You are hereTruthout: A Political Casualty of 9/11: The Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement

Truthout: A Political Casualty of 9/11: The Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement


-by Daniel Denvir

September 15, 2011- Nine-eleven's ten-year anniversary is sparking retrospectives ranging from lives lost to a War on Terror launched. But media accounts have omitted an important political casualty: the short-lived "anti-globalization" movement, perhaps the largest American social movement since the civil rights and Vietnam War era.

I watched the massive November 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) from my computer, a high school student with a budding interest in social justice eagerly clicking "refresh" on the brand new Indymedia web site: Teamsters and Turtles, steelworkers and socialists shutting down streets and anarchists smashing Starbucks' windows. The police conducted mass arrests and unleashed tear gas, but a shocked elite was forced to hunker down in hotel rooms: the summit failed and the march of global capitalism stumbled.

We had no idea it would come to such a quick and sudden end. A rapid-fire series of mass demonstrations forced secretive financial institutions, corporations (and political parties) to make their case to the American people for the first time in a very long time, and there was a sense of incredible optimism and power. Older activists were amazed to see people back in the streets and I felt like it was an incredible time to be a young activist. We expected major social change and so did everyone else.

"The surprisingly large protests in Seattle by critics of the World Trade Organization point to the emergence of a new and vocal coalition that will make it far harder for the Clinton administration to move ahead with its plans for freer trade," observed The New York Times in December 1999. "In addition, many Seattle protesters hope their movement will last longer than the Vietnam War movement because their target, globalization, is not a single issue that can be resolved by a peace treaty."

"A Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960's fix," grumbled Thomas Friedman, the Times columnist and owner of a 11,400-square-foot mansion who would, six years later, release a bestselling manifesto praising globalization for making the world, umm, "flat."

In Seattle, 50,000 students, union members and environmentalists shocked the powers that be and shut down the meeting of global financial and political elites, demanding an end to corporate "free trade" that, five years after NAFTA was signed, was pitting the peoples of the worlds against one another in a race to the bottom: whatever country had the lowest wages, weakest environmental protections and offered the most outrageous protections for big business "won."

A movement against corporate globalization, also known as neoliberalism, that was initiated in the global South had arrived in the United States - and big time. My classmates and I organized dozens of high school students onto buses to protest against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, DC, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City. We brought hundreds of students into the streets protesting sweatshop labor outside Gap and Nike stores.

I settled in for the movement of a generation: I bought a copy of Naomi Klein's "No Logo," sent in for a subscription to The Nation and put together meetings on my high school campus. ("It is a modern conceit that each generation must have its defining cause," wrote Time in its January 2001 review of "No Logo." "True or not, the current crop of 18-to-30-year-olds has certainly acquired one. It is called globalization.")

We were sick of a Democratic Party led by Bill Clinton that prosecuted a racist "war on crime" and accomplished business-friendly feats Republicans could never have won, from NAFTA to "ending welfare as we know it." I organized students to campaign for Ralph Nader (we couldn't vote yet). An Los Angeles Police Department officer's baton cracked one of my ribs during protests against the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

The movement fell apart as rapidly as it had emerged: the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush president and, during my first week of college, al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington. The White House initiated a global War on Terror that continues ten years later - and it sucked all the political air out of the room.

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