portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

corporate dominance | media criticism | police / legal

WEF Protesters: Lions or Sheep

This a first hand account about what happened in New York City at the WEF demonstrations, originally from the New York City IMC. I am posting it in hopes of getting a dialogue going concerning the contents of the original post, which calls into question the tactics and docileness of the demonstrations.
Scouting out sections of New York City in advance of the anti-WEF
protests scheduled for the weekend of February 2, I overheard one of
the many cops, who had no doubt deduced my political leanings from my
hair and clothes, laugh to his partner: "Don't they realize it's
fucking futile to resist?" Later, on the morning of the main day of
action, a police officer, in response to my question, told me he
expected the day to be "nice and quiet."

The cops, it turns out, were right. The protest drew a considerable
crowd of 15,000-25,000 people in various marches, but all the same,
>he day was quiet, and nice too, at least for the World Economic
Forum delegates. Protestors on the permitted march were herded like
sheep, and corralled by barricades to a marching area not much wider
than the sidewalks. The rest of the street was held by riot police
and cops on noxious, exhaust-spewing motor scooters. Whose streets?
Theirs, apparently. The march was eventually directed into a protest
pen just within sight of the Waldorf-Astoria. Once inside the narrow,
fenced-in area, demonstrators were subject to videotaping, searches,
lengthy detention and occasional arrests. Afterwards, small flocks of
protestors milled about from street to street, occasionally bumping
into other such groups and asking if anything else was going to
happen.

On Sunday, a more daring crowd came out, but, numbering in the
hundreds, they were grossly outnumbered by the police, who took
advantage of a comparative media blackout to deal with the protestors
with impunity. The previous day, police had made some scattered
arrests, but on Sunday, police violently hauled off large portions of
the Anti-Capitalist Convergence "stroll" and the Animal and Earth
Liberation march, targeted specific activists and arrested
journalists filming the police brutality. Because I am facing jail
time for an action in the SOA protests last November, I had decided
not to risk arrest in New York, and attend the protests in a
journalistic role, but by the end of Saturday, I found myself
agitating for an alternate or stepped-up form of protest, anything
but the complacency with which many demonstrators responded to police
dictations. The irony of people chanting "Ain't no power like the
power of the people cause the power of the people don't stop!" as
they docilely obeyed police officers directing them into narrow
barricaded lanes heading away the Forum location, became too much for
me.

I began taking down the wooden police barricades until I saw the cops
heading towards me, and noticed the lack of support from the crowds
around me. I was pretty sure that if the cops had tried to arrest me,
my fellow protestors would have let it happen. I admit that in a
sense I was wrong to take down the barricades and escalate the
situation, because people who cannot risk arrest or assault must have
a green zone where they can protest in safety, but I was immensely
frustrated that the entire group of 25,000 were avoiding risks and no
one, for all I knew, was trying to do anything more. As I found out
at the end of the day, there had been a few direct actions, and some
arrests in the very march I was in, but no one had spread the word,
so most of us were in the dark. In the face of 25,000 demonstrators,
the police were able to carry out arrests in practical secrecy. Never
again, I told myself at the end of the day, would I participate in an
expression of dissent for which the organizers had asked permission
from the authorities. Even though Another World Is Possible had
obtained a permit for the streets that day, marchers were often
fenced in to less than half of the street. Resistance may not have
been futile, as the one cop claimed, but it was absent from the day's
events.

Just like the other large anti-capitalist globalization protests have
been, the anti-WEF protests can be highly instructive for the
movement. The Quebec City demonstrations against the FTAA sanctioned
and utilized a diversity of tactics, potentially mending a rift that
opened in the movement in Seattle, when many protestors were victims
of unprovoked and unanticipated police violence that was largely
blamed on more militant activists. Since Quebec, the diversity of
tactics discussion has illustrated a strong divide within the
anti-capitalist movement. It is on this topic that New York City can
be most insightful.

Because violence, or that which is labeled violence by the press,
generates bad PR, NGOs financing some of the anti-corporate
globalization groups have made a habit of restricting funds unless
the organizing groups promise to avoid lawlessness and violence.
There are also a number of protestors with legitimate objections to
violence and property destruction. The question, since Quebec, has
been whether those who support self-defense and destruction of
corporate property can work together with pacifists in opposing
global capitalism. In my experience, non-pacifists within the
movement have been sincerely affected by claims that their actions
have alienated and endangered others within the movement. The
overwhelming peacefulness of everyone in Saturday's march, from the
Black Bloc to the Puppetistas, illustrates the efforts that have been
made to preserve solidarity within the movement. So what can we learn
from the actions on February 2nd, which were as peaceful as they
possibly could have been?

It seems a fairly well accepted belief that illegal direct action,
like property destruction, strengthens and radicalizes the movement,
but has a polarizing effect on the public. Legal, peaceful protest,
at the best, has the opposite effect. After seeing so many aimless,
disenchanted people on Saturday's march, I strongly believe that
permitted protest saps the faith and enthusiasm of the protestors
themselves. Does legal protest make up for this loss by winning the
public opinion campaign? Decidedly not. Corporate media coverage of
the WEF shows that beliefs that the press would slander us no matter
what we did were not unfounded cynicism. No mass media sources
covered the issues. Some drew favourable pictures of the Forum, some
made fun of the protestors. The New York Times gave the police credit
for the peacefulness of the protests, and Fox simply made up news,
claiming that thirty demonstrators were arrested for planning to
assault cops. We have to recognize that the capitalist press will not
help us criticize capitalism.
>
Perhaps some bystanders were struck by our colourfulness and
peacefulness, contrasted with the official depiction of our movement
as terrorist, but it seems many people are beyond hope. I heard one
New Yorker say, while watching the totally peaceful march, that we
were probably off "to loot some store." Most of the others just
grumbled about the traffic. Speaking frankly, and bearing my part of
the blame, I'd say the WEF protests were a joke. Thousands of people
came out to show that another world is possible, but the only ones
who put themselves on the line to help bring about that world were
abandoned in the streets, left to be arrested by overwhelming numbers
of New York's finest.
>
The world's bankers, CEOs and generals are no more likely to
voluntarily repair the damage they've caused than the cops are to let
us protest unhindered. If we truly believe that this New World Order
is oppressive and unjust, and that another world is actually
possible, then it is incumbent on us to create that world. We will
not be successful simply by asking for this change, much less by
asking for permission to ask for this change, whether we do so alone
or with 20,000 others.

This article is not a cry for property destruction as opposed to
pacifism or vice versa. It is a plea for realism and sacrifice. We do
need green zones for people who honestly cannot risk arrest or
assault to vocalize support for those participating in direction and
to vocalize the issues, but this alone is not enough. Pacifists have
got to realize that as long as pacifism means passive resistance and
reluctant cooperation, the only alternative for results-oriented
activists is window-smashing. For pacifism to be effective, it cannot
be safe. The sacrifice is well worth it; militant pacifism is perhaps
the only tactic that can strengthen the movement and win public
support at the same time. On the other hand, those who target
corporate property need to realize that a few smashed windows will
not be enough to take the profit out of sweatshop labour and
devastation of the environment, and we have all got to realize that
NGO money isn't worth it if there are strings attached, and that the
corporate press is not a potential ally.

At the end of Saturday's protests, I bumped into a few activists from
Maine who were feeling as disappointed as I was. After xchanging the
obligatory inquiries as to whether either of us knew of anything
going on anywhere else, we lamented about the lack of resistance and
solidarity on the streets that day. "Next time," we agreed, and
parted. Now, here I am, having vowed, half-seriously, to never again
participate in a permitted protest, and, completely seriously, to try
and make something constructive result from my participation in the
actions against the WEF. I don't have the experience to know whether
it's true, but the word on the streets is that a people united can
never be defeated. I say it's high time we found out.

homepage: homepage: http://www.nyc.indymedia.org

Follow Up! 06.Feb.2002 10:23

Relay

This is the URL for the original post to the NYC IMC, There are an extremely large number of comments posted after the article, well worth reading.

 http://nyc.indymedia.org:8081//front.php3?article_id=18732


Fenced in, Fenced Out 06.Feb.2002 12:43

Karl

The WEF rally/protest was a interesting study in contrast. Yes, we did have anywhere between 7 and 10 thousand people expressing their resolve to see world policies economic policies change. We did not, however, have any one particular moment (after the march had begun) where people could even attempt to direct their frustrations to the Waldorf.

Not only were we fenced in, but people from outside could not join the protest after a short period of time. If indeed there was a permit, why did the police determine long before that to create a "frozen zone". Our strength at these globalization forums is clearly at critical mass, this cannot be achieved if people are shut out before they can join in. During future demonstrations of any kind, I would suggest ensuring that our numbers will not be restricted.

Then NYC police were more than organized. Their corral and contain policies worked to slow down the march, and ultimately curtail crowd energy. We were surrounded, penned in, and hampered by disorganziation. Did any one have a plan for what would happen once we reached the Waldorf? After Billy Bragg played, it sure didn't seem like it.

Direct action need not be (uselessly) violent 06.Feb.2002 14:42

Mike Novack stepbystepfarm@shaysnet.com

The problem is too many people are restricting their thinking to "inside the box". THAT'S the real "pen" they have us in; not just the physical barriers "they" erect but the ones "we" erect within our own minds.

Direct action, even confrontational direct action, even illegal direct action should not be USELESSLY violent. Being uselessly violent/destructive simply shows you've "lost it", have become so enraged that you can no longer think rationally. The general public may sometimes sympathize with those who run amok because they have been pushed too far, but they won't support them.

What do I mean by this? Let me give an example, not intended as a concrete suggestion but simply an example of how to think outside the box. Let's say you are a "direct action" bunch of the "violent" persuasion (remember, non-violent actions can also be "direct", confrontational, and very illegal). Here's the situation. At this particular time/place you know you will be heavily outnumbered by well equiped police. You want to throw things at them (to show how macho/radical you are).

WHY THROW ROCKS AND BOTTLES. It's just as illegal to throw ANYTHING. Since you lack sufficient strength to do actual harm IN THIS SITUATION/TIME/PLACE, uselessly throwing rocks and bottles makes you USELESSLY violent (amok). So......

Throw jelly and creme filled DONUTS. Why donuts particularly? Well we all hear cop/donut jokes. Look, it's still assault, they'll still wade in with their pepper spray and clubs, but they also may feel stupid about it. And if you are treated harshly because of a "jelly and creme" assault, the general public will feel that was an over-reaction.

PLEASE -- I am NOT saying that the revolution is going to be won by throwing donuts. But that it won't be won till people begin thinking creatively about what to do under what conditions. Violence, especially of the useless kind isn't always the appropriate tactic.

occifer command...i'm feeling woozy 07.Feb.2002 13:23

donut

throwing donuts will likely result in a bunch of drunken cops, cuz we all know how high donuts get them. it just may work...

NEW PROTEST METHODS ARE BADLY NEEDED!!!!! 10.Feb.2002 23:37

John Smith

This is a post about CONFRONTIVE nonviolence, not pacifist nonviolence. I'm hoping some of you won't mind me cross-posting this from other imc boards since the content could be very very valuable for many here.

Notably, pacifism has it's place, (a thorough read of Gahdhi and you can see it's value in spades--in some circumstances). Still, there is another type of nonviolence which usually seems to get overlooked when people talk about "peaceful" marches versus property destruction: confrontive nonviolence.

This type of nonviolence was apparently pioneered by the late Saul Alynsky, who led hugely successful "back of the yards" organizing in Chicago and Rochester, NY. He published an interesting book: _Rules For Radicals_. A MUST read, especially on his various outrageously funny tactics! (Your local independent bookstore ought to have it; and SOMEONE ought to put parts of it online! hint hint!)

Anyone here familiar with Alynsky?

His main thrust was to act "within the experience" of protesters, yet "outside the experience" of those targeted. His highly successful groups used eaten beans, chewed gum, and other unorthodox methods to utilize "mass jiu-jitsu" upon targets.

They also went outside of the traditional spaces of demos and to the quiet neighborhoods where particular policy makers lived. There, they put their protests into action, often publicly shaming the targeted policymaker.

The bean thing was: A critical mass of protesters ate a lot of beans and then once the beans had percolated for awhile, went to an enclosed building in which the problem policymaker was known to be attending. And they made a BIG STINK, literally!

I see that CONFRONTIVE nonviolent tactics like these are but the tip of the iceberg of possible methods, far more enjoyable than traditional pacifism. Put our creative minds toghether and see what MORE we can come up with!

Oh, here's one: Comedians with those really loud bullhorns directing their humor at/with cops in situations that have become very tense (timing is key). Attempt to get the cops laughing so much that they don't beat the shit out of nonviolent protesters, at the very least. (This method is an attempt to bridge with cops who have been hyped up to attack by the usual methods of their "superiors" hype)

Another: Get out of your "radical" clothes (if you can) and *finally* learn to wear camoflauge. What? Figure this out!

The use of HUMOR and JOY have a serious place in our increasingly heavy situation, and we've got to begin using it WITHIN our ranks, as well as towards the many people who watch and would like to be inspired by our activities.

We MUST remember that the state's policymakers WOULD RATHER that increasingly desperate people turn to violence, because the state is WELL PREPARED for this kind of situation arising (People need only to read the history of cointelpro to learn that the feds used court litigation as one vital tool in gumming up our limited resources over and over again).

On the other hand, they ARE NOT well prepared for the creative genius of *ALL OF US* putting our heads together and coming up with FUN and still legal ways to fuck with the mindsets of the well-trained (and de-individualized, well-alienated) pawns (cops) who are to do the policymakers' bidding.

That's a key situation: Having a conscious of idea of WHO we're seeking to speak to, and WHY. So, whether we are marching alone or in our affinity groups, or in a large march, we have a huge plethora of communications to ALL the people we'd like to speak with.

COME ON, PEOPLE, we've GOT to get BEYOND these same old, seriously OBSOLETE methods of interaction!

For instance, how about looking at our protesting activity as more than carrying simple slogans! Here we have a chance to interact with well-propagandized corporate stiffs and ALL we are doing is giving them these "stop corporate... whatever" LAME slogans!

What if we sought to actually TAKE ON THESE PEOPLE'S ALLEGED IGNORANCE? For instance, every corporate stiff I've ever heard talk says that you "crazy radical kids" don't have any real understanding of what you're doing; and in fact you are being manipulated by the Left.

Hmmm. Another one they got is that they're ever so certain that their transnational colonizer organizations ARE accountable--to *insurance companies*!

So, look, we have a CHANCE to disprove those beliefs by our direct actions! LET'S STOP LOOKING LIKE DAMN FOOLS OUT THERE AND START MAKING SIGNS WHICH ACTUALLY SAY SOMETHING WITH DEPTH!!!