Reporters Notebook

Daring to Demand a New World

Confronting WEF in the Streets of New York

by Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #1139, February 17, 2002, posted at

"The NYPD claims we're out here to cause trouble. But we know the reality. Over 2,000 people in this country have been killed by the NYPD in the last 10 years. Just last week in Washington Heights and in East Flatbush two young men unarmed were killed by the NYPD. Yet when thousands of youth of our generation come to step on the world stage and say we will not accept a world of injustice, exploitation or unjust war, they say we are the criminals.

"From Seattle to Genoa to Prague to New Delhi to Papua New Guinea to D.C. to Philly to L.A., our generation is a generation on the move, and we will not be stopped. We are out here standing for all those in the world who are coming under the bombs of U.S. aggression. We're standing here for every immigrant who's been detained since September 11. We're standing with the people of the world. We are not standing with unjust warmongers. It's right to resist!"

Member of Refuse & Resist! Youth Network

The political, military and economic representatives of the U.S. and other imperialist countries thought they could take advantage of people's grief and fear over September 11 to hold their World Economic Forum meeting in New York City unopposed. Instead, for the six days during the WEF, thousands of youth dared to step out into the streets to protest--opposing capitalist globalization and the crimes of the imperialists and declaring that another world is possible.

Our RW crew was out among the 25,000 people who took part in the six days of protests from January 31 to February 5. People expressed their outrage at the crimes of this system in many ways--through creative street theater, dance and song, and in conferences and meetings, vigils and street protests. The majority were young--some were veterans of other protests, others were first-time protesters. There were also some older activists.

They came to take a stand against the way the system treats everything and everyone as a commodity; how the WEF makes decisions that have horrible effects on the lives of billions of people without consulting them; and the U.S. government's roundups of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians as well as the attacks on civil liberties and the right to protest.

The protesters marched in the face of the threat of major police attacks. Many told us they felt a responsibility to stand up for people around the world. A student from New York's School of Visual Arts said: "I come from middle class suburbs. I grew up not suffering from poverty. Because I'm well-off doesn't mean everyone else in the world is--and I can't forget about them. Awful things are happening in other countries every day. By making this protest we're trying to change that and trying to save other countries from suffering."

As we talked with the youth, we learned what their courage and determination were based on. One protester explained: "Every day 19,000 people die from malnutrition while in the past five years the top 200 corporations have doubled their profits.... We're out here in the streets and we're fighting for people trying to unionize in Colombia and Mexico. We're also fighting for people who have had their villages bombed in Afghanistan and are having their country invaded in the Philippines."

Quite a few people said they felt the destruction to the environment caused by capitalism was so great that if people didn't lay down their lives to stop it there would be no future for the planet.

Opposition to the U.S. War

"After 9-11 a lot of people at my school were really upset that anybody was talking about protesting the war. They said this is inappropriate right now. We need time to grieve. It's incredibly important to grieve, but you can't take too much time over that because in that time your rights get taken away. Now is the time to protest their retaliation against innocent people, and now is the time to fight for our right to protest."

Student from Sarah Lawrence College

"Not everybody is behind the government. The people in Afghanistan should have their freedom. The U.S. government is bombing them, and I don't believe in that. Just because the U.S. government is doing it doesn't mean that everyone in the U.S. supports it."

High school student from Ithaca, New York

"I have no part in this bombing. I'm sorry it's happening and I'm working to change it. And I want the people there to know that I'm with them."

Member of the anarchist Black Bloc

There were many expressions of opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We interacted with a few hundred people during the protests, and everyone opposed the war. A New York University student told us: "It's not our business to tell any other country or any other culture how they should live their lives, what they should believe and think and feel. If so many countries in the world dislike the U.S. we should realize there's probably a reason."

A young Filipina-American spoke angrily about U.S. moves in the Philippines: "This group of bandits no larger than about 100 people called the Abu Sayyaf is being used as a convenient excuse for the deployment of U.S. troops to assist thousands and thousands of more Philippine troops in an island nation that is no larger than the state of California. That just doesn't make any sense. It's very obvious that this would be an operation that will be used ultimately to strike against the people's movement."

A number of people spoke out against the war during a conference at Columbia University organized by Students for Global Justice. Journalist Amy Goodman of Pacifica radio network's "Democracy Now!" talked about the relatives of people who died on September 11 who oppose the U.S. government waging war in the name of their loved ones. She described how some of the relatives recently traveled to Afghanistan to oppose the war and stand with the people there. Goodman said the U.S. has now killed more people in Afghanistan than died in the September 11 attacks: "How is it that we think in this country that it is acceptable to avenge the deaths of innocent people by killing innocent people?"

At a vigil the night before the main street protests, Jana from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade said: "The U.S. imperialists want to use this jihad that they created and unleashed as an excuse to go in and bomb people in Afghanistan and move in on other countries--to go in and massacre more people. Five thousand children a month are dying in Iraq, and these people who are up at the Waldorf Astoria are plotting to make even greater advances off of this war. It's important that people around the world see what's happening here--that we're going to stand with them, and we're not going to let the U.S. rulers pretend that this war is happening in our name."

A woman from the Philippines said: "This protest makes me feel stronger. Now you can see that the Philippines is not isolated....When people in the Philippines hear about this protest they will think, 'We're not alone. Our brothers and sisters in America are one with us in fighting U.S. aggressors.' "

Exposing the Crimes of Imperialism

A member of our RW team noted: "There were a wide variety of signs about different imperialist crimes like the attacks on Colombia and the Ogoni people, and in solidarity with the people of Argentina. In the Al Awda contingent, Palestinians and people from other countries supported the struggle of Palestinian people. There was opposition to imperialist intervention and how they've ruined peoples lives all over the world. People want a world where there isn't a small handful of people who are controlling the lives of the masses of people across the planet."

Immigrants from countries that have been directly affected by U.S. domination and intervention brought their experience to the mix. A Filipina woman marching in the Network in Solidarity with the People of the Philippines contingent explained: "We used to be rich in natural resources, but now our natural resources are depleted, and we are very poor because of the world economic policies which are dictated upon us by foreign interests--especially American interests."

A woman from India said: "No human being can be spoken of as cheap labor. What is cheap labor? Is it a pair of arms that move machinery or goods around? Is it a pair of legs? Or is it that whole person? If it is that whole person, then how is he any cheaper than a CEO? What makes him cheaper? Lack of knowledge? Is his lack of knowledge such an impediment to his humanity that we need no longer consider the fact that this person loves, this person lives, this person dreams, this person has grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren? That this person has, in fact, a right to dream?"

Workshops at the Columbia University conference discussed such topics as the struggle of indigenous people; the case of revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; multinational corporations and AIDS; the struggle against U.S. domination in Latin America, Africa and other parts of the world; sweatshops; and attacks on immigrant rights. On Tuesday, the last day of the WEF actions, people protested at the headquarters of the Aruthur Andersen accounting firm under the theme "They are all Enron! We are all Argentina!"

A white student spoke about his experiences: "The history of our military--particularly over the past 50 years--has been one of terrorism. The war on terrorism is just blatant hypocrisy. I lived in Mozambique for four years. Right now it's one of the poorest countries in the world because the United States supported South African destabilization of that country for about 10 years. It was labeled a civil war but really it was a war of South Africa against Mozambique."

Quite a few people pointed out there are enough resources in the world to feed, clothe and shelter everyone--but the resources are controlled by a tiny minority of people who are enriching themselves on the backs of others.

Standing Firm Against Police Attacks

The authorities waged a relentless public opinion campaign to portray the protesters as criminals. Some newspapers implied that the protesters might be involved with "terrorist" organizations. The NYPD announced that over 7,000 police would be deployed just in and around the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where the WEF meetings were held. They threatened to arrest people for minor infractions like jaywalking or littering.

Police hounded and harassed protesters before, during and after the protests. They tried to create divisions among the protesters. Just before the main street protest police announced that anyone wearing a mask would be subject to arrest. Youth from different political perspectives had organized the protest as a legal event with a police permit to reduce the chance of arrests, so that people who did not want to get arrested could participate. At the same time, many youth decided to cover their faces so one section of protesters could not be singled out and distanced from the others.

At the main street protest on Saturday, dozens of police in riot gear attacked a group of youth that included kids from the Black Bloc, RCYB, Refuse & Resist!, Student Liberation Action Movement and high school students. Youth who wore masks or carried plastic shields to defend themselves were targeted. I watched kids get thrown to the ground, hit with clubs and pepper-sprayed. One protester was sprayed while he was held down by cops. The youth were fearless and defiant. They "unarrested" each other and pulled people back into the safety of the crowd, locked arms and formed lines against the police--and finally took the streets.

Later the police commissioner came out with a ridiculous claim that the police moved on the protesters because they had "intelligence" that youth were going to attack the Park Plaza Hotel! The newspapers printed all kinds of lies. Some said the kids attacked the Waldorf Astoria, others said they attacked police. Reporters at a press conference held by Another World Is Possible Coalition a few days after the arrests heard the real story from people who had been arrested. But none of the bourgeois newspapers told the truth--or mentioned the fact that those arrested were charged with "unlawful assembly"--at a rally that had a police permit.

Police threatened protesters and repeatedly tried to split up the march. Snatch squads tried to grab individuals targeted for arrest. People persisted, and thousands made it to within one block of the Waldorf Astoria.

On Sunday, the day after the main march, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, RCYB, Refuse & Resist!, and Coalition for Animal and Earth Liberation took to the streets again. A youth described the "snake march" in the East Village: "We blocked four lanes of traffic. We were chanting 'The World Needs Us In The Streets--We Won't Back Down, We Won't Retreat!' Vans full of cops and paddy wagons were waiting for us to show up. They had helicopters--for 150 kids. I saw one guy get slammed into a pole and forced down just because he was trying to leave. Cops had people lined up against the wall. A lot of people on the sidewalks were cheering the protesters. I didn't see anybody cheering the cops. A man who'd just come out of a restaurant told his companion, 'They just hogtied some kid like an animal for no reason.' It looked like Beirut or something."

About 200 people were arrested during the six days of protest. Among them were members of ACT-UP who hung a banner to expose that millions of people are dying because corporations charge huge amounts for AIDS drugs, and people who tried to reclaim a community center in East Village recently closed by the city. The media praised the police for "maintaining order" and whited out the real truth about how brutal police were to protesters.

The police attacks only strengthened the unity and determination of the protesters. A group of women sent a message out from jail: "Our spirits are high despite the pepper spray, handcuffs and billy clubs. We are here in solidarity with all victims of U.S. imperialism, those being bombed, those detained and targeted since September 11, everyone in American prisons and all those who suffer from neo-liberal economic policies. We are a fearless generation, we will go forward, and we will win. Our unity makes us strong. Another world is possible, and we will settle for nothing less. We love you guys."

Another World Is Possible

Throughout the protests I was struck by the contrast between the representatives of imperialism meeting at the WEF and the youth on the streets. As WEF delegates sipped martinis and ate pricey meals at exclusive parties that costs thousands of dollars to attend, the youth worked together collectively on the streets. Legal and medical volunteers were trained on the spot. Thousands of people were fed and housed. I remember one point during the main march when we were a block away from the Waldorf Astoria, surrounded by hundreds of police. We all linked arms and chanted "Wherever we go, we go together. Whatever we do, we do it together!"

Organizations and individuals with different viewpoints worked side by side. Union members joined environmentalist activists at a protest against sweatshops at The Gap. Religious leaders opened their places of worship. College professors and high school teachers marched with anarchist youth and environmentalists. People from the New York club scene and hip hop kids mixed with activists at a huge party after the main street protest. Held at the Frying Pan, it featured the Blackkat Collective, KleverVice, Zemi17 of Havoc Sound, Kid Lucky and Urban Acapella, Lo Ki of Konkrete Jungle, Blowback and others.

Youth came not only to protest, but to search for answers. We talked about the source of all the problems people in the world face and what's the solution--whether the problem is the policies of corporations and politicians or the whole imperialist system, whether revolution or some other form of change was the way forward. Leaflets and literature from different groups circulated. Hundreds of RWs were sold and copies of the RCP's Draft Programme changed hands.

We talked to people about their vision for the future. One woman said: "My vision of a different reality is one in which the people really have a voice, one in which there's not a group of 1 percent that owns 90 percent of the wealth and resources, one in which Americans can realize the blood and sweat upon which their comfort is built." A member of the Black Bloc told us: "People need to unite together against all oppressive powers all over the planet, rise up against them and take back their lives. We can't just keep getting shoved around by all these political and economic powers and do things that are going to make them richer. We've got to start living our own lives and the only way that's going to happen is if the people rise up."

A man from Texas told me: "Our capitalist society is not working. We're causing atrocities around the globe. I think basically what Bush is trying to say is that anybody that's not in agreement with us religiously or economically is going to be destroyed and obliterated until the U.S. has complete world domination....The solution is going to be complete revolution and change of our government."

We would like to thank the many people who made this article possible, especially the folks who ran with the RW bureau, Revolution Books, Jana from the RCYB, progressive journalists with Indy Media and the Another World Is Possible Coalition.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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