July 2002
volume 1, issue 1


Part Two: After the WEF (continued 1, 2)

AM: So what were your experiences during the World Economic Forum and the protests surrounding them?

FB: I attended as a presenter, the Students For Global Justice Conference that happened at Columbia two days before the WEF. That was a really exciting experience. I did a presentation with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom on nuclear weapons and a number of the big corporations that are involved in nuclear weapons production and testing. It was one of those things where as I was taking the train up to Colombia, I was thinking that maybe there wouldn’t be anybody there at all. When I get there it turned out that there were people from Japan who came to participate in the demonstrations, who came early to be a part of this conference, and people from England, and really people from all over the world. A really diverse group of people. A lot of organizations presenting -individuals presenting too. It was sort of a good metaphor for the whole weekend. My expectations of it were so different from the reality; to realize how computers and communicating on computers and through e-mail sort of warps everything, in good ways and in bad ways.

AM: What were the bad ways?

FB: I don’t know, but you end up thinking things are really disorganized; that there are only two people who are organizing things, or that nothing is ever really going to coalesce in a constructive way. And then all the pieces just fall into place. This conference was excellent. They had twelve workshops going on at the same time, and twenty people in every workshop with a lot of back-and-forth of ideas and discussions. There were people armed with information and analysis ready to go into the World Economic Forum demonstrations. People were able to build relationships with each other a little bit before all of the marching and demonstrating happened.

AM: The issues that you elaborated on in your letter, the conflict between the peace community and the anti-globalization demonstrators, in particular the black bloc- how did those play out during the week leading up to and then during the WEF protests?

FB: The peace community, as we talked about last time, didn’t have a formal role in organizing anything leading up to the WEF. At our last meeting we spent about a half hour talking about why that was. I think the whole tone of the weekend and the police presence and everything made a tenser environment for everybody. A lot of the non-governmental organizations and labor groups- the "more mainstream groups" who are critical of these economic entities- sort of bowed out of an organizing role.

A lot of the WRL people went to the march on Saturday. Everybody who is on the executive committee and who work here in the office went. But we didn’t go together. Nobody took the initiative to organize a street corner for all of us to meet at. There were probably fifty people there who identified with the WRL in a real serious way. It’s funny, it didn’t occur to any of us to go together and form some sort of affinity group, or even bring signs that said WRL, or banners or anything like that. It was just this real oversight on our part.

AM: When you talked about it afterwards, did that have anything to do with a sense that there’s a split between mobilizations that focus on peace activism and mobilizations that focus on global economics?

FB: One woman at the meeting, a member of the WRL said something that I thought was really interesting. She said, "You know what gets me going, like what really gets my pulse going? What really infuriates and outrages me is war, and killing, and that is what I want to be opposing. These economic issues feel really nebulous. I understand them and I try to understand them. I try to educate myself on why the Multi-Lateral Agreement on Investment is bad, and why NAFTA is bad. I know they’re all bad and they’re all really destructive. I know that they connect to my life in some important way, but I just can’t get exercised about these issues."

At this meeting that we had afterwards, we talked about why we didn’t have a larger role and why we didn’t take the initiative to offer something. Why, at the bare minimum, we didn’t try to get people to go together to the march on Saturday. What a lot of people ended up expressing was something really similar to what this woman said.

"It’s not what really keeps me up at night." And I just wonder if some of that is a generational thing. You know a lot of peace folks were really active at the height of the Cold War when we were three minutes to midnight and remember duck-n-cover and bomb shelters in the back yard and the real imminent threat of nuclear war.

AM: Whereas the anti-globalization demonstrators are familiar with a world where Niketowns and Starbucks take over their entire environment. And they come out of college, if they go to college, 80,000 dollars in debt to some credit organization.

FB: Yeah. So it’s just "a real." It made me aware of this cultural difference that has nothing to do with ideology or pacifism or any of that necessarily, but just the environment in which people grew up and became politically active and politically aware. These things that challenge them to become politically active are the fear of nuclear war and the outrage about our leaders holding people hostage with nuclear weapons as opposed to some of the things you just described.

AM: But the Bush administration is brilliantly combining the two, bringing back the fear of constant war escalation combined with rabid globalization.

FB: Yeah and the younger people who are a part of WRL were making that argument. It is just that some of those other people need some education about what the connections are between economic issues and militarism.

AM: At the demonstrations, how prominent were signs about war and peace as opposed to just global economics?

FB: Gosh, that’s a good question. There were a lot of big catchy signs directly addressing the WEF. The puppets and the bright stuff seemed to be about economic issues, but there certainly wasn’t an absence of peace messages. I ended up collecting a lot of stickers that said "God doesn’t need a gun" and "Real Christians don’t carry guns" and "Jews against war." There were a lot of stickers going around that were against the war in Afghanistan and war in general- some good stuff about military spending as opposed to domestic priorities. I saw some small but really effective signs about what police officers earn a year and the salaries of the people inside the WEF. I thought those were good as a way to reach out to the humanity behind the riot gear.

AM: Going back for a second to your WRL meeting after the demo, did the people at the meeting express a sense that the demonstrators, and maybe in particular the anarchist demonstrators, were in fact people they could work with?

FB: Yeah. I think the general feeling was that we had missed an opportunity to have more of a role in shaping the message of what happened. A couple of people said that nobody asked us until quite close to the weekend, and then it was about finding housing. It wasn’t like they wanted us to do non-violence training; they wanted us to help with logistics. Other people said that we don't have to wait for an invitation; you know we have something to offer and we should have offered it. There was the feeling that in the future this is something that we should be a part of, and that we shouldn’t wait for an engraved invitation to lead the movement. That isn’t how it should happen.

AM: I was just out at a demonstration in Salt Lake City that happened right before the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, it was called the March For Our Lives. It was organized by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union out of Philadelphia. It was basically a march bringing attention to and calling for the elimination of poverty in America. Five women at the end of the march decided to walk towards the stadium where the opening ceremonies were to take place. Actually people doing security from the march, from the KWRU, set up a line of security people, so that the five people who were planning to do civil disobedience were literally separated and apart from the rest of the march. And then these five women walked towards the huge line of police that were backed up by another huge line of police, and another. When they came up to the line of police who stopped their progress, these five women asked to continue on to the stadium to deliver their message to the crowd attending the opening ceremony. The police told them that they wouldn’t be allowed to continue. The media was there in force, snapping photos of the scene. The cops issued a series of warnings and then the five women were arrested.

Later on, a young man, a college student with whom I had traveled to Salt Lake City, having observed this scene asked me if I didn’t think that the whole process and manner in which the five women had separated themselves from the rest of the march — you see almost all the other people on the march hadn’t been informed about the plan of these women whom were pretty much in leadership roles — well, this young guy, he objected, and he asked me if I didn’t think that the whole scene basically smacked of hierarchy. When he asked me this, I along with our other traveling companion, we tried to explain the rationale that informed the actions of these five women. I had also felt something of this when the action was taking place, but it wasn’t in any way my primary impression of the event, as it was for this younger guy. And reflecting on it, it reminds me of something of the split you highlight in your letter.

How do you think the WRL will approach this issue perhaps when it comes up again in future dealings with a younger group of anarchist-identified protesters who might see this as hierarchical?

FB: It’s a tough issue isn’t it? Starhawk went into this in her analysis of the World Economic Forum protests. She described this thing where some people decided they wanted to go off and do an action that would be high profile and symbolic, but would be contrasting with the permitted nature of the march and the controlled feeling of the whole thing. She was telling somebody about this effort, and they were like "we didn’t know anything about that!"

Maybe this is a different issue, but I think that it represents a real split. When you look at lots of civil disobedience, because it’s symbolism involves prominent people and some sort of stylization, some sort of theater... You know I think of the International Action Center’s campaign of getting people arrested at Police Plaza around the murder of Amido Diallo with the trial of the four police officers responsible. There were days when Jewish academics got arrested, and days where ministers got arrested, and then days when members of Congress got arrested. You know there was a sort of cult of personality around all of that. One hundred people got arrested with Jesse Jackson; Jesses Jackson is the only name in the newspaper and all the rest of the people are just sort of… The fact that they spent twenty-four hours in jail, got a misdemeanor charge and went through this process ends up being sort of meaningless in the grand scheme of things, or in the way that it’s portrayed in the media, or even the way that it’s portrayed by organizers. I think some of the things that the WRL has been a part of have been like… "Yeah, lets get Martin Sheen to the Pentagon and get him arrested. With other people too, but…" That’s our story right there: "Martin Sheen is getting arrested" or some other prominent person is making a statement. I mean that is hierarchical.

But at the same time, and this is what I was getting to in the my letter, there has to be… I don’t know, I mean there’s a hierarchy of responsibility, there’s a hierarchy of experience, there’s a hierarchy of a willingness to put one’s self at risk and accept consequence. There’ lots of different hierarchies, and some people’s words and actions carry more weight because of their experiences or what they’ve done in their life, or what they’re risking in order to do it and what they’re saying while their doing it. I think that to say that everybody’s action is exactly the same is not necessarily true.

AM: It was interesting because in this particular demo in SLC, one of the five people arrested was Cheri Honkala who’s the most prominent person in the KWRU. When I saw what was going on, and I saw that the large body of the march didn’t even know what was transpiring, I figured that this is a somewhat common operating procedure with the KWRU. I had heard that Cheri has been arrested like 70 or 80 times, so I didn’t focus too much on it. I figured that this was the way the group has functioned. There were logistical explanations as to why the group didn’t know about it. It was so out of view for those who couldn’t see, but those who could see, they didn’t try to intervene in any way.

At the same time what I saw in this young person who noticed this and brought it up later, for me it seemed to resonate with something written in the Village Voice. I believe it was in an article by Esther Kaplan, about how on college campuses, in the range of political ideologies that today’s students have to contend with; a very prominent one is a type of anarchism that is informed by this absolute opposition to hierarchical structures.

So it seems to me what your writing about in your letter and what we are discussing here, it’s something that’s going to be an issue at least for the next few years. That is in a context where the peace movement will be more prominent then would have been expected both before the Bush administration and before 9-11. But your sense coming off the WEF was that the divide that might exist there, well that it’s not an intractable divide? So it’s a workable environment?

FB: I think so. I think we have a lot of room to grow, putting ourselves out there and … prima donnas not the right word… You know some of what I heard, "nobody asked us, nobody invited us" was some of that. "Here we are, we’re the oldest Pacifist organization in the country and they didn’t think to ask us until they needed places to sleep" Its just sort of like, well you gotta put yourself out there you have to have something to offer. And we have a lot to offer. And clearly, there seems to be a need and a desire for it. But we have to take some initiative, and I think we should be doing that. I think the general sense was, "yeah, we should be doing that."

And I think there’s openness on the other side for those voices of experience and for people who have experience getting arrested. People who have experience in potentially tense situations and potentially violent situations that have been there before. And there’s room to grow on both side, which is exciting. There’s a lot of opportunities there. Certainly, if you look at the country we’re living in right now there’s a lot of need…

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