Summary of the protest actions accompanying the World Economic Forum meeting in New York City:
Thousands of people from New York City and from around the world participated in several protest activities in response to the World Economic Forum. As a forum where corporate leaders have the exclusive ear of gevernment officials, the WEF is emblematic of the way corporate influence subverts democracy the world over, and is therefore a very appropriate target for protest.
Constant features of these street demonstrations were unconstitutional and unfair police tactics, and media coverage that was at turns either scant or blatantly false.
An umbrella organization, the Another World Is Possible coalition, was granted a permit for a march and rally on Saturday, February 2 from Central Park to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where the WEF conference was taking place. In an unprecedented move, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a radical group, endorsed the permitted march. Amazingly, the city and police department refused a request by the AFL-CIO for a permit to hold a march and rally.
The police department stated that they would be enforcing a 19th century anti-masquerading law, making it a crime to conceal one’s face while in the presence of two other people. The law was intended as a puritanical measure designed to discourage carnivals, but was being dusted off as a way to discourage expressive costumes, face concealing bandanas, and gas masks. Either way it is blatantly unconstitutional.
As reported on Indymedia, an activist overheared a police officer saying "Don't they know it's fucking futile to resist?"
The United Nations was the site of the Spotlight on Davos conference where academics from around the world held seminars critiquing the economic policies favored by WEF participants. This official UN summit received absolutely no media coverage.
Concurrently, the World Social Forum, a gathering with 60,000 participants (as opposed to the WEF’s 7000) was being held in Porto Allegere, Brazil. This summit received no mainstream media coverage.
Thursday, January 31
About a thousand people gathered at noon outside The Gap store on Fifth Avenue and 54th street in Midtown Manhattan to draw attention to the Gap’s sweatshop labor practices. Many protestors were affiliated with the U.N.I.T.E. garment workers’ union and the Jobs With Justice coalition.
Police action: None
Press coverage: there was a New York Times story and blurbs on local radio.
Friday, February 1
A lunch-hour demonstration at the same Gap store, this time to draw attention to the destructive forestry practices of a subsidiary of the Gap, drew about 30 activists, and for some reason hordes of media and a heavy police presence. A redwood stump was rolled in front of the store. Protestors were outnumbered by media! Still, there was virtually no coverage, and the rally was only mentioned in the frustrated-seeming context of ‘Protests Still Not Violent.’
A group of 20 or so activists joined the crowd of pre-teeny-boppers in Times Square that tries to get on MTV's Total Request Live. The activists had signs saying things like "Turn off Your TV-Shut Down the WEF" and "Your TV Lies." They were standing on a public street holding signs just like the rest of the TRL crowd, and just like the TRL crowd that assembles every weekday, but they were approached by police and told to leave. Not wanting a confrontation, they did so.
A casual evening assembly at Washington Square Park drew truckloads of heavily armed riot police.
Saturday, February 2
This was the major day of demonstration. The Another World Is Possible coalition rally assembled at 1 pm in the southeast corner of Central Park and was joined by a Reclaim the Streets march from Columbus Circle. By conservative estimates (NY Times) there were approximately 7000 people in attendance at this rally and subsequent march (figures much distorted by the media, as described below). However, there was no press coverage yet.
At this point, riot police suddenly descended on a section of the non-confrontational crowd, doused an area with pepper spray, and arrested 30 some people, claiming to have information that they “intended to attack police.” This ‘pre-emptive arrest’ tactic is unconstitutional. As of Monday, they are still being held. Media coverage of this incident generally stated that 36 'potentially violent' demonstrators were removed and was favorable.
The march was entirely non-confrontational, and eventually led to the vicinity of the Waldorf. Police herded the marchers into a series of pens, where we continued to be non-confrontational for about an hour. Then the police announced that the rally was over, and that everyone had to leave or face arrest. Amazingly, the crowd of 10,000 peacefully left without incident. This was not noted in the media.
At the same time the media lauded the police commissioner, they underreported the size of the crowd. Typical was the way CNN.com distorted the facts, reporting that about 2000 people were assembled outside the Waldorf, and were later joined by “others” from a march. The “others” were of course the 7000 strong (by conservative estimates) who had been on the march.
Sunday, February 3
Activists were instructed to meet in the East Village at 1:00 and follow the sound of drums for a spontaneous rally. Squadrons of riot police were already on hand throughout the neighborhood. At 1:30, a drum band was heard on St. Mark’s Place and activists rushed to join it. Two groups of about 100 emerged. One group linked hands and held a “snake march” through several blocks, while the other, of which I was a part, clapped and danced its way up the streets and sidewalks of First Avenue and over to Second Avenue. At the corner of Second Avenue and 13th street hundreds of police in riot gear tackled and arrested about 40 of the revelers. The only ‘crime’ we committed was jay-walking (which is never enforced in New York anyway) but police said activists would be charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. They are currently being held. It is unclear whether they will actually be charged.
The other group fared much worse, as they were pepper sprayed and clubbed one block away, One activist was beaten unconscious. A police officer was overheard saying “Let’s get this over with so we can catch the Super Bowl.” Approximately 40 people were arrested. Again, the only ‘crime’ was walking in the street. Both of these police actions were hailed in the media. It was not mentioned that the demonstrations were non-confrontational and were not engaged in any illegal activity. Again, it is unclear whether they will actually be charged with anything.
Later in the day, demonstrators on an Animal Liberation March knocked out the lobby window of an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where an executive supposedly lived. Several were arrested. This was the only illegal action carried out by protestors the entire weekend. Hillariously, this act was attributed to the Sierra Club in radio reports.
Monday, February 4
At noon about 75 demonstrators assembled for a non-confrontational 'Enron Healing' on Sixth Avenue and 54th street, outside the midtown offices of Arthur Andersen, the auditing firm that failed to audit its client. They were surrounded by an equal number of riot police. The intent of the demonstration was to proceed around the corner to the Argentine consulate, to demonstrate solidarity with the Argentinian people in light of their ongoing ass rape at the hands of the IMF, and to drive home the theme They are all Enron and we are all Argentines. Police prevented the demonstration from turning the corner, again in violation of the right of people to peaceably assemble. The demonstration then continued in its original spot until about 2:30.
Updates to follow
Jennifer: In Argentina
it was the undemocratic (and CIA
military dictatorship of a generation ago that agreed to those loans and the terms that came with them, not the Argentinian people. You can bet much of that IMF
money went straight into the pockets of the murderous military rulers, just like it did in Indonesia
, etc... The whole point was to lock the country into privatization schemes and force it to limit its state sector.
The people who spoke out against this government were the infamous 'disappeared' who were tortured and burried in mass graves. So no, I would say the Argentinian people in fact had very little say in agreeing to this 'free money'!
I have to disagree with you on another point: The freedoms you speak of, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to disseminate one's ideas, the right to dress and live as one chooses, are NOT 'privileges.' They are RIGHTS. They are not to be given or taken away based on the whims of whatever man or ideology happens to be in charge. Yes, in this country we are fortunate to have them to the extent that we still do, as opposed to a place like Singapore, but we are no more privileged than the person who has barely enough to eat while many others starve.