Activists Plan Upcoming WEF Protests

From Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, more than 1,500 corporate leaders and their political allies will be gathering in New York City for the meeting of the World Economic Forum. The annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland since 1971, was moved to New York City this year due in part to growing protests at the Swiss Alps ski resort in recent years by groups opposed to the forum's agenda promoting corporate-led globalization.

Over the years, discussions at the World Economic Forum have spawned the creation of controversial institutions such as the World Trade Organization and have supported free trade economic policies. Similar to what's occurred at other recent global summit meetings, thousands of labor, environmental and student activists from the U.S. and around the world are planning to greet the elite delegates as they come to New York for the forum with protests, street theater and teach-ins.

Scott Harris, host of popular radio show Between the Lines, spoke with Michael Dolan, deputy director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, who discusses the history of the World Economic Forum, the planned protests and the concern that in the post-Sept. 11 environment in New York City, police may not tolerate dissent and instead label those engaged in direct action as "terrorists."

Michael Dolan: The World Economic Forum (WEF) is essentially a ruling class caucus. It's an elite member-based institution funded by approximately 1,000 multinational corporations. Some of them pay as much as $300,000 per year for the privilege. They gather in sort of a clubby kind of environment and then they hatch plans that relegate or subordinate civil society values: labor, environment, sustainability, consumer and human rights. They subordinate all those values to their bottom line, geopolitical interests and their corporate interests.

We'll be there, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, and a lot of different organizations are mobilizing to confront the WEF there. We certainly expect the top brass of the Bush administration to go to New York to be a part of the welcome, a part of the discussions: Bush, Cheney, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, probably Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative.

We're going to take the opportunity in the streets of New York, and in parallel forums in Manhattan, to describe our critique of the WEF, but also to petition our government for the redress of grievances relating to the neoliberal economic model. I encourage people to mark their calendars for a few days to proclaim our critique loudly to the press and to the policy and corporate elites in New York City.

Scott Harris: You describe the decision by the World Economic Forum organizers to come to New York City as a brilliant public relations strategy. Do you mean that there is some thought on the part of the WEF organizers that the protests they've encountered in Switzerland may not be tolerated or permitted in New York City, given the tragic events of Sept. 11?

Michael Dolan: That's exactly what I mean. I think they've really in many ways set a trap for this movement, for the anti-globalization movement.

In all the "summit stalking" that's gone on since the "battle in Seattle" over two years ago against the World Trade Organization, there's always been some rowdiness, some property destruction at the periphery requiring police to chase protesters, and "black-clad anarchists" around and all the rest. Well, by going to New York in the aftermath of the events of September at a time when the New York City Police Dept. is incredibly popular nationally, even globally, it creates the opportunity for enormous sympathy for them having to deal with protesters and it could have the effect of further marginalizing the anti-globalization movement.

So it's imperative for us to maintain really peaceful, explicitly non-violent protests. No less dramatic, no less creative, no less militant, but in no way should we try to engage the New York City Police Dept. The press will marginalize us, the corporate elites will marginalize this movement. And after the loss of the Fast Track trade legislation in the House, that very narrow vote on fast track, after the launch of the World Trade Organization ministerial in November and certainly after the events of September, it could be a public relations catastrophe for this movement to get further marginalized.

It's very important that we get out there and prove that we're as broad and wide and deep and sophisticated a movement as we have always been and we do not allow ourselves be marginalized by the mainstream media.

Scott Harris: When it comes to the goals of the opponents of neoliberal economic policies and the work of the World Economic Forum, what are those objectives? What do people want to accomplish, what is the message that they want to send out?

Michael Dolan: First of all, there's going to be a lot of noise about the war. The basic critique obviously being that it is in fact the real life effects of the neoliberal model, the social injustice, the growing income gap globally, "the haves and have nots," that has caused so much of the animosity toward the United States, for example. And so looking at the real causes of terrorism, of the war, making the link between militarism and the neoliberal model is going to be one piece of the agenda.

Second, we'll be calling on those political elites to foreswear a flawed and failed free trade model. Additionally, it's important that we frame our critique of the World Economic Forum and the neoliberal model within a context of the search for alternatives and what another world will look like. In fact, the local organizing in New York is gathering around this notion of "another world is possible." The Another World is Possible coalition in New York, arising out of the Direct Action Network, the Independent Media Center and your usual collection of non-governmental organizations that look at this, including Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, will be having press conferences beforehand, panels and plenaries throughout, marches, vigils and rallies on the street and then ending up with some summary events which will proclaim, not only our critique of the World Economic Forum and its agenda, but also our search for alternatives, the alternatives that we are recommending to the policy elites as well as to the mainstream media.

Contact Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch by calling (202) 546-4996 or visit their Web site at: www.tradewatch.org.

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