Globalization of Protests

Diverse Groups Oppose International Institutions

ROME, JUNE 9, 2001 ( The Italian and European secret services are bracing for the G-8 meeting of the most industrialized countries and Russia, which will be held in Genoa from July 18-21. Anti-globalization groups have threatened to protest in this Mediterranean city.

There is even a group to organize the protests: the Genoa Social Forum.

Stefano Lenzi of the World Wildlife Fund, one of its spokesman, was quoted in the Italian newspaper Avvenire on June 5 as saying that infringements of the law are not excluded, “as a sign of civil protest” against the so-called red-light district that will be reserved for the summit participants and defended by the police. The Genoa Social Forum said it rejects the use of violence and vandalism but opts for “acts of civil disobedience through words and bodies.”

Quite different have been the statements of some of the 140 Social Centers. These centers, which gather sympathizers of anarchist and communist organizations in Italy, have promised a pitched battle against the forces of order, Avvenire reported June 3.

First contentious movement of century

Sociologists regard the anti-globalists as the first great contentious movement of the 21st century. In some countries it is known as the “People of Seattle,” after the infamous protests at November 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization.

Among these protest groups are the most varied civil organizations, associations, labor unions and extremist political currents. All have a common enemy: globalization.

Some are European farmers denouncing U.S. transgenic products. Others are U.S. university students protesting Japanese whale hunts. Still others are radical feminist groups, or labor unionists who want industries to remain in rich countries, or defenders of rights protesting the exploitation of children in Third World factories.

Attempt to create “network”

This movement tried to become a “network” of thought at the first World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, from Jan. 25-30. It was a kind of protest against the World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland, which was organized over those days and gathered the cream of the financial, industrial and political world.

In the alternative “anti-globalization” meeting, held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Porto Alegre, there were speakers like Danielle Mitterrand (widow of French President François Mitterrand), Frenchman Joseph Bové (widely known for destroying McDonalds restaurants and fields planted with transgenic seeds), Lula (famous leader of the Brazilian left). Joao Pedro Stédile (leader of the Landless Movement of Brazil), Hebe de Bonafini of the association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (an organization for those whose loved ones “disappeared” during the Argentine military regime).

Subcomandante Marcos of Chiapas in Mexico sent a long-distance message in which he described globalization as the fourth “world war” that would unleash the planet´s destruction. He called it the definitive imposition of the “single thought,” which has its principal sources in an ensemble of economic forces, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, U.N. Conference for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Trade Organization.

The Porto Alegre meeting ended with a final document of the social and popular movements that participated, in which they established the calendar of proposals for the year 2001. Among the great instances of protest is the upcoming Genoa summit, as well as the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C., from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4.

Some groups felt they were not represented in Porto Alegre. A group of black protesters invaded the congress´ press room shouting: “We are more than 50% of the population of Brazil, but in the World Social Forum we were given only one hour, in five days, to express our points of view,” according to a Reuters report Jan. 28.

How to organize a protest?

In recent years, organizations that advocate violent protest have created a network of cooperation, thanks in part to Internet. Time magazine described in its April 24, 2000, issue how they organize. It gave as an example the protests against the previous Washington meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which combined the forces of 603 groups, directed by seven principal organizations.

According to the article, each faction chose a representative to the “central council,” which decides the strategy. This council met every night, in the days preceding the protests, to finalize all details. The council´s work was preceded by four months of planning by another council, which was made up of 16 representatives of as many working groups. The latter were responsible for the different facets of the organization: funds, legal questions, logistics, media, etc.

Behind these groups were 16 sponsors who contributed people and funds. On April 15, 2000, The Telegraph newspaper of England revealed that The Ruckus Society has training camps for protest organizers.

Unrest that calls for answers

In statements published by ZENIT on Feb. 4, Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, commented on the action of these protest movements with these words: “It is sacrosanct to rebel against the present international imbalance. However, an alternative is not constructed by breaking shop windows. It is time for proposals.”

Speaking about the violence at the Seattle summit, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the then secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the Vatican agency news Fides on Dec. 10, 1999: “At these meetings, the powerful of the world want to articulate international policies on trade without listening to the civil society.”

The problem of the World Trade Organization and of other groups like it, the archbishop said, is that decisions are made without paying attention to the civil society: “Protest is an obvious sign of unrest. Although condemning violence, which is always counterproductive, we must question ourselves about this unrest.”

John Paul II has dedicated several addresses to reflection on the principles that should guide the process of globalization, which is full of positive possibilities but, at the same time, threats. In particular, the Pontiff has applied the principles of the social doctrine (dignity of the person, solidarity, subsidiarity, common good) to the new context of globalization.

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