Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era

Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era

Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era

Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era

Synopsis

Recently, a wall was built in eastern Germany. Made of steel and cement blocks, topped with razor barbed wire, and reinforced with video monitors and movement sensors, this wall was not put up to protect a prison or a military base, but rather to guard a three-day meeting of the finance ministers of the Group of Eight (G8). The wall manifested a level of security that is increasingly commonplace at meetings regarding the global economy. The authors of Shutting Down the Streets have directly observed and participated in more than 20 mass actions against global in North America and Europe, beginning with the watershed 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle and including the 2007 G8 protests in Heiligendamm. Shutting Down the Streets is the first book to conceptualize the social control of dissent in the era of alterglobalization. Based on direct observation of more than 20 global summits, the book demonstrates that social control is not only global, but also preemptive, and that it relegates dissent to the realm of criminality. The charge is insurrection, but the accused have no weapons. The authors document in detail how social control forecloses the spaces through which social movements nurture the development of dissent and effect disruptive challenges.

Excerpt

We began writing this book as a wall was built in East Germany. Two and a half meters high, it was composed of metal fencing with concrete foundations and was designed to cradle a curlicue of razor and barbed wire. Each bolt and hinge of the wall was soldered in place. It looked like a fence around a prison or a military base, and, indeed, it sported motion detectors and video cameras. But this fence wound its twelve kilometers, at Ĩ1 million per kilometer, through forest surrounding a small seaport town. It protected the three-day meeting of the Group of Eight (G8), expected to issue its annual proclamations about intentions to “Make Poverty History,” except in Africa, or to stop global warming. The fence (a “technical barrier”) was employed to keep out terrorists and, coincidentally, those who had expressed their desire to participate in the meeting, point out its hypocrisy, or draw attention to the failures of similar economic strategies in their home countries, whether in Europe, Africa, or other regions of the postcolonial Global South. It was guarded by no fewer than eighteen thousand police, as well as contingents from the German military.

The fence imposed an exclusionary geography—castle, moat, hinterlands—on a purportedly democratic nation and landscape. This security was funded mostly by provincial taxes paid by German citizens, whose willingness for such public expenditure was, in turn, purchased with a currency the sociologist Barry Glassner has called “the culture of fear.” Terrorists are over there, over here, around the corner. Immigrants are invading occupations and culture. The youth are increasingly and irrationally violent. The anxiety evoked by these probabilities somehow overwhelms the quieter world in which our jobs (or hopes of them) become increasingly “precarious.” Media images and public policy bring violent persons into sharp focus and offer grand, comforting solutions, while the glacial melt of our economies is portrayed as natural or at least inevitable, and surviving is left to our own cleverness.

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