An ADB Diary: Day 1
by Ken Krötche Tue May 8 '01/ Wed May 9 '01

Hundreds gather at First Methodist Church in Honolulu to hear anti-globalization activists decry the Asian Development Bank - NO RIOT ENSUES!!!

Monday, 5/7/01: As the Asian Development Bank rolled into Honolulu atop what is being called the largest military build-up in Hawai'i since World War II, the papers were filled with the news of an impending strike by Local 5 of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees. It raised an irony too big to be missed, but Governor Ben Cayetano nonetheless drove it home in Sunday's Honolulu Advertiser: "Many of the people from the largest banking institutions in the world are accustomed to four- or five-star service, and I think if that is a problem, then it may affect how they think about Hawai'i," said the governor, hands a-wringing at the thought that representatives of a multi-national banking institution that claims "poverty reduction" as its overriding goal might have to do with marginal room service.

But that was yesterday - strike's off today. As twilight set in this evening, a couple hundred people gathered at the Honolulu's First Methodist Church on Beretania St. for "The International Forum on Globalization," the second in a week-long series of events surrounding the ADB meetings. Contrary to the image promulgated by the Honolulu Police Department, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Honolulu's media, the crowd was far from posing threat to life or property: True, several were carrying small containers that looked as though they might be full of the sort of "obnoxious substance" recently made illegal by the Honolulu City Council, but no worries - it was just vegetarian stir-fry being dished up on the sidewalk by Food Not Bombs.

Then the program began. Walden Bello - director of the NGO Focus on the Global South, University of the Philippines professor, widely published writer and world-renowned anti-globalization gadfly - took the podium as the evening's moderator. To illustrate the true diversity of this movement, he began by asking those who had traveled to Hawai'i in protest of the ADB's presence to stand and be welcomed as he recited a litany: "We welcome our sisters and brothers from Nepal," applause, "We welcome our sisters and brothers from Thailand," applause, "We welcome our sisters and brothers from the Philippines" and on and on. As each country name was called out, at least one representative stood, until Bello reached the end of his greeting, saving Hawai'i's Kanaka Maoli for last. This, said Bello, was only one of the welcomes this world-spanning contingent of activists had received today. The other came from the snipers on the roof of the Hawai'i Convention Center, the massive police force which has been mobilized out of fear. "But it is not fear of terrorist activity," said Bello, his voice rising up from the church podium. "It is fear of the truth!"

As it turned out, this would be the message throughout the evening: That the institutions of corporate-driven globalization are running scared. Not from protestors, but from the truth: That these institutions are not the cure for poverty but at its very roots; that the era of trans-national corporations has brought misery to a majority of the earth's population.

Of the several speakers this night, the two that ultimately ruled were Anuradha Mittal and Maude Barlow. Noting that "free trade" at its heart is about exporting the American Dream to the rest of the planet, Mittal, a native of India who now serves as co-director of the Oakland, California-based Institute for Food & Development Policy, pointed out the many shortcomings of that dream: How 36 million people in the richest nation on earth don't have enough to eat; how this is caused not by lack of food production but by a shortage of purchasing power; how, while average workers in the United States make less than their counterparts during the Nixon era, in the last 10 years the country's top CEOs have seen their salaries go up by more than 400 percent.

As the final speaker of the night, Maude Barlow was an inspiration. Having just arrived from Canada, where as director of the 70,000-member Council of Canadians she had been a driving force behind the organization of April's Quebec protests, Barlow had much to say about the growing anti-globalization movement and the possibility of creating new, better systems. Her final words, however, said it all: "We are a civil society movement whose time has come, and we will not be stopped!"

All this, and not one window was broken. Go figure.

An ADB Diary: Day 2, part 1

Have pass, will travel: A quick trip to the Hawai'i Convention Center on Day Two of the Asian Development Bank meeting. Hey, whaddya know: All the cops and robber barons are in the same room...

5/8/01, Noonish. Having been granted a pass into the Asian Development Bank meetings, it seems like it might be edifying to take a walk through the Convention Center. Crossing Atkinson with a herd of bankers, I overhear one small snippet of conversation: "That's the way they did it in Quebec." The guy who says this is a mousy little exec from god knows where - he sounds Southern California - sweating away in a navy blue, three-piece suit. It's unclear whether he's talking about all the police that are running around or simply about the way the convention staff are all dressed in aloha wear - perhaps the latter, because the next I can hear, they've switched the conversation to how someone is providing all the delegates with free Aloha shirts so they won't be in ties during the reception. I start humming David Lindley: "Tiki torches at twilight/hula girls at the bar/all the guys from the office/are throwing up in their cars."

Up on the second floor, there's a series of tables set up: a small-city-block's worth of official ADB pamphlets and xeroxed information. In five minutes I've amassed a two-foot-high stack with such titles as "A Wealth of Opportunity: Development Challenges in the Mekong Region;" "India: Mainstreaming Environment for Sustainable Development;" "The Eurasian Land-Bridge: The 'New Silk Road' - Locomotive For Worldwide Economic Development"; "Summary of the Handbook on Resettlement: A Guide to Good Practice;" "The Government of Mongolia's State Property Committee Privatization Guidelines for 2001-2004;" "Administrative Barriers to Investment: The Pacific;" "Seminar on Tourism and Poverty Reduction in Asia and the Pacific;" and several dozen others (yes, these ARE actual titles). The stuff weighs a ton, but thankfully one of the state-employee "volunteers" (they who are being paid by state taxpayers for their volunteerism) offers me a reinforced paper tote.

Heading down the escalator, I glance up to my left: Four SWAT cops leaning on the railing. They just look bored. I start humming Neil Young - "everybody knows this is nowhere" - and head back into the heat of day. Walking along outside the huge plate-glass windows, one gets to see all of the many conventioneers going through the metal detectors; running their brief cases through x-ray machines. On my way in, one poor exec nearly had to strip to his underwear before he realized a paper clip in his breast pocket was setting off the alarms. This can't be fun for any of them.

As I'm about to cross the street, I see a sole conventioneer whose broken away from his gaggle. He's sitting on a bench on the other side of the glass, dressed in yet another navy blue power suit, looking out onto the street with his chin in his hand. He looks forlorn. I wish I'd had a camera.

ADB Diary: Day 2, part 2

Geneva of the Pacific = Blue Light Special For ADB Attendees.

5/8/01, midnight-ish. Day two has come and gone. This just in: Non-violence continues to run rampant in the streets. If we take the highest figure put out by the Honolulu Police Department for security surrounding the Asian Development Bank conference - $7.5 million, according to yesterday's Honolulu Star-Bulletin - then so far somewhere around $2 million has been wasted on overblown security measures.

But it has put on quite a spectacle: Even the security guards at Ala Moana were actually standing up - STANDING UP - on the job. Zow. And every corner has two police officers and the UH football team is standing around in front of the Convention Center looking the part of bouncers at Moose McGillicuddy's as they make a show of checking everyone's ID badges at the door. (Of course, my photo looks mostly like a medium-rare pancake, but no matter, they're making sure I match it. Somehow.)

This evening the choice was between the gathering at the university featuring those who have been directly effected by the ADB and a maximum security jaunt to the Convention Center for a rooftop reception with ADB President Tadao Chino.


Somebody had to do it.

Walking up Atkinson from the semi-legal parking job at Ala Moana Shopping Center (hey, some goon with diplomat plates did it, why can't I?), a small, happy sight: Hanging from the wall of the ILWU headquarters, which is nearly next door to the Convention Center, is a sheet, with "Why does the Gap between rich and poor continue to grow?" stenciled on it. ("Gap" as in the Gap logo, by the way.) I keep trying to make eye contact with conventioneers, but they always look to the ground. Guilt? Fear? Maybe they're just shy.

I've given up trying to get a hello out of the police as well - I smile and wave and they look at me like I'm packing heat. But here's how paranoid this kind of security makes you feel: I'm walking around with a notebook tucked into the waist of my pants, in back. At one point I reach for it and think "OH MY GOD, I'M GOING TO BE SHOT." It's cool - they're all Less Than Lethal today.

At least I've got the security checks wired: Unload everything from your pockets as you approach slip the watch off your wrist and drop it all in the plastic basket. Do it all in one fell swoop and you can leap-frog right past the hapless conventioneers being pulled aside to have the wand waved up and down their bodies. I wonder if any of them have had to endure a full body cavity search yet? One can only hope...

So, the rooftop. There's a 50-yard line at the top of the escalator, which at first seems to be yet another security check. But then I realize it's just a bunch of people waiting in line to shake Chino's hand before entering. I hang a left.

I've never been to Switzerland, but here is the future of the Geneva of the Pacific: A few hundred alleged poverty reduction devotees are milling about under the twilit sky. A grand piano in the middle of the roof top. Waiters wandering around with trays of wine glasses (plastic cups? How utterly quaint! So, so – impoverished!). A dozen or so buffets. It takes a village to consume this much. I'm stuck with the nagging paranoia that security is wondering about me: Maybe its just that I keep turning around to see yet another plain-clothes talking to his own nipple. That's not right. But I know it's just me.

Anyway, it was disappointing how little there was to see or feel here. This crowd feels dead in the way those patron of the arts crowds sometimes do: A little self-satisfied, but generally wooden.

The best part comes on the escalator ride back down. It is now officially dark out, and the police cars are all over the place, rerouting traffic on Atkinson. Blue lights flashing everywhere. I've never been to Switzerland, but I suspect that for the moment our Geneva of the Pacific is much better armed. I also wonder what sort of effect this has on the psyche of these convention-goers - how it must play into all of their paranoid fears when it comes to the civil society movement. Or do they even notice? Or do they just feel a sense of privilege at having a badge that allows them access and buys for them (at no cost TO them) a personal army for their protection against... what? Their own shadows, perhaps.

If I weren't such a wussy, I would have posed these questions to one of the people surrounding me on the escalator down. Instead, I just marvel at the way the blue lights refract through the windows.

It's beautiful.

It's horrifying.

ADB Hawaii | Actions 2001 |