Scoop Feature: Today Is Mayday2k!
For more information on MAYDAY2K including live coverage of the protests --> see Scoop's May Day 2k special at http://www.scoop.co.nz/frames/mayday2k.html.
The capacity of the internet to enable networking among political interest groups has emerged over the past 12 months in a spectacular fashion. Scoop's Alastair Thompson backgrounds the Mayday2k protest movement in a feature article first published in Loop Magazine.
The impact of a few key news-groups and list serves on the genetic modification debate has been roundly acknowledged.
On June 18 1999 a new phase internet activism, or perhaps just activism in general, presented itself in the form of a large riot in downtown London. Thousands of apparently uncoordinated anarchist activists took to the streets and caused £2 million damage to shop frontages and police property in the space of a few hours.
J18 as it was known - named after the list-serve list around which it was organised - was quickly replaced by N30 - November 30th. The difference in the scale of J18 and N30 was spectacular. N30 shut down Seattle's WTO meeting for a morning and running battles on the streets between demonstrators and police will not quickly be forgotten by Seattle's civic and police leaders.
In London anarchists occupied Euston Station attacked a police van and a running battle developed.
The activities of the anarchists in particular - who smashed the windows of symbols of corporate greed - McDonalds, Starbucks, Nike, The Gap in Seattle - attracted much of the attention but much, much more was underway in N30.
Environmentalists, labour movements, human rights movements, anarchists, communists, homeless support movements all pursued a common purpose - highlighting the failure of capitalism to deliver social justice and the kind of world that the activists are comfortable living in.
Encapsulating the purpose of the internet networked protest movement is far from easy as its constituents have such diverse views.
This is not holding the movement back however and now the internet network is organising again - this time on a truly global scale with actions planned so far in at least 20 countries and 70 cities. In New York activists will attempt to shut down Wall St for the day - in London a four day anti-capitalist festival is planned. More actions are planned in Australia, all over the US, Spain, France, Italy, New Zealand, the list is growing daily.
In all of this one thing can probably be said with certainty. Some of the actions will include more violence against property. And it is probably this aspect of this new internet activist movement which so alarms political and commercial leaderships.
In Seattle the property violence was of a new kind unseen before. Organised groups - cells - of activists armed with cell-phones and hammers distributed themselves around the city. On cue they pulled their hammers from their back packs and set about smashing windows - an activity that has since acquired the moniker "starbucking" a reference to some particularly graphic footage of a Starbucks being trashed at the height of the Seattle protests.
The property violence was highly organised, finely targeted, and was in no way like a riot, though it did spark a riot when some less well organised locals got in on the action. Most of the damage was done in just two hours and the perpetrators largely escaped arrest.
Peaceful activists - and the majority of the 50,000 odd demonstrators in Seattle were clearly peaceful and committed to non-violence - were placed in a difficult position by the property violence. Some tried to defend chain stores from the "radicals" by linking hands around the stores and calling "shame" at the black-clad avengers. These actions in particular led to a very thorough post-mortem on the list-serves among the activist groups. The anarchists resented the actions of the non-violence enthusiasts and vice versa.
For their part the anarchists, some of whom say they are humanists, and who arguably started this new protest movement were always very unlikely to change their tactics. Indeed they are increasingly gaining support from more respectable quarters - recently London Mayoral candidate Ken (Red Ken) Livingstone said he had always favoured "direct action" in a reference to J18. UK PM Tony Blair was not impressed.
Livingstone went on to say he would not invite the WTO to London "unless we can get vast stocks to put them in so that we can throw stuff at them in an organised way".
Significantly the power of the internet to enable these issues of violence/non-violence to be discussed in depth, and very quickly among a global community, quickly resolved the differences within the movement itself.
At this stage it appears to now be generally accepted among those contributing to the news groups - and organising actions - that in deference to the common cause and common enemy different methods of activism will be tolerated. Those who are alarmed about this may take some comfort in the fact that violence against people is not being justified or argued in favour of at this stage.
That said there are clearly risks that the internet networked protest movement could move to another level. In the middle of the N30 protests a Phillipines anti-capitalist group launched a couple of rockets at Shell headquarters.
The beauty of the internet as a networking vehicle for protesting is immediately apparent. Communication is free and provided ironically - in the case of N30 - by the same corporates that the activists are so keenly opposed to. The main N30 listserve was hosted on listbot.com a subsidiary of Microsoft!
The internet network allows movements in different parts of the world to swap experiences, seek advice and support and perhaps equally important - resolve internal differences. No one is in charge and innovation is what it is all about.
Just one example of what this means in practice: Several weeks after the N30 protests a group of Canadian activists stormed a posh hotel stole the buffet lunch and distributed it to the homeless and hungry. Like the N30 anarchists they escaped without being arrested and told their story on the net.
Thus in the midst of the protest actions the internet provides a medium through which the protestors can communicate with each other - and tell their own stories about what has happened. Even if the mainstream media ignore what is happening - and increasingly they aren't - the internet ensures that the news of what is going on does get out.
NZ Mayday2k organisers homepage
Mid-Atlantic Infoshop Mayday2k Site
Reclaim the Streets--London
Student Alliance to Reform Corporations
Lobster Party MayDay site
London MayDay actions
Peoples' Global Action
MayDay History and Info
50 Years is Enough; anti-IMF/World Bank
M1 Events in Canada
Mayday 2000 - Manchester