Swinging Back: Violence in the Anti-Corporate-Globalization Movement

By Brown, Stacia M. | Sojourners Magazine, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview
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Swinging Back: Violence in the Anti-Corporate-Globalization Movement

Brown, Stacia M., Sojourners Magazine

Kadd Stephens, 24, longs for "a world free from violence." An anarchist from Washington, D.C., Stephens numbers himself among an increasingly visible group of anti-corporate-globalization activists whose dreams of world peace coexist--critics say illogically--with strategies of violent resistance.

The upswing of anarchist sentiment within the anti-corporate-globalization movement has nonviolent religious activists uneasy. While supporting the aims of the movement--whose concerns range from animal rights to corporate reform and environmentally responsible trade--persons of faith are questioning the assumption of the new anarchists that peaceful ends justify violent means. Some feel the movement has been "hijacked by street tactics," says Robert Collier, who has covered international trade policy for the San Francisco Chronicle.

In criticizing violent activists, however, religious and other nonviolent protesters are coming under fire for their refusal to welcome a "diversity of tactics." Many perceive themselves in a no-win situation. If they embrace the anti-corporate-globalization movement without qualifiers, they compromise their nonviolent commitments; but if they take a stand against violent protests, they risk splintering a transnational coalition for economic, social, and environmental justice.

In response to this dilemma, some nonviolent activists are taking a closer look at the militant new face of activism, hoping to educate themselves and the public about the costs of a pro-violence stance. What motivates some anarchists' rejection of nonviolence in favor of what critics see as little more than random acts of vandalism?

THOUGH ANARCHISM HAS historical roots in the 17th century, when Englishman Gerrard Winstanley established an anarchist village and called for the abolition of government and property, 21st century anarchists point to the "Battle for Seattle" as the launching point for their own aggressive activism. In November 1999, masked demonstrators calling themselves the Black Bloc helped wreak havoc, on Seattle during protests against the World Trade Organization. Nonviolent activists denounced their black-clad counterparts for destroying property and inciting public animosity.

But the Black Bloc--which cited police brutality as the precipitating cause of violence--argued that radical maneuvers turn more heads than conventional ones. One anarchist boasted online that "window-smashing" had inspired Seattle's oppressed people "far more than any giant puppets or sea turtle costumes ever could."

Concern over violent resistance only increased following demonstrations in Quebec, Gothenburg, and Genoa. In April 2001, peaceful protests in Quebec against the extension of the North American Free Trade Area devolved into violent confrontations. Two months later, in what the BBC called the worst civil disorder in Sweden's recent history, police found themselves outmaneuvered in a rock-throwing melee during demonstrations against the European Union summit in Gothenburg.

In Genoa, Italy, the tensions only increased. Before nonviolent protests against the Group of Eight economic summit could commence in July 2001, demonstrators set cars on fire throughout the city. The Tute Bianche ("White Overalls"), an international resistance group rooted in the history of the Mexican Zapatistas, used a homemade barricade of steel bars to push through police lines. When the smoke cleared, 23-year-old Italian protester Carlo Guiliani was dead, shot twice in the head by a police officer. Property damage reached $4.5 million, according to some estimates.

WHATEVER MOMENTUM anarchists--and the anti-corporate-globalization movement in general--might have gained in recent years seems diminished by the events of Sept. 11. The World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks have "spun this movement around," says Carol McChesney, a Green Party representative for the Atlanta Mobilization for Global Justice.

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