of the WEF.”

There is a contradiction here, one which must be definitively resolved if this movement is to go forward toward success. Is the basis for building the global justice movement to be the “free [working-class] citizens” or the “elected [capitalist] governments”?

If a partnership between corporate power and civil society is one between wolves and sheep, can one expect anything better from the governments that are subservient to that power-and always have been? Should we rely on laws (and thus on the cops and courts of these same corporate-controlled governments) or on our own mobilized strength?

Any movement that tries to hedge on this basic question of class power will never achieve its goals. Demonstrations like those against the WEF should be the starting point for serious movement building. They should also be the starting point for serious thought.

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