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Another World is Possible in New York

Ali303 | 04.02.2002 01:56

According to the mainstream media the anti-globalisation movement collapsed with the World Trade Centre on September 11th. But on Saturday 2nd Feb, 15-20,000 peaceful protesters marching on the WEF meeting in New York, demonstrated that the movement in America is alive and kicking.

Having been forced to move from their usual location in Davos, Switzerland the World Economic Forum gratefully took up New York's offer of hosting the conference in a 'gesture of solidarity' with the city.

In order to provide a 'secure environment' for the conference, police sealed off Lexington Avenue and the streets surrounding the 5-star Waldorf Astoria Hotel - some of the busiest arteries running through midtown - the heart of corporate New York.

After several weeks of trailing scare stories of widespread violence, the NYPD opted to police the event with a display of overwhelming force on the streets. Over 4,000 police officers were in the immediate vicinity of the WEF conference, and 3,000 were in reserve at various points across the city. This was over and above the already massive police presence in the city since september 11th.

The World Economic Forum gathers together 3,000 of the most powerful corporate executives, politicians and journalists from around the world at a cost of $28,000 each. Those attending behind closed doors were there to discuss the WEF's theme for this year of 'Leadership in Fragile Times'.

Meanwhile, numerous alternative events were being organised by those on the other side of the security cordon around the Waldorf. Students for Global Justice were hosting a two-day conference in Columbia University in the Upper West Side of Manhatten under the banner 'Globalizing Justice'. Over the course of the conference workshops and debates took place on a range of issues. Global finance unsurprisingly featured heavily, as well as discussion on the World Socia Forum taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil concurrently with the WEF. Also at the conference were numerous practical training sessions for activists, such as 'Health and Safety in Demonstrations' and also 'Street Tactics.' Connections between the anti-capitalist movement and the anti-war movement were explored and discussed widely through the conference. On both days the conference conclude with a plenary session in the nearby St John Cathedral, attended by several hundred people.

On the other side of town, by the United Nations building, Public Eye on Davos were also hosting an event until Sunday 3rd February. Public Eye is arranged by a collection of NGOs, where an alternative agenda to the WEF's prevailing corporate orthodoxy can be explored. In a series of well-attended panel debates, leading academics, writers and NGO representatives discussed in-depth issues such as 'Corporate Power and Global Governance' and "An Economic Critique of Free Trade Theory'.

But alongside the discussions, a number of actions were also planned. On Thursday Janaury 31st, several hundred activists endured cold, wind and rain for a rally outside The Gap by Fifth Avenue, one of New York's wealthiest streets, organised by the AFL-CIO, the US equivalent of the British TUC. However, like the TUC, the AFL-CIO have grown increasingly centrist over recent years and reused to endirse any other actions over the course of the WEF conference.

On Friday, February 1st, a 'Rally for the Planet' was organised by Save the Redwoods. Despite the continuing poor weather another crowd of several hundred and a large log on wheels marched through the high-rise office blocks of Midtown the tops of which were shrouded in mist. In the evening a pagan vigil was arrnged in Washington Square Park in the centre. Later on Indymedia had a screening of Genoa footage in their videotech centre below Chinatown in the south of Manhattan. Several hundred packed into the warehouse while undercover police circled outside.

On Saturday, February 2nd, a number of actions were planned. For the first time during the week, the weather was crisp and clear. Reclaim the Streets activists were gathering in Columbus Circle on the corner of central park at 11.30am. By 12 around 4000 people had gathered underneath the metal skeleton of AOL Time Warner's future headquarters. Judging by the pictures on the hoardings surrounding the site, the building will comprise of two glass towers looming over Central Park like upturned icicles.

Protesters were in carnival mode with costumes and banners protesting against world debt, the WTO and the War Against Terrorism. A large police presence was also on hand, mostly in riot gear. At around 12.30pm, protesters peeled off the main crowd to lead a procession through the sounthern reaches of Central Park. Police on scooters raced to get in front of the march and line the paths as the protesters snaked through the park. The march was lead by the Radical Statues of LIberty, six protesters in foil costumes simmering in the winter sun.

The Reclaim the Streets contingent ended up joining a larger crowd of up to 20,000 on the south east side of Central Park on Fifth Avenue. The theme for the main march was 'Another World is Possible.' The crowd assembled was overwhelmingly festive with vast puppets, spectacular costumes and the obligatory samba band - the 'Rhythm Workers' Union'.

By 1.30 pm the puppets led the way for the march to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. They were followed by people with pots and pans in support of the uprising in Argentina. The procession filed onto the pre-arranged route noisily and peacefully. Several activists were arrested by police for carrying plastic Ya Basta-style shields. The march was lead by police, this time on Harley Davidsons.

The march gradually moved through the towering spires of global capital in New York's commercial centre. The police forced the march between barriers stretching across the middle of the streets towards the WEF conference. But the streets in New York are wide enough for the protesters to negotiate the barriers without too much congestion. As the protesters advanced on the WEF down Lexington Avenue, the route turned left in front of the police security cordon outside the Waldorf and then followed a path behind the hotel to the other side of the sealed area where the march was stopped. As the long crowd was brought to a halt a small group at the fornt of the march were let into a small area enclosed by barriers closer to the Waldorf Astoria. The crowd roared and chanted as the police closed in on the front of the demonstration. Throughout the whle precession, the mood was festive and peaceful. At around 4.30pm police gradully allowed people to leave, directing them through barriers away from the area. At around this time police are reported to have seperated a small group form the back of the march, reported to be black bloc. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful atmosphere, there were widespread reports of police using mace and pepper spray amd forcing marchers to the ground.

On Sunday February 3rd, Anti-Capitalist Convergence were planning action in East Village, below Midtown, Manhattan. Several hundred activists started gathering around 12pm in the area, many in small groups. Huge numbers of cops were stationed in various places across the area. After dancing into the stream of traffic on Third Avenue, Police swooped within minutes on the crowd, penning the activists onto the corner of Third Avenue and 12th Street.

Several activists were arrested with force and dragged into waiting vans. Squads of riot police marched into position along three of the roads of the junction. The other road was blocked by police vehicles. Protesters were noisy but cheerful as they were blocked in on all sides. The new Mayor, billionaire republican Michael Blomberg visited the scene with personal security for an impromptu five-minute photo opportunity. Shortly after he left police moved in on the activists forcing them away. Onlookers were also forced from the pavement, several were arrested for not moving from the sidewalk quickly enough.

So far, according to the People's Law Collective, there have been 72 arrests. As protesters leave the city, the WEF is also concluding. Hopes inside the Waldorf were that the anti-capitalist movement would reveal itself to be fatally weakend by the aftermath of September 11th. They were sorely disappointed. The people who gathered together in New York showed Americans and the rest of the world, that the movement might has survived and is, once again, gathering momentum.