The Protests of the Anti-Globalization Movement


A new social movement is gaining strength. This movement is commonly referred to as the anti-globalization movement, although it might more correctly be referred to as the anti-corporate globalization movement. This movement gained notoriety at the WTO protests in Seattle on November 30th, 1999. On this day approximately 60,000 people took to the streets of Seattle and used peaceful protest and civil disobedience to shut down the WTO negotiations. Since then similar protests have occurred across North America and Europe. With each protest the movement gains support from the public and solidarity among its members. And with each protest the police state oppression grows as well.

The anti-globalization movement is a loose coalition of many, very diverse groups that are fighting the government/corporate alliance and their corporate globalization agenda. They have different end goals and different tactics, but all have the purpose to stop the course of corporate globalization. The diverse nature of the anti-globalization movement has resulted in some unique strengths and weaknesses of the movement. An understanding of the nature of these groups is necessary to try to understand the movement and to understand what the movement is doing.

The groups that make up the anti-globalization movement can be split into six categories. There are the environmental and social justice movements, the third world groups, the organized labour groups, the indigenous rights movement, the nationalist groups, and the moral majority movement. These categories are not strict divisions. Some groups may have ideologies common to two different categories, and individuals may be sympathetic to the ideologies of one category while actively working with a group from another. But these simple divisions serve to help understand this diverse group.

The visible groups in the anti-globalization movement that get identified by the public as the trouble causing protestors are the environmental and social justice groups. These groups can be grouped together as they have a common complaint about corporate globalization -- it destroys the environment and social justice. Concerns that these groups are fighting against include species and habitat loss, pollution, unsustainable resource use, loss of democracy, loss of human rights, gender and race inequality, and restriction of sexuality. Individual groups may be more specific in their concerns and deal with only one aspect of the environment or social justice or more general and include the entire gambit. But these groups would agree on all of the issues presented above, they merely have different focuses.

These groups are predominantly white middle-class activists that have the resource base to mobilize against the system. A common criticism of these groups is the lack of participation of people from other ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds in a movement that claims to represent the people. However, this is a strong and well organized part of the anti-globalization movement that has had some success in bringing about change. The environmental and social justice groups can be divided into two broad sub-categories based on their proposed solution: there are the anarchist groups and the neo-liberal reform groups.

The anarchist segment is different from other activist segments because they are not striving for reform. The anarchists, more than any other group, includes a very diverse number of autonomous groups but some generalizations can be made. These groups think that the hierarchical consumerist driven system is the problem. The solution is not to get some political change, but rather to change the entire framework that the system works in. This philosophy incorporates Thoreau and his anti-growth, small is beautiful ideas, Gandhi's ideas of Swadeshi, and ecofeminist antipatriarchical and antihierarchical ideas.

This group does not think that there is something wrong with the WTO or the FTAA. They think that these agreements are merely the logical outcome of the system that we have in place. They think that there is something wrong with the capitalist system that spawned them. They do seek to stop these trade agreements, but more than that they seek to cause the social change required to create a society where capitalism and consumerism do not reign supreme. No more replastering, the structure is rotten!

The solution that these anarchist groups present is community empowerment through grassroots actions. They feel that economic reform should be localist. Gandhi's model of a Swadeshi economy is used. Communities should be self sufficient with trade only for luxury items (Amory Starr(1), personal communication). This would result in an erosion of corporate and state power and an increase in the power of the people. The economic solution in intrinsically connected to the political solution. Communities should be self-empowered to make the political decisions that effect them. Decisions made on the local level can actually be a reflection of a truly democratic system (which is defined differently by different groups, ranging from direct democracy to consensus-based decision making, with intermediate systems between them).

The anarchist groups are fundamentally against hierarchy. They reject hierarchy both in the proposed solution to the world's problems and in the activist movements themselves (Alan Keane(2), personal communication). Because they are fundamentally against hierarchy and top-down change they cannot consider creating change by having it legislated and forced down upon the people. They are trying to cause change by educating people so grassroots groups will rise up and take action. In this way they hope to promote bottom-up solutions.

Because of the nature of anarchist philosophy they do not seek political change through conventional channels. Some conventional channels may be used but are considered only as a temporary solution. This group embraces non-violent civil disobedience, taking after its role models of Mohandas Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau. Nonviolent civil disobedience is considered to be a tool for social change that should be used when necessary (Yutaka Dirks(3), personal communication). Because of their widespread acceptance of civil disobedience this group is the main strength behind the eyecatching 'art and revolution' protests at the major trade meetings. Great emphasis is place on the creative aspect of protest. Most groups want to create an atmosphere of joy. Emma Goldman is often quoted: "If I can't dance I don't want to be a part of your revolution."

All of these anarchist groups are non-violent, but there is some disagreement in what that means. Some groups say that property damage is not violence, while others say that violence is violence whether directed against people or property. Proponents of property damage say that the only way to stop corporations is to hurt them financially and property damage hurts them financially. The most well publicized of these groups are the militant anarchists of Eugene, but there are many such groups across North America and Europe. These groups are usually referred to as the Black Bloc. The Black Bloc refers to a commonality in ideology, not a formal organization. Any one group within the Black Bloc may consist of 10 to 20 individuals and there is no formal organization between groups (Warcry(4), on Breaking the Spell).

Many of the anarchist groups that do not use property damage do not feel that it is wrong, but merely an ineffective strategy (Anna Dashtgard(5), personal communication). Anarchists that do not use property damage may or may not support a 'diversity of tactics'. If a group supports a 'diversity of tactics' it means that they will not use property damage as a tool for social change but they will respect the rights of others to do so as they feel is necessary. Other anarchist groups condemn property damage outright. There is some concern among the activist groups, even those which support a diversity of tactics, that anarchist groups that make use of property damage at protests may be using peaceful demonstrators as shields. This is felt to be unfair to the peaceful demonstrators, and efforts have been made to divide up protest areas into different zones of activity.

Anarchist groups hope to use eye-catching demonstrations and civil disobedience to create a cultural revolution and change the framework of our capitalist system in three ways: causing social change by educating uninformed people; causing decision makers to behave in different ways by raising the social cost of deleterious actions to them; and creating global solidarity of a model movement through actions.

Protests cause social change by educating uninformed people. Protests are eye-catching media grabs. Because of the faults of our media system they cannot be expected to broadcast something unless it involves thousands of people singing, dancing, and getting beat by cops. Anarchist groups create these eye-catching situations and use them to broadcast information on the problems with our system and their anti-capitalist solutions. They hope to expose new people to alternative ideas and cause them to act in a different way. By changing the way that individual people act the activists can effect the consumerist system without political change. Visible protests can also stimulate grassroots movements in other areas and help strengthen the movement. To some extent some groups may feel that certain decision makers constitute uninformed people and are hoping to educate them as well so that they can make different decisions. But most groups do not have much hope for appealing to the moral intuitions of those in power and are concentrating mostly on the people.

Protests can cause political change by raising the social cost of deleterious actions to their beneficiary. This cost could be in the form of property damage cost, which is the driving force behind the Black Bloc. But this cost can also be in the form of lost business, either directly from the protests or from public opinion resulting from protest. And from the cost that the government has to put out to suppress dissidents. The WTO protests cost Seattle 9 million per day. Protests can also cause political costs to politicians. If an action is shown to be politically unwise politicians may make different decisions. The success of the fight against the MAI largely resulted from anarchists protesting against it in France and making the MAI seem like a bad political decision (SalAMI, 2001)(6).

Protests can create global solidarity of a model movement through actions. Uniting groups through actions such as the WTO protests creates a network of autonomous groups. These events greatly increase the strength of the anti-globalization movement. They both create a more formidable opponent for the capitalist machine and create a working model of how society could be built (Yutaka Dirks(7), personal communication). Anarchist solidarity is accomplished in a completely non-hierarchical manner. Cooperatives form to accomplish tasks as they are required. Independent affinity groups coordinate with each other through spokes council meetings(8). The movement itself is a model of what the movement is trying to create, environmentally friendly and socially just group of people that eliminates discrimination and uses consensus-based decision making in a non-hierarchical, anti-consumerist, and anti-capitalist organization.

The anarchist subcategory of the environmental and social justice movement is visible and intriguing, but at least as powerful are the neo-liberal reformist environmental and social justice movements. These groups want to reform of the capitalist system to include protections for the environment and to ensure social justice. These groups are traditional, hierarchical, top-down organizations. They are the publically known activist groups with the majority of the public finding, but not the strength behind the anti-globalization protests.

Some neo-liberal reform groups can be very radical. They can propose radical political change (such as the cessation of all logging). What differentiates neo-liberal reform groups is that they propose to achieve their goals through regulations imposed within the existing system. They are in support of the neo-liberal economic agenda, they just want to be able to add in certain regulations to protect those things that they value. It is important to note that these groups may not consider themselves to be in favor of neo-liberalism. But they are in support of it in that they wish to use its existing framework and build on it to make it more palatable. Also, many individuals within some of the more radical neo-liberal reform groups (i.e. Greenpeace, Sierra Club) may actually have personal anarchist philosophies but are working within a neo-liberal reform organization.

Neo-liberal reform groups do use traditional political channels to try to effect traditional political change. They will attempt to influence elections and they will use lobbying. Some neo-liberal reform groups will also support civil disobedience or diversity of tactics (Loretta Gerlach(9), personal communication). Those that do use them hope to cause political change through the same three mechanisms that the anarchist groups were using to create cultural change.

Another broad category of anti-globalization movements are the third world groups. Groups of people who are directly and immediately harmed by globalization organize against imperialism in other countries. They have much less strength on the international level. They have dedicated people but not the resources to mobilize. Other groups (especially the neo-liberal reform groups mentioned above) may sponsor individuals from these third world groups to come to Canada to speak. Both Berta Caceras of the Lenca people in Honduras (sponsored by Rights Action) and Alberto Achito of the Embera Katio of Colombia (sponsored by the Inter Church Committee on Human Rights) have came to the U of L this semester. Some first world activist groups send aid to these third world groups as well. And some groups have worked to sponsor third world representatives to the protests at Seattle and Quebec City.

The third world groups are involved in a very different scale of protest against globalization. People in these groups are manufacturing discontent at a considerable risk to their own life. These groups are striving for very immediate practical solutions to specific problems (i.e. getting killed by US funded paramilitary forces). There has been some work to try to use these dedicated third world groups to create lasting political change. There has been student activist education of FARC (Force of Armed Revolutionaries of Colombia) in political theory (Oscar Guzman(10), personal communication).

A third category of anti-globalization movements are the labour movements. The labour movement is a very strong movement with a large vested interest in the process of globalization. These groups range from groups with Marxist end goals (conventional organized unions) to anarcho-syndicate end goals (Industrial Workers of the World). The tactics employed by labour movements range from very conventional to civil disobedience. The Steelworkers Union was a civil disobedience force in the November 30th protests in Seattle, and CUPE National is organizing for the Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City.

Many of the groups within the environmental and social justice movements are attempting to forge alliances with groups within the labour movement. This has been actively hindered by both government and corporate forces, especially in the labour industry. Both government and corporate forces work hard to manufacture hatred towards environmentalists within the logging community and encourage and aid vigilante behaviour amoung the loggers (Bryce Gilroy-Scott(11), personal communication).

The indigenous rights movement is another category of activists groups within the anti-globalization movement. The goal of this movement is indigenous sovereignty. The indigenous rights movement is also against the corporate/government alliance and shares many common values with anarchist groups (such as community empowerment and social justice). Indigenous rights groups have yet to become very active in the anti-globalization movement but they have made some notable contributions and interest in the movement is growing.

The tactics of the indigenous rights movement range from civil disobedience to property damage to violence. Some of these groups are by far the most militant anti-globalization groups in North America. The American Indian Movement (AIM) has been called the largest terrorist organization in North America. There are a lot of dedicated people within the indigenous rights movement with many commonalities with the environmental and social justice movements and the third world groups, but so far most attempts to unite these groups have failed.

Attempts to unite this group with the anarchist movement have been blocked by the government at all costs. Right now the Canadian government is working hard to interfere with any alliance between the Mohawk warriors and the anarchist groups organizing for the Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City. On a more local scale, Sgt. G.C. Cramer(12) has harassed Dr. Anthony Hall(13) about organizing the "Americana Indigenismo: Indigenous Peoples, the FTAA and the Fourth World" to be held at the Alternative Peoples' Summit in Quebec City during the Summit of the Americas. And the Action! Club(14) has received police harassment following attempts to forge alliances with the Lone Fighters(15) (Stu Crawford, personal experience).

A very different category of anti-globalization groups are the nationalist groups. These are movements to protect the sovereignty of nations that is eroded by international trade agreements. This is a strong movement that generally comes from the right end of the political spectrum. It generally has very little in common with the internationalist focused movements of the other groups. Many of the nationalist groups are strong supporters of democracy and do connect with the other anti-globalization movements in this respect. The main unifying force between the nationalist groups and the previously mentioned groups is that they have the common goal of fighting corporate power. The tactics of this group can include property damage in some of the more militant groups.

The moral majority is another category of anti-globalization groups that has even less in common with the above mentioned groups than the nationalist groups. These are ultra-right wing groups that are generally Christian. These groups had a presence in Seattle (Stu Crawford, personal experience). These groups may feel that the corporatization of the planet results in an erosion of their strong family values. Generally the only commonality that they have with the other anti-globalization groups is that they have a common enemy.

This wide diversity of groups reviewed above creates a very unique movement. The diversity of end goals and the diversity of ways to get there has created some tension within the anti-globalization movement. But there has generally been a lot of effort from individuals from activist groups of all categories to act in solidarity with each other. This has created some tension where tactics differ widely. But this diversity has also created a movement that cannot be coopted. The huge number of autonomous groups, and the diversity of those groups, has made a movement that police and military have not been able to suppress. Protests organized by the anti-globalization movement have been effective in shutting down entire cities. No mas puta reprecion! Anarque la solucion!

1. Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University and author of Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Social Movements Confront Globalization.

2. Senior member of the BEAR Society (Banff Environmental Action and Research Society).

3. Member of the Co-motion, a cooperative dedicated to teaching non-violent civil disobedience and consensus building to other activists.

4. Warcry is a Black Bloc activist who was active in the WTO protests in Seattle and the IMF/World Bank protests in Washington DC. Breaking the Spell is a documentary film of the Seattle protests produced by Pickaxe Productions in Eugene.

5. Head of the Common Front Against the WTO and member of RadarProductions (an independent media group).

6. SalAMI. 2001. Mobilizing & Resisting against the Summit of the Americas and the F.T.A.A.: Strategy Paper. <>.

7. Member of the Co-motion, a cooperative dedicated to teaching non-violent civil disobedience and consensus building to other activists.

8. Spokes council meetings allow for coordination of autonomous cells on a consensus basis. Each affinity group (a small group of like minded people that trust each other) agrees on one spokes person. All the spokes meet together at spokes council meetings. At these meetings each spoke speaks for their affinity group and decisions are made by consensus. In this way consensus-based decision making can be extended to organize protests that number in the tens of thousands of individuals.

9. Regional Coordinator for the Prairies Organizing Office of the Council of Canadians.

10. Student organizer and activist from Colombia.

11. Member of the Friends of the Elaho, a group of activists that was protesting Interfor's logging of the Elaho Valley when they were brutally beaten by loggers under orders from Interfor.

12. The N.C.O in Charge of the National Security Investigations Section of the RCMP.

13. Professor of Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge.

14. A club at the University of Lethbridge dedicated to educating people on environmental and social justice issues.

15. A local group of Blackfoot that opposed the Oldman Dam. They were regarded as militant by local authorities.