The highly publicized killing of Carlo Giuliani during the protests in Genoa on Friday, July 19th may mark a milestone for the anti-corporate globalization movement as significant as the Battle in Seattle. But what direction this milestone will lead in remains in doubt. It could mean the end of peaceful protest, or the end of violent protest. It could mean a retrenchment of the movement, or a new and more powerful phase.
As we think of Carlo and others that were either killed or gravely injured in Genoa, we should also begin some soul-searching about how serious violence can be avoided in the future, while continuing to strengthen the movement and maintaining our right to peaceful protest. For there is no doubt that escalating violence will destroy our movement.
For the black bloc, Carlo's death must be a wake-up call: Confronting police with weapons can be a deadly game. This realization alone may reduce the numbers of violent demonstrators to an even fewer hard core individuals. In addition, Carlo's comrades must re-consider the value of turning all protests primarily into tactical confrontations with police. While the local authorities protecting these international meetings have, unfortunately, behaved in a manner symbolic of the injustices perpetrated by the WTO, the G-8, and other international institutions, they are but one aspect of the problem. Drawing the public's attention to vivid images of police-protestor confrontation often obscures the reason masses of people have taken to the street in the first place.
For the more mainstream groups, such as labor unions and environmental groups, the time has come to unite in unequivocally rejecting any use of weapons or violence, while restating a commitment to inclusive, peaceful public actions. In Seattle, some groups, while deploring violence, remained quiet when it came to the property destruction carried out by some of the black bloc. They rightly pointed out that breaking a few windows at Niketown and Starbucks was trivial compared with the violence unleashed by corporate-driven globalization, and that the vast majority of the violence during the WTO meeting was perpetrated by the police. But this does not excuse the use of weapons and violence by some of the black bloc. The demonstrations are in danger of losing their mass appeal as shattered glass, smashed ATMs and molotov cocktail-wielding anarchists continue to be their most prominent feature. The organizers must do more to stop violent individuals from participating.
Ultimately, local authorities bear the most direct responsibility for handling violence, and their record has been abysmal at many major protests. At the World Bank meeting in Washington, I was astonished to see the police, who had studied the WTO debacle intensely, making the same mistakes as the Seattle police. From eyewitness accounts, it seems that police tactics in Canada, Europe and Australia have been remarkably similar.
One of the primary mistakes, which many believe is a deliberate strategy, is a broad refusal to distinguish violent protestors from peaceful ones. In Seattle for example, the police mercilessly tear gassed hundreds of peaceful demonstrators blocking intersections, while allowing a tiny number of easily identifiable individuals to roam undisturbed behind the blockades, overturning dumpsters and attempting to create an air of menace. Those same individuals went on to break store windows while the police pointlessly chased more peaceful groups into the neighborhoods of Seattle. Many accounts from Genoa are strikingly similar.
While working harder to prevent violence, local authorities must respect the civil rights of protestors in private spaces, on the streets, in jail and in the courtroom. Failure to do so inflames the crowd and confirms the worst suspicions that they have chosen sides in the debate over globalization and view demonstrating citizens as their enemy.
Public demonstrations, like the movement itself, must continue and will continue. But the black bloc, the more mainstream demonstrators, and local authorities must collectively come to their senses to break the pattern and avoid a repeat of Genoa.
That may sound naïve, but our political leaders have the responsibility and the power to make this happen. They can do the most to avoid a repeat of the ugliness in Genoa by responding to the legitimate and heartfelt message of our movement. This does not mean holding meetings in undemocratic countries such as Qatar, where the next WTO ministerial will take place, or remote mountain resorts like the one outside Calgary where the next G8 meeting will be. French President Chirac has come closest to recognizing the legitimacy of the protests when he said, "there is an anxiety, a concern ... we cannot pretend that it doesn't exist." But US President Bush has shown characteristic ignorance and arrogance by dismissing the protestors as "not representing the poor."
Serious observers of the anti-globalization movement know that it's not just an anti-poverty crusade. It's not just about debt relief, fair trade, reducing the gap between rich and poor, or environmentally sustainable development, though all these are a part of it. It is about protecting and building democracy, community, and identity. It's about changing a system that has been grossly unfair to the developing world, and has eroded individual and collective economic choices even in the industrialized world.
The elected leaders of the G-8 countries have been as slow as the unelected leaders of the WTO and IMF to publicly recognize the legitimacy of this movement. This has been reflected in the mainstream media, which has doggedly trivialized, if not misrepresented, the anti-globalization protests and the movement behind them.
Seattle may have been the "coming out party" for the movement, but the world's leaders were attending their own receptions and have mostly brushed us aside. The tragic violence of Genoa may have served a purpose in finally breaking through this high-level indifference. President Chirac correctly perceives something wrong in "our hearts, in our spirits." This too must be acknowledged and addressed, at the highest levels, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy of Carlo Giuliani.
Kenny Bruno writes about the United Nations and the annual Greenwash Awards for CorpWatch.org, where this article first appeared.