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Resistance in Occupied Miami
Thousands Protest the FTAA and Capitalist Globalization
Revolutionary Worker #1221, November 30, 2003, posted at rwor.org
During the week of November 17, officials from 34 countries of the Western Hemisphere--from Canada to Chile (excluding Cuba)--met in Miami, Florida to discuss the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Like other gatherings of international exploiters in different cities of the world in recent years, this FTAA event was met with mass resistance. Thousands of protesters from all over the U.S. and different countries of the world gathered to take a stand against the FTAA and capitalist globalization. A slogan during the week of protests captured the spirit of many: "The FTAA was born here, so let's bury it here!"
Initiated in Miami in the mid-1990s under U.S. President Clinton's direction, the FTAA is aimed at further expanding U.S. imperialism's ability to exploit all of Latin America. Some people call FTAA "NAFTA on steroids." The North American Free Trade Agreement, which began in 1994, has devastated the lives of millions of people in Mexico, especially the peasants. The FTAA is designed to enable U.S. imperialism to exploit all of Latin America even more deeply. (For background on the FTAA, see accompanying sidebar.)
The anti-FTAA protesters faced unprecedented levels of repression and weapons used by the police. The city even passed a temporary ordinance that made things like two people walking down a street together an illegal "parade." The Miami mayor touted these police measures as blueprints for Bush's Department of Homeland Security. One indication of the attention that top levels of the U.S. power structure paid to the FTAA summit is that in the recent $87 billion bill to finance the ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress included $8.5 million for security in Miami for the meeting.
No doubt Miami was a testing ground for what the ruling class is planning in order to stifle dissent at future gatherings like the Republican and Democratic conventions next year. In total, the Miami police made over 200 arrests during the week--including the day after the major protests when riot police surrounded, brutalized, and arrested over 70 people who had gathered outside the jail to protest the treatment of those already arrested.
When I arrived, the area of downtown Miami where the FTAA was going to meet was completely surrounded by a tall black metal fence. Cops of various kinds were everywhere--parked up on curbs, dressed in riot gear walking through shopping centers, undercovers, and those on horses and bikes.
The rest of downtown was basically deserted. For days, the police and media had been talking about the "horrors of Seattle"--referring to the huge protests that shut down the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting. So many businesses closed out of fear. In the evenings, downtown had a unique feel to it. If you've ever seen the movie The Handmaid's Tale (based on the novel by Margaret Atwood), you can imagine. It was like a bleak future where the cities are lifeless wastelands inhabited only by fascist security forces and the few others who manage to scurry around them strictly by permission. Of course, here in Miami (as in the book/movie), there are daring subversive elements.
One reason for the deserted state of the downtown area was that many businesses are boarded up and abandoned. Another reason was the leap in repression. Each night there were roadblocks and sirens and helicopters. An anti-war protester I know from Philly said, "Can you imagine living in a place like this 24/7?" She pointed out that people in many place of the world do live in similar situations: "It's like this--with U.S. troops on every corner, harassing people."
But in the days after the intense protests and clashes with the police, I was with some Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade members and other youth when we went through the Black neighborhood of Overtown. When people in the neighborhood saw us, they raised their fists in solidarity. One person greeted us by saying, "Fuck the police!" One family called us over and gave us some hamburgers. We talked about the police--about how they attacked the protesters and how we see them as enforcers of an oppressive system. One of these folks told us, "You all are talkin like you're Black." The police brutality against the protesters was obviously no aberration--people in oppressed communities face it on the daily. Clearly, not all of Miami had feared our presence.
The big events of the week started off on Tuesday, November 18. Root Cause, a coalition of south Florida-based organizations--like the Miami Workers Center, Power U Center for Social Change, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (farm workers who are struggling to organize--see RW #1137), and other activists--were culminating a 34-mile People's March from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. The march stopped at the INS Miami office and the local Taco Bell to protest the injustices of U.S. immigration policy and Taco Bell's continued exploitation of farmworkers. The march highlighted the disastrous impact of capitalist free trade on poor and oppressed communities throughout the Americas.
On Wednesday night, a free concert was held by the Tell the Truth tour in solidarity with the anti- FTAA protesters. Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, Steve Earl, Boots from the Coup, and Lester Chambers were the lead performers. The tour has been traveling around the country.
The air was a lot cooler that night. Goose bumps decorated our skin, and it began to rain. The show was held in an amphitheatre in the shadow of the InterContinental Hotel where the capitalists were meeting to decide the hemisphere's fate. Someone cried out from the stage, "If all this [FTAA] stuff is in our best interests, then why do they need to barricade themselves in? Why do they need the fences and the cops?"
The musicians were simply amazing. They started off with Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and ended the evening with a version of the Chamber Brothers' "Time Has Come Today." In between, they shared a righteous defiance against the way the world is set up, as well as a real appreciation for all those who fight against that. Their performances lifted the spirits and gave heart to many in the crowd.
The last performers of the night--not part of the Truth Tour--was Dead Prez. Thousands of youth were suddenly standing on the benches with their fists in the air." This night was a great way to get people amped for the next day--the day of the main march and direct action.
Thursday began with a rush of activity as early as 7 a.m. Youth marched to the fence for direct action and rowdy protest. Hundreds were surrounded by the police--shoved, beaten with batons, and electrocuted with tasers. Police also used a concussion grenade.
The youth fought back fearlessly, creating shields from discarded wood and using their arms and slingshots to hurl back the rubber bullets and tear gas that the cops shot at them. Bonfires were set in the streets. The scene was reminiscent of Palestine. These youth dared to proclaim that another world is possible and that it is worth risking whatever the police may do to go up against the horrors promised by the FTAA.
In the afternoon, thousands of people gathered at the Bayfront Park, just blocks from the police fence, for a permitted rally by the AFL-CIO and other labor unions. Estimates of the crowd ranged from around 10,000 to 20,000.
Some protesters were dressed like dolphins or flowers or even a butterfly--representing their defense of earth's ecology. There were thousands of youth dressed in black, with padding under their clothes and bandanas soaked in vinegar around their faces for protection. The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade came from different cities. There were activists from Students Against Sweatshops, the Green Party, etc. Food Not Bombs and Radical Cheerleaders provided actual and "spiritual" sustenance.
Battalions of cops were on every side of the park area, trying to both instigate and intimidate. In addition to pepper-spray guns, rubber bullet guns, tear gas, and tasers, they had a few armed personnel carriers--one of which had a black-saucer/satellite-type object on the roof. I did not know what it was or what it did.
The labor march was lively and warmly received by the few local residents we saw. The streets that had been silent and emptied suddenly vibrated with echoes of our voices and footsteps. Police dressed like Darth Vadar were all around us--staring and looking like they wanted to get it on.
At the end, people hung out in the park, waiting for musicians to perform, and some youth had run over to take down a part of the fence. That's when the police started to move in. A solid line of them marched forward, pointing various weapons directly at people, forcing everyone from the park. Hundreds of us ran and walked down one side street--and noticed that bike cops were closing in. Then police behind us started randomly and massively shooting rubber bullets and other projectiles into the crowds. Some people got hit seven or eight times. Some were severely injured--bleeding from their ears or head--but continued their resistance. Even when injured, some of the fiercest fighters continued to put themselves on the front lines to keep the cops back and protect others.
Police even attacked people who were recovering from their injuries in the volunteer Wellness Center. They opened the door and pepper-sprayed the entire space. Clearly the police weren't acting in "self-defense." The authorities were trying to send a message that if you go up against them, they will put a stranglehold on you. Everywhere we looked, more and more cops advanced toward us-- some slowly and menacingly and others at a fast clip.
But what really shined through were the fearlessness and creative strength of the protesters, as well as their heart and care for each other. People kept coming toward us, telling us which ways were safe. Medics came from all over to make sure everyone was okay. Food Not Bombs kids on their bikes passed out oranges and water to people running from tear gas and low-flying helicopters, as well as food to the homeless who were in the area. These are youth who couldn't live with themselves if they didn't cause a ruckus against the crimes the U.S. is commiting all over the world. And I can really imagine how all this creativity, fearlessness, and selflessness could be further strengthened and unleashed in a struggle to change the world in a fundamental way through revolution.
Dozens of people were arrested that day--including one lawyer, Marc Steier, who was acting as a legal observer. Ironically, he was charged with "obstruction of justice."
Despite all the massive police preparations of the ruling class, their TV and newspapers could not say that the FTAA met unopposed in Miami.
Leading up to the week and even during the protests, Miami police officials declared over and over that they respected people's right to protest--as long as people stayed within acceptable boundaries. What happened in Miami shows that under this system's democracy, as soon as people step outside the acceptable boundaries set up by those in power, the velvet glove comes off the iron fist of the state. And they come down hard with their police, courts, and laws. Here, and around the world, the capitalist rulers cannot allow their system and their institutions to be challenged in any fundamental way. As Miami showed, often the police will even attack protesters who do stay within the supposedly acceptable confines of the system.
From Miami, many of the activists planned to go to Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA--or the School of Assassins, as many call it--trains soliders and police from pro-U.S. regimes throughout Latin America. The school says that part of its mission is "protecting the supply of strategic natural resources and access to markets" in the Western Hemisphere.
The Miami anti-FTAA protests come just two months after defiant protests against the WTO in Cancun, Mexico--where people also went up against serious police attacks. In Fortress Miami, people again stood fearlessly in the face of brutality and repression, continuing to globalize resistance.
Everywhere these institutions of capital go in the world, they are being met by opposition and resistance. These clashes highlight the confrontation of two opposing forces--those who control this dying and decrepit system of global exploitation and oppression, and those who are determined to fight for a different future.
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