Breathing Life Back into the Anti-Globalization Movement

Nine years to the month after the "Battle of Seattle", academics and activists gathered at NYU's Gallatin School on Friday night to take stock of a movement that briefly flourished at the beginning of the decade before disappearing from the United States after September 11.

What have we learned and where to go next were the key questions last friday at a film screening and panel discussion on the alter-globalization movement(s). The event, hosted by Professor Mark Read of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, was entitled "Many Yeses, One No," and is part of a screening and DVD Series coming from Deep Dish TV entitled: DIY Media: Movement Perspectives on Critical Moments.

Before screening the film, Read highlighted how potentially significant a moment the present day is for the alter-globalization movement(s), if it hopes to revive itself. Namely, the driving ideology behind corporate globalization, neo-liberalism, is as Read put it, "literally bankrupt," while, at the same time, a potentially "progressive" president is about to take office.

The film itself was a collection of excerpts of five documentary films highlighting critical moments in the movement(s), such as 1999 WTO protest in Seattle. Six significant contributors to the alter-globalization movement made up the panel, which was moderated by Steven Duncombe, professor of Media Studies at the Gallatin School.

The first question put to the panel was what lessons have been learned from the mass actions, such as the Seattle shut down?

Rick Rowley, a documentary film director, whose film "Fourth World War" was among those featured in the screening, said those actions showed how people have the capacity to overcome the global capitalist system's attempt to make them feel powerless. He said that during the proliferation of those moments, like Seattle, was a time when "you felt like a protagonist in history." Rowley went on to say he made the doc to show people that such authorship from people, as opposed to governments and corporations, is and can continue to be possible.

Activist, Manuel Perez Rocha, an Associate-Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and member of the Mexican Action Network, tried to answer the question by reflecting back on the experience the Zapastistas mass action against the passing of NAFTA. He said that the effective action "did not come out of nowhere," but started at the onset of the neo-liberalist policies of the 1980s. This not only shows the importance of organization, he said, but also shows how their is never a single issue or particular oppressed group that defines the alter-globalization movement.

For his part, David Solnit, one of the key organizers in both the Seattle shutdown, and the massive protest in San Francisco the day after Iraq was invaded, laid down some concrete lessons from the movement's heyday. "Uproot the system, he said, "we can't afford to do single issue organizing... we have to connect the different issues and look at the whole (global capitalist system)." We should, he said, see 'the movement' as interconnected movements. As well, he emphasized the necessity of new and innovative strategies, encouraging people to not just rely on their favorite protest tactics. Also, said Solnit, we need to think past the one day mass protest, and focus on long term strategizing. Becoming good story tellers was another's of Solnit's lessons. That is, creating "ethical spectacles" through independent media, and work on properly framing the narrative of what happened at these events. "What people think happened in Seattle effects how people perceive neo-liberalism," he said, adding that people involved in the movement(s) need to also be "historians."

Later on in the evening, Solnit added focusing on winnable goals to the list of lessons.

Duncombe also asked the panel "what gets people off the curb (and onto the street)?" This led into a discussion of how the movements in the global south have differed from those in the United States.

Sameer Dossani, director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice, said that for many places in the global south the choice is "get off the curb or die on the curb." He then pointed to the devastating effect IMF social adjustment programs, which force nations to privatize various public services, have had on indigenous cultures, pushing many into all but extinction.

Brooke Lehman, founding Participant of the Direct Action Network and co-founder of the Lower East Side radical bookstore, Bluestockings, agreed with Dossani about their being a key difference between the U.S. and global south movements, saying for the most part in the U.S. it has been more a "moral movement" of comparatively privileged young people. However, said Lehman, the U.S. movement(s) strength derives from the inspiration of those previous movements in the global south, such as the Zapatistas.

Ritty Luckos, an NYU professor and author of a forthcoming book on the culture and politics of the anti-corporate globalization movement in India, pointed to her native land as a place where the struggle against capitalist globalization has been going on for decades, mostly on the issue of land reforms. She also added that the alter-globalization movement(s), in order to progress need to take more into account issues of cultural diversity and gender difference.

When the floor was opened up to audience questions, one 20-something male asked about the inter-generational structure of today's movement(s). Lehman said that a lot of the movements "elders" felt that there had been too much focus on the single day protest, and became critical of the tendency for privileged westerners to "summit hop." A lot of these veteran activists can be found involved today in much more localized movements, she said. For many involved in those historical protests, Lehman said, it was the participatory, directly democratic organizing model leading up to the actions that were more important than the protests themselves.

Nearing the end of the discussion an audience member mentioned the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next November, saying this was a pivotal occasion, as neo-liberal agenda threatens the future of the planet. The panel members all seemed to be in agreement on this.

Another event, the presidential inauguration, was also discussed as the discussion was wrapping up. Lehman said plans were in the works to have an anti-authoritarian presence on the street during the inauguration, one that would both be celebrating the positives of the electoral outcome, but draw attention to the critical issues that true progressives need to pressure Obama about. More about this can be found at

For more information on the DIY media series go to

My only substantive criticism of the panel discussion is that while all involved seem to agree that 9/11 made the movement(s) lose serious momentum, this was not really elaborated upon. Well, the Patriot Act obviously made freedom of assembly even more difficult, the crucial question of how to overcome this tactic was left unanswered by the panel. I think the panel may have been hindered by having too many speakers. The choice for so many was probably to represent the idea of their being no single movement, but a movement of movements. But, as a result, the discussion while really insightful, felt unfocused. That said, the film and discussion were both informing and inspiring. I left wanting to know more about the particular issues and how to be involved.

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