Manhattan marches in the shadow of Ground Zero

Feb 12, 2002

Report from New York Protests against the World Economic Forum

“Demonstrate if you Dare” was the message sent out to our movement when the WEF relocated to New York City in November. The latest attempt to crush anti-capitalism has happily failed.

The build up to the protests was all too familiar – media hysteria about violence and a promised police crack down. Some activists were despondent and pessimistic. How many people would turn up and defy the NYPD and a tide of jingoism and nationalism in the aftermath of 11 September and the war against Afghanistan?

We had a good start. Students at Columbia University had organised a two day counter conference on campus. Around 1400 came through the door to debate everything from the Bhopal Campaign to the future of Anti-Capitalism. It was young, mostly fresh and informed.

Thursday evening saw the first significant action – a union-sponsored picket of GAP on 54th Street and 5th Avenue. Heavily policed, it had about 4000 people there, many wearing union caps and a good deal of Latino textile workers.

After the plenary session of the student conference on Friday, a Vigil called by the umbrella group Another World is Possible, designed to ‘test the water’ was called – again 4000 people attended, this time mostly anti-capitalist activists. A long Spokescouncil (350 strong) in the evening agreed that there would be no direct action on the main demonstration on Saturday. At the same time Indymedia hosted a film night with a further 350 people there. The screening of GR’s Genova Libera was a real hit. (Orders were taken for 30 copies to be sent to activists across the US.)

The GR delegation were staying in an apartment on the Upper West Side with 30+ activists from Syracuse University. The students brought puppets, numerous placards and were well organised into affinity groups. Discussions with these students and many activists over the previous two days had led us to expect 5,000 or 6,000 on the march. “Ten thousand and we’ll be dancing,” one organiser had said. It was difficult to predict, word was obviously out about the protests, but few mobilising meetings and stalls seemed to had taken place.

We went along with the students to a Reclaim the Streets action immediately preceding the main protest. We reckoned on 3-4000 were there – a brilliant sign. Marching through Central Park in the clear and cold weather was pretty surreal, and when we arrived at the main assembly point it was certain all expectations had been outstripped. The protest was young, a swathe of homemade banners and puppets, inventive slogans and many many pretzel jokes. The police presence was extraordinary. A few young people wearing masks were arrested near the beginning of the march, but it soon became clear that the police were not going to charge into the demo risking a full blown riot. Shops along the route remained open, and passers by appeared to have seen through the press hysteria and showed sympathy and solidarity with the protesters.

One coffee shop full of shoppers had a line of customers sitting in the window holding up “Bad Capitalist – No Martini. Shut Down the WEF” leaflets. Discussions had on the demo reflected constantly people’s delight with such a big turnout. Estimates ranged from 20 to 30,000. I think it’s safe to say there were 25,000 there.

With numbers that large it was obvious. The anti capitalist movement is back on track. The war on Afghanistan has made us stronger. We will not be silenced by jingoism and moralism. The WEF took a gamble and lost. We can assume they will run back to the snow covered mountains of Switzerland next year.

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