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The Stakes Are Raised

by Randolph T. Holhut

on coverage of Genoa police violence
"I heard my ribs break, like snapping matchsticks. I thought, my God, this is it, I'm going to die. The last thing I heard was a lot of screaming. Then I lost consciousness." (Mark Covell, a journalist beaten by police as he was covering the G8 Summit. His left lung was punctured by his splintered rib, and he lost ten teeth.)

As the violence raged, the G8 and their retinues met untroubled, choosing their snacks from 170 different types of cheese, 54 varieties of bread and a cellar of 7,000 bottles of wine. (London Observer)

PHOTO: Devin Asch

It was inevitable, given the fear of the established order when faced with organized dissent, that someone would die in Genoa during the G-8 summit.

Since the demonstrations at the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle in 1999, the police presence needed to protect each succeeding gathering of those who want to plunder the world for profit has been increased. And the helmeted, club wielding protectors of the rulers have no interest in upholding the right to protest.

Scores of anti-globalization activists have been killed in protests in India, Nigeria, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Mexico and other places outside the glare of the corporate media. But the death of Carlo Giuliani and the wounding of more than 400 others was captured on film and transmitted for the whole world to see. And suddenly, everyone sees the stakes of the argument: If unfettered free trade is so wonderful, why do the people discussing it need to deploy armies of riot police to protect them?

The answer is, of course, that globalization is not a benign thing. Gutting protections of workers' rights and the environment and destroying civil society as we know it are what "restructuring" the global economy really means. And that's why there have been protests whenever and wherever the backers of globalization have met. As French President Jacques Chirac pointed out, "One hundred thousand people don't get upset unless there is a problem in their hearts and spirits."

The G-8 leaders said the right things about helping the least of our brothers and sisters. They discussed how to deal with the AIDS pandemic and the crushing burden of debt on developing nations. But in the end, it was only talk. The eight men that represent the richest and most powerful nations of the world are more interested in maintaining a global economy that caters to the bankers and investors, not the four billion people -- two-thirds of the world's population -- who are trying to survive on a per capita income of less than $2 a day.

President Bush talked before the G-8 summit about how the anti-globalization forces were no friends of the world's poor and were condemning them to further poverty. Is that so? The protesters in Seattle, Davos, Quebec City and Genoa didn't put these four billion people into poverty; the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank might have a little more to with it, not to mention one-sided trade treaties such as NAFTA.

There is not inherently evil about free trade. But when agreements are made that disregard concerns about human rights and environmental protections, you will see more of the kind of protests that we've seen over the last couple of years.

Some may ridicule them as Luddites or hippie wanna-bes, but the anti-globalization protesters are raising legitimate points. The decisions that are being made by a handful of leaders -- decisions that will have an impact on the entire planet -- need to be made openly and with the involvement of ordinary people. The power of multi-national corporations needs to be curbed. The environment and human rights must be protected.

But none of these things will happen without vigorous, persistent and intelligent protest. The words of Frederick Douglass come to mind: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you will have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress."

Even though future discussions of globalization are being moved to places that are difficult to nearly impossible for protesters to reach, the protests won't be going away. The depth and breadth of opposition to corporate rule over the planet is too big to be ignored or contained. And it is only from this opposition that a change will come. Power concedes nothing without a demand.


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Albion Monitor July 30, 2001 (

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