The Konformist

May 2000

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Jim Redden (

The establishment press has settled on a strategy for discrediting the growing coalition of anti-globalization activists which surfaced at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. The mainstream media is dismissing them as nothing more than ignorant savages lashing out at a world they do not understand.

This analysis turned up recently in the May 2000 issue of the nominally liberal Harper's Magazine. In a lengthy piece titled "Notes From Underground: Among the Radicals of the Pacific Northwest," contributing editor Daniel Samuels chronicles a trip to Eugene, Oregon in search of the anarchists who were accused of smashing up downtown Seattle. Although Eugene has been a hotbed of political activism for many years, Samuels did not find many serious radicals. Instead, he presents the anarchists as a disorganized collection of losers, drifters, burned-out hippies and train-hopping street kids who are merely struggling to escape from "the pain, fear and boredom that are part of everyday life."

As Samuels put it, "What the pictures from Seattle captured was an anger whose true sources had less to do with Nike's treatment of its labor sources or other objectionable practices than with a broader, more unreasoning sense of being trapped in a net."

This theme first emerged during last year's WTO protests. Writing in the December 1, 1999 issue of the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman said, "Is there anything more ridiculous in the news today than the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle? I doubt it. There anti-WTO protesters - who are a Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix - are protesting against the wrong target with the wrong tools."

Movie-critic-turned-conservative-columnist Michael Medved continued the criticism in the December 7 issue of USA Today, saying the protesters were motivated by "unfocused anger and incoherent desperation." Newsweek chimed in on December 13, subtitling an essay by Fareed Zakaria with the claim, "The protesters didn't have their facts right, and may have hurt the very causes they claim to care about." 60 Minutes joined the attack a short time later when reporter Steve Croft flew to Eugene and asked the anarchists, "Do your parents know what you're doing?"

Such criticisms only increased during the April protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC. "Anything radically new always creates fear. In this case, the new is globalization," Lester C. Thurow, an economist on the USA Today's board of contributors, wrote in the newspaper's April 12 issue.

But these charges are nothing more than establishment propoganda. All protest movement attract ill-informed followers. But the major players behind the protests have gone to great lengths to inform themselves and others about their issues. The pitfalls of global capitalism have been discussed at well-attended seminars and conferences across the country, including large teach-ins held before both the Seattle and Washington DC demonstrations.

The Seattle teach-in, sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization, was held on November 26 and 27, 1999. It featured over 40 speakers from a dozen countries. The IFG also sponsored a day-long teach-in on April 14 in Washington titled "Beyond Seattle." It presented over 30 speakers from 10 countries, including Catherine Caufield, author of "Masters of Illusion: The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations." Topics ranged from the IMF's "structural adjustment programs" to the effects of the WTO on the environment.

Working journalists who covered both protests didn't have any trouble finding people who could explain what they were all about. New York Times reporter Joseph Kahn figured it out. Writing about the WTO, IMF and World Bank on April 9, 2000, Kahn said,"The protesters contend that the institutions have destroyed rain forests, left poor countries in debt, and protected Nike, Disney and Monsanto instead of workers in the third world."

Such contentions aren't based on ignorance. A special congressional advisory panel said essentially the same thing on March 8, 2000. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the panel concluded "The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have largely failed to bring financial stability to the developing world and should sharply curtail their lending."

Even the World Bank admits its policies aren't working. In a report released on April 13, the global financial institution conceded that the poor nations which have borrowed the most money have grown more impoverished in recent years. Countries which owe the most money to foreign lenders, such as Uganda and Tanzania, are worse off on everything from the number of telephones per person to the number of people who can read and write. Speaking at the press conference which accompanied the release of the report, World Bank official Michael Walton confessed there now is an "acceptance by the World Bank, by international lenders, by the international community, that our expectations weren't borne out."

None of this matters to writers like Samuels, who script their stories to make it appear that the critics of global capitalism don't know what they're talking about. Samuels met several articulate anarchists during his trip to Eugene, including Marshall Fitzpatrick, a former high school debate champion who can quote Marx, Hagel and Freud to support his critique of the consumer culture. But Samuels ignored Fitzpatrick to concentrate on people such as Eric (no last name given), a high school dropout working a low-wage job at a tofu factory.

Samuels dismisses Eric as a screwed up kid living a spartan lifestyle to punish his parents, who divorced when he was four. Then he writes,"If there is something Christlike in this approach, there is also something sad and scared. What I want to tell Eric is that every thing will work out okay, and that boredom, fear, and crushing disappointment are simply part of everyone's life. That it is better to live in the world as it is, or can be, than to shut yourself down and live in a cave."

Not surprisingly, the same issue of Harper's which trashes the anti-globalization activists features full-page color ads for Phillips Petroleum, fancy BMW convertibles, overpriced Jaguar luxury cars, gas-guzzling Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles, and Virginia Slim cigarettes, which promise to help smokers "Find Your Voice."

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