May 5, 2000

Spring Training Is Over — Anticorporate Activists Getting Ready For An Active Summer

By Sarah Ferguson

Although the April 16-17 protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were quickly drowned out by the media circus surrounding Elian Gonzalez, their effects will show in the months to come.

The protestors were not so much concerned with lending practices as with the power of transnational corporations. And for the thousands who participated in the week of non-violence training and teach-ins that preceded the protests, D.C. was a staging ground for what many predict will be a "summer of action."

This is an increasingly diverse, at times formless rebellion, organized largely outside traditional advocacy groups. May 1, for example, saw a series of boisterous May Day "Festivals of Resistance Against Global Capitalism" in cities across the United States — coinciding with even larger May Day actions across Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

In general, the protests combined street parties with direct actions against banks and other symbols of corporate power. Activists in New York and London are planning "guerrilla gardening" actions to liberate a portion of their cities for green space.

"It will be festive, not violent," insists Mark Read of New York's agit-prop group, Reclaim the Streets. "We're looking to target global capital through direct and poetic means."

Meanwhile, plans are afoot for Seattle-style convergences (featuring non-violence training and teach-ins) at this summer's party conventions.

In Philadelphia, activists plan to combine direct action protests on specific issues like global warming and AIDS with rallies and forums aimed at building the "blue-green" alliance between labor and environmental groups that emerged in Seattle. At the same time, they hope to draw more participation from people of color and lower income communities — groups noticeably absent in both Seattle and Washington.

"We're ignoring the Republicans," says Mike Morrill, an organizer for "Unity 2000," which is coordinating the Philadelphia protests. "Most people feel the two major parties are so dominated by corporations, it doesn't matter what they do. Our goal is to influence the public, so the politicians will eventually have to pay attention."

For students, the primary focus will be the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in August. "We want to throw a big beach party and literally draw a line in the sand to say that we're "Turning the tide toward democracy,'" says Josh Sage an organizer with Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES). Others are gearing up for the "bike ride of the century," with thousands of bicyclists touring the city to raise awareness about issues such as global warming and mass transportation.

One concern is how to keep the protests lively without alienating labor. "I think you're going to see a lot more direct action by non-traditional groups, because so many people are frustrated with the mainstream political process," predicts John Passacantando, director of Ozone Action. "But there's a flipside. The hell-raising is gonna have to be a lot more focused — If you ask for a thousand things, politicians tend to turn away." John Sellars, director of the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society, which helped train many organizers of Seattle and D.C. protests, agrees. "We need to have specific campaigns. It's not enough to show up every few months and have a giant, non-violent street party."

Already underway is an effort to get universities and unions to boycott World Bank bonds, similar to the 1980s South Africa divestment campaign. Others want to shift the focus from global institutions like the IMF, which seem distant, towards the practices of private corporations.

Just after the A16 protests, activists met with officials at Citigroup to discuss bank-funded projects — from palm plantations in Indonesia to logging in California. "We want them to adopt more sustainable environmental and social investment criteria for development," says Shannon Wright of Rainforest Action Network. "More than three quarters of the funding for development projects around the world is coming from the private sector."

Citigroup has more assets and more income than the World Bank, she explains, and is the biggest consumer bank — "which also makes them the most vulnerable target [for protest] because they live off of public opinion."

Another key focus will be campaign finance reform. Already, dynamic alliances are emerging between traditional campaign finance reform groups like Common Cause, and more radical environmental and human rights groups like Global Exchange and RAN.

On April 21, 30 people were arrested at the Capitol rotunda — including the heads of RAN and Friends of the Earth along with members of Common Cause and Public Citizen — in a non-violent direct action aimed at calling attention to the millions of dollars that opponents of international measures to stop global warming have contributed to Congressional candidates and national parties. The next step, activists say, is to take their protests directly to the districts of representatives who receive hefty corporate donations.

Sarah Ferguson writes widely on issues of housing and eco-politics.

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