by Martin Fournier
G8: Group of Eight Industrialized Countries —
United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, and Canada
G6B: Global Six Billion — the people in the rest of the world
Were the recent G8 protests in Calgary effective in affecting positive change? Is summit hopping, the practice of activists travelling to globalization summits in large numbers, a now defunct strategy? Where is the anti-globalization movement going? Does the movement have a unified vision to keep its momentum? These are difficult questions for activists to answer in these times of repression.
I am left pondering these questions after Canada spent $300 million to build Fortress Kananaskis, a military "bunker" consisting of 21 checkpoints spread along the road to a small resort town 90 kilometres west of Calgary. Canada and the G8 administration guaranteed that no one would ever get close to the leaders of the eight richest economies in the world by deploying 5000 soldiers, tanks, anti-aircraft defences, missile launchers and fighter jets patrolling a wide-reaching no-fly-zone above the resort's territory.
These incredibly brutal measures, coupled with a $300 000 bribe to the Stoney Nation to prevent activists from erecting a temporary Solidarity Village on their land which is a mere 25 kilometres away from Kananaskis, ensured that no protesting took place near the G8 leaders. Activists, being persistent individuals, decided to relocate the action to Calgary.
Two main events occurred in Calgary, a counter summit, the summit of the group of six billion (G6B) from June 21-25 and the usual Labour marches and public protests throughout the week and during the actual summit (June 26 & 27). The G6B was by far the most effective in addressing critical issues such as the African AIDS crisis, environmental deterioration, the anti-terrorism agenda, global recession, social justice and the rise of poverty brought on by one-way globalization trade. The G6B main recommendations can be found online on Alberta's Independent Media Centre: www.alberta.indymedia.org/news/2002/06/3402.php
The marches and protests were successful in defeating public opinion about protesters and violence. For the entire duration of these events the media wasn't able to report any violence, except from the odd isolated act from yahoos. For the first time in North American protest history they had to report on what protesters actually do at protests. This included a reported family march of 3000, various rallies ranging from 2500 to 7000 participants, a massive improvised street soccer game to paralyze an intersection, a symbolic Die-in, in which 100 protesters "died" on the pavement to symbolically relate the ongoing suffering of Third World countries, and a gigantic knitting circle, another tactic to paralyze traffic, and the 3000-strong police presence unnerving everyone. All these actions happened during a tactic called snake marching in which the goal is to constantly march around the economic district of a given city in order to paralyze traffic and prevent workers getting to work, in essence to shut down business and hit them where it hurts, the profit line.
The most radical action of the entire week was a 100-car caravan, including approximately 400 activists, which went to the first checkpoint on the road to Kananaskis Fortress. They were greeted with army personnel hiding under nearby foliage and a platoon of bicycle cops, obviously stationed there to present a positive image to tourists and unknowing travellers, to create a positive and goodwill image of Canada to the rest of the world. After much negotiations and nerve-racking deliberations the caravan was sent back to Calgary. (See Alberta Independent Media centre for amazing pictures of K-country and the scary checkpoints: www.alberta.indymedia.org).
In retrospect, the Calgary actions were both a failure for the anti-globalization movement and a victory. On one hand the actions were not successful in getting the attention of the G8 leaders; they went ahead with their meeting bunkered away in K-country. On the other hand, the use of successful non-violent civil disobedience in the face of harsh repressive measures showed the G8 leaders, and the world, the absurdity of spending so much taxpayers' money to defend against democracy; the actions of the G8 leadership are in all truth an admission of guilt and inefficiency; why did they have to wall themselves in if they are working to better the world? In just and fair democracies, transparency, openness, and consent are key to decision-making. The G8 leaders again absurdly showed their contempt for democracy.
Were the recent G8 protests in Calgary effective in truly delivering positive change? Beyond a great PR coup the anti-G8 organizing in Calgary didn't deliver on those promises. Summit hopping as it is now practiced does not fulfil the aims of the anti-globalization movement, mainly to hold Western governments and globalization accountable to the Earth citizens, politically, socially, economically, and environmentally. Except Seattle and some recent European protests (500,000 in Barcelona!) summit hopping has been systematically analyzed and defeated by the authorities in question. Does that mean that summit hopping is dead? Yes and no.
Summit hopping, especially for North Americans, is for many protesters very costly and arduous to plan and organize, due in part to the vastness of our countries and to the amount of coordination and communication it requires. This last point also plays in the hands of the authorities; it is much easier for the authorities to have a central focus on a single city and their organizing committee to demoralize, instill fear and sabotage our organizing efforts. These last observations are pointing to the birth of a new era in the anti-globalization movement, and to the strengthening of our vision(s); the local-to-global protest strategy.
An auspicious development for the anti-globalization movement happened in two Canadian cities during the G8. In Ottawa a simultaneous, yet independent campaign was organized to concur with the Calgary actions. It was called "Take the Capital!!" and brought together 3000 or so activists to act locally and replicate the Albertan scenario of snake marches and mass non-violent civil disobedience. Apart from a little property damage there was also no violence in Ottawa. But the protesters succeeded in hurting Big Business for 2 consecutive days. The same scenario, although on a much smaller scale with approximately 300 protesters showing, happened in Vancouver. It was called "Connecting the Dots" and made links to Gordon Campbell's repressive regime, the G8 and globalization. In both cases the protests made the headlines and sent shivers to Neoliberal business executives everywhere.
A great many activists think the local-to-global organizing is the way the movement is evolving. They can no longer justify using their already scarce resources for a few days of heroic, but most often symbolic actions at mass counter summit protests. They feel that staying in one's city or going to one's closest regional metropolis is much more effective because it speaks to one's regional targets and local issues, pinpointing to the direct effects of the globalization architecture at home. This last point also addresses the search for a vision for the movement; there is nowhere better than home to practice and promote the change we want to see in the world, whether it touches environmental issues, better and more meaningful employment, the investment of regional profits, the management of our regional conflicts, or our involvement in addressing global social justice issues through locally focused efforts.
There has never been a better time than now to unite in our communities and find the Enrons, Xeroxes, Tycos, Andersens, WorldComs, Bushs, Campbells, Kleins, and all other criminal individuals and multinationals and show them that without our consent they are nothing. It is time for all the concerned citizens from all walks to unite in each city and work locally to create local visions of how they want to live and be the change they want to see, individually and collectively.
There is no need to search for a new global ideology that will unite the movement when human life is based on a diversity of views and philosophies, but we can apply locally oriented and positive environmental, social and economic principles to empower ourselves as free individuals and regain our communities and then let creativity and spontaneity rule. But first we must act in concert locally to paralyze the profit-maximizing and greed-driven machine that is capitalism as we know it. This is our common purpose and vision: to experience self-empowerment anew in a new paradigm in which each of us knows and acts according to what s/he sees as positive and fulfilling, and in harmony with the Earth.
* Martin Fournier is an up-and-coming anti-globalization/ enviro-activist writer and a student of environmental philosophy and ethics, sociology and economics. He resides in Vancouver, BC and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[From WS August/September 2002]