Part Two: After the WEF (continued
by Alan Minsky and Frida Berrigan
AM: So what were your experiences
during the World Economic Forum and the protests surrounding
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 Womens 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 wouldnt 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 dont 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, didnt 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 didnt 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. Its funny, it didnt 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 theres a split between mobilizations
that focus on peace activism and mobilizations that focus on
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 theyre all bad and theyre
all really destructive. I know that they connect to my life
in some important way, but I just cant get exercised about
At this meeting that we had afterwards, we talked about why
we didnt have a larger role and why we didnt take
the initiative to offer something. Why, at the bare minimum,
we didnt 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.
"Its 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 its
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, thats
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 wasnt
an absence of peace messages. I ended up collecting a lot of
stickers that said "God doesnt need a gun" and "Real Christians
dont 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 wasnt
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 shouldnt wait for an engraved invitation to lead
the movement. That isnt 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 wouldnt 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
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
didnt 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
hadnt 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 didnt 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 wasnt 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: Its a tough
issue isnt 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 didnt 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
its symbolism involves prominent people and some sort
of stylization, some sort of theater... You know I think of
the International Action Centers 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 its
portrayed in the media, or even the way that its 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,
" Thats 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 dont know, I mean theres
a hierarchy of responsibility, theres a hierarchy of experience,
theres a hierarchy of a willingness to put ones
self at risk and accept consequence. There lots of different
hierarchies, and some peoples words and actions carry
more weight because of their experiences or what theyve
done in their life, or what theyre risking in order to
do it and what theyre saying while their doing it. I think
that to say that everybodys 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 whos
the most prominent person in the KWRU. When I saw what was going
on, and I saw that the large body of the march didnt 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 didnt 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 didnt know about it. It was so out of view for those
who couldnt see, but those who could see, they didnt
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 todays students
have to contend with; a very prominent one is a type of anarchism
that is informed by this absolute opposition to hierarchical
So it seems to me what your writing about in your letter and
what we are discussing here, its something thats
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 its not an
intractable divide? So its a workable environment?
FB: I think so. I
think we have a lot of room to grow, putting ourselves out there
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, were the oldest Pacifist organization
in the country and they didnt 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 theres 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 theres room to grow on both side, which is exciting.
Theres a lot of opportunities there. Certainly, if you
look at the country were living in right now theres
a lot of need
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