ppi.018-Geneva: It started out peacefully…


Richard Moore

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    a public service of CADRE (Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance)
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              ppi.018-Geneva: It started out peacefully...
                          Richard K. Moore

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Geneva, 16 May.  It was a clear sunny day at the Place de Neuve, and as the
demonstrators gathered for the "Manifestation" it was difficult not to
imagine oneself back in Golden Gate Park, or perhaps Berkeley, in the
sixties.  The demonstrators had come from Switzerland, Italy, and Germany,
and also were included many people from Africa, Latin America, India, and
other countries from what people here call "The South".  These
"Southerners" did not make the long journey here for the manifestation but
were already here for other reasons, as students, diplomatic interns, etc.

I've been told that Geneva is not accustomed to major street
demonstrations.  The occasion of this one was the upcoming "Ministerial"
meeting at the UN, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the GATT
(General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).  The bigwigs are gathering to
celebrate the progress of "free" trade, and the people gathered to protest
the suffering brought by that same "progress".

The banners and placards were militant and colorful... "The WTO kills
people: kill the WTO", "Free trade or liberty, you choose", "Solidarity
against Capitalism", "Globalization is global poverty", etc etc.  Most were
in French, many in German, many were cartoons/graphics, and some were
decorated vehicles ("floats"), so it is not easy for an inexperienced
reporter such as myself to adequately convey the picture to you.  Though
the messages were militant, the mood of the people was festive and
peaceful.  Except for a tiny few.

There were no police in evidence and the traffic had been rerouted to give
the parade a chance to go all the way across town up to almost the very
gates of the WTO building.  It was there that a police barrier and a
handfull of police with helmets and shields were encountered.  The crowd
remained peaceful and the speeches began.

After thirty minutes or so of speeches, out of the crowd flew a beer bottle
toward the police, and then another, and over a few minutes it grew to an
ongoing mini-barrage.  The police, to their credit, simply ignored the
bottles.  No _immediate harm was done, but I knew it was a very unwise
development and shouted out "Boo!" and "Stupido!" loud enough to be heard.
No one else seemed particularly concerned but the organizers of the days
events moved the truck and sound equipment well back out of the way and not
long thereafter the event was over, or so it seemed.

It was only while walking back to the center of town that I saw the damage
which had been done by a tiny minority... broken windows in banks and
MacDonalds, and at least one smashed car.  Please don't misunderstand, I'm
_not expressing "bourgeois outrage" at such minor damage -- if all the
MacDonalds in the world were to be destroyed (and especially if the
insurance companies refused to pay) the world would be a much better place,
imho, although I'm certainly not advocating any such tactics.

The point of my objection is that a _tiny minority was misrepresenting the
intent of the overwhelming majority of those who chose to "manifest", and
that the news reports will undoubtedly carry the whole thing as "a violent
demonstration by an unruly mob", which was _not the case.  If any of you
have seen reports on the days events here in Geneva I sincerely request
that you write in and describe their tenor.

And it got worse later.  I thought it was all over, and eventually ended up
at Flannigans (Geneva's "Irish pub" and where the "craic is great").  When
they kicked us out at 2 am and I went outside the pub I could hear the
helicopter.  It was circling and had one of those awful spotlights (one of
the things that drove me to leave the US when I did).  I could see the
spotlight was on the very plaza ("Place de Circque") near which I was
staying and that was also the campground for the manifestation organizers
and volunteers.

Hurrying down there to see what was going on I could hear the pops of tear
gas cannisters, and as I got still closer the sounds of rocks being thrown
could also be heard.  Again it was a tiny minority, perhaps a dozen, who
were making trouble while the bulk of the campers were sitting around
campfires at the other end of the park.  (How easily they could have stood
between the police and the idiots and put an end to the unfortunate
developments.)  Only in the morning did I find that several windows in
shops (random shops this time) had been broken as well as those of some
construction machinery that happened to be in the park.  The word on the
street became the next morning... "They pretend to be against
globalization, but they're attacking small shops.  Now they're gone and the
WTO can go on to do its work".

So what is the bottom line on all this?  No one was hurt (as far as I
know), the damage wasn't very extensive, and everything will be cleaned up
within a day or two.  The _point is that Geneva and the police had been as
cooperative as they could be to the demonstration planners.  They gave them
a good route; they stayed out of the way; they let the people have their
day.  But a tiny minority gave the whole thing a violent tone and the event
will be recorded as a "violent demonstration".  What do you think will
happen next time a demonstration is planned?  Will the city be as
welcoming?  Will the police come on the scene with a chip on their
shoulders?  Will 20,000 people again be willing to "manifest"?  Who has
benfitted from the semi-violent turn of events?

I now understand why the anti-Vietnam marches in Berkeley always had
"monitors" who marched alongside the parades, separating the demonstrators
from the police and from the windows.  Democracy is not about a minority
setting the agenda for the majority, whether that minority be a few fat
cats at the WTO or a few drunken kids who like to throw their empty beer
bottles at police (or a few hired agent provacateurs, which they may well
have been).

To the police in Geneva I, as one individual, express my apologies for the
behavior of the few and my gratitude that they did not respond with billy
clubs as they would have in the US or the UK.



                  "Seeking an Effective Democratic
                      Response to Globalization
                        and Corporate Power"
           an international workshop for activist leaders
        June 25 <incl> July 2 - 1998 - Nova Scotia - Canada
                  Restore democratic sovereignty
                  Create a sane and livable world
             Bring corporate globalization under control.
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