Global Exchange Rallies Left

SANTA MONICA, August 13, 2000 -- Bewildered tourists and inconvenienced residents pushed their way through the crowd of two hundred protesters gathered outside the Gap on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica yesterday afternoon. The store was the site of a Global Exchange rally cum beach party, patrolled by police hovering above in noisy choppers, serenaded by chants and a raucus live band.

After chanting and watching various speakers and performers such as Chie Abad, a former Saipan sweatshop worker, for nearly an hour, the group marched the entire length of the promenade down to the beach.

A troop of middle-aged women dressed as marsh-dwelling creatures crouched at the base of a tree and inhaled sandwiches as they waited for things to get under way. Volunteers distributed small green leaflets bearing the "Protestor's Pledge," which promises that protestors will refrain from violence, carry no arms, remain free of drugs and alcohol and not destroy property.

Demands for solutions to a range of issues rang clear over the loud speakers. "People don't vote. Money does," one sign declared. No-"WTO" signs bobbed among the crowd, urging onlookers to oppose World Trade Organization brand free-trade. Billionaires for Bush/Gore signs and "Free Tibet Before Free Trade with China" reinforced these messages.

"This is an exercise of democracy," a writer from sixty miles east of Los Angeles who had come to the protests with his wife and two teen-aged daughters commented. His statement echoed the speakers' refrain that this crowd, and not the people on the convention floor, symbolized democracy in action.

"What most annoys me is the harassment up there," he added, pointing to the swarm of helicopters overhead. "It is over the top that two hundred people can't hear each other because of the noise they are making."

Twenty year old Tony Liuzzi, who has spent his summer as an intern with Global Exchange, agreed. "The media have tried to scare people away," he said. "They talk about the new toys that the cops might use. But they have not succeeded in scaring us away."

Upbeat and carefully monitored by a dedicated group of orange-arm-banded coordinators keeping them on the sidewalks and out of intersections, the protesters made it to the beach at Pier Five without incident.

The crowd swelled from two to five hundred by the time everyone had arrived at the beach in western Los Angeles from the center of the city where the Democratic National Convention, the Shadow Convention and the Free Mumia rally were being held earlier. A group from the Loews Hotel protest, just blocks away, joined the group once that rally had dispersed. "There is a whole lot of good energy in this group," one woman commented as the parade sailed past.

By early evening, the group had descended onto the beach and gathered around a small stage set in the sand to showcase dance acts, singers, spoken word artists. Just above them, on the Santa Monica Pier, corporate sponsors were hosting what Global Exchange's website billed as a "schmooze-fest." From time to time, suited cigar-smoking politicians and corporate lobbyists could be seen watching the protesters' performances.

The most faithful audience for the protest, however, was the LAPD, who were on hand to assist the Santa Monica police lest the crowd turn mad. The police stood at the edge of the pier and listened without batting an eye as protestors chanted "Whose pier? Our pier."

Mitra Ebadolahi, a young volunteer working for Green Party Senate candidate and founder of Global Exchange, Medea Benjamin, summed the event up by saying, "This is going to revolutionize politics. It will revolutionize the city for sure. The sentiment will stick around, and it couldn't have happened without this event."

Residents of Los Angeles like Ebadolahi, frustrated by a city in which all freeways have led to political apathy, say that it is now "payback time." Not only will the momentum generated by the protest continue, Ebadolahi explained, but "politicians are going to realize that they need to change. They are starting to realize what people know (that they are not getting what they deserve), and it is scaring them."

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