Scott Harris

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.

Peaceful Demos? Maybe No More

As media reported Monday July 31 that the main legally permitted Universal Health Care and Unity 2000 marches were peaceful in the first days before the convention, activists are ready to deliver a stronger message in actions which include marching in rallies denied city permits.

As in recent mass demonstrations in Seattle and Washington D.C., many of the activists coming to Philadelphia are preparing to commit acts of non-violent civil disobedience, risking arrest to make a political statement.

The Philadelphia Direct Action Group is coordinating a series of actions which will focus on disrupting the Republican Convention and business as usual in Philadelphia. Over the past two months, city police and federal agents have systematically monitored the activities of direct action organizers by staking out their offices, videotaping their comings and goings and even rifling through their trash. Despite what organizers characterize as law enforcement's effort to harass and intimidate them, thousands of activists from all over the country will be converging on Philadelphia in the days before the convention to receive non-violence training and plan their actions.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Matthew Ruben, an organizer with the Philadelphia Direct Action Group, who explains why so many activists, in the tradition of the civil rights movement, are willing to put their bodies on the line for social justice.

Matthew Ruben: Philadelphia Direct Action Group is a coalition of individuals and other groups within Philadelphia who are planning direct action during the convention as a way to protest the bankruptcy of the two-party system and the corporate takeover from the American society in general as well as the increasing encroachment of the criminal justice system on the lives of record numbers of Americans. By direct action, what we mean are the kind of things that people might be familiar with, from the spring protest against Washington D.C., street theater and puppets, a street carnival type of atmosphere, sitting down in streets and linking arms together to block certain areas. Demonstrating in front of certain areas, whether or not those particular protests have been permitted or not, and generally exercising our right to free speech and engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, both of which have long and honorable traditions in America going back to the Boston Tea Party.

Between The Lines: Now what are some of the themes of civil disobedience that people will be engaging in on both the first and second of August?

Matthew Ruben: The overarching theme is "Human Need, Not Corporate Greed." The more general themes are engaging in direct action on those two days to protest the increasing control of money over the political system, and the conventions are a perfect illustration of that. They're highly orchestrated media events and average people have no access whatsoever to the decision-making processes that go on.

Another particular focus of a Monday, Aug. 1 demonstration is going to be the criminal justice system because of the increasing use of the death penalty and of the criminal justice system to try to solve social problems that it has no ability or no business solving; exploitation of prison labor, and disproportionate number of people of color who are locked up in prison -- especially those who come from areas where there's no real economic opportunity.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, there's going to be an event that's just been organized of mothers, lovers, sisters and partners marching in solidarity with people -- mostly men who are in prison -- as well as marching and direct action for a number of women's issues.

Between The Lines: What is the message you are trying to send to the GOP delegates and to the American people here?

Matthew Ruben: The message we are trying to send is that the political system, as represented by the convention, amongst other things, is bankrupt, it's broken, it doesn't work, and it's necessary for people like us to put our bodies on the line to show that. So it's basically saying, we've tried legitimate avenues, we've tried voting, we've tried working in nonprofit organizations, we've tried advocacy and continue to do those things, but the time has come for us to build this movement and put our bodies on the line and say no, this has to stop, we need real change.

Between The Lines: Now recently the police have admitted that they have been spying on or surveilling your offices and your organizers. Why have they been engaged in such activity as far as you know? And what are some of your concerns around the police conduct in Philadelphia, especially in view of some of the violence perpetrated nationally covered in the police kicking and beating a suspect in a chase on a main boulevard in Philadelphia?

Matthew Ruben: There are two reasons, and they're related. The first is that they want this surveillance because they want to know who is doing what. I think some of them honestly believe that there's an assortment of "troublemakers and terrorists" that they've tried to conjure up an image of in the media -- I think some members of law enforcement and city government actually think that these "bad seeds" exist and that their job is to track who is organizing what.

I think the broader reason, though, for the surveillance and these kinds of activities is harassment and intimidation. This is illustrated by, for example, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, which is a poor people's organization organizing for people's economic human rights for Monday, the 31st. They found a listening device in one of their vehicles. And this listening device is a cheap radio shack kind of thing, clearly not the kind of device that the police would actually use for surveillance. It was clearly done for intimidation purposes.

In terms of what our concerns are, the main concern is that initially, the authorities are trying to vilify protesters in general. You may know our mayor was quoted in the July issue of George magazine calling us idiots, and saying that it would be very ugly for protesters, and he and other law enforcement have since have backed off of trying to vilify all of us. They are taking what I think is a much more insidious and worrying tactic: "We respect the protesters, we are rolling out the red carpet for the delegates and the protesters, we have no problem with nonviolent protest, but you know, there are a few bad seeds who want violence for violence's sake, and we aim to be extra vigilant and guard against them making trouble. They're trying to inoculate themselves against criticism ahead of time. They want to have an alibi there already set up so that any terrible thing that they might do, they can justify by these few "bad seeds."

And that way, if the police are doing violence to what looks like a peaceful protest, they can say, "Yes, but there were a couple of people making trouble."

To contact the Direct Action Group call (215) 545-1505 or visit their Web site at: http://

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