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NONVIOLENT ACTIVIST: The Magazine of the War Resisters League

Sept.-Oct. 2001:
Anti-Globalization Struggle
Nonviolent Action: Dialogue Continues
Undercover at Star Wars Fan Club
Jailed in Georgia
Havana on My Mind
Activist Reviews
Activist News

War Resisters League
The Nonviolent Activist

War Resisters’ International
The Anti-Globalization Struggle

As many of you were reading the last issue’s forum on the parameters of nonviolent action, the news broke about the tragic death by police bullets of Italian protester Carlo Giuliani at the G-8 summit in Genoa.

Giuliani’s death gave new urgency to the discussions of the actions we take when we protest. War Resisters International put out the statement that follows, and this magazine received an extraordinary number of carefully thought-out responses in answer to our plea to keep the dialog going. Many of those letters appear on the following pages; we will print more over the next several issues. —The Editors

War Resisters’ International—an international pacifist network with more than 80 affiliates in more than 40 countries—was appalled by the violence of the Italian police against anti-globalization demonstrators in Genoa. Members of WRI affiliates from several countries went to Genoa to protest against policies that inflict hunger and poverty on large parts of the world. These were people with a stated commitment to nonviolent forms of action and many had organized nonviolence training session before departure, or participated in last-minute trainings offered by the Foro Social in Genoa. What they encountered was a rampaging police force given the license to indulge in violence, sexism and even fascist behavior in a premeditated attempt to intimidate all demonstrators, whatever their attitude to violence. Some were asleep in the office of Foro Social when the police raided it, beating anybody they could lay hands on. Others were subjected to violence and degrading treatment in police custody. Those of us who live in the so-called democratic west are shocked by the police violence in Genoa, and by the death of Carlo Giuliani.

On Contradictions in the Movement
The struggle against economic globalization is a global struggle against corporate rule, and for a just social order. In this struggle, movements from the west, the east and the south unite. Still we need to be aware of the challenge of internal contradictions within the movement, and of contradictions we face in our daily life.

Those of us who live in the west benefit from economic globalization, from the more and more rudimentary welfare systems, which are a result of the workers struggle of the past, and designed to trickle down some of the benefits of economic exploitation of the south and east, from the widespread availability of the products of cheap labor in the south for consumer goods in the west. While for those of us in the west the struggle is for maintaining and expanding existing welfare systems, for creating a life in opposition to consumerism and merely materialist values, for those of us in the south and east the struggle often is a struggle for survival—a struggle against the destruction of the environment that provides the means for life, a struggle against slave labor and deprivation of the basic means for survival, a struggle for human dignity.

On Militarism
The events in Genoa point to the link between economic globalization and militarization. As a network committed to nonviolence, WRI has no illusions about the length to which police forces will go to defend corporate interests and the existing social order. If such overt brutality is a surprise to many in the West, it is all too common in many countries in the world, were the military and an often militarized police enforce the conditions necessary for an economic exploitation of the majority of these societies, which is the driving force of globalization. The IMF’s “Structural Adjustment Programs” rarely address military expenditure, while demanding serious cuts in social welfare and education. And NATO demanded that its new members in Eastern Europe adjust their military equipment to NATO standards, which will take away resources from welfare needs in these countries. Resistance to the absence of workers rights and the denial of basic human needs often meets with violence from the military and police forces, and it is no surprise that the human rights records of most of these countries are very poor.

Economic globalization also challenges workers rights in the West, and is more and more used as a justification to cut down existing welfare systems. Growing resistance increasingly meets a more and more violent police force, sometimes even the military. Growing migration from the south meets with more and more rigid border controls, which are aimed to prevent the movement of victims of globalization, and lead to a more and more militarized and racist immigration policy in the west, while at the same time the movement of capital is more and more “liberated” to foster a globalized capitalist economy.

War Resisters’ International sees the economic injustice, which is a result of globalization, as one of the causes of war and armed conflict. Therefore, as a movement against war, we need to engage in the struggle against economic globalization, and join forces with anti globalization actors coming from other movements and backgrounds. At the same time we urge the anti globalization movement to acknowledge the links between globalization and militarism, links that became all too obvious through the actions of the militarized Italian police in Genoa.

On Globalization from Below

While we oppose economic globalization, we don’t oppose globalization per se. The anti globalization movement is a global movement of people, a living example of globalization from below. In this globalization from below we need to be careful not to just mirror globalization from above, which is all too easy as our perception is blurred by a globalized mass media. Why did the death of Carlo Giuliani send a shock wave through the anti globalization movement all over the world, while the death of at least four anti globalization protesters, shot at a demonstration in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea on 25/26 June didn’t spark the same reaction? We need to value the many different struggles going on in almost all parts of the world, which unite in the anti globalization movement. And we need to listen to the voices of those of us from the south, who are often silenced and not listened to, and who don’t have any voice in the globalized mass media.

There is no precedent for the kind of anti globalization movement that is needed today, and no precedent for building global structures from below, that secure global representation.

On Violence
The events in Genoa raise many questions, and point to some of the challenges the anti-globalization movement and the peace movement need to face. The question of violence by movement activists—although only a small minority—is only one of them. The violence of a minority of demonstrators, and also of agents provocateurs, offered a distraction, which enabled the globalized mass media to carry repeated images of demonstrators trying to smash windows while neglecting the real issues: that the profits of multi-nationals are at the expense of the poor of the world and that what is presented as “aid” usually serves to promote western corporate interests. Furthermore, this violence disempowers people, those who want to protest nonviolently. Not only were they seen as being associated with the violence of demonstrators, but also they were exposed to the even more violent actions of the police, who claimed that the violence of some activists justified indiscriminate attacks on the mass of demonstrators.

WRI and its members need to engage in dialogue with those promoting violent resistance to globalization, which we see as an expression of disempowerment and hopelessness. Violent protest fuels the spiral of violence, and ultimately social militarization. On the one hand, this militarization takes the form of tougher policing, on the other, certain protest groups pay more and more attention to covert forms of action or techniques for damaging property than to a strategy that addresses the real issues. These tendencies can only lead to social marginalization for protesters and offer a pretext for states to increase their security apparatus. However, the question of violence from the side of resistance movements is not a new one: the anti-colonization movements of the 50s, 60s and 70s used violence even armed struggle on a large scale, and violence is a permanent issue on the margins of social movements.

While WRI condemns this violence, this shouldn’t distract us from the issues raised by these movements, and their often justified cause. While WRI strongly condemns violent acts committed by movement activists, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye on the far greater violence of the Italian police in Genoa, and the structural violence of economic globalization in general. It is the tragedy of movement violence that it distracts attention from structures of violence, which kill far more people by denying them the basic means for survival without throwing a single stone, or firing a single bullet.

On Nonviolence
War Resisters’ International and its members believe that the anti-globalization movements needs to re-orient itself towards a strategy of nonviolence—not just against the violence of the police and states against demonstrators, against the kind of violent militancy of some movement activists, and against the structural violence that deprives the majority and protects privilege.

A strategy of nonviolence needs to involve building our own strength as a movement, and developing alternatives to economic globalization and corporate rule. A strategy of nonviolence needs to involve making use of the rich heritage of nonviolent movements from all over the world in preparing for nonviolent confrontation, drawing from experience in nonviolence training from the US Civil Rights Movement, the Gandhian movement in India, the landless movement in Brazil, the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, among many others. In promoting nonviolence we are not na ve. We are aware that our nonviolence needs to include to be prepared to face violence from the police and the states, to resist violence non-violently, and to prevent violence from a small minority of movement activists.

A strategy of nonviolence also needs to involve a rethinking of the present focus on following the summits of those in power, an agenda set by the powerholders and not by the movement itself. While Seattle served to bring the movement out into the open, and inspired many all over the world to join the movement, the repetition of these actions from Seattle to Washington, Prague, Davos, Quebec, Gothenburg, Genoa is not a real strategy, if this remains the main focus of the movement, and is not accompanied by local action. This is a lesson those of us in the west should learn from those of us in the south, who engage in creating economic alternatives in the landless movement in Brazil, in rural areas in India or Africa.

While we unite in opposing corporate rule and economic globalization, we need to work on developing our own vision of nonviolent economics. We need to admit that we are weak when it comes to alternatives, and that we know well what to fight against, but only have a blurred image of what to fight for. Therefore we welcome the attempts made at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre/Brazil to discuss alternatives. A nonviolent strategy against economic globalization needs to include a global discussion on nonviolent economy, an economy that is defined by human needs and respect for the environment and other living beings.


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