Sept. 11 Attack Derails Global Social Justice?
Sept. 11 Attack Derails Global Social Justice Movement?
BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A
from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine
"Between The Lines"
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media
For release Nov. 26, 2001
Have the Sept. 11th Attacks Derailed the Global Social Justice Movement?
* From Ottawa, the site of the November World Bank/International Monetary Fund summit, author and spiritual activist Starhawk assesses the impact of the attacks on New York City and Washington on activists organizing opposition to corporate-led globalization.
Plans for a massive demonstration against the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund scheduled to coincide with the financial institution's annual meeting Sept. 30 in Washington D.C. were called off when the summit itself was canceled in the wake of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. The growing global social justice movement had expected 50,000 to 100,000 activists to participate in a variety of actions calling attention to economic policies that protesters say exacerbate poverty around the world and enrich wealthy corporations.
After canceling their Washington gathering, the World Bank and IMF rescheduled their summit to meet in Ottawa Nov. 17th and 18th. With short notice, activists from Canada and around the hemisphere pulled together a number of demonstrations to greet delegates of the financial institution. But police reacted to the several thousand protesters that came to Ottawa with what many describe as excessive force. Rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannons were fired at demonstrators, with many suffering bites from police dogs used for crowd control. In the end some 50 activists were arrested, with only a few held on serious charges.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with author and spiritual activist Starhawk. Starhawk, who led non-violence trainings at the Ottawa actions, and was briefly detained with dozens of others at the U.S.-Canadian border, she says, due to her activism. She reports from Ottawa on how the Sept. 11th terror attacks have affected the organizing and agenda of the global social justice movement.
Starhawk: Gandhi did say that first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win. By that token, we should be close to winning. I think we're having a tremendous effect and I think the level of the attacks and the repression comes because we're really hitting at the heart of the beast. We're talking about the basic economic system of global corporate capitalism that is at the core of all of these issues that so many of us are deeply concerned about and I think that's hitting them where it hurts. They are desperately and sometimes quite ruthlessly trying to defend it. But each time they do, in one sense, they lose a certain amount of legitimacy. If they are saying that these institutions represent democracy all over the world, they are attacking peaceful protesters with police dogs, there's a disconnect and that piles up. Also what we saw in the meetings here -- the IMF and the World Bank -- is that their entire agenda now has been influenced by the protests. They're not actually doing anything, but at least at this point, they realize they have to give lip service to the idea of debt reduction; they were talking about "Oh, yes, we have to work together, rich and poor countries, we have to reduce the debt." We'll see if they'll really do any of that. But the fact that they're doing any of that lip service basically means that there are other issues that they are not getting to and there are other agendas they are not able to push forward.
Between The Lines: How do you think the Sept. 11 terror attacks have changed the climate here in the United States and around the world for the social justice movement? I'm certain it has provided new challenges to the movement. Many people are diverting their attention to protesting the pursuit of war against terrorism and are looking for peaceful solutions to terrorism rather than more violence. Where are the events of Sept. 11 taking the global social justice movement, in your opinion?
Starhawk: I think Sept. 11 has made our work much more challenging because first of all, it's allowed the right wing to jumpstart a lot of their agenda. I think some of that is wearing off now and I think that there are things we are going to really prevent them from pushing through. But it definitely gave them a good, little leap ahead on a lot of different things. It definitely intensified the climate of repression and it made it a lot harder to get public attention. I think, though, that if we respond to these challenges creatively, it's also opened up some tremendous opportunities.
Yes, a lot of people are focusing on the war, but I don't see the war as a separate issue to these global justice issues, the whole system of global injustice that creates a climate in which terrorism can flourish. Despair breeds terrorism. Despair also breeds the kinds of conditions that breed fundamentalism. When you have the kind of global culture of McDonald's and a sort of soul-less shopping mall culture that is being imposed over the entire world that disrupts traditions and traditional cultures and completely demoralizes whole cultures, those are the conditions that breed fundamentalism and people start to go looking for something else and generally the first answer (they find) is something rigid and clear and authoritarian and cleancut. So we've got to look at these larger global issues if we really want to deal with the root cause of the war. And we've got to look at the way that war and weaponry and American firepower is the ultimate backing for this global system that more and more countries don't want. In some ways, this war in Afghanistan is the way that the U.S. can show every other underdeveloped country in the world that when it comes right down to it, "we can blow you into dust."
Between The Lines: We are living in some very scary times. The right-wing is ascendant after the worst attacks on U.S. soil in our history killing 5,000 people in New York City and Washington. There's a kind of a tribalism, a nationalism here that has an ugly side to it. In the United States there is a visceral, negative reaction to those calling for peaceful, solutions to violence. Because the global social justice movement, or large elements of it, have cast their lot with those seeking peaceful solutions, could this, in your view undermine the potential for building a broad, powerful coalition of groups and individuals fighting for social justice in the future?
Starhawk: I don't think that it will in the long run. Again, if we're creative, if we can get out of our leftist little boxes, and language and actually talk in a language that people can understand.
The Sept. 11 attacks were horrific. They left us in a state of shock and grief and that can be a very powerful open state. I think that there is a way that the right wing and the media try to construct this story for us so that now everybody is behind Bush and everybody is a flag-waving patriot. It misses the real subleties and nuances of what most people are actually feeling. I think most people are not actually feeling rage: "Let's go get the Afghans." I think most people are feeling shocked, scared and confused. I think if we can start to actually speak to people about their real concerns, we have a chance to reach people in ways that maybe we haven't had before. But it requires us to not just do the things we've always done before, say the things we've always said before.
Starhawk's books include "The Twelve Wild Swans" and "The Spiral Dance." Visit her Web site at http://www.starhawk.org
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for the week ending 11/30/01.
Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Nov. 30, 2001.
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