The world will never be the same after Genoa. We are referring both to the bloody confrontations at the G-8 summit and, more deeply, to the long history of conquest that began when Columbus sailed from Genoa in the name of free trade and globalization five centuries ago. The torturous legacy of Columbus, the conquistadores, the mercantilists, the colonialists, the adventurers obsessed with their manifest destinies, continues today in the G-8, the club of leaders of once and future empires.
Were these leaders at all conscious of the human tragedy inflicted in the name of free trade? Were they aware of the long and devastating history of economic expansion without regard to people or natural environments? Was it all–including the dozens of activists killed in India, Bolivia and other countries in earlier anti-corporate globalization protests and the 23-year-old Italian shot to death at close range by police in Genoa–so much “collateral damage” on the voyage of progress?
Some of the G-8 leaders claimed awareness of those concerns. “There is no demonstration drawing 100,000, 150,000 people without having a valid reason,” noted French President Jacques Chirac. Past protests have at least had the effect of creating a public relations problem for the G-8, which was also chastened by the rout of the drug companies on AIDS, the failure to gain a Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the forcing of debt relief onto the international agenda. So the summiteers brought developing country leaders to Genoa for an audience and asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch his AIDS fund there.
But as in past meetings, they remained insulated from any dialogue with the citizenry in the streets. George W. Bush parroted the mindset of the governing elite when he said, “Those who claim to represent the voices of the poor aren’t doing so.” It is the arrogant view that what’s good for the global corporate class is good for the world that those 100,000 people (along with more than a million in the less-developed world who have demonstrated against the IMF and the World Bank) have challenged.
Instead of listening, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi shipped in 20,000 national police plus a couple of thousand troops armed with tear gas, water cannons and helicopters. Philippine academic Walden Bello filed a report to this magazine’s website (www.thenation.com) describing how, at 11 on Saturday night, police barged into the press center of the Genoa Social Forum, the Italian group that lined up about 600 groups behind a pledge of nonviolence, and forced everyone to the floor. At about the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported, Italian police raided a school building housing activists in an operation that neighbors described as leading to “hours of beatings and screaming.” Perhaps, some surmised, the police operation was not really meant to keep order at all. Bello quotes Pam Foster, the coordinator of the Halifax Initiative in Canada, as asking, “Why did the police go after the peaceful demonstrators but take their time dealing with the anarchists?”
The globalization protesters–the great majority of them nonviolent–are worried that the escalating carnage at these meetings will discredit the movement’s message and scare away thousands who would otherwise join the demonstrations. But the international movement continues to take to the streets because there is no other forum. The corporations have lawyers in the meeting rooms who serve as government negotiators, then return to big-name law firms and implement whatever decisions are made. The Bush Administration promises openness on the Free Trade for the Americas Act and the next WTO round, but so far all they have shared with the public are broad principles.
The movement in this country thus has much work ahead of it after Genoa. A week before the G-8 summit, members of the business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council were applauding themselves at a meeting at which free trade was a mantra and funding was provided by global corporations. Yet if ever there was a moment when Democrats could recapture the banner of patriotism and the national interest from the Republicans, it is now–by calling for the protection of democracy, the environment and labor rights against those who’ve never seen a sweatshop they didn’t want to own or a rainforest they didn’t want to slash. As if to drive home the point that a devotion to “free trade” is most often a cover for greed, many countries are currently working toward a global tobacco-control treaty backed by the World Health Organization, but the United States, Britain and Japan are using the WTO as a club to force open markets in poor countries to tobacco pushers.
Where things go from Genoa isn’t clear. Even as G-8 leaders were making plans to meet next in a remote Canadian fastness, protest leaders were planning for the next round of actions, first at the World Bank and IMF annual meeting in Washington in September and then at the WTO meeting in Qatar in November. At the same time, some US groups have decided to focus more of their energy on making local links with global issues–for example, opposing privatization of public services that help the poor. In Washington, groups like the AFL-CIO, Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen, which forged a Congressional coalition that beat back President Clinton’s fast-track fantasies, are gearing up for a similar fight over Bush’s demand for fast-track authority to negotiate the FTAA.
The courage, coalition and commitment that have unfolded from Seattle 1999 to Genoa 2001 define a movement that, despite outer repression and inner divisions, cannot be stopped until the global decision-making system is radically reformed. The real new world order has to include many worlds, starting with the people pushed to the margins for 500 years.