In this space last year (“Carte Blanche, Bête Noire,” Winter 2000), I described some aspects of the emerging European and worldwide movement against corporate-driven globalization, ending on an optimistic note (“it’s . . . a great time to be politically alive”). A year on, I’d say it’s greater still. The movement is gaining strength, exudes self-confidence, and has chalked up some partial victories. Young people are joining in droves and the adversary is, if not yet on the ropes, at least a bit dazed by the breadth and determination of the offensive.
The media in some countries still try hard to treat the genus protester as a marginal curiosity rather than a political animal. The Washington Post reported on the April demonstrations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the “Style” section, stressing hair, nose rings, and body art. In Europe, however, and particularly in France, the press has been obliged to accept and report on the new actors that have arisen alongside transnational corporations and governments. The media now provide at least a capsule version of our message.
“Seattle” has become shorthand for a turning point, marking the moment when the anti-globalization forces thrust themselves upon the mainstream consciousness. As I write, the Seattle era has barely celebrated its first birthday, yet some incredible events have occurred.
Actually, I refuse the term “anti-globalization” that the media have lumbered us with. This combat is really between those who want inclusive globalization based on cooperation and solidarity and those who want the market to make all the decisions. Thomas Friedman, an ardent apostle of the latter view, puts it perfectly in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree: as your country is forced to accept the new, neoliberal rules, “your economy grows and your politics shrink.” (In fact, your economy doesn’t necessarily grow, and certainly not as much as between 1950-1975, but that’s another story, one Friedman chooses not to tell.)
Protesters, on the other hand, think politics should be stretched and expanded so as to engender a radically new kind of internationalism. People my age cut their political teeth in anti-colonial, anti-imperialist solidarity movements—for Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, South Africa, and the like. This time it’s different. There is a genuine and growing sense that all ordinary people, wherever they live, are in this together. We have the same grievances and sense of injustice; we have, above all, the same enemies, even though the trade unionists, environmentalists, and cultural workers of the North lead far more comfortable lives than globalization’s myriad losers in the South. No one denies that the chief victims are the billion people living on less than a dollar a day and the three billion—half the world—making do with less than two dollars per day. But suddenly t...
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