Sex and Other

Drugs and
Rock 'n' Roll

Media and

Society (and

Politics and Other


Casual Fridays

Rantings and

In and Out:
Sex Advice from our Staff Dominatrix

Employee of the



Who We Are

Write for Us!

Invest in Anti-

Play Our Theme Song
by Simon Inns
(MP3 format; 1.5 MB download)

Donate to the Cause!

Fighting global capitalism... with style


The World Economic Forum


by Ken Mondschein



As we reported last week, 2,700 of the world's biggest brains descended upon New York City from January 31 to February 4, 2002, for the World Economic Forum. Similar events in Seattle and Genoa had drawn violent protests; in the post 9.11 New York City, such a prospect was met with trepidation. Perhaps responding to this, the WEF made it clear in its media releases that it proposed to bring into discussion issues, such as workers' rights and the environment, that are of concern to activist groups. Bill Gates, the Corporate Motherfucker poster-boy himself, was quoted as saying: "People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us. I think it's a healthy sign that there are demonstrators in the streets. They are raising the question of 'is the rich world giving back enough?' "

For the 7,000 protestors who showed up, however, the answer was "no." Staging loud, yet, for the most part, non-violent protests, activists representing a bewildering variety of causes rallied in the streets outside the Waldorf-Astoria hotel where the forum was being held. The New York Police Department kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, channeling the dissenters into clearly delineated areas and diverting traffic around the hotel.

Since dissent against The Man is the theme of this Web 'zine, it was, of course, imperative that we cover the event. The anti-globalization movement has attracted much media attention. However, mainstream sources have often presented the situation in the black-and-white of a medieval mystery play, often giving undue, sensationalistic attention to the radical anarchists who vandalize Starbucks and McDonalds. Such portrayals simply didn't ring true. We wished to present the event in as a non-biased a manner as possible, presenting opinions and statements from both the protestor-on-the-street (instead of the "leaders" usually quoted by the press) and police. Our reasons for eschewing speaking to the organizers were several. First of all, we weren't sure how much what they said represented the feelings of the whole. Furthermore, speaking to a few people with an agenda can be misleading. This was supposed to be a popular movement; we wanted to speak to the people.

So that we can present images along with the text, I recruited my friend Bea, who, besides being beautiful is an extremely talented photographer (that's a picture of her on the right, taken with my crappy disposable camera). All pictures on these pages, except where noted, were taken by Bea.

We arrived at 50th and Park Avenue at 10:00 a.m. on a freezing cold morning to find the streets empty, save for barricades and police. Undaunted, we began to conduct a reconnaissance, checking where the protests would be and taking pictures of the security set-up. The public space was sectioned off very clearly, with police politely, yet firmly, asking passers-by for identification to enter restricted areas. This caused no end of trouble for the various residents, delivery people, and housecleaners going about their business. The large, modern office buildings were likewise closed off with steel barricades across their entrances. Locked down tight, this urban canyon of concerete and steel presented only bare glass and stone facades, giving the street a profoundly claustrophobic feel. And, everywhere you looked, there were cops.

With no protestors to speak to, we decided to interview the omnipresent police. The officers at the barricades were unwilling or unable to talk, but others were more forthcoming. One NYPD officer, who asked to remain anonymous, reveled that he had no enmity for the protestors. In fact, we found quite a bit of common ground: We're both descended from union organizers, who were the radicals of their day. Nor did he seem to have any prejudiced views of the progressive community himself; when asked what he expected of the protestors, the officer gave a reply and resident of the Big Apple might have voiced: "They're all probably spoiled suburban college students from the Midwest. New Yorkers have better sense."

In the meantime, a more pressing issue than global capitalism had reared its head: I had to go to the bathroom. Badly. Standing in the gusts of freezing wind, the situation was growing desperate. Did I go against my principles by venturing into a nearby Starbuck's? Would that not brand me a traitor to the very people we had come to observe? Was my bladder not about to explode?

Cautiously, we ventured into the belly of the beast itself. The coffee shop was deserted, save for some police protecting the place from any anarchists who might have wanted to start their morning by smashing a cappuccino machine. The cops gave us a curious once-over as Bea documented my radical act of unlocking the bathroom door, and then went back to drinking their lattes. Alas, I didn't perform a single act of resistance; I even flushed and washed my hands. However, I did discover that big, soulless businesses are good for one thing: relieving oneself in the middle of Manhattan. You can't beat them for convenience.

Some police helpfully told us that the demonstrators were supposed to march from Columbus Circle to the Waldorf, so we started walking north and west in hopes of finding some more profitable way of amusing ourselves than pissing on corporate property. We hadn't gone two blocks when we ran into three young men sporting the Guatemalan parkas, unshaven growths of beards, and matted dreadlocks that identify dedicated counterculturalists. One carried a sticker-festooned empty Poland Spring water jug. We introduced ourselves and asked them who they were and what they were doing here. The three gentlemen were hesitant to answer at first, but the one with the jug, who asked to be identified only as Grinning White Bozo, was eventually coaxed into responding.

"I was hoping to have a little fun, get people dancing in the streets," he said. "I'm a pacifist, so I try to go with the vibes."

I pointed to the water jug.

"Are you soliciting donations?" I asked.

"No, it's a drum," G.W.B. said.

"Oh," I replied.

Upon further questioning, it turned out that G.W.B. and his friends had caught a ride in from Boston with Food Not Bombs. Being from out of town, they were rather confused as to which direction the protests were. We told them that we were headed to Columbus Circle, and, like the helpful New Yorkers we are, offered to show them the way.

"Don't jaywalk!" G.W.B. cried out as we were about to cross 51st street.

I looked at him strangely. Don't jaywalk? In New York?

"They stopped us for jaywalking," he said. "Like, twice."

It turned out that the police had searched the three and their bags, and confiscated G.W.B.'s drumsticks, using jaywalking as their probable cause. No doubt, the NYPD was searching for marijuana, and were probably disappointed to come up empty-handed. Even without weed, though, the three were still somewhat paranoid. They eyeballed some nearby cops somewhat nervously while Bea photographed them standing outside a Gap.

"So, all this activism and stuff—does it impress the chicks?" I asked.

"I don't know, does it?" G.W.B. turned to Bea.

"I'm not so comfortable with these guys," Bea said to me sotto voce.

"We should ditch them," I agreed. To them, I said, "Listen, we shouldn't travel in a large group. You guys take that side of the street, we'll take this side."

"Good idea," he agreed.

Walking down Lexington, Bea and I heard an amplified voice echoing off the skyscrapers. We were heading towards the noise when a voice came out of a group of cops huddled away from the wind in the arcade of an office building.

"Where is your jacket, young protestor?" called out a petite policewoman, who asked us to refer to her as "Officer Smith."

"I'm not cold," I said through chattering teeth. "And I'm not a protestor, either. I do a Web site, and I'm writing about the demonstration. Have any thoughts?"

"Yeah, let them move to Afghanistan and see how they like it there," Officer Smith said.

I had to admit she had a point.

Talking to the police around the demonstration, in fact, was an interesting experience. Once they realized I wasn't out to slander them, they were quick to open up. And, by listening, I think I gained a better understanding of the dynamics of what was going on.

The NYPD, in many ways, are more legitimate working class heroes than the college kids who had come from out of town to yell their heads off about globalization. They were blue-collar men and women, just trying to do their jobs and stay warm. They didn't want to hurt anyone, and for the most part they supported the right to protest, and thought freedom of speech was a worthwhile thing to protect. After all, the police strongly believe in the right to unionize. On the other hand, they didn't want anyone to hurt the city, either. Enough had happened on September 11.

We thanked "Officer Smith" and her colleagues and moved on. Around the corner, we found more of what we had been looking for: sign-carrying protestors straggling in from the west side, being directed by the police into areas clearly marked off with steel barriers. We took the opportunity to stop a group of three colorfully dressed, college-age women carrying "Money for Schools, Not War" signs. Again, they were not local, but had come down from Boston expressly for the demonstration.

"I think it's a bunch of bullshit that rich people are trying to make money off the backs of poor people," said one. "The real suffering takes place in other countries. My solution would be a more equitable economic system. If everyone got paid the same for the same time working, you wouldn't have such an accumulation of wealth in the hands of the elites. But of course, the money goes into the hands of the investors."

We thanked the girls and pressed on Park Avenue, where we found the purpose of the barricades we had noticed earlier. They were set up along the street, controlling the flow of traffic. Anyone who wanted to protest had to step, under the watchful eye of the NYPD, behind the barricades and into a cattle-pen like area. The barriers effectively controlled the public space, keeping the demonstrators crammed onto the sidewalks, able to see their compatriots on the opposite corner, but unable to join them unless they were willing to walk all the way down the block to cross the street. (The Village Voice reported what happened when people tried to cross some barriers, together with some pictures calculated for maximum shock effect.)

Being physically separated, however, didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the groups of protestors, who, despite the freezing weather, waved their homemade signs and enthusiastically chanted slogans such as, "Hey, Ho, WEF has got to go!" and "Bush, Sharon, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!" The anonymous police officer we had spoken to earlier was vindicated when someone took a microphone and, in a Tom-Morello-from Rage-Against-the-Machine-like voice shouted: "Hey, how many of us are from New York?"

A smattering of cheers.

"How many from out of town?"

Thunderous applause. Pandemonium.

"Uh-how many of us from NEW JERSEY?!"

Dead silence.

"New England?"

The crowd voiced a collective "Yeah!"

The first speaker finished, a woman identified as Stephanie from The Women's Fight Back Network from Simmons College in Boston took the microphone.

"People are not just losing jobs in Boston," she said. "It's happening in every city. . . it's caused by the same thing. . . I want to remind people that it would cost 17 billion to give health care to every child in America, but it costs 40 billion for this war. . ."

For a speaker from what seemed to be a feminist group to speak out against the war in Afghanistan fit with the theme of the event. The demonstrators carried signs espousing a whole rainbow coalition of left-wing causes, from environmentalists to socialists to what were apparently both members of that well-known resistance group Queers Against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. (Interesting that they were interested in the cause of people who would stone them for violating Islamic law.) One fellow, who earned high scores from the cops and Beatrice and myself as well, even carried a "More Pay for NYPD" sign.

Searching through the mob, we finally found some New Yorkers, high school students from LaGuardia and Brooklyn Tech. Asked why they had come out today, one ventured: "The people should have a say in the decision making [instead of the corporate executives]." Another added, "All these people are warmongering and they support Bush in his self-important war."

Alan from Queens, who was handing out literature for the Socialist Alternative, gave his opinion of the WEF attendees: "I think they're a bunch of scumsuckers. They're pigs. [The WEF] is a strategic tool of international capitalism."

"Real" reporters, given free access to the proceedings by their press passes, were interviewing the more colorful demonstrators over the barriers. I saw one guy from Minnesota, his yellow raincoat decorated with political stickers, interviewed by a French TV crew. Like so many of the protestors we had spoken to ourselves, he gave a long, rambling speech about nothing in particular, about how bad globalization is. I felt bad for the French reporter trying to get quality material out of this crowd. He were looking for a José Bové, the dairy farmer whose crusade for quality farm products in the face of crappy, mass-produced convenience food made him a French national celebrity. He wanted someone to say something concrete, like "Yes, I am protesting these people because my uncle lost his job when his factory was moved to the Philippines, where they pay kids two cents an hour to do his job," or "I am protesting this Forum because my phone service works like shit, but we can't get anything done because our Congressman sucks the phone company's dick for his campaign money." Instead, he got some half-baked conspiracy theory about Israel, Enron, George W. Bush, and the Gnomes of Zurich. What was happening in that hotel down the block, in the minds of the crowds, was all the world's evils lumped together in one building-and they were going to root it out, consequences be damned.

Bea and I had it when the crowd started shouting about the Palestinian homeland and Israeli imperialism. Bea grew up in Germany, but her father is Jewish and she has cousins in Israel. I've never been to Israel, but I'm both Jewish and know people who have served in the Israeli Defense Forces. The knee-jerk reaction of the crowd, as well as the apparent inability of anyone who fancies themselves a liberal to see more than one side of an issue, really bothered us.

"That does it, dude, we're out of here," Bea said. "Besides, I'm freezing. Come on, I think there was a Body Shop back there."

I couldn't argue: the cold wind whipping between the buildings had dried and chapped our skin, and my knuckles were so swollen I could barely write. I had to warm up, at least for a few minutes.

We retreated back up the block to Lexington and stole away from the crowd agitating for social change by ducking into the warm womb of the Body Shop. It was as though we'd entered some consumer Paradise. The sweet odor of incense swept over me, and the New-Agey music they were playing over the PA lulled away the tension of the mob scene outside. Nor could any of the protestors outside have found any fault with the least thing they sold there; it was a retail establishment conceived in the Garden of Eden. It was everyone's liberal ideas made flesh. On the wall was a plaque with the store's business principles—nothing they sold was tested on animals, there were no polluting byproducts from anything's manufacturing process, and everything was all-natural. Looking around, I saw shelf upon shelf of tubes and jars of environmentally correct beauty products, all made from renewable resources grown by indigenous peoples from third-world countries.

I couldn't afford any of it.

Bea seized a sample jar of moisturizer and began salving her chapped lips. I picked a small jar of green goo that cost roughly the same as my monthly bill from my Web host. "Wow. This is made from hemp?"

"Yeah, it's great shit. Here, try this stuff," she sprayed me with an atomizer.

"Orange," I said, wiping the stuff out of my eyes. "I'm probably the best-smelling person at this protest."

(By the way, I took the picture of Bea on the left. I deserve major props for my mad Photoshop skillz for adjusting it until you can actually see it's her and not, say, Lowtax in a Chewbacca costume.)

On our way back to the subway, we passed some college students handing out socialist newspapers. They looked so earnest, I couldn't resist asking The Question once again:

"So, does left-wing politics get you chicks?"

They looked at each other.

"Not unless you have a tattoo of Marx on your butt," one responded sadly.

Just then, some protestors passed by, carrying signs and chanting, "The People united will never be defeated."

"It's 'never be divided,' you idiots," I muttered under my breath.

I was disappointed. The WTF protests were not what I had expected. I went in expecting clear-cut right and wrong, easily articulated reasons for why globalization is bad and what we have to do to make the world better. I thought I would find the stereotypes I'd read about: brutal police, Gandhi-esque protestors, a battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Evil Empire. Good against Evil. Instead, I found people: stupid and falliable, sometimes heroic, but just people. And, I came to realize, the people inside the Waldorf-Astoria were just that, as well: people. Some want to do right. Some are too stupid or lazy to care. And some just want to think of new ways to make a buck.

I realized something else, as well: If you're going to stand for a cause, you ought to be able to articulate what exactly you stand for. Political decisions should be reasoned, not taken because you're afraid not to accept the empty rhetoric, or, worse, because you're transfering your suburban resentment for Mommy and Daddy onto some shadowy authority figures.

As for me, I know where my politics lie.


Feedback? E-mail


Posted February 3, 2002 1:46 AM




You make my day!

Posted by: Freeman at February 26, 2008 4:28 PM



Copyright 2001-2010
Powered by
Movable Type 3.33
Logo design by Molitorious