Part One: Pre-WEF Culture
Clash? Peaceniks and Globophobes- can they get along?
by Alan Minsky and Frida Berrigan
Last summer the Journal was
having lunch with a friend in NYC. Around chomps of hamburgers,
we pickled the conversations with news of recent activities.
Our friend, Frida Berrigan (arms policy advisor for the World
Policy Institute and member of the board for the War Resistors
League), was telling us about a protest at Vandendberg Air force
Base in California. She had helped publicize it from her Manhattan
office. We were particularly interested since wed recalled
seeing an announcement for this anti Star-Wars demo make appeals
to globalizations activists by naming this form of militarization
as arm-and-arm with issues surrounding globalization
In a letter we asked Frida about this; if the peace-groups she
worked with felt that a collaboration with the globalization
community was possible? Both groups come from distinct histories;
one versed in Gandhian civil disobedience the other in DIY direct-action.
Her reply confirmed that the relationship promised great things,
but she premised that it would be a challenging road. In her
letter she told us that the WRL had just lost one of its best
organizers to the globalization movements superstars,
the Ruckus Society. In addition, she spoke of an incident shed
witnessed in Connecticut.
Activists of both traditions attended a protest at a weapons
manufacturing plant. Tactical discussions and meetings were
difficult and drawn out. The direct-action folks thought the
non-violent civil disobedience folks where to reform minded
and hierarchical. The civil-disobedience folks, on the other
hand, felt the direct-action folks were disrespectful of the
workers and blind to the consequences of their actions.
Jump ahead several months and the world had changed inexorably.
In the aftermath of September 11, reality had conspired to make
our initial conversation fancying a unified front of political
action an inevitability. This past January, journalist Allen
Minsky caught up with Frida in New York City. He started his
interview with the initial letters passed between the Journal
and Frida. Allen then conducted his interview before and after
the World Economic Forum protests. They provided the opportunity
to explore with Frida the issues of collaboration between the
peace and the globalization movement.
AM: What role has the established peace movement played since
Sept. 11? By the established peace movement, I mean the groups
that you refer as having a long history. Its been my sense
that within the radical activist community, the more established
peace groups have had a higher profile since Sept. 11.
FB: Its easiest
for me to speak about the War Resisters League, which I have
a real direct connection with. I sit on the executive committee
of the War Resisters League, which is in downtown Manhattan
right off of Bleeker, about a mile from the World Trade Center.
On Sept 11 we were able to get out a statement right away that
I thought seemed really prescient. We were writing as people
were streaming north from the World Trade Center covered with
ash and traumatized. Recognizing already that this was some
kind of terrorist attack and calling for the U.S. to have a
non-violent response to it, a response that immediately addresses
the roots of terrorism instead of the knee-jerk bellicose, lets
go bomb someone, attitude.
In the days after Sept 11 in NY, we had a lot of trouble with
the phone system, the computers. Tons and tons of people were
calling the War Resisters League; just finding it in the phone
book, or seeing it on the web, or I dont know, finding
some old flyers that they might have had around. They were trying
to find out what was happening, to connect with other people
and get a sense of what to do now. How could we know in the
days afterwards what to do other than give blood, mourn, or
try and help the people who were clearing the rubble? But the
phone lines were constantly clogged with people calling up,
and I think that energy has been sustained.
The War Resisters League started a vigil in Union Square that
actually continues now (Jan, 2002:ed.), even though Union Squares
I mean there were these images right after Sept
11 with the Square just full of people, flowers, and little
candles burning; little memorials for people who died. Were
still doing a vigil in Union Square, passing out flyers every
week. I think we have become a lot more visible since Sept 11.
Weve been doing a lot of public speaking, a lot of training
on non-violence conflict resolution. Theres been a lot
of interest in the history of pacifism in this country and also
in Afghanistan. There have been a lot of people calling up to
get draft counseling. A lot of people in the military, the reserves,
who are very concerned about being called up, and who wanted
help becoming conscientious objectors or being educated about
their rights. The War Resisters League has a project that does
People were looking for answers, and us trying to at least provide
something with this concrete service for people who are in the
military now. And then concern because the war is continuing.
People in the Reserves, who six months ago never thought there
was going to be a war, thought the military seemed like a good
career option. And now all of a sudden it becomes very clear
what their purpose is, and they want to get out. So weve
been helping on that level too.
AM: It sounds like in terms of, "the movement",
the post-Seattle movement that you were addressing directly
in the letter you wrote, that perhaps the War Resisters League
and the established peace groups might feel a little bolstered
and more confident about bridging the gap between the non-violent
action role that theyre committed to playing and the groupings
that were prominent at demonstrations in and after Seattle-
who were less committed to traditional civil disobedience. Do
you have a sense of that?
FB: Yeah. I think
in some ways thats true. I believe The War Resisters League
played a really good role here in New York in the different
anti-war coalitions that rose as a response to Sept 11 and Bushs
call for war. We then played a good role in trying to bring
those coalitions, which are made up of real disparate groups
of people with all sorts of different political ideologies and
varying commitments to non-violence to some agreement around
some commonly held ideals. In New York, as in a lot of other
big cities, those coalitions have now sort of broken down into
different factions. But, I think we had a clear sense of our
role and what we have to contribute; you know, that non-violent
witness still has a real central place in movements for political
and social change.
AM: Since were speaking on the eve of the convergence
of demonstrations in NYC for the World Economic Forum, I saw
an article on FAIR.org, which talked about the various editorials
in the New York newspapers and how they are aggressively telling
the "anarchist-demonstrators" that if theres
any kind of turmoil in central Manhattan, that NYC will expect
the NYPD to have very little patience. In this kind of environment
do you think it is conducive to bring demonstrators who are
maybe more aggressive in their tactics towards more traditional
non-violence tactics? Are you perceiving that?
FB: I think that the
New York newspapers are making it clear that theres going
to be an open season on protesters here at the World Economic
Forum, especially any of those who have the trappings of a black
Theres been this really interesting discussion that Ive
listened to on one of these convergence list serves about the
issue of masks. The New York Police Dept has dug deep into their
rule books and found this law that three or more people wearing
masks is somehow illegal. Theyve vowed to arrest people
wearing masks. So theres been this whole conversation-
do we wear masks or do we not wear masks? Is wearing a mask
just an invitation to get beat up or arrested? And if thats
the case, than shouldnt we all wear masks and see what
happens? And then this idea that maybe people can wear masks
in solidarity with the Zapitistas, or in solidarity with the
invisible victims of economic globalization, or whatever. Than
the whole issues was "Ok lets talk about this at
a spokes council meeting" and consense around it. But its
been really interesting just to be hearing this because
"We also want to do non-violence civil resistance at the
World Economic Forum."
Im listening to all of this, when youre just reading
all of these e-mails its hard to know how grounded it
is. I just found the whole thing very alarming because the environment
that were all going into at the World Economic Forum and
the protests surrounding it are so charged. It seems like the
police are so primed for violence and are going to be so. And
certainly the mainstream media has played a part in this. Theyre
not all that sympathetic at this point to the protestors. The
media has successfully characterized the protesters as outsiders,
the globetrotting anarchists coming to mess things up. That
is the sort of characterization that has been pretty successfully
created. A lot of people nonetheless have been drawn to the
AM: Your anticipation is that there will be somewhat of a
FB: Oh yeah, were
the numbers that Ive been hearing are
tens of thousands. Which seems like a lot to me.
AM: Right, especially because a lot of people have chosen
not to go because theyre intimidated by exactly what youre
FB: So looking at
the history of non-violent resistance and non-violent civil
disobedience, things take a long time. Theres planning
that goes into it. Theres trust thats built amongst
people. There are alliances that are made between the people
who are willing to take these risks and the people who arent,
but who respect and value the witness thats taking place.
So just knowing this history, being steeped in this history,
and seeing these WEF protest come together so fast, everybodys
saying "Were going to do non-violent civil disobedience
at the World Economic Forum." I have a hard time believing that
this can really happen.
AM: Are there plans amongst a group of people affiliated
with the War Resisters League, a small disciplined group, who
are planning this?
AM: You dont know of any groups of a Ghandian non-violent
civil-disobedience tradition that will be doing any actions?
FB: Right, correct.
AM: So its really a large amorphous group thats
having these spokes-council meetings?
FB: Right, and then
planning disciplined non-violent protest out of that. It just
seems really counter to everything that Ive been taught
to believe is the non-violent way of going about this.
I think that one of the things that I admired so much about
the Seattle protest was that work went into planning the protests
so far ahead of time, and I think that some sort of groundwork
was laid. There were these new coalitions, and these new dynamics
of trust and respect that were built. Something really exciting
and new happened out of that. Something that hit the mainstream
totally by surprise. The mainstream was like "where does this
come from!?" And when you really looked at it, you saw that
it had been building up for a number of years, and that there
were these organizations that were behind it which had been
laying this groundwork for a long time.
AM: My sense is that the people who were on the initial front
lines who were sitting in and blocking the streets out in front
of the hotels in Seattle had practiced what they were doing
for quite a while. My sense is that they largely came out of
the Northwests environmental movement.
AM: So your sense is that in these spokes council meetings
that will be taking place over the next few day in advance of
some kind of direct-action/non-violent civil disobedience, there
wont be much presence from people who have a long experience
with this? Or theyll be present, but theyll be in
an extreme minority.
FB: I can think of
a handful of people that I think will be there. People who have
long histories of non-violent civil disobedience who have carried
out actions in the past and served time in prison for them,
and have an ethic of non-violence that is foundational for them.
As far as I know, none of those people are facilitating or in
any leadership positions. And you know, I think some of that
is our fault.
I was talking to a friend of mine who works with the American
Friends Service Committee and he was saying, "We didnt
start thinking about what our role was going to be in these
meetings until two weeks ago when somebody called us and wanted
to use one of our buildings for meetings." And hes like,
"this wasnt on my radar screen at all. Like this is coming,
and this is an opportunity for us." I think you can say the
same thing for the WRL
AM: Do you think thats partly because it has been a
period of great activity in these groups?
Yeah, for those of us who are working in New York. Im
kicking myself for not having thought of this earlier, and at
the same time, Im wondering when the heck would I have
done any of this work? Since Sept 11, through the WRL Ive
been reacting to peoples needs with all of the requests that
have come into the office and doing vigils. We helped organize
a really big demonstration on Oct 7, the day that the bombing
started in Afghanistan. Weve tried to build on that by
holding forums. Weve been doing a lot! It was one of those
things that fell through the cracks. It makes sense in terms
of everything else weve had to do, and then at the same
time you really wish that we had a bit more strategic vision
and long term planning.
AM: And yet my guess is that
at the last moment many people from your community, the non-violence
civil disobedience community will actually go ahead and try
to attend the spokes council meetings even without coordination.
Because its taking place in the next few days.
FB: Yeah, I think well
be there to try and shape things, but who knows how?
AM: Youll also be participating in a panel up at Barnard
and Columbia, is that correct?
FB: Yeah, Were going
to be doing a presentation on the nuclear weapons industry,
and how thats been shaping the Bush administrations
policy on nuclear weapons. Also, and this fits in to what youre
interested in, some stories from the anti-nuclear movement from
the Seventies and Eighties the successes of that movement
and some of the lessons that are there for us now.
AM: Any reflection on what youre anticipating for the
street demonstrations during the WEF?
FB: Oh my God, Im such
a sissy, you know. Im totally nervous. Im going
there with other people, some friends who are connected with
the WRL. We dont really know what to expect.
AM: I tell you what, Ill follow-up in a weeks
time and Ill talk to you then. Good luck.
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