At the “Welcome Center” of the new crusade for global justice, a cheerful young woman named Cleo is helping process fresh troops. “Do you plan on being arrested?” she asks.
After they say yes--and most say yes--she provides cards with lawyers’ phone numbers. The protesters are also handed a schedule of seminars on popular topics such as sweatshops, bicycle repair, dance, anti-oppression training and magical activism (taught by Star Hawk, a witch based in Mendocino, Calif.).
Another topic is on many people’s minds as well: a potential confrontation with police Sunday, when the anti-globalization protesters attempt to shut down the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which they accuse of neglecting the poor and harming the environment.
“I expect harsh measures,” says Cleo, 18. Declining to give a last name, she describes herself as a music student from Oklahoma.
It was a novel blend of grass-roots disorder and New Age discipline that bewildered police during last December’s global trade summit in Seattle. Now the Metropolitan Police of Washington faces the same challenging combination as a similar coalition of anti-globalization activists swarms into the capital.
At first glance, the crowd at the Welcome Center seems a throwback to a 1960s-style countercultural gathering, with its casual dress, vigorous democratic ethic and ardent belief in a more perfect world.
But on closer inspection, its members represent a very different movement, one that is notable for taking to the streets with clever organizational techniques. Beyond that, they are more media savvy than their 1960s counterparts, as shown Friday when animal rights activists dumped a truckload of horse manure near the headquarters of the World Bank, creating a carefully framed image for the cameras.
“You had the manure and truck in the foreground, and World Bank Group [sign] in the background,” explained Bruce Freidrich, vegetarian campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Indeed, the world of globalization protest in the 21st century is a world of its own. There are “elves” who watch out for personal needs (such as water for the thirsty), “vibe monitors” who guard against internal conflicts and “jail solidarity persons” who are responsible for keeping Social Security numbers and other personal information about those who end up in the slammer. Decisions are hashed out by the “spokes-council,” an allusion to spokes on a wheel.
Demonstrators scheduled to take the spotlight Sunday include the “radical cheerleaders,” who gained much attention in Seattle for dispensing with blouses.
There will be puppets, including a giant “structural adjustment machine” that is a slam on the IMF’s demands for “structural adjustment” (that is, stingy budgets) in the countries that receive its loans.
But the anti-globalization crusade represents something new beyond its choice of protest paraphernalia. Grizzled veterans of earlier protest movements are struck by the new crusaders’ resourcefulness at organizing large numbers of nonconformist personalities and drawing attention to their cause from the establishment media.
“It’s a totally different level of sophistication,” said Kevin Danaher, 49, a Vietnam-era draft resister who is one of the organizers in the anti-globalization crusade. “When you see these young people run these meetings, I’m awe-struck.”
At the same time, acknowledges Danaher, who helped launch a democracy project in San Francisco known as Global Exchange, the movement’s insistence on democratic decision-making can make “command and control” a problem.
Star Hawk, the Northern California witch, offered training seminars on the uses of magic at the “convergence site,” which is at the Welcome Center. Although Star Hawk was not immediately available for an interview, fans praised her talent at using ancient pagan rituals, such as the spiral dance, to impart to the disparate group a feeling of unity, “the sense that we are all part of each other,” according to Ilyse Hogue, one of the protesters.
Hogue, of San Francisco, recalled that she and Star Hawk were arrested at the World Trade Organization melee in Seattle and landed in the same cell. The witch, Hogue said, buoyed everyone’s spirits in jail by “recognizing that the Earth has its own energy” and tapping into it to build human solidarity.
The single biggest event on the protest schedule is a legal rally set for Sunday on the Ellipse, between the White House and the Washington Monument, and thousands are expected to join. Far less predictable is the unscheduled “direct action” that some demonstrators are planning for Sunday and Monday.
“We’re asking that everybody who plans to be a part of the direct action take the nonviolent direct-action training and the legal training,” noted Garrick Ruiz, 23, a UCLA graduate from Alhambra in Washington for the protests.
While the crusade represents something new in the landscape of social protest, the movement is perfectly willing to borrow from the past, often to powerful effect.
Take the notion of “affinity groups"--five to 15 people who form individual cells within larger protests. In protest parlance, affinity groups may work together in “clusters.”
The key protest Web site, https://www.a16.org, suggests that affinity groups make help available before a protest (“Know where people who are arrested are likely to be taken”), during a protest (“Bring a first-aid kit”) and after a protest (“Take care of kids, pets, cars, plants etc. for those in jail”).
Activists this week have been frustrated by police work, including surveillance, that is more aggressive than they experienced in Seattle. At the convergence site this week, a police helicopter circled watchfully overhead. A police intelligence unit confiscated 256 4-foot-long pipes that demonstrators had hoped to use in forming unbreakable human chains.
But if the anti-globalization crusaders were feeling the heat, they professed confidence in their imminent bid to highlight their concerns with the World Bank and IMF.
“We’re not going to be stopped,” said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman with the Mobilization for Global Justice. “Petty intimidation” tactics are frustrating, she said. “But it’s not going to make a difference in what we’re doing.”