When street protests shook the “Summit of the Americas” in late April 2001, Newsweek responded with a column by Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of the elite periodical Foreign Affairs. He presented a standard denunciation of the activists who created upheaval as hemispheric government officials met in Quebec City to discuss the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. From the outset, Zakaria disparaged foes of global corporatization. “It seems pointless to rebut, one more time, the arguments made by the protesters in Quebec City,” he began, “to note their misunderstanding of basic economics, to show that their slogans are confused and contradictory.” Zakaria went on to lament: “We will now hear more calls from frightened free traders for ‘dialogue,’ ‘cooperation’ and the development of a ‘new framework’ for trade, all code words for retreat and protectionism. More significantly, the ‘success’ of these protests — in Seattle, Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Quebec City — has begun to persuade some left-of-center politicians in the West to start speaking the new language of anti-globalization.”1
Zakaria’s rhetorical tone was familiar. Mainstream news outlets across the United States routinely praise the system of “basic economics” that guarantees poverty for billions of people along with widespread ecological devastation; the journalistic norm reflexively depicts “free traders” as laudable opponents of “protectionism” while they strive to protect the interests of transnational capital. But some of Newsweek’s readers must have been puzzled when the diatribe’s first paragraph included a passing mention of Porto Alegre in the same inky breath as Seattle and Quebec City. The Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in late 1999, of course, generated massive publicity. And the protests in Quebec sparked appreciable media coverage. But Porto Alegre?
For several days in late January 2001, about 4,700 delegates and 10,000 others from 122 countries participated in the first-ever World Social Forum. Gathering in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, attendees had no reason to clash with the governments of that city or the state of Rio Grande Do Sul. Both are in the elected hands of Brazil’s leftist Workers Party. In Porto Alegre, the party has been in power for a dozen years now.
The World Social Forum was a global first. Timed to coincide with the thirty-years-running annual conference of capitalist titans in Davos, Switzerland, the Forum came to be known as the “anti-Davos” event. And it was — but also, much more. Participants came together under the banner of a profound and subversive motto: “A different world is possible.”
In sharp contrast to earlier key events such as the “Battle of Seattle” and the D.C. protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in April 2000, the World Social Forum received little attention in U.S. media. Yet, for the emerging global movement against neo-liberalism, the Forum was an important watershed. And the character of U.S. media coverage of events in Porto Alegre — scant in quantity and dubious in quality — was part of a continuum of how major U.S. news outlets have responded to the upsurge of resistance to globalized corporate power since November 1999.
When thousands of activists converged on Seattle to confront the WTO, they were on a collision course with a decade of media support for “free trade.” During the 1990s, a painstaking process of research, education and organizing had occurred below the media radar screen. Meanwhile, for the overwhelming bulk of U.S. media, the virtues of corporate globalization were self-evident, like motherhood and mass-produced apple pie — and the media “debate” mostly resembled the sound of one side clapping. But the strength of a growing movement had become evident enough that by the time mid-autumn 1999 rolled around, no one could accuse the U.S. media of downplaying the WTO summit.
The business press was the first to voice great alarm. Business Week published a downbeat piece by Jeffrey Garten, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, who declared: “In late November, Seattle is likely to be the scene of a big test for global capitalism. That’s when more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] are planning to disrupt the kickoff of a new round of global trade negotiations.” He fretted that NGOs “have skillfully exploited the void between shrinking governments unable to cushion the impact of change on ordinary citizens and multinational companies that are the agents of that change.” He added that “while governments and chief executives bore the public and the media with sterile abstractions about free markets, NGOs are sending more nuanced messages sensitive to the anxieties of local communities around the world.” And he warned: “If Washington and Corporate America don’t move decisively, NGOs could dominate public opinion on global trade and finance.”2
Four weeks before the Seattle confrontations, the Washington Post echoed such anxiety with a front-page article under the headline “Trade Body Summit Targeted for Protests.” The influential newspaper reported that the WTO had long faced “virulent opposition” — an assessment not quoted or attributed to anyone, presumably just a matter of objective fact. After this characterization of WTO opponents in the fourth paragraph, the Post prominently quoted several pro-WTO sources: the head of the organization, a top executive at the Goldman Sachs investment firm, the U.S. trade representative and a member of the British House of Commons. (Presumably due to its own liberalism, the Post preferred not to quote someone from the House of Lords.) Foes of the WTO got few words in edgewise.
As WTO delegates from around the world and protesters poured into Seattle, the media spin, already frenetic, approached warp speed. Key media outlets were inclined to portray anti-WTO activists as simplistic naysayers trying to spoil the corporate party. A front-page New York Times article reported on November 28 that the WTO talks would “test support for freer trade in both rich and poor countries, especially since delegates will face a giant, 1960s-style protest campaign meant to mobilize worldwide opposition to new trade efforts.” Just to make sure readers got the (stereotypical) point, the Times explained in the second paragraph of another prominent article the same day that protesters “are planning to turn what initially sounded like the yawner of all international meetings — a gathering of trade ministers from 135 countries to start the ‘Millennium Round’ of trade liberalization talks — into the Woodstock of the era of globalization.”
For the World Trade Organization, five years of a free ride in U.S. news coverage suddenly came to a crashing halt. Fully accustomed to operating with scant media scrutiny in this country, the WTO was apt to seem distant, aloof and fully protected from the intervention of mere mortals. But on Tuesday, November 30, thousands of mere mortals threw themselves onto the gears of global trade designed by the rich and powerful. The Oz-like curtain shielding the operators of corporate machinery went up in smoke — symbolized by the tear gas and pepper spray wafting over Seattle.
The broad base of the protests in Seattle compelled media attention. To apologists for huge inequities on a global scale, the ministerial gathering turned nightmarish as happy-face stickers fell off the WTO. When the summit collapsed, mainstream U.S. news outlets initially seemed to go into shock. Failure to launch a new round of global trade talks stunned many journalists who were accustomed to covering the WTO with great reverence. But it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the Seattle protests resonated not only in other countries but also across the United States — especially among people on lower rungs of the economic ladder.
A Pew Research Center survey in spring 1999 found that “among Americans in families earning $75,000 or more, 63 percent see globalization as positive.” In contrast, “among the half of American adults in families earning less than $50,000, the positive view of globalism is held by just 37 percent.” Overall, the response to corporate globalization has been steeply skewed by class. Meanwhile, journalists working for corporate institutions function largely in sync with corporatizing agendas — as they labor within the structural realities of mass media, determined by ownership, advertising and “public”-broadcast underwriting.
In the wake of Seattle, news outlets quickly moved from shock into other stages of grief. Rather than illuminate the anti-democratic core of global economic institutions like the WTO, denial was routine. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote: “The more countries trade with one another, the more they need an institution to set the basic rules of trade, and that is all the WTO does.” (Friedman mixed his denial with anger. While the summit was coming unraveled, he devoted a column to lashing out at anti-WTO protesters — “a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.”) Near the top of its December 13, 1999 cover story, Newsweek described the WTO as merely “the small, Geneva-based bureaucracy that the United States and 134 other nations set up five years ago to referee global commerce.”
Working inside the limits of corporate-owned media, some journalists sounded wistful as they described unconstrained media efforts during the summit. On “World News Tonight,” ABC correspondent Brian Rooney reported: “The meeting of the World Trade Organization was a turning point for the so-called independent media — small, partisan news organizations and individual reporters with political opinions they could never express in the mainstream media.” But why are there widely held “political opinions” that American reporters “could never express in the mainstream media”? The ABC News report on national television didn’t explain. But it did provide a clue, mentioning that independent journalists “got out a worldwide message about the working poor, endangered species and the power of the World Trade Organization.”
The big news magazines were resolute in trying to face down the anti-corporate menace. Both of the commentaries in Time’s post-Seattle package stressed the foolishness of the “antis” and the wisdom of corporate globalizing known as “free trade.” In a piece headed “Return of the Luddites,” Charles Krauthammer mocked what he called the “kooky crowd” protesting in Seattle — “one-world paranoids”; “apolitical Luddites, who refuse to accept that growth, prosperity and upward living standards always entail some dislocation”; and “the leftover left.” Krauthammer’s essay was typeset around a photo of union activists protesting the WTO. The picture had a pithy caption: “KOOKY CROWD. Motley remnants of the old left found their voice in Seattle.”
To accentuate the positive, Time gave Michael Kinsley a page to displace the errors of anti-WTO thinking. (For years, appearing as co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” he purportedly represented “the left.”) Kinsley wrote an ode to corporate “free trade” that ended with these reassuring words: “But really, the WTO is O.K. Do the math. Or take it on faith.”
Simultaneously on magazine racks was Newsweek’s cover story — an eleven-page spread, heavy on photos and breathless descriptions of the street clashes in Seattle. The only commentary piece ran under the byline of the frequently tapped Fareed Zakaria, with a long headline: “After the Storm Passes. The protesters didn’t have their facts right, and may hurt the very causes they claim to care about. Why good drama can make bad history.” Chosen by Newsweek to illuminate it all, the erudite pundit came through. “What happened in Seattle was an unmitigated disaster,” Zakaria asserted, going on to decry “a disparate and motley crew of protesters” and bemoan “the carnival tactics of a small but effective minority.” He explained: “The expansion of free trade has been one of Washington’s most remarkable acts of global leadership this century — benefiting hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of people across the world.”
Among “history’s striking regularities,” Noam Chomsky has observed, is that “those in a position to impose their projects not only hail them with enthusiasm but also typically benefit from them, whether the values professed involve free trade or other grand principles, which turn out in practice to be finely tuned to the needs of those running the game and cheering the outcome.”3
Four and a half months after the tear gas cleared in Seattle, thousands of protesters converged on the nation’s capital, setting out to disrupt high-level meetings of the World Bank and IMF while helping to build a global movement. Media invective was in the cards.
As a warm-up, the Wall Street Journal began a lead editorial4 with the declaration that protesters “will be bringing their bibs and bottles to the nation’s capital this week to have a run at the annual spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank.” In the next sentence the newspaper labeled the array of expected protesters “a smorgasbord of save-the-turtles activists, anarchists, egalitarians, Luddites and Marxists.” The editorial went on to describe the upcoming demonstrations as “anti-trade” – – a claim that commonly makes its way into news stories and punditry. But protesters against the IMF and World Bank did not take to the streets in opposition to “trade” any more than those who fought to outlaw slavery were against work.
“We are not against trade,” says Haiti’s president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, “we are not against free trade, but our fear is that the global market intends to annihilate our markets. We will be pushed to the cities, to eat food grown on factory farms in distant countries, food whose price depends on the daily numbers game” of the global marketplace. In his 2000 book Eyes of the Heart, Aristide wrote that the austerity programs championed by the IMF and World Bank offer “a choice between death and death” in poor countries. For instance: “Haiti, under intense pressure from the international lending institutions, stopped protecting its domestic agriculture while subsidies to the U.S. rice industry increased. A hungry nation became hungrier.” On a planet with half of the population — 3 billion people — living on less than two dollars a day, “the statistics that describe the accumulation of wealth in the world are mind-boggling…. Behind this crisis of dollars there is a human crisis: among the poor, immeasurable human suffering; among the others, the powerful, the policy makers, a poverty of spirit which has made a religion of the market and its invisible hand. A crisis of imagination so profound that the only measure of value is profit, the only measure of human progress is economic growth.”5
The “A-16 ” protests in D.C., in mid-April 2000, turned up the heat on the top two international lending institutions, again putting leaders of global economic structures on the defensive. Not content with preemptive raids on movement headquarters and early roundups of lawful demonstrators, authorities felt compelled to again unleash tear gas and militarized police actions. Despite the usual media filters, some critiques of “structural adjustment programs” got into major news outlets. And the burgeoning role of Independent Media Centers (http://www.indymedia.org/) initiated in Seattle, and other efforts to provide unfettered worldwide communications, drew more attention from mainstream journalists. Their take was revealing, sometimes perhaps unintentionally.
The world’s leading cable news network, CNN, became fascinated with “independent media.” Journalism free of huge economic interests — what a concept! “Modern-day demonstrators say you just can’t trust folks like us, the so-called corporate media,” a CNN anchor explained, introducing a report that aired repeatedly over a two-day period. Correspondent Brooks Jackson took it from there. “They call themselves the independent media,” he said, and that means working without ties to the large corporations of the media world. “Global corporate media? Gee, that would be us,” Jackson deadpanned, “CNN, owned by Time Warner, soon to be merged with America Online. They don’t like us very much. They want to tell their story their way.”
Naturally, CNN proceeded to tell their story CNN’s way. The report allowed the “independent journalists” just a few tightly snipped words in edgewise. But at least one incisive remark from an indy journalist made it through the network’s editing gauntlet: “We believe that objectivity is, in fact, a myth — that everyone has a bias, everyone has an agenda — and that corporations like major news corporations have a corporate bias.” Getting even a few seconds to make that point on CNN amounted to a bit of a breakthrough, although the correspondent’s narration was intent on maintaining a bemused tone. Meanwhile, as usual, self-satire on CNN’s part appeared to be inadvertent.
Midway through the report, one of the independent journalists complained that on television, “Usually the corporate folks get the last word.” Sure enough, a minute later CNN’s Jackson got the last word, reading the end of the script as he noted “some unintended irony — a protest against globalism covering itself on the World Wide Web.” It was the kind of quip that goes over big in network studios, a smirky tag line with insight more apparent than real. In this case, the correspondent provided an easy cliché — obscuring the vast distinction between international solidarity and corporate globalization.
(These days, news stories about “independent media” often emphasize the use of digital technology and the Internet. But the crucial successes are human rather than technical. No matter how modern the high-tech streaming of audio and video, it wouldn’t matter much if people across the country and around the planet weren’t eager to find out what anti-corporate activists are doing and why they’re doing it.)
Within the constraints of corporate journalism, mass media coverage of the IMF/World Bank protests included some valuable reporting. For instance, Time magazine’s April 24, 2000 edition had a short trenchant piece headlined “The IMF: Dr. Death?” Such content can break into mainstream media today because — for years and decades — activists as well as small progressive media projects have persisted in challenging the power of corporate globalizers while large media outlets could hardly have seemed to care less.
In late January 2001, the annual celebration of a corporatized future in Davos faced, for the first time, an opposing counterpoint event from the global South. Resistance to neo-liberalism was the most fundamental point of unity for the World Social Forum, which drew large numbers from Latin America and sizeable participation from elsewhere in the Third World as well as Western Europe, but scant representation from the United States. While an unspoken precept of the Davos elites might be “A different world is impossible, and we intend to keep it that way,” the gathering in Porto Alegre threw down a gauntlet by insisting that “A different world is possible.” The World Social Forum was auspicious, maybe even momentous, because it clearly sprang from strong global activism on behalf of huge grassroots constituencies.
An independently produced satellite TV discussion between Davos and Porto Alegre aimed at exploring common ground. There wasn’t much. The official Davos conference refused to participate, but a few of the less corporatist Davos-ites — including George Soros and a UN official — did take part. The “compassionate” liberalism that they voiced from Davos encountered an angry critique from a panel in Porto Alegre. The telecast underscored the enormous gap between the liberal wing of neo-liberalism and the international movement arrayed against it.
In Porto Alegre, the attendance exceeded expectations, with overflow crowds. Sixteen plenaries and dozens of special sessions combined with hundreds of workshops. But the numbers were much less important than the energy, spirit and acute awareness of being part of a truly global and ascending movement. “Across the world, a thousand and one new forces are emerging,” Eduardo Galeano said from the stage of a sizeable theater so crowded and besieged that those locked out chanted to prevent his presentation from going forward, until the doors re-opened to allow them to sit in aisles and on the floor of the stage.
“Let’s save pessimism for better times,” Galeano suggested, repeating advice that he attributed to graffiti on a wall in a South American city. He challenged the propaganda and process of corporate domination (“the McDonaldization of the planet”), a form of globalization that means “the imposition of a single culture, a culture that spreads through the media.” Meanwhile, our societies suffer from “fear of solitude … fear of dying, fear of living.” The prevailing system breeds passivity: “Quietism is based on fear.”
“The system presents itself as eternal,” Galeano noted. “The power system tells us that tomorrow is another word for today.” As for forces of resistance and social justice, it’s necessary to move beyond rigid ideologies; the cold war split “human rights” into two parts, but social and economic rights should be indivisible. And, Galeano insisted, “There is no greater truth than search for truth.”
The practical idealism of the Workers Party was profoundly important in helping to set the tone for much of the World Social Forum. “I don’t know about other continents … but Latin America begins to breathe in a different way,” said one Brazilian speaker in a session on participatory democracy in Porto Alegre. “We’re moving towards an egalitarian left, and this is the reflection we want here.” Presentations described, in detail, the city’s Participatory Budget. With the state of Rio Grande Do Sul also a Workers Party government, state official Iria Charão emphasized that “the organizing of popular participation is the key.”
When work began on the state’s first participatory budget, in 1999, the process involved 190,000 people. “They debated, created and voted on proposals for their municipality or region, and selected agriculture as its first priority, education second and health third,” according to a news release. “In the year 2000, participation reached 281,000 people with education as the highest priority, agriculture second and public transport in third place. Organized into twenty-two regions in Rio Grande do Sul, the Participatory Budget is a process that radicalizes democracy, but respecting local and regional differences.” Said Charão, special secretary of the Community Relations Council of the state government: “We managed to give citizens a wake-up call and encourage them to take the important matter of participation into their own hands. They not only indicate where public money is spent but also to make sure that the money, which is all of ours, is going to the right place.”6
Outside the bounds of electoral politics, and determined to stay independent of any political party, is the MST — the nation’s landless movement. Despite governmental crackdowns in some regions of Brazil, the mass movement of impoverished peasants continues to take possession of unused land so that it can become life-sustaining. The MST had a major presence at the World Social Forum, where a landless leader declared: “Only mass struggle can change the balance of power…. We believe that the most radical way to bring about land reform is to cut down the fences…. To change the balance of power, we have to get people together.” And he said pointedly: “It’s not enough to be for the poor. You also have to be against the rich.”
At one of the workshops, I heard a lively discussion that included a panel of people from Asia, Europe, the United States and Latin America. “Neo-liberalism is an ideological bloc that affects many aspects of our lives,” a European speaker from Friends of the Earth noted. “The alternative to the WTO is pluralism in world trade,” said Filipino researcher and activist Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South, based in Bangkok. Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization was upbeat: “It’s the political moment, it’s ours to seize, and we’re limited only by what we think is possible.”
Much of the best international coverage of the World Social Forum, not surprisingly, came in the form of numerous daily dispatches from InterPress Service. As participants headed home, IPS journalist Mario Osava wrote in an analytical piece: “The World Social Forum is a child of 1968. The struggles that exploded in the 1960s produced the myriad organizations that are now trying to surmount the challenges posed by their own diversity.” The article added:
The various struggles of the 1960s occurred in parallel but were often mutually exclusive. The student rebellion in Paris was a long way from the guerrillas fighting in Latin America, most of whom, aligned with Cuba, could not understand the European students’ rejection of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The revolutions they pursued followed divergent roads. Some fought for the dictatorship of the proletariat while others fought for democracy, sexual freedom, gender equality, recognition of civil rights for blacks in the United States, or the survival of indigenous peoples worldwide.
The era also marked the beginning of environmental movements, campaigns to reform psychiatric hospitals and to integrate people with mental or physical handicaps into larger society.
Amid defeats or partial advances, the idea of diversity triumphed as a universal value — respect for differences, opposition to the conformity of industrial society and to the reduction of variety, whether natural or cultural. Equality was no longer confused with uniformity.
The natural consequence was a dispersal of the progressive forces into isolated movements, reflected in the proliferation of non-governmental organizations [NGOs], each dedicated to specific actions or issues, such as feminism, human rights, street children, or cancellation of the foreign debt.
With the World Social Forum, it seems that cycle is ending and a process of convergence is getting underway.
Environmentalists, feminists, union leaders, peasant farmers, blacks and indigenous peoples, pacifists or guerrilla supporters, democrats and revolutionaries, utopia-seekers of all degrees, gathered in an effort to combine forces.
The emblem of the World Social Forum is a mosaic, a whole that preserves the identity of its parts, respects diversity, but points in the direction of “another possible world.”….
Many World Social Forums, to be held annually, will likely be needed to prove that it is indeed possible to unite groups this diverse and numerous in an effective movement, one that could represent the rebirth of the left.
The overarching challenge is to design global alternatives that are feasible, less utopian, though without renouncing the radical transformation of the world that the rebels of 1968 sought, and which their current heirs also seem to want.
Mainstream news editors had access to plenty of wire copy from the World Social Forum, which was attended by about 1,700 jpurnalists. For a week, some of the world’s biggest news services — including the Associated Press — produced a steady stream of decently informative news reports from Porto Alegre. An early AP story quoted a Forum organizer, Maria Luisa Mendonça of the Brazil-based Global Justice Center: “We have been seeing, in the last few years, that there is a lot of opposition to the neo-liberal economic model, usually through big protests like the ones in Seattle and in Washington [D.C.]. Now we have an opportunity to show that these groups not only oppose this economic model, but they have concrete proposals to change it.”
After the World Social Forum adjourned, when I did a search of the comprehensive Nexis database, it was clear that the event didn’t make the U.S. media cut. The Washington Post did better than most outlets, but it wasn’t much — a single news story, on January 27, portraying the just-underway Porto Alegre event as restrained. The Los Angeles Times didn’t mention the World Social Forum at all. Neither did USA Today.
During the week of the Forum, the U.S. “paper of record” – the New York Times — published only one paragraph on the subject, rendered in McPaper roundup style. “BRAZIL: ORDERED OUT — The French farm workers’ leader José Bové, best known for vandalizing McDonald’s restaurants to protest globalization, has been detained by the federal police and ordered to leave Brazil. The action came after Mr. Bové, at a forum in Porto Alegre held to counter a world leaders’ meeting in Davos, Switzerland, joined Brazilian farmers in attacking a farm owned by the Monsanto Corporation, which grows genetically modified soybeans.”
Readily available AP stories had offered much more context for the Bové incident. For instance: “Bové and about 1,300 farmers destroyed five acres of soybeans at the Monsanto farm near Porto Alegre last Friday, saying the beans were genetically engineered. At the Forum’s closing rally, Bové urged the Landless Workers’ Movement to reoccupy the farm and turn it into an environmentally friendly operation.” At that rally, thousands of people chanted: “Bové is my friend, touch him and you touch me.”
Landless workers of Brazil and a leader of French farmers joined together to fight for redistribution of land, social justice and environmental protection. It was a dramatic alliance — just one of many that flowered at a highly disciplined and creative conference of activists from all over the world. There were hundreds of other highly significant stories to be told from the World Social Forum. Most U.S. news outlets didn’t tell even one.
National Public Radio did send a correspondent to Porto Alegre, and a pair of his reports aired. On “Morning Edition,” NPR’s Martin Kaste provided a rather cheerful definition of “neo-liberalism,” describing it as “the American-inspired philosophy that smaller government is better.” His report from Porto Alegre on “All Things Considered” mentioned a proposed policy step toward reducing the world’s extreme economic disparities, but the subject came up not to be explored but to serve as a setup for a cutesy — and disparaging — tag line: “One of the most talked-about plans is a worldwide tax on international financial transactions, something that defenders say could raise money for developing countries while at the same time making it harder to move funds across borders,” the news story recounted. “Even this concept, however, is not embraced by everyone. At the start of the conference, an anti-globalization delegate from Holland was seen loudly cursing the Brazilian cash machines for not accepting her Dutch ATM card.”
Weeks later, the Financial Times published a prominent long piece — headlined “Attack on Planet Davos” — straining to depict the World Social Forum as a haven for ultra leftist dogma and fossilized rhetoric.7 In the United States, with news coverage thin and fleeting, the public ended up learning little about events in Porto Alegre. Even progressive U.S. media outlets generally gave the World Social Forum short shrift, with the notable exception of an in-depth and insightful account by Naomi Klein that appeared in The Nation under the apt heading “A Fete for the End of the End of History.”
The first World Social Forum was a smashing success. The second is scheduled to convene, again in Porto Alegre, simultaneous with the Davos gathering at the end of January 2002 (see: www.worldsocialforum.org). The third Forum is to take place in another country, as yet undecided.
Meanwhile, more confrontational facets of the anti-global-corporatization movement are compelling extensive media coverage.
As police in Quebec City fired rubber bullets through tear gas in late April, many reporters echoed the claim that “free trade” promotes democracy. Meanwhile, protesters struggled to shed light on a key fact: The proposed hemispheric trade pact would give large corporations even more power to override laws that have been enacted — democratically — to protect the environment, labor and human rights.
The ABC television program “This Week” deigned to air a discussion with a real-live progressive activist, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Journalist Cokie Roberts voiced befuddlement: “It’s gotten to the point where any time there are global meetings, world leaders meeting, we have a sense that the protesters are going to be there, and there’s not much sense of exactly what you’re protesting.” The interview only lasted a couple of minutes.
Major news outlets showed little interest in the content of alternative forums in Quebec City that drew thousands of activists from all over the hemisphere. Likewise, a big march in the city, with some estimates ranging aBové 60,000 participants, got underwhelming coverage. For that matter, most reporters didn’t seem very deeply interested in the several thousand people who bravely engaged in militant, nonviolent direct action — risking and sometimes sustaining injuries from police assaults — while confronting the official summit.
It’s difficult to find a mainstream U.S. newspaper or magazine with substantial circulation that does not editorially support accords and structures like NAFTA, WTO and the new FTAA. The corporate media spectrum ranges from the hard-right conservatism of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page to the opinion pages of the New York Times, where entrenched pundits stick to more or less the same globalization line. While heads of state prepared to leave the Quebec summit, Paul Krugman ended his column by writing that the protesters “are doing their best to make the poor even poorer.” Two days later, Thomas Friedman concluded his column by explaining that “these ‘protesters’ should be called by their real name: The Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor.” Such barrages of media caricatures and distortion are among the greatest obstacles to overcome for a movement that insists on making a different world possible.
1. Fareed Zakaria, “The New Face of the Left,” Newsweek, April 30, 2001, p. 32.
2. Jeffrey Garten, “A Sophisticated Assault on Global Capitalism,” Business Week, November 8, 1999, p. 24
3. Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000)
4. Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2000.
5. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000), pp. 5, 6, 10, 12, 16.
6. For further discussion of the Participatory Budget process in Porto Alegre and Rio Grande Do Sul, see Julio C. Gambina, “The Crisis of Representation in Argentina: Guidelines for an Alternative Project,” Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall-Winter 2000, p. 38.
7. Financial Times, February 24, 2001.
8. The Nation, March 19, 2001.