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- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/45/public-protests-around-the-world.
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Mass protests, throughout history have come at a time when enough of the population has been affected by policies of the rulers and elite. They have often been met with brutal, efficient crackdown by the guardians of the elite, be they local police, militias, national militaries, or even another nation’s military forces.
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- Protests due to the global financial crisis, 2008
- Global protests up to early 2000s
- Mainstream Media Portrayal
- Police Brutality and Other Civil Rights Violations Ignored
- For more information
Protests due to the global financial crisis, 2008
The rest of this article has not been updated since November 25, 2003; links to external sites may have stopped working if those web sites have redesigned their sites and not made old links point to their equivalent new ones (if they still exist!)
Global protests up to early 2000s
The large protests at the WTO meetings, at IMF, World Bank, G8 and other such summits that are seen today have typically been against the current forms of globalization and the marginalization it is causing, as well as the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor that it has predictably led to. These issues have motivated people all over the world to protest in many ways.
The mainstream media has concentrated on only a few of these protests, such as:
- Seattle in 1999
- Washington D.C. in 2000 and 2002
- Quebec in 2001
- Genoa in 2001
These were just some of the more mainstream and reported ones because:
- Two of them were in the home nation of the current superpower, the United States
- Quebec was a Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) that involved the United States directly,
- and Genoa was a G8 summit that involved the 7 richest nations plus Russia.
A few G8, WTO and other summits since have also received mainstream attention.
These protests, directed at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank, the FTAA and the G8 respectively, were all protests at the effects of the current forms of globalization which go along the lines of a neoliberal/corporate capitalism ideology (which, as suggested elsewhere on this site, is more of the mercantilist/imperialist policy of wealth appropriation that has continued throughout history.)
While protests have been aimed at different international bodies and blocs, the underlying themes are similar, while the actual themes of the protests have been different. For example:
The WTO protest of Seattle was about the trade policies being drawn up in undemocratic ways yet affecting people all around the world.
- Here too, the elite’s “front guard” was mobilized to protect the image of the multinational corporations and institutions that support their “rights”.
- The police crackdown was often violent and unprovoked.
- The IMF and World Bank protests in Washington D.C. were about the policies of the IMF and World Bank towards developing countries.
- Their methods of “assistance” have been criticized for a long time for
- increasing dependency on the richer nations
- promoting a form of development whereby developing nations continue to provide cheap resources and labor to the richer nations
- do little to address poverty or meet real development needs
- These policies are a precursor and basic framework to allow trade policies discussed at the WTO to be effective; they go hand in hand.
- Their methods of “assistance” have been criticized for a long time for
- The protests seen at various G8 summits have included issues such as debt relief.
It is ironic then, that in many countries, leaders, elected through processes of democracy (themselves often painful, trying and hard-won) have been turning against protestors, via pressure from the aristocracy of that nation and from “international” (western) financial institutions that are the target of the protests and criticisms. As protests increase, it is harder for elected leaders to hide behind their claims of being elected, if they are not fulfilling their promises, or turning out not to support their people via their policies:
When the G8 leaders were besieged and publicly upstaged by upwards of 200,000 demonstrators, they had a single line of defence which they repeated to whoever wanted to hear it: “We are democratically elected” - as if this fact had some magic talismanic power. But people are not impressed. Democratic election does not justify presidents when they betray their electoral promises and the public interest, or embark on wholesale privatisation and liberalisation. Nor does it entitle them to move heaven and earth to service the demands of the companies that financed their electoral campaigns. As we know, at least two of the G8 heads - George W Bush and Silvio Berlusconi - represent big business to a far greater extent than they represent ordinary people.
— Ignacio Ramonet, Presidents under pressure, Le Monde diplomatique, August 2001
Mainstream Media Portrayal
The mainstream media portrayal by many western nations, notably the US, has been very biased. Being corporate-owned, and because protestors are voicing concerns over the current form of globalization, which is seen as overly corporate-friendly without appropriate considerations for people, this bias can be seen as quite obvious. However, most people get their views and news from mainstream media, from what are regarded as “respectable” news sources and hence it makes it difficult for additional views and perspectives to be heard, thereby contributing to the on-going process.
Protests Have Occurred All Over The World
[T]his “new movement”, portrayed by the media as students and anarchists from the rich and prosperous global north, is just the tip of the iceberg. In the global south, a far deeper and wide-ranging movement has been developing for years, largely ignored by the media.
— Jessica Woodroffe and Mark Ellis-Jones, States of unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries, World Development Movement.
Some mainstream media representation may leave the impression that the recent public protests in D.C., Seattle, Prague and other western cities are recent issues, or that these are the only protests, and that only a few are protesting. In fact, Seattle and D.C. protests were international protests in their composition. The mainstream avoided in-depth issues of developing nations in Seattle, for example, while they concentrated on sensationalism.
Both before (long before in many cases, especially if we include the centuries and decades of opposition to imperialist and colonial globalization) and since Seattle, millions of people around the world have turned up in waves of protests at various IMF, World Bank, WTO meetings or policies in various nations. Repression has been equally brutal and sometimes worse. For example there have been protests in:
- January 2001 and August 2001 saw national strikes resulting from IMF-prescribed adjustment policies
- October and December 2002 saw similar protests
- Up to 80,000 protested against the IMF, in May 2000.
- Over 7.2 million workers support a 24 hour general strike in defiance of the new IMF-prescribed labour laws, June 2000.
- July and August 2001 saw at least 100,000 people protest at further IMF-related measures that would lead to large pay cuts.
- December 2001, saw two days of violent protests at further austerity measures, and economic meltdown that brought down the government. 16 people are said to have been killed. (See also report from Radio Netherlands).
- Protests, both peaceful and violent continued throughout 2002
- During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, there have been various protests to do with globalization issues.
- September 11, 2000 saw from 10,000 to 30,000 protestors in Melbourne at the World Economic Forum. There were subsequent protests on other days with turnouts in the mid thousands.
- A wave of protests have started at different events related to aspects of current forms of globalization
- Bolivia (protests in April 2000 led to some bizarre media coverage.)
- As reported by the World Development Movement (WDM), “[a] referendum asking whether Brazil should discontinue IMF reforms is backed by more than a million people. Organised by the National Council of Bishops and Jubilee 2000, the ‘unofficial’ referendum is a marked success.”
- The WDM report continues, that on “7 September , to mark the end of six days of voting and Brazil’s Independence Day, a demonstration draws thousands of protesters under the banner of Cry of the Excluded. All the main cities in Brazil are ‘crammed’, say reports, with more than 100,000 people in Sao Paulo. The Government had previously called the [above-mentioned] referendum ‘stupid’ and an isolated project undertaken by ‘minorities’.” (emphasis added)
- To coincide with the annual World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, where multinational corporations get to meet, and have access to world political leaders, Porto Alegre in Brazil, at the end of January 2001 saw a World Social Forum meeting attended by over 10,000 people. The goal was to discuss alternatives to the current forms of globalization.
- February 2002 saw even more than 2001, with some 51,000 people turning up at Porto Alegre.
- July 2001 saw police themselves protest and strike for over 12 days in some regions. Troops were deployed from a resulting breakdown of law and order. Some 30 people were killed.
- Canada, Quebec was the center for protests on the Free Trade of the Americas. It represented protests from throughout the Americas. (See this site’s section on the FTAA for more.)
- August 2000 saw 15,000 workers go on protest and strike regarding IMF’s loan conditions requiring further opening up of the economy and cutting back on social provisions and jobs.
- In August 2001, thousands of small farmers across the country protest at impact of food imports and lack of help from government.
- Throughout 2002 there were protests at changes resulting from IMF prescriptions.
- Costa Rica in March 2000, 10,000 people protested at IMF-prescribed policies of privatization, and faced police brutality in the process.
- Czech Republic (World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague, end of September, 2000)
- Estimates vary from 20,000 protestors expected to perhaps 50,000 that actually turned out.
- As with other places, heavy security response and police brutality was in effect, as predicted.
- Protests in other regions of the world coincided with this — for example, in the U.S. in all 50 states, there were protests — not that the mainstream media would have described it in much detail.
- The Prague protests disrupted the IMF and World Bank meetings enough to end the meetings a day early.
- The Prague IndyMedia Center has much more detail.
- Marches at the beginning of 2000, saw over 40,000 indigenous people protesting US and IMF-prescribed reforms (resulting in 35,000 military personnel and police being deployed).
- 10,000 protested, also in January, at the fear of dollarization of their economy (which became reality in September, 2000)
- There was even a coup attempt that month.
- Numerous strikes, protests and uprisings occurred throughout the first half of 2000 due to IMF reforms. Numbers were in the tens of thousands. (On one occasion, 30,000 doctors were part of a protest).
- The dollarization and other US/IMF-prescribed policies have left many problems in their wake and protests etc are sure to continue.
- The above-mentioned WDM report provides more detail for 2000, as well as their 2001 report.
- In February 2001, a state of emergency was declared amidst enormous indigenous uprising demanding an end to violence and a repeal of economic policies which have brought the country to the brink of destruction.
- Protests at the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) resulted in tens of thousands of protestors from around Latin America, and in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, after initial police crackdown and violence, some police turned around to support protestors calls to have delegates hear them.
- In 2002 the IMF withheld new credit to Ecuador because it decided that just 10 percent of oil revenues would go towards health and education, after public pressure.
- El Salvador saw a four-month strike by the Social Security Union at impacts of IMF-backed privatization plans of the country’s health service, including protests by some 12,000 doctors and workers, as reported by WDM.
- France has seen many, many protests related to globalization in the past years. More recently, during the G8 Summit in the spa town of Evian, an estimated 100,000 protesters gathered between June 1 and 3, 2003.
- Hawaii in May 2001, saw thousands protest at the Asia Development Bank and its policies, similar to those of the World Bank and IMF.
- Honduras. Numerous IMF-prescribed cut backs and privatizations policies have been protested against. For example:
- In August 2000, thousands of civil servants went on strike for 24 hours disrupting education, transport and health services. The strikers were opposing plans by the administration of President Carlos Flores to privatize the electricity, telecommunications and social security sectors as required by the International Monetary Fund.
- In March 2002 around 2,000 protested against IMF neoliberal policies, and November 2002 saw more protests.
- November 30, 1999
- There were some instances in 2000 where there were forced and violent attempts to stop protestors gathering or forming.
- More than a million electricity workers protested for a day in December 2000 against a proposed bill that follows “World Bank prescriptions” to privatize the power sector in India.
- Bhopal in January 2001 saw 150 people were arrested in Bhopal while marching against World Bank and Asian Development Bank policies.
- A WDM report, mentioned above reports that in July 2001 “Ten million state employees go on general strike against privatisation plans and call for a halt to IMF, World Bank and WTO policies. A union spokesperson said that the Government policy of backing globalisation is selling the country to the multinational companies and foreign interests, adding that: ‘This will serve as a warning to the Government against their anti-worker polices.’”
- WMD also reported that many protests occured in 2002 as well.
- Some 15,000 people attended an Asian Social Forum, in Hyderbad. It was a gathering of various movements, NGOs and activists to discuss various issues, at the beginning of January, 2003.
- Indonesia has suffered badly from the global financial crisis that hit in 1997. Since then, there have been numerous protests, both peaceful and violent, many times.
- Italy has seen numerous protests, including
- Naples saw 20,000 protestors in March 18th, 2001.
- May Day parades in 2001
- The G8 Summit in 2001, Genoa, saw many protestors turn up. At least one demonstrator was killed by violent police crackdown. Estimates vary from 100,000 to 200,000 protestors.
- Some 2 million protested in Rome, March 23, 2002, for what was initially a labor-based movement and protest but grew to include a protest against political violence as well.
- Kenya has seen many protests on IMF conditionalities.
- Malawi too has seen protests on IMF conditions, that have encouraged keeping wages down and suggested making public sector access more attractive to potential buyers.
- Mexico has seen numerous protests not limited to the following which are just examples:
- At first sounding more like local protests, but actually have a more global aspect to it is, the struggle of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. While fighting for their indigenous rights (against military crackdowns which human rights groups have heavily criticized), they have seen the effects of the current form of globalization on them very sharply, as this translation from the leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army shows.
- August 8th 2001, saw thousands of farmers (approximately 5000) march in protest of free trade and globalization’s effects on them and destroying self sufficiency in food production, while instead growing food to be exported instead.
- September 2001 saw Mexico City roads brought to a standstill by protests at tax-increases that burden the poor further.
- Morocco saw general strikes by health care and education workers towards the end of 2001, at impacts of IMF adjustment policies. Strikes also happened in 2002 by workers in other sectors.
- Mozambique saw protests in August 2001 at World Bank backed structuring programs.
- Nepal saw protests in July 2001 at World Bank and Asia Development Bank backed policies
- Nicaragua saw protests in March 2002 at utility privatisations and price hikes.
- Nigera has seen many protests on the IMF austerity measures, and violent crackdown as well.
- Pakistan has seen protests from what has been regarded as policies formulated by the dictates of the IMF and World Bank.
- Papua New Guinea saw a week long protest in June 2001, with the death of at least 3 people and 13 injured. Protests were at IMF/World Bank austerity measures.
- Paraguay has seen protests that have also been met with police violence. At least one person was killed by police in 2002, for example. IMF reforms are heavily criticized there.
- Peru saw protests in March 2001 from as many as 5000 people protesting effects of a mining project operated by a US firm and the World Bank. 2002 saw many protests as well with at least one person killed as a result. While public concern and opposition to IMF policies was noted by the IMF itself, the IMF still encouraged continuation of their reform policies.
- South Africa
- Numerous protests have occured, especially throughout 2000. The above-mentioned WDM report also mentions that “One of the protesters, Trevor Ngwane, a city councillor from the Soweto township, says, ‘Many of those debts were used to buy weapons and suppress the people during apartheid. So we are paying twice for it - once with our lives, and now with an inability to fund critical social services. Instead of building health clinics the Government is selling off zoos and libraries to stay in the good graces of the IMF.’”
- In August 2001, the Congress of South African Trade Unions claimed over 5 million workers participated in strikes against privatization plans pushed forward by the IMF.
- During the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, at the end of August 2002 to beginning of September, there were many protests each day, ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 people, on all sorts of issues related to globalization and development. (See also this site’s section on the World Summit for more on this and other issues.)
- South Korea.
- October 2000 has seen over 20,000 protest about globalization at an Asia Europe meeting.
- May and June 2001 see 20,000 to 50,000 people protest at various restructuring plans encouraged by the IMF.
- November 2001 also sees such protests at work conditions.
- A nation-wide strike resulted when 31,000 metal workers and chemical employees staged a four-hour strike on May 22 2002. Workers demanded a shorter working week, improved working conditions, and an end to government crackdown on union activities. The strike was coordinated in response to the IMF’s announcement that it might upgrade its 5% economic growth prediction for the country.
- Throughtout 2002, tens to hundreds of thousands protested at various service cut backs and other issues.
- March 16, 2002 saw some 500,000 people protest in Barcelona against issues relating to corporatization and globalization in Europe.
- At the Davos meeting in 2000 the mainstream media was urged to spread the message of free trade. Numerous protests and violence was seen.
- At the beginning of 2001 similar events occured. However, in Brazil, to conincide with the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, a World Social Summit has held, which didn’t get as much attention in the mainstream, but drew huge crowds from all over the world, (as mentioned above in the Brazil bullet point).
- September 2000 saw protests where the IMF was pressing for higher energy prices, wage “control” and tax reform.
- March 2001 saw thousands protest at government, IMF and World Bank bailout plans.
- United Kingdom has seen many protests throughout the years, including the June 18 campaign (mentioned below), the protests on May Day, in 2001, etc.
- United States has also seen many protests.
- Some have made international news such as the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999 and the Washington D.C. protests against the IMF and World Bank policies in 2000.
- There have also been other protests throughout the various U.S. cities which have been less mentioned.
- In February 2002, New York saw some 5,000 to 15,000 protestors converge on the World Economic Forum.
- April 2002 saw more protests in D.C. against IMF and World Bank policies and U.S. militarism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. Estimates range from 75,000 to 200,000 protestors. In contrast to the April 2000 violence, there was little in April 2002.
- November 2003 saw tens of thousands protest at the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) in Miami. The police’s excessive use of force was highly controversial.
- Uruguay saw the largest protests in a decade in 2003, when IMF imposed reforms saw the country's economy go close to ruin.
- Venezuela. On 27 February 1989, structural changes imposed by the IMF were followed by a popular uprising (the caracazo), but was put down with 4,000 dead.
- Zambia. In 2002, as thousands faced food shortages, the IMF insisted on further cutbacks and denied vital loans until that happened.
- Recent G8 Summits
- The June 18 campaign in 1999 was another highly publicized event, with biased media reporting. This was another international protest, where many major cities in the world on the same day saw large protests. In fact, as this report shows, the June 18 protests occurred all over the world, including:
- Basque country
- Czech republic
- South Africa
- South Korea
Note that in many of these countries, the protests were in numerous cities.
- May Day protests, 2001 saw many May Day protests around the world, as the previous link from the Guardian, and their interactive guide reports:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United States of America
Note that in many of these countries, the protests were in numerous cities.
- With the 2001 WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar where a new round of neoliberal free trade talks are negotiated, there have been protests around the world. In Doha itself there has been limited protests because of repressive laws. (You can see this site’s section on Doha for more details about the talks itself.) Summarizing from Protest.net, protests have occurred in at least the following places:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
Here too, protests occurred in numerous cities within these countries.
- As Global Exchange reports (in September 2001), “Since 1976, at least 100 protests against [International Monetary] Fund and [World] Bank policies have occurred in dozens of countries around the world ... Clearly, ordinary citizens are outraged with the institutions' policies. The continued adoption of those policies reveals the democracy disconnect fostered by the IMF and the World Bank.” They further provide just a partial list of some of those countries in order of year, where protests have occurred since 1976. That list is reproduced here:
Jul 1976 Peru Jan 1977 Egypt Sep 1978 Ghana Jan 1979 Jamaica Apr 1979 Liberia Feb 1980 Philippines May 1980 Zaire Jul 1980 Turkey Jun 1981 Morocco Aug 1981 Sierra Leone Jan 1982 Sudan Mar 1982 Argentina Oct 1982 Ecuador Oct 1982 Chile Mar 1983 Bolivia Apr 1983 Brazil Oct 1983 Panama Jan 1984 Tunisia Apr 1984 Dominican Rep. Jan 1985 Jamaica Mar 1985 Bolivia Mar 1985 Zaire May 1985 Haiti May 1985 El Salvador Aug 1985 Costa Rica Sep 1985 Guatemala Sep 1985 Bolivia Feb 1986 Mexico May 1986 Nigeria Sep 1986 Bolivia Nov 1986 Yugoslavia Jan 1987 Zambia Jan 1987 Sierra Leone Mar 1987 Poland Mar 1987 Ghana Mar 1987 Ecuador Oct 1987 Ecuador Nov 1987 Algeria Nov 1987 Romania Nov 1987 Sudan Apr 1988 Nigeria Jun 1988 Ghana Aug 1988 Hungary Oct 1988 Algeria Jan 1989 Benin Feb 1989 Venezuela Apr 1989 Jordan Apr 1989 Benin May 1989 Argentina May 1989 Nigeria Feb 1990 Ivory Coast Feb 1990 Niger Mar 1990 Nigeria Jun 1990 Zambia Jul 1990 Trinidad Dec 1990 Uganda Dec 1990 Morocco May 1991 Nigeria Aug 1991 Iran Feb 1992 Albania Feb 1992 Venezuela Feb 1992 India Apr 1992 Nepal May 1992 Zimbabwe May 1992 Nigeria Dec 1992 India Oct 1993 India Oct 1993 Russia Jan 1994 Mexico May 1994 Uganda Jun 1994 Gabon Jul 1995 Ecuador Nov 1995 Kenya Feb 1997 South Africa May 1998 Indonesia Feb 1999 Romania Apr 1999 Mexico May 1999 Argentina Jul 1999 Ecuador Dec 1999 Argentina Jan 2000 Ecuador Mar 2000 Costa Rica Apr 2000 Bolivia Apr 2000 Argentina Apr 2000 Kenya Apr 2000 Zambia May 2000 South Africa May 2000 Turkey May 2000 Argentina May 2000 India May 2000 Malawi May 2000 Russia Jun 2000 Nigeria Jun 2000 Paraguay Jun 2000 Argentina Jun 2000 Ecuador Aug 2000 Columbia Aug 2000 Honduras Sep 2000 Brazil Feb 2001 Ecuador Mar 2001 Argentina Mar 2001 Bolivia Mar 2001 Paraguay Apr 2001 Argentina
These are just a small number of examples. It is not a complete list. (See links below for more detailed coverage of protests and more thorough examples.) Protests are likely going to continue around the globe if policies continue along the way they are. (And suppressions or crackdowns are equally likely — ironically by the policing forces that are meant to uphold people’s rights, who instead are and will be upholding and protecting the rights of the elite and power holders. The mainstream media too is likely to continue its negative portrayal, as it affects them directly as well.)
In addition, as the World Development Movement notes, a number of protests are directed at government policies, sometimes when people do not realize that the government is pressured by the IMF/World Bank to follow certain policies. In effect, these influential institutions face less accountability:
Citizens in developing countries are increasingly linking domestic economic policies to the IMF and World Bank agenda.... Yet, despite this trend, people remain detached from these unaccountable international institutions and protest is still predominantly directed at national institutions, which are responsible for implementing the policies domestically.
International institutions have no accountability to citizens of developing countries.... At best, the IMF says it offers “advice” to governments to continue building the necessary political support for reforms, and at worst they distance themselves completely from failed programmes, blaming inadequate political will, corruption or “external” economic factors like commodity price collapse (conveniently ignoring the role IMF and World Bank policies played in encouraging increased production and exports leading to oversupply and depressed prices).
— Mark Ellis-Jones, States of unrest III: Resistance to IMF and World Bank policies in poor countries, World Development Movement, April 2003
And despite repeated pressure and protest around the world, organizations such as the IMF and World Bank “stubbornly persist in pushing these policies onto the poorest countries no matter what the political, social and economic circumstances.” Protest seems inevitable, as this “seemingly belligerent adherence to economic orthodoxy, rather than examining real-world evidence and circumstances, and the control that these institutions still wield over poverty reduction strategies and economic policies, means that ‘polite discourse’ and ‘civil society consultation’ can have limited impact. For people at the sharp end of these policies, protest has remained the most effective opposition.”
The mainstream media in western nations, however, have hardly provided any coverage of such protests. Or, if they have in some cases, they have usually been in an isolated context, without more deeper discussions that may also see similarities with other protests around the world. Because a lot of policies around the world are in some ways a result of the influence and ability of more powerful nations to affect economic and political decisions, the people of these more powerful nations don’t get to see the impacts their leaders have around the world, and the faceless majority of humanity continue to live in poverty and misery while the fortunate few in the wealthier parts of the world are unwittingly supporting such policies.
In fact, just a few months after writing the previous paragraph, amongst other places, we have seen police crackdowns in Davos, Switzerland, at the beginning of 2001 at the annual World Economic Forum and soon after that it was mentioned that the next WTO meeting would be held in Qatar so that protestors would not have a chance of voicing their concerns (because Qatar has oppressive laws about such things). Indeed, the next round did take place and developing countries lost out a lot. Unfortunately this pattern is likely to continue.
With the September 11 2001 tragedy, the aftermath and resulting “war on terror” has also muted the anti-corporate globalization protests somewhat. Furthermore, some politicians have tried to equate being critical of “free trade” (which is not really “free”) as amounting to being against freedom and hence terrorist! This approach was especially prominent during the Doha WTO meeting. As another example, while the European Union has repeatedly attempted to alay fears that the increasing measures against terrorism will not be used as an excuse to crack down on political activism, Spain seems to be suggesting a proposal to do just that, trying to indirectly equate anti-corporate globalization activism with terrorism.
Protestors Are Labeled as Anti-Poor!
With such a growing movement world-wide, especially in the home nations of the powerful nations, the mainstream media and politicians that are supportive of current globalization policies are trying to discredit the protestors in various ways. One way has been to actually turn the protestors arguments against themselves. That is, while the protestors argue that the policies of the powerful and of pushing globalization — in its current form — is deepening poverty, the politicians, business leaders, media commentators instead are saying that instead it is the protestors who want the poor to remain poor.
There is a serious ideological backlash [from the protests]. How can the powers regroup after a fiasco like Seattle? The first ploy is to accuse opponents of being “enemies of the poor”, a ploy used by London’s Financial Times and The Economist, and by Mike Moore, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, who said in Geneva “these protesters make me want to vomit”. Paul Krugman, economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and media darling, added: “The anti-globalisation movement already has a remarkable track record of hurting the very people and causes it claims to champion.” Of the demonstrators in Geneva, he said: “Whatever their intentions, they were doing their best to make the poor even poorer” ... The theme was taken up on the eve of Genoa by President George W Bush, in a statement to Le Monde: “The demonstrators are condemning people to poverty”.
— Susan George, Democracy at the barricades, Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2001.
Susan George, director of a Dutch organization, Transnational Institute, quoted above is a prominent activist and political scientist. She goes on to point out in the same article that other “ploys” to discredit opponents include:
- Attempting to discrediting the protesting organizations and attacking their legitimacy.
- To “repeat that the protesters don’t know what they are talking about, to label them and their organisations ‘opportunist’ or ‘alarmist’”
On the point above about attacking the legitimacy of protestors, one of the main concerns about the current forms of globalization that has led to so many protests has been the lack of citizen’s democratic participation in decisions of international economics and trade policy. As a result, many are protesting. Some have formed groups and organizations for this purpose, while others have just supported various groups. Suggesting that such people have no right to represent people, is like almost saying people should not be allowed to protest any feelings of injustice!
George also points out that government and business organizations have gone through incredible means to prevent or handle protests, such as:
- Trying to disrupt the funding chain
- Planning to hold future meetings in locations that are even more remote or secure
- Violent crackdown
This, she suggests, “prove that the opponents of corporate-led globalisation are making a real impact - why otherwise would the masters of the universe bother with them? But that is to underestimate the importance international capital attaches to this battle. Its hatred of democracy has never been so clearly displayed. It must, by fair means or foul, establish the legitimacy of its domination before any more shocks. (From this point of view, the elections of Bush and of Silvio Berlusconi are heaven-sent.) Social movements have to watch their step now, especially since Genoa. They are entering a minefield.”
[And just a month or so after Susan George wrote the above, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. resulted in a “War on Terrorism”, where “terrorism” seems to have been loosely defined, to the extent that the global movements against corporate globalization have also been quietened.]
That so many have protested in so many places around the world is also an indication that there is wide frustration at current policies. One wouldn’t go to the streets to protest to keep the poor in poverty. For that, they would get jobs in Washington, D.C, or Wall Street!
We have seen listed above just some examples of places around the world where protests have occured, yet, for example at the G8 Summit in Genoa, political and business leaders tried to additionally taint the image of protestors from wealthier nations. Yet, protestors who have highlighted the injustices around the world that their own nation has contributed to, have been an important part of this global protest movement.
Both [President George] Bush and [New York Times columnist, Thomas] Friedman not only deliberately misrepresented the protesters and their aims [when claiming the protestors wanted the poor to remain poor,] but, more important, misrepresented what the current form of globalization is doing to the world’s poor. Indeed, the global elite would not be making even the modest gestures they offered over the weekend to the poor if it were not for the pressures from the protesters in the rich countries (since they find it easier to ignore — or shoot — protesters in the poor countries).
The protesters (regardless of their tactics) were not fooled by the G-8 leaders' protestations [at the G8 summit in Genoa] of concerns for the poor. Most of the public in the industrial countries is not likely to be duped either. “One hundred thousand people don’t get upset unless there is a problem in their hearts and spirits,” French president Jacques Chirac said after hearing of the police killing of protester Carlo Giuliani, the son of an Italian labor union leader. More than 100,000 people are upset, and the problem is not just in their hearts and minds but in the system of corporate globalization that has delivered so much to the world’s rich and so little to the poor.
— David Moberg, The real enemies of the poor, Salon.com magazine, July 23, 2001
The current mainstream economic and political ideology is so engrained into the system that many leaders are likely to honestly feel that the system is the best way to alleviate poverty and improve standards. J.W. Smith, who has done immense research in how wasteful and violent this historic system has been, points out that similar achievements in standards could have been met for all the world with far less waste, environmental degradation, inequality etc, and is worth quoting here for that deeper perspective:
Although in [the] early years the power brokers knew they were destroying others' tools of production (industrial capital) in the ongoing battle for economic territory, trade has now become so complex that few of today’s powerful are aware of the waste and destruction created by the continuation of this neo-mercantalist struggle for markets. Instead, they feel that it is they who are responsible for the world’s improving standards of living and that they are defending not only their rights but everybody’s rights.
This illusion is possible because in the battle to monopolize society’s productive tools and the wealth they produce, industrial capital has become so productive that — even as capital, resources, and labor are indiscriminately consumed — living standards in the over-capitalized nations have continued to improve. And societies are so accustomed to long struggles for improved living standards that to think it could be done much faster seems irrational.
— J.W. Smith, The World’s Wasted Wealth 2, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 158.
Protestors Are Labeled as Anti-Trade and Anti-International
The (largely corporate-owned or influenced) mainstream media have often criticized the protestors for being anti-trade or against international cooperation and hence anti people, or against giving a chance for the poor to have a decent chance for a standard living. Yet, protestors are typically crying out for such social justice, for fairer international trade or some sort of internationalism and globalism that is just, democratic, cooperative and improves social justice, chances for all people. Sometimes such diverse groups of people involved will of course mean that there are conflicting suggestions for solutions, while others may not necessarily have suggestions but are outraged or affected so much by the current system, that they have come out to voice their concerns.
However, it seems as though the corporate-owned media assume that the current form of globalization (i.e. corporate-led) is the only way (and this is more anti-people than protestors have ever been). It is already shown that this is increasing disparities (which have been predicted by many over a number of years). Protestors are therefore voicing their concerns to these issues.
Another label often inappropriately applied to this loose global social justice movement is “anti-globalization”. That is, it seems correct when globalization is assumed to be corporate globalization, but in terms of globalization per se, it is a little misleading. That is, most are for a form of globalization where different cultures can come together, where people from different regions can exchange, trade, communicate, participate in real democracy, etc. But, this alone implies that there are many different forms of “globalization”, and, the concerns of these diverse protest movements, is that corporate globalization is not leading to the desired globalization that could benefit most of humanity.
Of course, many that support the current form of globalization will also support the opinion that it improves the chance of poverty, etc. While many may genuinely believe it, as shown throughout this site, and through the various links to other web sites, there is real criticism, and often that the reality does not match the rhetoric. As a result, movements demanding more social justice, real accountability, real poverty alleviation are appearing in many parts of the world.
Susan George, mentioned above, is worth quoting again, but from a different speech, on various aspects of the social or citizens' movement:
To the increasing irritation of the people concerned, the media constantly refer to them collectively as “NGOs” or, worse, as “anti-globalisation”. Some, though by no means all participants do belong to Non-Governmental Organisations with a single-issue focus [Greenpeace, Amnesty, Jubilee, Via Campesina, etc.]. The movement itself is, however, multi-focus and inclusive. It is concerned with the world: omnipresence of corporate rule, the rampages of financial markets, ecological destruction, maldistribution of wealth and power, international institutions constantly overstepping their mandates and lack of international democracy. The label “anti-globalisation” is at best a contradiction, at worst a slander.
As has been made clear, these forces call themselves the “social” or “citizens’ movement”. They are opposed to market-driven corporate globalisation but they are not “anti-globalisation” per se, which would be pointless: clearly technology and travel are bringing us closer together and this is all to the good. They are, instead, anti-inequity, anti-poverty, anti-injustice as well as pro-solidarity, pro-environment and pro-democracy.
These broad coalitions may not agree on every detail of every issue but they share the basics. They refuse the “Washington Consensus” vision of how the world should work. Often unjustly accused of “having nothing to propose”, they are, on the contrary, constantly refining their arguments and their counter-proposals.
— Susan George, The Global Citizens Movement: A New Actor For a New Politics, Spech given at the Conference on Reshaping Globalisation: Multilateral Dialogues and New Policy Initiatives, Central European University, 30 August 2001
It is not a simple black and white issue as the mainstream often like to present of either you are for an issue or against that issue. It has many complexities and perspectives.
There is an additional aspect the media have concentrated on disproportionately although not realized that it is a concern with the protests. That is, in the US especially, elements of the Right Wing have been also opposing globalization and the progressive protestors risk forming a dangerous alliance with them. The Right Wing have a more isolationist agenda that the media attributes to all the protestors. While that is a concern and something most would oppose, the vast majority of protestors in Seattle and D.C. for example, have been progressive people concerned at the social welfare and basic human (i.e economic and social as well as civil and political) rights for those affected.
In the industrialized countries, there is the additional concern for one’s own job moving overseas which has also led to more people voicing their concerns. As globalization in its current form continues, and IMF/World Bank policies continue to open up developing countries and force their wages and resources to become cheaper and cheaper, this puts a downward pressure on wages in the western countries as well (because corporations move to those cheaper areas, where they can take advantage of the exploitation that can be done). Hence while many in developed nations may have additional reasons to join in the protests, the voices of protestors from developed and developing countries are at the same concern — the effects of overly corporate-led forms of globalization on the society, on democracy, on the environment and so on.
To developing countries, the effects are much worse as standards are systematically reduced. The chance of improvement for most people around the world, for an equitable share and chance are all becoming less likely as the dependency and influence of outside forces take control over their lives, directly or indirectly.
In developing countries especially, many are aware of the geopolitical processes at play, as many have lived through struggles against imperialism and colonialism. However, as the effects of western policies are now also affecting a large number of citizens in their own countries, protests are getting louder.
While there may be elements of nationalism and anti-internationalism involved, by far the largest factor is fairness, equity, social justice, environmental, democracy, accountability, basic rights etc. in international trade as international policies affects domestic policies.
Violence and media fixation on it
The mainstream media, when it has covered such protests in placed like Seattle, Washington D.C and other venues for international meetings, have often concentrated on the violence that has unfortunately accompanied the protestors, who, by the far majority are peaceful protestors. The violence is a shame, as it detracts attention from the important issues that protestors are raising, and even strengthens the legitimacy of the institutions being criticized.
In some cases, the violence has been thought to have been started by undercover police and others to discredit the protestors. This is not a new tactic, nor should it be a shocking “accusation”. However, that some more militant groups protesting against the current forms of globalization have been able to add to this violence has served to promote a more negative image of the purpose of the protests to the wider audience.
And even then, certain aspects of violence doesn’t get reported:
Apparently the BBC refused to run live footage of the police assault the IMC [Independent Media Center] offered to supply them while it was happening because they claimed the event was “unconfirmed”!
— Communique from NYC-Ya Basta and NYC Direct Action Network on violence and raid on the Independent Media Center during the G8 Summit, Genoa, Italy, July 2001
Additionally, as the title of an article by journalist John Pilger says, “The violence of a few protesters in Gothenburg is trivial. Blair runs a violent government, which sells lethal weapons.” That is, in the name of free trade, British Prime Minister and others sell arms and so forth which do far more damage, while protestors are at least concerned about social justice issues!
And, on the issue of political awareness being raised, and resulting in mass protests, with respect to the violence, in the above article, John Pilger finishes with:
Certainly, let us discuss violence. Blair runs a violent government. He knowingly attacked civilians with cluster bombs in Yugoslavia, killing children caught in the open. His devotion to “free trade” involves selling lethal weapons, including hand guns, to countries with repressive regimes and internal conflict. Supported by only 25 per cent of the British public, his government barely has legitimacy. The anger and frustration of non-voters and voters alike is shared across the world and by the young on the streets. Thanks to them, real politics are back.
— John Pilger, The violence of a few protesters in Gothenburg is trivial. Blair runs a violent government, which sells lethal weapons, June 25, 2001
In detailing many types of protests and rebellions throughout recent centuries, professor of anthropology, Richard Robbins, suggests that the way the world system is structured, protests could unfortunately be considered a “normal” state of affairs:
There has been a tendency for social scientists and others to see [protests, riot or even revolt as] a breakdown of some sort in the social order. So-called functional theories of protest assumed that in the normal workings of society protest is unnecessary and unhealthy. Order, rather than conflict is the normal state of affairs. According to this popular framework, when protest, especially violent protest is present, we will find uprooted, marginal, and disorganized people....
Another perspective, however, suggests that the constant changes inherent in capitalist production, distribution, and consumption makes conflict inevitable: there are always changes taking place in modes of production and organization of labor, in market mechanisms, techological innovation, and so forth. Since all such changes bring some form of social and economic dislocation, we can expect protest to be the “normal” state of affairs. Furthermore, protests are not spontaneous uprisings but movements that bring together in organized fashion people who share certain interests, and who organize to express those interests. Generally, these movements develop from sustained resistance of some sort. Finally, when such movements involve violence, the violence is generally initiated by those against whom the protests is directed. Thus while a labor strike may turn violent, in most cases the violence is initiated by the government, company or private militia, or police.
— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 2002), pp. 282 - 283
(See also Robbins, quoted above, from pages 281 to 363 for more details on the aspects of resistance in recent centuries, and their causes and relationships to economic systems.)
From direct democratic protests to virtual democracy
Due to the fear of a large protestor turnout in Barcelona, Spain, the World Bank cancelled a June 2001 global meeting there and “shifted it to the internet” as pointed out out by Norman Solomon. The fears of public protests seem to require a virtual democracy rather than a real one!
Protest organizers are derisive about the Bank’s media spin: “The representatives of the globalized capitalism feel threatened by the popular movements against globalization. They, who meet in towers surrounded by walls and soldiers in order to stay apart from the people whom they oppress, wish to appear as victims. They, who have at their disposal the resources of the planet, complain that those who have nothing wanted to have their voice heard.” ... In any struggle that concentrates on a battlefield of high-tech communications, the long-term advantages are heavily weighted toward institutions with billions of dollars behind them. Whatever our hopes, no technology can make up for a lack of democracy.
— Norman Solomon, Simulating Democracy Can Be A Virtual Breeze, Media Beat, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, May 24, 2001
Ironically, these sorts of measures could become more common if there is more continued protest and concern at how these large institutions and others affect the lives of people around the world.
Police Brutality and Other Civil Rights Violations Ignored
A million dollar bail for walking down the street with a cell phone during a demonstration. Passports taken and political activity forbidden because of a misdemeanor act of civil disobedience. The big boys don’t like to be messed with, whether they are bombing the s[#$!] out of a Third World country or meeting in luxury hotels and convention centers to keep the reins of the world economy in their little paws. There’s growing, worldwide opposition to corporate global pillage. The response, typical of autocratic regimes, is the criminalization of dissent.
— The Criminalization of Dissent, Special Report, FreeSpeech.org
The media has also ignored the often brutal police and law enforcement crackdowns. Tactics have included:
- physical and sexual violence
- detaining suspects without proof
- not providing food or water or access to lawyers
- absurd bails
- raiding protests groups and alternative and independent media centers
- and so on.
And this isn’t just in countries where civil rights are not as prominent. These are some of the same problems that have occurred in the United States where such rights are typically prominent.
Another tactic used has been to get the police to infiltrate as “anarchists” as happened in Prague, Seattle, Genoa, and Miami (during the FTAA protests in November 2003), for example. As mentioned above, these tactics cannot unfortunately be surprising. Even the School of the Americas, a U.S. military training school has advocated things like using torture, blaming the opponents and so on, as described in this web site’s sections on the Arms Trade.
In January 2003, it was revealed that Police in Genoa admitted “to fabricating evidence against globalization activists in an attempt to justify police brutality during protests at the July 2001 G8 Summit” as revealed by media watch-dog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Yet there has been hardly any media reporting (almost none in the U.S. and a little bit in Europe) of it two to three days after the revalation. They point out that:
Police in Genoa, Italy have admitted to fabricating evidence against globalization activists in an attempt to justify police brutality during protests at the July 2001 G8 Summit. In searches of the Nexis database, FAIR has been unable to find a single mention of this development in any major U.S. newspapers or magazines, national television news shows or wire service stories.
... [An earlier] story by Carroll (Guardian [UK], 7/23/01) focused on allegations that segments of the supposedly anarchist "black block" in Genoa — the group most often held up as proof that globalization activists are violent — were in fact provocateurs from European security forces. Groups of black-clad people "burned buildings, ransacked shops and attacked banks with crowbars and scaffolding" during the protests, reported Carroll. Some attacked journalists, "smashing their equipment and tearing up their notebooks." Yet "few, if any" of these people were arrested, and local activists seemed not to know the people involved.
— Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence, Fairness and Accuaracy In Reporting, January 10, 2003
In some places, including the US, where there has been an expected large turnout in public protests, the local police have often had to quickly increase their numbers that are present. This itself has sometimes not helped as often the rushed increase leads to more armed, yet untrained police in confrontational situations. The protests in Miami, November 2003, against the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), is a recent example where excessive force was used by police.
The G8 Summit for 2001 in Genoa, Italy also saw a protestor killed by Italian police. While not the first death (for example, 4000 were killed in Venezuela in 1989, as mentioned above), it was one of the first caught on camera for the world to see.
No action by [the 2001 Genoa, Italy] G8 summit, no matter how noble in rhetoric or intent, will erase the fact that the economic policies promoted by the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia are now so unpopular that their gatherings must be “protected” with deadly police violence. ... If the croupiers of corporate capital really believe that restructuring the global economy to limit protections for workers, the environment and human rights represents a positive development, why must they employ deadly force to defend the meetings at which they plot their warped vision of “progress”?
— John Nicols, One dead, 80 injured in Genoa: The violent defense of indefensible policies, Online Beat, The Nation Magazine, July 20, 2001.
For more information
- For additional detailed discussions on this perspective, look at this web site’s sections that provide links to many more articles and analysis by other people and organization on these issues:
- From the World Development Movement, some specific reports from them discuss the issues of world-wide protests. Amongst them are the following:
- States of unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries, by details protests in various nations in 2000.
- States of unrest II: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries details protests around the world in 2001.
- States of unrest III: Resistance to IMF and World Bank policies in poor countries provides information for countries in 2002.
- Grassroots globalization fact sheet from CorpWatch details various forms of protests in recent years.
- Global Economic Crisis section from Z Magazine provides numerous articles from well known critics and intellectuals on anti-corporate globalization issues.
- The Independent Media Center is a great place to keep up to date with protests going on around the world. There are so many, that it would be hard for one person such as myself to keep up! Hence Independent Media Center provides far more on going accounts.
- Protest.net is also a site where you can keep up to date with the various protests around the world.
- Global Protests section from the Global Policy Forum provides a number of articles and links on issues such as the global justice movement and peace/anti-war movements.
- Neoliberal Governance and Social Resistance: A Chronology of Events from Coady Buckley. The Commoner, N.7, Spring/Summer 2003, provides an annotated time line of major events.
- Global Financial Crisis
- A Primer on Neoliberalism
- Criticisms of Current Forms of Free Trade
- The WTO and Free Trade
- WTO Doha “Development” Trade Round Collapse, 2006
- Deregulation or Protectionism?
- Some Regional Free Trade Agreements
- The Mainstream Media and Free Trade
- Public Protests Around The World
- WTO Protests in Seattle, 1999