Checking in for Waldorf Hysteria

Free Traders and Fair Traders in Stalemate as CEOs Converge on New York

But the economic-justice movement has been less visible as the risk rises that dissenters will be branded terrorists, especially outside the U.S., where American activists' allies are being rounded up. Bell charges that other governments are "empowered" by the Bush administration's war rhetoric. She reels off examples: On October 12 Bertha Caceres was beaten by police in her native Honduras after organizing a demonstration against the World Bank. On November 1, Jim Wakhungu, director of Press for Change, a student-based economic-justice group at Kenyatta University in Kenya, was arrested after organizing a demo against World Bank-inspired tuition increases. On November 27, Oscar Olivera, a leader of Bolivia's anti-privatization Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, was arrested and charged with sedition. These instances, however, also indicate that the organizing indeed persists.

That doesn't mean protesters are feeling brazen. Beka Economopoulos, an activist and editor of Another World Is Possible: Conversations in a Time of Terror, says she's "scared" by the crackdown on dissent since September 11. She contends that "infiltrators and provocateurs can smash windows" during peaceful demonstrations, turning the tide of public opinion against them. When the WEF comes to New York City, what kind of protests and which messages make it into the public eye will be critical. Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and student groups are planning various panel discussions and educational forums to counter the WEF. (In Porto Alegre, Brazil, the annual World Social Forum, a progressive response to the WEF, will take place as well). But there will likely be direct actions too. The Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a network of more radical groups, cites the firefighters who crossed police lines near ground zero to protest the cuts in their presence on the site as evidence that "the moratorium on direct action in New York is over."

According to local activists, demonstrators from Boston to San Francisco, Canada to South America, plan to exercise free speech in the canyons of midtown. Imagine demonstrators chained to the potted ivies on Park Avenue or using Grand Central Partnership newspaper boxes for drumbeats, activist-daredevils rappelling up the Met Life building, unionized Waldorf workers staging a walkout . . .

Tuxedo junction: the Waldorf, where the swank ranks will meet
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Tuxedo junction: the Waldorf, where the swank ranks will meet

Can't make this one? In March, activists converge at the Ecuador-Colombia border to resist Plan Colombia and the FTAA; in June, the G8 meet in the remote mountains of Alberta, Canada; in October, the annual IMF and World Bank meetings return to Washington, D.C.

The questions that loom: At what point, if at all, will the recession prove to the free traders the fair traders' argument that there are drawbacks to the current favored form of neoliberal globalization? If mad cow disease and foot and mouth arose in part, as a consequence of lowered trade barriers, are the resulting deaths, the misery of British farmers, and the collapse of the U.K. tourism industry acceptable "collateral damage"? Must half the continent of Africa die before Bristol Myers Squibb will allow the purchase of generic AIDS drugs? If consumer fear that the lawsuit-ridden Ford Explorer is unsafe leads Ford to close a factory and lay off workers in Mexico, will any leaders in the first world have second thoughts? At what point does hardship trickle up?

The World Economic Forum

Center for Economic Justice

The Institute for Policy Studies

International Forum on Globalization

Anti-Capitalist Convergence

Students for Global Justice

The Other Davos

The Public Eye on Davos

Public Citizen

World Social Forum

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