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Anti-Global Activists Seek Direction

This little tidbit in from AP: After bursting on the scene two years ago, anti-globalization activists are struggling to find direction in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Anti-Global Activists Seek Direction

by Malcolm Foster

After bursting on the scene two years ago, anti-globalization activists are struggling to find direction in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Some groups are adding an anti-war theme to protests during the World Trade Organization meeting, which begins Friday in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar and is the first major test of how the anti-globalization movement will respond to the new mood.

Some groups plan to hold candlelight vigils. Others won't be demonstrating at all.

The scaled-down plans bear little resemblance to the strident protests, sometimes violent, that put the anti-global movement in the spotlight in recent years.

The message, protesters say, is still that unrestrained trade can widen the gap between rich and poor and hurt the environment. But as they adjust tactics to the times, demonstrators say they realize the public won't be very receptive to anything that seems unpatriotic.

"Dissent has to be expressed in a careful way right now," said David Levy, an activist in Washington with Mobilization for Global Justice. "We don't want to put an excessive burden on law enforcement."

Workers install new glass in lights outside a McDonald's restaurant in Beijing Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2001. China is expected to join the World Trade Organization soon after its accession is formally approved at the WTO's meeting in Qatar this weekend. The body sets rules governing trade between the 142 member nations and regions. (AP Photo/str)

Many activists say that even before the attacks they hadn't planned to go to Qatar because of hefty travel expenses and visa restrictions. Many groups now plan to gather in cities around the world for workshops and marches.

Even before the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, which left 4,500 people dead or missing, a growing number of activists were questioning the aggressive tactics of some in the movement.

A violent few had grabbed headlines beginning at the WTO's 1999 summit in Seattle, and some in the movement feel the tactics diverted attention from the economic issues most protesters care about. The latest violence occurred in July during the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where one protester died in clashes with police.

Now, with a U.S.-led war on in Afghanistan, even some of the more radical groups are toning things down.

In past protests, activists with Mobilization for Global Justice organized peaceful marches as well as disruptive antics like forming human blockades to stop traffic or keep delegates from entering meetings.

This weekend, they're limiting their activity to a march in Washington – wheeling a 70-foot smoke-breathing dragon through the streets until they wind up in front of the U.S. Trade Representative's Office. The Chinese-style dragon, which activists say represents "the will of the people," will be emblazoned with slogans like "the WTO is dragon us down."

In New York the Direct Action Network, made up of activists with anarchist leanings, have scrapped pre-Sept. 11 plans to block off the Wall Street area – not far from the ruins of the World Trade Center – during the Qatar meeting.

Instead, the group will conduct a "Corporate Tour of Shame" to half a dozen companies in Manhattan deemed to profit "from war and exploiting cheap labor" and chant slogans in front of them, said Eric Laursen, a Direct Action member.

Some mainstream groups are cutting involvement in demonstrations altogether.

"It's pretty misguided to target government institutions with protests when we're trying to get through this national crisis," said Dan Seligman, senior trade fellow with the Sierra Club, an environmental group that has participated in past protests but won't be doing anything timed with the Qatar summit.

Instead, the Sierra Club is organizing members across the country to lobby against the "fast-track" trade bill that would grant the president authority to negotiate trade deals with little input from Congress. Opponents warn that environmental and labor concerns could get ignored.

Positions on the war itself vary widely within the anti-global movement.

More radical groups like Global Exchange and Direct Action Network have incorporated a peace stance into their cause, arguing there's a link between poverty and the factors that contribute to terrorism.

"We're trying to draw connections between this war and U.S. economic policies," says Laursen of Direct Action Network.

The Sierra Club and another mainstream group, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, a public interest group founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, have avoided taking a stance on the conflict. They say it is too simplistic to make direct links between terrorism and poverty.

Many activists say that the conflict has made Americans think more about global issues.

"The war in Afghanistan has focused people's attention on issues of poverty and humanitarian need," said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a humanitarian group that distributes food around the world, including to Afghanistan.




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