Naomi Klein: Talk To Your Neighbor; It’s A Start


Richard Moore

Date: Wed, 02 May 2001 08:28:49 -0700
To: •••@••.•••,•••@••.•••
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: McProtests

Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

     Talk To Your Neighbor; It's A Start
     McProtests Forget That The Most Powerful Resistance Movements
     Are Always Deeply Rooted In Community
     by Naomi Klein

The idea of turning London into a life-sized Monopoly board
on May Day sounded like a great idea.

The most familiar criticism lobbed at modern protesters is
that they lack focus and clear goals such as "Save the
trees" or "Drop the debt." And yet these protests are a
response to the limitations of single-issue politics. Tired
of treating the symptoms of an economic model -- underfunded
hospitals, homelessness, widening disparity, exploding
prisons, climate change -- there is now a clear attempt to
"out" the system behind the symptoms. But how do you hold a
protest against abstract economic ideas without sounding
hideously strident or all over the map?

How about using the board game that has taught generations
of kids about land ownership? The organizers of yesterday's
May Day Monopoly protest issued annotated maps of London
featuring such familiar sites as Regent Street, Pall Mall,
and Trafalgar Square, encouraging participants to situate
their May Day actions on the Monopoly board. Want to protest
against privatization? Go to a rail station. Industrial
agriculture? McDonald's at King's Cross. Fossil fuels? The
electric company. And always carry your "get out of jail
free" card.

The problem was that, by yesterday afternoon, London didn't
look like an ingenious mix of popular education and street
theatre. It looked pretty much like every other mass protest
these days: demonstrators penned in by riot police, smashed
windows, boarded-up shops, running fights with police. And
in the pre-protest media wars, there was more déjà vu. Were
protesters planning violence? Would the presence of 6,000
police officers itself provoke violence? Why won't all the
protesters condemn violence? Why does everybody always talk
about violence?

This, it seems, is what protests look like today. Let's call
it McProtest, because it's becoming the same all over.

And, of course, this is becoming a kind of McColumn, because
I've written about all this before. In fact, almost all of
my recent columns have been about the right to assembly,
security fences, tear gas, and dodgy arrests. Or else
they've tried to dispel willful misrepresentations of the
protesters -- for instance, that they are "anti-trade," or
long for a pre-agrarian utopia.

It is an article of faith in most activist circles that mass
demonstrations are always positive: They build morale,
display strength, attract media attention. But what seems to
be getting lost is that demonstrations aren't themselves a
movement. They are only the flashy displays of everyday
movements, grounded in schools, workplaces and
neighbourhoods. Or at least they should be.

I keep thinking about the historic day, on March 11, when
the Zapatista commanders entered Mexico City. This was an
army that led a successful uprising against the state. And
yet the residents of Mexico City didn't quake in fear --
200,000 of them came out to greet the Zapatistas. Streets
were closed to traffic, yet no one seemed concerned about
the inconvenience to commuters. And shopkeepers didn't board
up their windows; they held "revolution" sidewalk sales.

Is this because the Zapatistas are less dangerous than a few
urban anarchists in white overalls? Hardly. It was because
the march on Mexico City was seven years in the making (some
would say 500 years, but that's another story). Years of
building coalitions with other indigenous groups, with
workers in the maquiladoras,with students, with
intellectuals and journalists; years of mass consultations,
of open encuentros (meetings) of 6,000 people. The event in
Mexico City wasn't the movement; it was only a very public
demonstration of all that invisible, daily work.

The most powerful resistance movements are always deeply
rooted in community -- and are accountable to those
communities. But one of the greatest challenges of living in
the high consumer culture that was being protested in London
yesterday is the reality of rootlessness. Few of us know our
neighbours, talk about much more than shopping at work, or
have time for community politics. How can a movement be
accountable when communities are fraying?

Within a context of urban rootlessness, there are clearly
moments to demonstrate, but, perhaps more important, there
are moments to build the connections that make demonstration
something more than theatre. There are times when radicalism
means standing up to the police, but there are many more
times when it means talking to your neighbour.

The issues behind yesterday's May Day demonstrations are no
longer marginal. Food scares, genetic engineering, climate
change, income inequality, failed privatization schemes --
these are all front-page news. Yet something is gravely
wrong when the protests still seem deracinated, cut off from
urgent daily concerns. It means that the spectacle of
displaying a movement is getting confused with the less
glamorous business of building one.

Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "One cannot separate economics, political science, and
    history. Politics is the control of the economy. History,
    when accurately and fully recorded, is that story. In most
    textbooks and classrooms, not only are these three fields of
    study separated, but they are further compartmentalized into
    separate subfields, obscuring the close interconnections
    between them" -- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2,
    (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 22.

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