Speaking Truth To Power: Speaking Truth To Ourselves

First in December in Seattle and then
in April in Washington, DC the movement against corporate sponsored globalization
spoke truth to power. Thousands of young people said they were sick of corporate
arrogance, greed, and callous indifference to escalating economic injustice
and suffering. They said capitalism and its values suck. They said they do
not believe the economics of competition and greed is all people are capable
of. They said they know people are capable of equitable cooperation and they
were going to prove it.  First in December in Seattle and then in April
in Washington DC the movement against corporate sponsored globalization exposed
neoliberal lies, challenged mainstream economic myths, opened a real public
debate, and changed public opinion about corporate globalism.

Before Seattle corporate sponsored globalization and the machinations of the
IMF, World Bank, and WTO were a “back burner” issue for most Americans.
Those who paid any attention believed the only story they ever heard: “Globalization
of the corporate business system under the leadership of the U.S. is both
inevitable and the best thing that could happen to the global economy. Radical
liberalization of international trade and investment and privatization of
public services yields global efficiency gains that will eventually trickle
down to everyone’s benefit.” That was the message preached by four
successive Administrations in Washington, two Republican and two Democratic,
approved by the most professional economists and endorsed by the mainstream
media. They also believed the lie that anyone who said anything different
was either seeking to protect unfair advantages of a special interest or a
crackpot. After Seattle the public debate changed. Suddenly it was legitimate
to question whether or not corporate sponsored globalization was benefiting
the global majority or even a majority of Americans. After Washington, DC
there are few who do not know that there are a number of us who are absolutely
convinced that, far from yielding efficiency gains and benefits for all, corporate
sponsored globalization actually misdirects productive potentials, benefits
the few at the expense of the many, and accelerates environmental degradation.

Before Seattle most Americans had never heard of the WTO. Now most Americans
know there is a debate about whether or not we were better off without the
WTO to push trade liberalization contingent on enforcement of international
patents and copyrights but not on enforcement of international labor and environmental
standards. Before Washington most Americans thought the World Bank did what
it claims it does—reduce world poverty and promote economic development.
Now most Americans know that the evidence shows that the World Bank has failed
to reduce global poverty and promote development while financing projects
that displace the poor and hasten the destruction of tropical forests and
ecosystems. Before Washington most Americans thought the IMF did what it claims
it does—help countries that get into economic trouble. Now most Americans
know many say the IMF changes the rules to benefit lenders at the expense
of borrowers, bails out international banks, not poor countries, and forces
poor countries to cut back on education and health programs and increase natural
resource extraction for export to make interest payments on debts that are

But we must not only speak truth to power, we must learn to speak truth to
ourselves if our movement against corporate sponsored globalization is to
grow and deepen—which it must do if we are to be successful.

Being truthful with ourselves starts with being honest about how many of us
there are and what we did. I was present in Seattle and Washington
and offer the following account based on my own personal observations, and
on over 30 years of going to demonstrations and estimating crowd size. In
Seattle there were roughly 40,000 people who attended the labor-sponsored
rally on Tuesday, November 30, and marched from the rally downtown in the
afternoon. Those who rallied and took place in that spirited march were mostly
union members brought to Seattle by their unions and the AFL-CIO, but included
significant contingents of environmental activists and locals who wanted to
show their opposition to WTO policies but did not wish to break laws and/or
risk arrest. There were roughly 8,000 people organized by the Direct Action
Network (DAN) into a network of affinity groups who blocked delegates from
attending the WTO ministerial meetings beginning early in the morning Tuesday,
November 30 through non-violent civil disobedience—risking arrest, tear
gas, and clubbing. There were around 200 anarchists who avoided arrest and
broke windows in Nike Town, Starbucks, and McDonalds in downtown Seattle after
some police gassed, clubbed, and shot rubber bullets at DAN activists who
they could not move. Later in the evening some local youths came downtown
and broke windows in other upscale stores as well. The following day there
were five or six groups of several hundred demonstrators who continued to
protest the WTO meetings, the curfew, the state of emergency declared by the
mayor of Seattle, and the arrests and mistreatment of their fellow demonstrators
the previous day. These demonstrators drew more tear and pepper gas, were
chased by police, and frequently clubbed and arrested when caught. There were
considerably fewer demonstrators on Thursday and Friday. The total arrests
for the week were over 700, over 300 of whom were students from Evergreen
State College in Olympia Washington.

In Washington, DC there was a rally on the Mall Sunday, April 9 organized
primarily by the U.S. chapter of Jubilee 2000 calling for debt cancellation.
Roughly 5,000 people attended the rally, the majority brought by Jubilee 2000,
but a considerable number brought by the AFL-CIO. On Wednesday, April 12,
there was an mid-day rally organized by the AFL-CIO and Citizens Trade Campaign
on the west steps of the Capitol building calling for Congress to deny China
permanent normal trading relations status in hopes of keeping China out of
the WTO. Roughly 7,000 people attended this rally, almost all of whom were
older union members dressed in their union hats and jackets, most of whom
came on buses from east coast cities other than Washington, DC. While there
were a few environmentalists dressed as sea turtles, there were very few locals
and very few A16 activists at this rally. In addition to various teach-ins,
there were a number of small demonstrations between Thursday and Saturday,
each with attendance in the one hundreds—one at the Mexican embassy protesting
military occupation of Chiapas, another outside a Gap store in Georgetown
protesting sweat shops, and another against the prison industrial complex
calling for a new trial for Mumia Abu Jamal. At the prison industrial complex
demonstration early Saturday evening DC police trapped and arrested 678 people
without cause, including 100s of bystanders who were not demonstrating at
all. All arrested were kept handcuffed on buses for up to nine hours while
being shuttled between a half dozen booking centers and ridiculed when they
needed to relieve themselves. Many were lied to by police officers and judges.
Many were threatened verbally and some were subject to physical abuse while
in custody where Federal Marshals were often the worst offenders.

Early in the morning Sunday, April 16, roughly 8,000 demonstrators organized
into affinity groups formed human barricades outside 18 police barricades
surrounding the area containing the IMF and World Bank buildings that police
had cordoned off for almost a week. These 8,000 A16 activists attempted to
block delegates, most of whom were brought on buses from their hotels by police
escort, from reaching the IMF building and meetings by linking arms, locking
down, and other non-violent but ingenious tactics. A few hundred anarchists
organized in small mobile groups reinforced A16 demonstrators at different
barricades whenever police attempted to bring a bus through. These A16 activists
and anarchists had every reason to expect to be arrested, gassed, or clubbed.
In reality the police gave up attempts to clear the demonstrators away from
the barricades by 10:00 AM with very few arrests and beatings, and very little
gas being used, and almost all buses and the demonstrators turned delegates
away. There were only 30 or so arrests the morning of April 16. Late in the
morning roughly 11,000 different people attended a “permitted” rally
organized by A16 on the ellipse. Local area labor activists working with A16,
who obtained a belated endorsement from the AFL-CIO as well, largely organized
this rally. But most who attended this rally were A16 folks who wanted to
show their opposition to IMF policies without breaking laws or risking arrest.
Early in the afternoon everyone from this rally marched to visit a number
of the barricades nearby where A16 affinity groups continued to stand vigil
across from riot police.

At the A16 spokescouncil meeting Sunday night called to finalize plans for
Monday it was decided that some affinity groups would attempt to block World
Bank delegate buses at their hotels early in the morning, some would attempt
to get as near as possible to the World Bank and block the main entrance,
but most people would gather at Constitution and 18th Street NW outside the
police perimeter at 8:00 AM and decide what to do when they got there. Nobody
at the meeting was particularly pleased by these plans, but it was not apparent
what else could be done. Word was that National Guard reinforcements had been
called up and the police had expanded their perimeter and therefore the number
of barricades that would have to be blocked by demonstrators if World Bank
delegates were to be prevented from getting to their meeting on Monday. It
was also apparent that some of the 8,000 who had engaged in civil disobedience
on Sunday had to leave town and would not be available Monday. The most vicious
police behavior of the week was meted out to the hundreds of volunteers whose
affinity groups tried to block delegate buses and the World Bank entrance
early Monday morning. Neither the media nor the rest of us were present to
witness this.

At 8:00 AM the National Guard occupied the corner of Constitution and 18th.
People were directed by A16 spokespersons as they arrived to assemble at the
ellipse instead. A little before 10:00 AM roughly 3,000 demonstrators marched
out of the ellipse in a pouring rain into downtown streets jammed with rush
hour traffic with puppets and signs, but without a permit. We were greeted
by mostly friendly office workers, onlookers, and drivers as we marched for
about two hours in downtown streets around the zone police had cordoned off.
The march was the most spirited of the week despite the rain, despite the
disappointment most of us felt at not being able to block delegates from attending
the World Bank meetings, and despite the fact that we could see heavily armed
riot police shadowing our march and threatening to box us in, as they had
done to the prison industrial complex demonstrators on Saturday evening. Early
in the afternoon we stopped at a police barricade as close to the main entrance
to the World Bank as we could get. A16 spokespeople negotiated across the
barricades with DC police an “arranged arrest” with minimal wear
and tear on demonstrators and police alike. Demonstrators who wished to be
arrested were allowed to cross the police line in small groups, sit down near
the World Bank entrance, and be arrested peacefully without resistance. Roughly
700 people were arrested over the next 4 hours in this way while the rain
continued to pour down, making a grand total of over 1,300 people arrested
for the week.

Except for organizers and some union members who attended both, most of the
demonstrators in Seattle were not in Washington and most who came to Washington
had not been in Seattle. So the tens of thousands who attended permitted rallies
in Seattle and in Washington were mostly different people, as were the 8,000
DAN activists in Seattle and the 8,000 A16 activists in Washington who engaged
in peaceful civil disobedience. However, Jubilee 2000, CTC, the AFL-CIO, DAN/A16,
and the anarchists organized and prepared for the two events in much the same
way, what we actually did was quite similar, and the actual outcome was quite
similar. Any perception that the events and outcomes were different is largely
a product of media slant combined with differences in how the police behaved
in Seattle and in DC. Newspaper headlines declared that demonstrators won
the Battle of Seattle by disrupting the WTO meetings, and singled out the
Seattle police and the anarchists for special criticism. The same newspaper
headlines proclaimed that demonstrators failed to stop the IMF and World Bank
meetings from taking place in Washington, DC, and singled out the DC police
for special praise for maintaining order and keeping things peaceful.

I think there was very little chance headlines would have announced that demonstrators
won the war of Washington no matter what had actually taken place. And I believe
most of any actual differences in outcome were due to differences in how the
police behaved in Seattle and in Washington.

The Seattle police made every tactical mistake possible. They were determined
not to make mass arrests on November 30
fearing DAN wanted to overfill jails and holding facilities.
As a result Seattle police resorted to large scale gassing and clubbing of
demonstrators in an attempt to move them away from the buildings hosting the
WTO meetings. Very few delegates were able to get into the opening day events
because they were either repulsed non-violently by demonstrators or repulsed
by the massive gassing that engulfed the downtown area. The brutal police
tactics also provoked mobile affinity groups to break windows in retaliation.
These disastrous first day police tactics also led to pressures from the Seattle
chamber of commerce and from the White House on Seattle’s mayor and police
chief to “get things under control—or else.” Hence the state
of emergency, curfew, and order to arrest any and all groups in the downtown

In Washington the police corrected these tactical blunders while keeping an
equivalent level of brutality largely invisible from public scrutiny. On Saturday,
the day before the big demonstration, DC police acted illegally and provocatively
twice. At 8:00 AM they raided and closed the A16 offices on the feeble excuse
of fire code violations, claiming to be concerned for the safety of the A16
young people in the offices. (There are few buildings in DC that could not
be raided for this reason.) They went out of their way to provoke demonstrators
since they seized all the puppets and announced at a press conference that
they had found a molotov cocktail in the A16 office. If there is one thing
A16ers love it is their puppets. If there is one place in DC where there was
not any weapon of any kind, it was the A16 office the morning before April
16. (When pressed by reporters the police spokesperson said there was a plastic
bottle with a rag in it—hardly a useful device since glass, which breaks,
is essential to making the weapon named after comrade Molotov effective.)
Saturday evening DC police entrapped and arrested 678 people at the demonstration
against the prison industrial complex for parading without a permit. Police
had tolerated small mobile demonstrations without permits for the previous
two days, and none attending this demonstration had any intentions of getting
arrested 12 hours before the big show the following morning. It was a blatant
attempt by police to take some activists out of circulation, intimidate the
less committed from coming downtown the next day, and to provoke violence.

On Sunday morning, DC police did a 180-degree tactical turn. They could have
arrested up to 8000 people at the barricades on more serious charges than
parading without a permit. They could have scattered demonstrators with massive
doses of tear and pepper gas through which they could then have driven buses
of delegates. But this would have recreated the publicity defeat of Seattle.
Instead DC police were content with preventing demonstrators from entering
their perimeter while permitting us to turn delegates in buses and on foot
away. DC police chief Ramsey also preened for the adoring media as the wise
wizard of peace. At 10:00 AM CNN reporters at the barricades told me CNN was
reporting that the IMF meetings had not begun as scheduled. Later the mainstream
media reported that the meetings had begun and showed carefully selected footage
of some delegates attending some meeting. What I suspect actually happened
was that some delegates entered the perimeter before 6:00 AM when demonstrators
formed human barricades, some delegates entered through restaurants and offices
closed for business bordering the perimeter, carrying their meeting clothes
in shopping bags, and the IMF pre-planned a convincing show for any media
willing to cooperate in its coverage. It is also true that the IMF meeting
scheduled was a much smaller affair than the WTO ministerial, and was only
intended to last one day. So it was easier to put on a show of success even
though demonstrators turned away all the delegate buses that approached our

If that is the truth about who we are and what we did, what truths must we
face up to if we are to become more effective?

Coordination and solidarity between different constituencies and organizations
in the movement against corporate sponsored globalization still leaves much
to be desired. Nothing is more important than preventing multinational corporations
and their political, academic, and media hirelings from pitting first and
third world groups and organizations against one another. First world constituencies
have every reason to want to protect their hard won economic and environmental
gains from being eroded away by the “race to the bottom” effect.
Third world constituencies have every reason to want international economic
relations to aid rather than obstruct their efforts toward sustainable development.
Corporate sponsored globalization is the major threat to both these goals.
We should avoid rhetoric and demands for reforms that have us fighting over
jobs and over where pollution is dumped. It is important for first world groups
to support land reform, cancellation of military aid, debt relief, aid without
strings, and fair terms of trade, rather than seek only to append labor and
environmental standards to free trade agreements in order to do our part to
keep the international coalition against corporate sponsored globalization
pulling together.

Cooperation and solidarity between different groups within the U.S. must also
be improved. In Seattle the strengths of organized labor, DAN and anarchist
groups were combined on November 30 fortuitously
rather than through planned collaboration. In Washington behind the scenes
meetings between a few representatives from the AFL-CIO, A16, and CTC were
needed to prevent a break down of mutual support for each other’s events,
and an extensive Internet dialogue between A16 and anarchist groups was needed
to prevent a rift over tactics. At this moment the glue that held them together
was that each group knew it would be much less successful—in fact, very
vulnerable—without the other, and that we would all be judged by the
public on the success of the entire coalition rather than as individual organizations.
We need to remember this and build on our experience as allies in Seattle
and Washington. Specifically, I can say as an A16 activist that it was shameful
so few of us attended the labor rally on April 12. If only those of us who
were busy organizing and going to A16 meetings and teach-ins daily had attended
the labor rally we could have added almost a thousand extra people. Just as
the extra 1,000 people that labor brought to the Jubilee 2000 rally on April
9 meant something in a crowd of 5,000, an extra 1,000 from A16 would have
meant something at the labor rally on Wednesday. I also think it is counter
productive for AFL-CIO leaders to base their opinions of A16 on hearsay and
rumors. By talking to some of us directly, they could have discovered far
sooner than they did that A16 did not “demand” that the IMF and
World Bank be shut down permanently. Some in A16 believe the world would be
a better place if they were, others do not. But the position of A16 was simply
that the IMF and World Bank are currently doing great harm—a position
supported by the AFL-CIO—and that we would try preventing them from doing
more of that harm at their meetings on April 16
and 17. Direct communication would have also revealed that A16
never expected the AFL-CIO to bring significant numbers to the permitted rally
on April 16, much less the civil disobedience, given the fact that they were
mobilizing already for April 9 and April 12. We are different groups, who
represent different constituencies, with different approaches to political
activism. We are not going to change each other’s minds about certain
things. But we still have a long way to go toward becoming effective allies
and have been lucky so far that our failures in this regard have not done
more damage than they have.

Finally, where were the Washington DC Black and Hispanic communities? Why
were the demonstrators so white? It is easy to point accusing fingers here.
The fact is that very few from the DC Black and Latino communities were at
any of the demonstrations or rallies during the week. The fact is that if
the movement against corporate sponsored globalization remains this white
in the U.S. it will fail to achieve its goals. But this does not mean anyone
is necessarily to blame for who was not there in Washington DC, or in Seattle
for that matter. I believe A16 made a good effort to reach out to the Black
and Latino communities leading up to the demonstrations. We contacted ministers
in the African American community and sent people to speak to congregations.
We organized a teach-in specifically for the Latino community. We developed
special materials linking corporate sponsored globalization and IMF and World
Bank policies to local economic problems like gentrification, job loss, and
bank redlining. We worked with local tenants groups and took time to speak
out and demonstrate against tenant evictions during our most busy month of
preparations for A16. We targeted money and organizers specifically for work
with minority constituencies. But the key is A16 made a good effort given
who we are. With some notable exceptions, A16 was not composed of organizations
and people who engage in local struggles day in and day out in Washington,
DC. Local African American and Latino activists and constituencies know and
understand this. Particularly in DC groups come into town and demonstrate
around issues year in and year out, claiming their cause is also the cause
of the city’s poor minorities. Often it is, but only in the most general
sort of way. Bad schools, substandard housing, environmental racism, job loss,
welfare loss, police brutality, and lack of national political representation
will all continue to be problems the African American and Latino communities
in DC have to struggle against long after most A16 activists are gone from
town. There is only so much anyone can do about this. We can avoid getting
so wrapped up in our own international campaign against corporate sponsored
globalization that we forget that local campaigns on other issues are equally
important. We can continue to prioritize outreach to minority communities
and work with and through their own grassroots and community organizations.
We can scrutinize our own behavior—ways of running meetings, tactical
preferences, rhetoric, attitudes, and priorities—to make sure we have
not witlessly created obstacles that prevent African Americans and Latinos
and their organizations from joining our coalitions. But we cannot be who
we are not.

I think A16 did a good job of trying to reach out to the local African American
and Hispanic communities in DC. I know there are those who believe a major
rethinking and change of strategy and approach is in order to create a multi-racial
movement against globalization. I have a great deal of respect for many who
believe this, and am anxious to hear their suggestions. But I am not as discouraged
by the lack of quick success in this area as some. The movement against corporate
sponsored globalization, much less the Mobilization for Global Justice/A16,
is not the whole movement for progressive social change in this country.
Nor should we make the mistake of thinking we should be.                         Z

Robin Hahnel is professor of economics at American University, a long-time
activist, and author of many books and articles. His latest book is Panic
Rules! (South End Press)