Global Village Idiots
Protest, 2000-style: You name it, someone's against it.

The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, April 18, 2000

WASHINGTON--Thousands of activists have gathered here for the Mobilization for Global Justice, a protest against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. But this is no mass demonstration; it is a massive collection of tiny demonstrations. Pro-China activists oppose U.S. trade sanctions against Beijing, while a pro-Tibet contingent urges that Congress vote down permanent normal trade status for China. Members of the International Socialist Brigade carry signs urging: "Workers of the world, unite and fight." But a group called Unamerican Activities begs to differ. Its stickers bear a pithy message: "Fuck work."

Anna Meadows, a North Carolina hospital worker who hands me one of the labels, explains that Unamerican Activities objects not to work per se but to the regimentation of "the 8-to-5 dependent routine." She wants workers to have more control over their time, and she offers this example: " 'Fuck work' is a couple who need to home-school their child, and they can't do that because they have to work from 8 to 5."

But wait. Isn't home schooling a conservative cause? Not necessarily, says Ms. Meadows. "I'm on a mailing list with a lot of pagan women who are trying to home-school their children--not for religious reasons but because they have special needs."

Hammers and sickles haven't been this abundant since the Soviet Union fell. Every commie organization imaginable is represented here, from the venerable Communist Party USA to the Progressive Labor Party to Bolshevik Tendency, publisher of a newsletter called 1917. Single-issue outfits oppose nuclear power, genetically modified food, the tobacco industry. One group demands "wages for housework for all women from the government." As at any left-wing gathering, there are the obligatory placards and banners in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, murderer of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner.

Other groups oppose the military government of Burma, America's military presence in Korea, Turkey's treatment of Kurds and the Cameroon-Chad pipeline. "In Nicaragua," one sign declares, "Indians revere the turtles, while the World Bank financed a turtle slaughter." A dozen or so people mill about, wearing sandwich boards decorated to look like turtle shells.

A small flier on the table of the D.C. Statehood Green Party catches my eye. "What THEY don't want you to know!" announces the cover. The party's bête noire turns out to be something called "corporate planet." "What does CORPORATE PLANET do?" asks the flier, which answers: "Tell you what to think. Tell you what to buy." The D.C. Statehood Green Party, of course, would not dream of telling you what to think. Or would it? The flier instructs: "McDonald's is NOT YUMMY. Nike is NOT HIP. Disney is NOT CUTE. Microsoft DOES NOT LOVE YOU." Ah well, de gustibus non est disputandum.

An adorable placard promotes the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The slogan "Animal liberation--human liberation" encircles a logo depicting a clenched fist and a raised paw. But although the atmosphere here can fairly be described as zoolike, no actual animals are around to demand their rights. They're all back in the jungle, eating each other.

Anti-American sentiment is backed up by convoluted logic. Maria dos Reis, an Argentine woman who says she is part of an activist group in Long Island, N.Y., holds a video camera and interviews a hirsute teenage girl, lobbing such hardball questions as this: "Did you know that this is the only country in the world where you have to ask permission to have a demonstration?"

When Ms. dos Reis finishes the interview, I point out to her that many countries don't allow free speech at all. She corrects me: "Demonstrations can be held. We run from the police. We may be killed by the police. But we don't have to ask permission."

It must be frustrating to be a young left-wing demonstrator in 2000, longing for the glory days of the Vietnam era. Back then, protesters had a clear and simple message: End the war. By contrast, nothing of consequence unites today's demonstrators. Do the Mumia Abu-Jamal guys lose sleep over Nicaraguan turtles? Do the hearts of the free-Tibet crowd bleed for the victims of Buddhist persecution in Burma? Has a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party ever shed a tear for the plight of the Kurds?

The IMF and the World Bank make easy scapegoats; no one loves a faceless international bureaucracy. But what does it mean to be against globalization? One might as well be against sexual reproduction. As long as man is a social animal, globalization will remain a fact of life. It's telling that almost every flier I picked up, and a good many of the placards the demonstrators were carrying, advertised the World Wide Web sites of these supposedly antiglobalist organizations.

If you're nostalgic for the 1960s, when protest had a purpose, forget the Mobilization for Global Justice. Go instead to Miami, where thousands of Cuban-Americans have been gathering outside Elian Gonzalez's house to prevent the six-year-old's deportation to communist Cuba. Unlike the balkanized left that gathered in Washington, these passionate folks are united in their vision of justice. There's even a slim chance that, like the antiwar protesters of three decades ago, they'll end up winning.

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