new york city -- i arrive in new York and hop in a cab. It's Friday and right in the thick of the city's World Economic Forum police mobilization. New Yorkers have been warned about traffic disruption. But I'm not nervous -- I'm heading to a counter-gathering well away from the forum's fancy Waldorf Astoria headquarters.For decades, the yearly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saw itself and was seen (by the media) as a global beacon of intelligence and forward thinking. The mandate: "To create partnerships between and among business, political, intellectual and other leaders (I guess that's where Bono comes in), to define, discuss and advance key issues on the global agenda."
That was the good old days. The weekend's well-attended protests showed that, post-9/11 or no, the bad new days are kickin' in alive and strong for organizers of high-powered global events. With plenty to say about Enron and Argentina, the Saturday march is going to draw about 15,000 peaceful protestors out into the streets. And peaceful is a mouthful for a colourful, diverse and rebellious movement that has made a point of offering a haven to all forms of political dissent and operates by consensus.
Right now, I'm heading for Eye On Davos, a many-panelled event put on by Friends of the Earth International and the same Swiss group, the Berne Declaration, that has organized an alternative conference in Europe for the last several years to coincide with the World Economic Forum in its original hometown.
I give the driver the address of the United Nations Church Center just across the street from the UN.
The cabbie shakes his head -- "I don't think we can get there" -- and he's right. By the time we're two avenues away, there's a police blockade. The whole area is closed to traffic all the way to the UN itself, which now looks like it's fronted by a police-vehicle parking compound.
That's how I come to be walking on this mild winter day in funky downtown Manhattan with no cars on the road. It feels good. The protestors are doing all right so far, I'm thinking.
I get to the epicentre of this disruption. It's a modest, decorless 50s building given dignity by location, location, location. Inside, the lobby is strewn with type-heavy flyers. The name registry lists mostly respectable, churchy non-governmental organizations. I follow ballpoint arrows scotch-taped on door frames to the second-floor meeting room.
A jumble of grey folding chairs, video tech and information tables, it holds barely 200 and isn't completely full. I can't imagine what the NYPD was thinking. But there is a strength beyond appearances here.
What I'm seeing is the tip of an iceberg. The behemoth behind this activist conference, the World Social Forum, is taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the same time. That's where reps working on development issues around the world have gathered (see sidebar). Two of the many expert panelists here have come directly from there and will hurry back when they are done.
I walk into the talk-fest at a bad moment and get the usual speaker sharing what everyone in the room already knows (and agrees with). Reality check. But as the panels move along, I'm impressed. You can feel the power of the connections to working knowledge in the room.
There's detail in the way Enron's market manipulation through sheer political brawn, including in Argentina, is parsed and dissected. Deregulation and privatization -- of energy, of water -- are mapped carefully across the globe as they deliver whole populations up for ransom. And there is the odd good turn of phrase. "It's a corporate crime wave," says panelist and author Greg Palast. Bingo.
But what strikes me most are the comments of Yash Tandon, Zimbabwean professor and director of the International South Group Network. He has been at every international trade negotiation since the Uruguay round of GATT, including the most recent WTO meeting in Doha.
"Details," he says. "I can't emphasize enough the importance of really knowing all the details when it comes to trade negotiations. A few years ago we weren't really familiar with all of the issues embedded in the discussions.
"But since Seattle, the level of sophistication of participants from the South has increased exponentially. This makes all the difference in the world," he continues.
Tandon's topic is Foreign Direct Investment: Blessing Or Curse For The South? He leans heavily toward curse. I ask him to explain whether he is advocating for capital controls or for alternatives to the traditional ways of capital itself. "We need both," he says. "We need to plant a thousand different seeds and try to make them bloom."
This event is only one of the faces of the anti-corporate-driven-globalization movement that I'm getting a chance to check out this weekend. But Tandon's comments emerge for me as a theme of all of them. What is heartening is that everywhere I look, I am watching a movement that is on a learning curve as it grows along. And it is planting many different seeds on many levels along the way.
At the youthier student counter-summit sponsored by the anarchist-minded Another World Is Possible, I enter a parallel reality. There are hundreds of intelligently crumpled people sprawled casually around the huge wood-lined church hall. It's a great turnout, but at the front, speakers offer up painfully oversimplified views.
They're loving the power of the people, but I seem to be the only one who's remembering that the people -- the ones happily drinking Coca-Cola and flocking to the mall in the suburbs -- are not really loving them back. It's been a long day, and I feel frustrated.
I'm happier when our very own Canadian anti-globalization hero, Jaggi Singh, gives the uplifting concluding address. It's not just proto-nationalism on my part. He has a powerful presence and can turn a great phrase. But where, I wonder, is the learning here? It really isn't until the next day that I chuck the negative inner chatter.
It's when I watch the waves and waves of demonstrators throng into Central Park that I think, Who cares about political slogans? The theme of this one is "They are all Enron, we are all Argentina -- another world is possible." It's crystal clear to all of us marchers, but I'm not surprised when I overhear people of goodwill on the street trying hard to figure out what it's supposed to mean.
The big achievement here is the culture of resistance these activists are creating. The march is about an ethos giving birth to itself in action that has succeeded collectively and inclusively with nary a top-down structure to its name.
This demo -- post-9/11 and in New York City -- was politically risky. Good for the organizers and the participants, who with fewer than 30 arrests made the New York cops look like pussycats. email@example.com