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The Future Face of Protest

04.12.2001 | ACTIVISM

It's official. After the mobilizations of Geneva '98, London and Seattle '99, Washington, Melbourne and Prague '00 and Davos '01, the WTO doesn't dare come back to Geneva and is unwanted in all the other cities of the capitalist empire. This constitutes an astounding victory for this young movement.

So with the WTO holed up like bandits in a feudal desert kingdom, what is the opposition's next move?

Certainly not to try and follow them there, where cost and the local dictatorship would reduce protests to a token level. Actually, there were already two good reasons to modify tactics:

  1. On a tactical level, the ever more massive, indiscriminate and brutal repression of central mobilizations: 11,000 police and broken bones in the prisons of Prague, indiscriminate closing of national borders or regions for Nice and Davos. Any person known to have participated in previous events is on an official list of "troublemakers" and immediately deported. The day of the demo they actually cancelled all trains going to Davos. The police announced publicly that "violent" and "non-violent" protestors would all be treated alike and did indeed immediately open fire with gas and rubber bullets on any kind of demonstrators they came across. As an old Indian said, hunters are successful because they know the habits of their prey. If we develop habits, we will be hunted successfully. With their violence, they could gradually isolate the most determined from their supporters, as they did in the seventies. A movement must remain in movement, and have several strings for its bow.

  2. On the political level, there are already many voices in the movement saying that we should not go on only organizing against these important--but abstract--summit events. We have to make the link between this kind of "stratospheric" activism and all the local struggles which are the real, grassroots forces that could really change the course of history. But, particularly in the North, this is much easier said than done, because the organizations which are acting locally aren't necessarily thinking globally.

So what is to be done?

The answer has already been developing since '98: a Global Day of Actions (GDA) targeting local aspects of WTO policy all over the world. These GDAs were overshadowed in the international media by the success of the central events, but are working better and better. For Prague, 110 cities across the world announced events (at least 70 are posted on )

People's Global Action has been proposing this form of action, precisely because its main objective has always been to project the grassroots resistance from all over the world onto the global scene, stimulate the circulation of struggles, solidarities, perspectives and alternatives. A huge global anti-capitalist movement is already there. A reality that completely dwarfs Seattle or Prague. We only have to help it become conscious of itself. And we now have the political and technical means to do that.

For the Global Days of Action of 5-9 of November 2001, I would propose a different step politically. Instead of just organizing a local demo, what about immediately starting a local and worldwide discussion on possible themes and targets on which at least part of the movement would like to concentrate and coordinate?

Someone has already suggested examples such as "shutting down five or more major stock exchanges? Or targeting key corporations in several major cities--for semi-decentralized but regional actions on a global scale?"

In Geneva, there was the same kind of idea. Groups should start putting out propositions of themes. One can imagine lots of options: demos against the local government that plays along with the WTO; against a particular branch of multinational capital (e.g. consumer goods from sweatshops--north or south; gene technology, etc.); an aspect of capitalist domination (militarism and paramilitarism, or the fight for land and water, or climate change) etc., etc.

How to choose?

I would propose that in each place, we reflect and inquire immediately to see which angle(s) can best mobilize in our area. And above all, which can best make a real link with the local struggles that already exist: privatizations; immigrants rights; women's struggles; struggles of reappropriation (squats and alternatives in the North, barrios and "informal" sector in the South); welfare and public service cuts; farmers' and consumer struggles against gene technology, etc.

Proposing these themes would then make links: locally, regionally and across the planet. The GDA could be the sum of several networks of linked events: For example, within the general mobilization people could be demonstrating more particularly against Novartis, Cargill and Monsanto, knowing that there are half a dozen other places in the world where others are also burning crops, or whatever.

The discussion of the themes will naturally bring out the places where the bigger things will happen. Groups could still converge regionally or nationally to make massive protests if they want to. With the impetus that the movement has developed and as the distances would be less big, there could maybe be ten or twenty demos around the world each as big as Prague, plus dozens of smaller ones. (This said, we should remember that the GDA idea is actually more important for the small demos than the big ones. The Ecuadorian peasants or the Narmada movement in India don't need a network to act against globalization, but a small group in some provincial town could never dream of demonstrating against the WTO all alone.)

And of course, this framework will greatly simplify cohabitation in the movement between different forms of action, different priorities, etc. Each organization can do their particular thing.

As for the WTO, let them fry in the desert. Boycott this reunion of tyrants that don't even have the courage to meet in the presence of the people. We have nothing to say to them anyhow. If a change for the better can be made, it won't be decided in the WTO, but in our streets.

As usual, if we start right away, we have time.

About the Author
Olivier Briers is an activist based all over the world.
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