To Open a Crack in History: Katharine Ainger Reports on the International Resistance to Globalization That Is Reinventing Politics for the 21 Century

By Ainger, Katharine | New Internationalist, September 2001 | Go to article overview

To Open a Crack in History: Katharine Ainger Reports on the International Resistance to Globalization That Is Reinventing Politics for the 21 Century


Ainger, Katharine, New Internationalist


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WHEN Macbeth saw what seemed like a grey mist pouring over the horizon, fear rose in his throat. As it came closer he could make out the branches of the trees which the forces of opposition carried aloft. The forest was coming to the centre of power to confront the tyrant.

In March 2001 the forest marched on Mexico City.

The Zapatistas, the indigenous rebels hiding deep in the Lacandon jungle, had done the unthinkable. The most wanted men and women in Mexico had emerged to travel from Chiapas through 13 states, arriving at the Zocalo - the central square of the capital - to demand a place in the constitution.

Their voices echoed round the Zocalo: 'It is the hour of the Indian peoples, we who are the colour of the earth... We are rebels because the land rebels when someone sells and buys it, as if the land did not exist, as if we who are the colour of the earth did not exist.

'Mexico City: We are here. We are here as the rebellious colour of the earth which shouts: Democracy! Liberty! Justice!'

'Y la selva se movio,' declared the poster advertising the march. And the forest walked.

In 1998, a year before 50,000 protesters shut down the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson of the Zapatistas (EZLN), said: 'Don't give too much weight to the EZLN; it's nothing more than a symptom of something more. Years from now, whether or not the EZLN is still around, there is going to be protest and social ferment in many places. I know this because when we rose up against the Government we began to receive displays of solidarity and sympathy not only from Mexicans but from people in Chile, Argentina, Canada, the United States and Central America. They told us that the uprising represents something that they wanted to say, and now they have found the words to say it, each in his or her respective country. I believe the fallacious notion of the end of history has finally been destroyed.'

In Mexico a jungle came to the city: in Thailand a village came to the capital, Bangkok.

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On 25 January 1997 some 20,000 rural poor gathered at the gates of Government House. They were villagers affected by big dam projects, small farmers, fisherfolk who had come together to create a rural coalition - the Assembly of the Poor - of those left out of Thailand's tiger economy.

The people erected a makeshift 'Village of the Poor' of plastic shacks which stretched back down the Nakhon Pathom Road for more than a kilometre. Amidst the cacophony of economic growth, they camped here in the stink of the smog and the traffic for 99 days, surviving by growing vegetables illegally along the banks of the city's river.

They declared: 'Rivers and forests on which the survival of rural families depend have been plundered from the people... The collapse of agricultural society forces people out of their communities to cheaply sell their labour in the city... The people must set up the country's development direction. The people must be the real beneficiaries of development.'

In 1998 the village came again, this time to join the coalition of protest movements against the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) bailout programme in the wake of the Asian financial crisis; and again when thousands converged on the Asian Development Bank meetings in Chiang Mai in May 2000. On their backs the protesters carried a tombstone on which were inscribed the words: 'There is a price on the water, a meter in the rice paddies, dollars in the soil, resorts in the forests.'

At the time, 30 per cent of Thai children believed that the IMF was a UFO. For the indigenous people of Ecuador, the IMF-imposed 'dollarization' of the beleaguered Ecuadorian economy might as well have come from outer space.

In response, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE) turned into a storm that broke over the city of Quito in February 2000:

'The indigenous and popular insurrection. …

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