Archive for December 19th, 2009

The Copenhagen protesters urinated on their own carpet this time. How so? Let’s go back to Seattle and before.

When the anti-globalization people began to get violent some years ago, I had to ask, “What are these people up to?” Other people had to ask the same thing: What do the protesters want? Do they want to make trouble? If you’re out there getting arrested, you generally have some purpose, some point you want to make. The protesters that caused so much trouble in Seattle and numerous other international summits seemed motivated by the opportunity to destroy things in public. They’re against multi-national corporations. They’re against governments that support multi-national corporations. You can’t actually tell what they’re for.

You couldn’t take these people seriously, until you saw the damage they caused in cities that weren’t ready for them. They came prepared for violence. The connection with angry uprisings in the 1960s came to mind, of course, but who could tell whether those revolutionary protests inspired these? Who do these protesters emulate? Che Guevara? The Weathermen? Abbie Hoffman? Do the new revolutionaries come to us like the spirit of Vietnam, the solidarity of shared anger lending a sense of belonging and purpose?

No doubt, the movement has sustained itself for  years now – energizing lots of followers, but not communicating anything concrete about what they’d like to see happen. They’re like the nihilists in The Big Lebowski: scary and ridiculous, violent and without purpose. The Coen brothers make fun of them, but they’re not so much fun when you meet them face to face. That threatening pose isn’t unintentional.

The media call them anti-globalization protesters. I started calling them globalization nuts for short. How can a person in this century be against globalization? I can’t even begin to grasp what that might mean. Are you against travel? Are you against reading and writing? Are you opposed to computer networks? Do you hate international trade? All of these things promote globalization. No, the protesters would say, we’re against United Fruit and their oppression of poor working people. We’re against all the blood-sucking corporations who take money from the little guy, so polluting fat cats can live in obscene luxury. You say we don’t have an agenda? That’s an agenda for you. Stop the oppression.

I guess I don’t see a strong connection between throwing bricks through plate glass windows at summit meetings and helping poor workers achieve a better life. If it worked in the sixties, they think, it should work now. We’ll descend on any city where world leaders gather, and we’ll make sure those leaders know we’re here. We don’t mess around. You can deploy your troops with riot gear, batons, water cannons and tear gas: we’re going to fuck you over good. You better believe it. We’re going to come at you with our clown costumes, our face paint, our black hoods and our bags full of bricks. We’re going to fight you and make you fight us.

When I heard that the Copenhagen police were preparing for violent protests at the just completed climate summit, I thought that was interesting news. Why would violent protesters come to this meeting, of all summits? The Copenhagen summit’s entire agenda focused on a favored set of issues: stop global warming, stop unsustainable use of non-renewable resources, stop powerful corporations from ruining the planet. You couldn’t ask for aims more congenial to the anti-globalization crowd. Live on a small scale. Consume conscientiously. Save our planet from the catastrophic effects of modern life.

They came anyway, and cheerleading isn’t their thing. Some came not to support the earnest leaders who met to negotiate agreements that advance the protesters’ dearest aims for international cooperation. The threatening carnival built and tension waxed until the summit’s second to last day. Then protesters deployed their conventional tactics and violence erupted. The police were ready, as they have been everywhere since the debacle in Seattle. Whatever else you say, the protesters proved they can carry their violence anywhere, anytime, no matter the forces arrayed against them. What’s the point?

Nihilists would say the same thing: what’s the point? We’re  here to fight authority, no matter who it is or what they want. We want to overturn the system – that’s the point. No matter that the delegates to the United Nations summit on global climate change wanted to overturn the system, too. The protesters have their standard operating procedures. They bring their drums, their placards and their face paint to every city. They know what to do when they get there. No one else truly understands why they come, but they know what to do: destroy things. Destroy as much as you can before you get arrested. We are the vandals of the twenty-first century, organized crime in clown suits.

Copenhagen was their party. The anti-globalization people had arrived, not a little ironically in one of the biggest global gatherings ever. The U. N.’s aims in Copenhagen were their aims. After destroying so much to make a point, they had a chance to build legitimate support for their movement. This was their party.

These protesters are sheep in wolves’ clothing, though. They’ve learned their tactics well, and they’re going to follow the group. The people who tried to break through the police lines in Copenhagen must have had a great sense of solidarity, the sense of closeness that helps soldiers in battle. They think they understand the purpose of their fight, but no one else does. How could anyone else understand? The protesters came to a party organized to help them out and they tried to crash it. When they couldn’t crash it they became more threatening and obnoxious. Then they urinated on the floor before they left.

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