Globalization on the Run in 2001
From Prague to Buffalo, it
s promising to be a bad year

by Michael I. Niman
Buffalo Beat, March 1, 2001

On April 22nd media attention will once again be focused on the Peace Bridge.  This time the story will have nothing to do with signature spans, twin spans, tunnels, or a rusting old bridge.  It will have something to do, however, with the root cause of Buffalo=s bridge debate: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or, more specifically, the agreement now being hailed as Ason of NAFTA,@ the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).   

     Opponents see the FTAA, which could extend NAFTA trade benefits to sweatshop havens such as Haiti and spur environmental degradation in environmentally fragile nations such as Belize, as being a sort of ANAFTA on steroids.@  If  you think NAFTA was rough on the Buffalo economy, they argue, FTAA will be hell.  FTAA proponents, on the other hand, argue it will inject new life into a moribund stock market.

 Seattle Will Never Be The Same

     In any event, the FTAA argument, and the larger argument about an emerging corporate dominated global economy will be coming to Front Park and to the streets of Buffalo this Spring (read on for more details).  And it should be interesting.  So far the last year and a half has been a rocky road for proponents of the global economy.  Trouble first arrived on the national radar in November of 1999 in Seattle, as television viewers were jolted out of their stupor by scenes reminiscent of the Chicago riots of 1968.

     It was to be Seattle=s coming of age celebration C  a debutante gala for the rainy city, reborn on the cusp of the 21st century.  Seattle, home of Boeing and Microsoft, saw itself at the heart of the global economy C a sort of imperial Pacific Rim city where the old economy met the new.  A city large enough for the egos of Phil Knight and Bill Gates.  A post-modern success story populated by harried Starbucks guzzling dot-com workers.  

     The event was the November 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting with business and government leaders from around the globe coming to Seattle to slice up the global economic pie.  No longer a rump mold-ridden town on the outskirts of Ecotopia C Seattle had come of age.  Seattle was a player.  World take note.  The big boys were coming to Seattle. 

 London Calling

     Five months before the big event, ominous clouds started to form on the horizon.  European anti-globalization protesters converged on London, Europe=s economic capital, and on the day that the G7 economic summit went down in Cologne, Italy, demonstrators shut down London=s financial district.  For the normally placid British, televised scenes of tens of thousands of protestors taking control of Central London and blocking streets as thousands of terrified workers barricaded themselves into their offices, was a horror.

     The London demonstration, known as AJ18" after its date, June 18th, was an immense success.  J18 put the previously little known shadow governments of the global economy, organizations, agreements and partnerships such as the IMF, the World Bank, G7, NAFTA and GATT, out front in public limelight.  Central London became a temporary autonomous zone with nude protesters perching atop statues and building climbing revelers unfurling giant banners denouncing corporate capitalism. Despite the magnitude of the event, however, here was little property damage in London except for a smattering of graffiti and the trashing of a Mercedes dealer and a McDonald=s. 

     J18, however, marked the beginning of 21st Century political activism.  Scotland Yard conducted an in-depth investigation.  Who was responsible for organizing such a massive outbreak of uncivil behavior?  After three month of investigations, the horrifying truth came out.  No particular individual or group had organized J18.  It formed organically on the Internet.  J18 was not the product of an organization.  It was born from a movement. 

     Bill Gates and his cronies in Seattle took notice.  There was a storm on the horizon.  An organization can be subverted or subdued.  From the International Workers of the World (IWW) to the Black Panthers, 20th century American history is littered with such carcasses.  A movement, on the other hand, can=t be stopped.  It has to run its course.  And the anti-globalization movement=s course was leading straight to Seattle.

 Shame on Seattle

     Seattle=s leaders took the J18 warning seriously.  Seattle was not an old world behemoth like London.  Seattle was a post-modern jewel of the new world order, and it would not to be shut down.  To this end they spent the months leading up to the November WTO meeting, militarizing their police department.  Despite the threat of a police riot, 50,000 demonstrators converged on Seattle.  And contrary to media reports, they did not all come from Eugene, Oregon.  They came from around the world and they came from all walks of life.  Students, labor unions, trades workers, environmentalists, professionals and anarchists all marched together as one unified movement. 

     The Seattle police responded with an obscene show of force.  University at Buffalo students peaceably protesting in Seattle were pepper sprayed, gassed and shot with rubber bullets. Made for TV images of rioting police outfitted in mutant ninja turtle-like suits made their way around the world.  Seattle had its debut C not as imperial capitol of the new global economic order, but as the birthplace of the new movement against corporate globalization.  Yes, it all began in London C but London did not provide images of military style police rioting in the streets.  The movement that began in London was solidified in Seattle.  The violent overreactions of the Seattle police all but guaranteed that images from the November (N30) demonstrations would circle the globe.

     Today this is what Seattle is known for C horrible images of police violence.  The city was paralyzed for a week.  Businesses lost millions of dollars.  The bill for militarizing Seattle ran into tens of millions of dollars.  Seattle=s image is trashed.  Depending on who you are, you either now know it as that rainy gloomy city with an obscene contempt for free speech, or as a flaky west coast town over-run by anarchists, where police have to guard NikeTown.  The name Seattle is now used liberally, not to describe the city, but to refer to an era.  Nothing has been the same since Seattle.

 Chaing Mai and Washington DC

     Still smarting from Seattle, the would be masters of the global economy moved their focus to Washington DC, where on April 16th, 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank held a joint meeting.  Again, they were besieged by some 30,000 protesters and 10,000 police officers, the later of which closed off entire sections of downtown. As in Seattle, civil rights took a beating as hundreds of would-be protesters were arrested for building code violations a day before the protests as they labored in a crowded warehouse making signs and puppets.  Again, the world was showered with images of cops, pepper spray and so on.

     The next stop was the city Chaing Mai in the northern highlands of Thailand, where the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held its 33rd annual meeting on May 8th.  Critics, who claim the ADB funds projects such as massive dams that cause environmental devastation while destroying poor communities, were not discouraged by the backwater location of the ADB meeting.  About 1,500 such protesters, mostly poor Thai farmers, converged on Chaing Mai, demanding the ADB leave Thailand.  They were met by approximately 2,000 police in riot gear.  Thailand, by hosting the ADB meeting, dreamed of being a player in the global economy.  In the end, however, it was images of Thai political repression that the world saw.

 Windsor - Melbourne - Prague

     On June 4th, Windsor, Ontario hosted a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose representatives gathered to discuss the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a pact that would extend the NAFTA trade agreement throughout the hemisphere.  Three thousand protesters, including American dissident Noam Chomsky, descended on this sleepy Canadian city across the river from Detroit.  They were met by a phalanx of 2,200 police, many in riot gear, and a mélange of cop toys such as armored personnel carriers, police boats and helicopters.   Hundreds of other protesters were turned back at the Canadian border.

     Attention later shifted to Melbourne, Australia in early September, as the Asia-Pacific Summit of the World Economic Forum (DAVOS) attempted to meet.  For three days, some 5,000 protesters battled with police, many of whom were mounted on horseback.  The combination of riot police wearing Darth Vader helmets, and Forum delegates being evacuated from their meeting hall by helicopter after demonstrators successfully blocked the exits, provided the world media with more nasty images of mayhem.

     September turned into a busy month both for the globalists and their foes as attention turned to Prague, where the IMF and World Bank held a joint meeting later in the month.  Many say Prague looked more like Seattle than Seattle, as 10,000 plus demonstrators from across Europe converged for three days of pitched street battles with Czech riot police, much to poet President Vaclav Havel=s embarrassment.  And much like Seattle, Prague=s coming of age party was also rained upon, with scenes more reminiscent of the brutal 1968 Soviet occupation, than of the new crown jewel of Eastern European capitalism.   

Buffalo - City of No Illusions  

    At the height of the Prague actions on September 26th, anti-globalization protesters staged solidarity demonstrations in 75 cities around the world including Toronto and Buffalo, where the Western New York Coalition for Economic Justice organized a Acarnival@ of protest at Bidwell Parkway, featuring bands, speakers and food from Food Not Bombs.  The ever so funny local pranksters, The Organization of Corporations Against Cooperation, warned managers of local corporate outlets that Aanti-globalization@ protesters would be in town, prompting the panicked manager of the Buffalo State College Barnes and Nobel branch to close for the afternoon.

     Local businesses need to learn how not to panic, because a larger force of anti-globalization protesters will be descending upon Buffalo on April 22nd to have an American companion demonstration to coincide with the April 20-22nd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, where corporate and government leaders hope to hammer out the details of a new Free Trade Area of the Americas.  Demonstrators have chosen Buffalo because of its location within a one day drive of about 60% of the US population, the fact that its industrial economy has been devastated by run-away industries leaving for low-wage countries, and its status as a major crossing between the US and Canada. 

    The main event of the Buffalo actions, a legal rally followed by civil disobedience, will occur on Earth Day, April 22nd, two days after Quebec’s larger scale demonstration to Ashut down the FTAA,” thus allowing battle-weary demonstrators time to travel from Quebec City to Buffalo. Organizers of the Buffalo event, a coalition of religious, labor and student activists, are planning three of demonstrations, concerts and teach-ins commencing on the 20th. 

     Don=t worry. Buffalo is not Seattle.  We don=t have MicroSofts or Boeings to defend here.  We are more a victim than a player in the new global economy.  We didn=t invite the WTO or any other captains of the global economy to meet here.  We don=t have the money nor the desire to dress our cops as turtles or storm troopers. Demonstrators from all over the Northeast will be coming here specifically to avoid the police violence threatened for Quebec City.  They’ll come, demonstrate, and enjoy Buffalo hospitality.  We can show the Seattles of the world what it means to be a class city.

 Quebec to Build a Berlin Wall

     Things don=t look so promising, however, in Quebec City.  The Quebec provincial government has, for years, attempted to build an image of a semi-sovereign Quebec, pursuing its own foreign policy initiatives independent of Canada.  To this end, they saw the opportunity to host the Summit of the Americas as a chance for Quebecois visibility as a global player.  And as often is the case in Quebec, they=re also hell-bent on making fools of themselves C this time by promising to erect a 3.8 kilometer long fence or barrier closing off the entire neighborhood surrounding the Summit=s meeting hall.  The government is issuing identity cards to Quebec City residents misfortunate enough to live within the closed in area.   The police, as the plan goes, will require that they show these passes at checkpoints along the barrier line in order to enter their neighborhood.  Protesters will be barred from the area.  So much for Canada=s Charter of Rights.  Let=s hear it for Quebec.

    Panic usually seems to be the order of the day when it comes to globalization meetings.  Organizations that enjoyed obscurity for decades now cannot meet without inciting massive demonstrations.  The protests are large, and coupled with a riotous police response, can cripple any city that hosts an IMF or WTO meeting.  Meetings, that until recently were coveted by convention bureaus and chambers of commerce, are now pariah events.  Seattle changed everything.

     The WTO, simply put, can no longer meet in any city in an industrialized democracy.   Municipal governments see an invitation to the WTO to be as foolish as former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin=s invitation to Operation Rescue to come to Buffalo and blockade women=s health clinics.  He did it.  They came.  It was a big mess.  We looked like idiots and it cost a lot of money we didn=t have to spend.  

 Pirates Ships to Visit Doha

     Desperate to find a place to meet, according to the Wall Street Journal, and after being turned down by a long string of cities around the globe, the WTO finally settled on Doha, the capital of the tiny semi-feudal fiefdom of Qatar, for their 2001 meeting in November.  Women, incidentally, are not allowed to vote in Qatar, which is no great loss since votes don=t really amount to much anyway -- the country is a dictatorial monarchy. 

     Qatar=s political disenfranchisement of women and their disdain for democracy doesn=t seem to present a problem for the WTO leadership.  They are more concerned with the fact that Doha doesn=t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the WTO delegates, much less, protesters or the media.  This won=t be a problem, however, as protest is illegal and the media is tightly controlled.  In fact, The Qatar government is only allowing 500 representative from non governmental organization to enter the country during the meeting.  The WTO is chartering cruise ships to provide quarters for delegates during their sojourn in Doha. 

     Shunned by most every major world city, WTO delegates have been reduced to the status of pirates, members of a rouge organization searching for obscure backwaters to drop anchor and come ashore to divvy up their booty.


For more information about the upcoming demonstrations in Buffalo and Quebec, see

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