February 4, 2002

Manhattan Protests Conclude Peacefully

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NEW YORK CITY — It turns out that Manhattan was prepared to accommodate dissent as well as big business after all.

Fears that the World Economic Forum would spark civil unrest and result in a violent clash between protesters and the New York Police Department never materialized during the five-day anti-globalization convergence that concludes today. Instead, arrests were for mostly minor offenses and numbered in the dozens rather than the hundreds among protesters whose numbers were estimated between 7,000 and 15,000.

Activists opted by and large to attend public forums on Thursday and Friday in lieu of street demonstrations. Groups, including Students for Global Justice and International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), constructed a highly organized calendar of meetings and rallies to prepare protesters with discussions on various topics related to globalization.

One series of meetings, called a “Public Eye on Davos Conference,” addressed social and environmental impacts of corporate globalization, export credit agencies (such as the International Monetary Fund), corporate power in global governance and impacts on the lives of women.

Highly critical of the mass media, many demonstrators throughout the weekend distributed their own fliers and newspapers. Others snapped photographs and scribbled notes for independent documentation of the events.

“The main issue [appearing in the corporate media] is the terrorists, but a lot of people are getting laid off,” said Greg Hardison, a union steward for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 in Chicago, Ill.

Hardison said he traveled with other SEIU members from the midwest, because he was seeking peace. Gesturing to the crowd around him along Park Ave. across from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Hardison pointed to an assortment of placards that were as diverse as the people carrying them — but also urging for peace.

Clusters of people had begun assembling near the site of the World Economic Forum meetings in lower Manhattan at around 9 a.m. Saturday under signs calling for an end to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

There were the two elderly women wearing sweaters that read, ‘Grandmothers for Peace;’ signs demanding ‘Money for Wages, Not for War;’ and ‘Free Mumia,’ (Mumia Abu Jamal, the death row inmate in Pennsylvania). All the while, protesters intermingled behind police barricades between 50th and 53rd Streets.

Sarah Tew, a theatre teacher at the Hyde School in Woodstock, Conn. traveled with 13 of her high school students to attend the street demonstrations. The group stayed at the home of one student’s parents Friday night in Scarsdale, N.Y. and then managed their way to Park Ave. in time for a mid-day rally Saturday.

“There were a lot of public put-downs in school meetings,” Tew said, after she informed parents and teachers that she would help bring the students to Manhattan. “Many from the school disapproved because they claimed that the protesters didn’t stand for anything.”

As a result, the Hyde School students decided to bring along a banner that read ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall’ — including elements of disunity that they came up with.

Bear Kittay, a 16-year-old Hyde School student, pointed to the words ‘materialism’ and ‘militarism’ as he and his friends unfurled their sign.

“It’s almost like our personal selfishness turns into corporate greed,” he explained.

Along with the critique of global capitalism, scores of protesters turned out to express solidarity with the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Several wore hats bearing the New York Fire Department logo and denounced terrorism in its many forms.

Martha Grevatt, a volunteer with International A.N.S.W.E.R., wore an arm band to identify herself as part of the event security. While she stood across the barricade from the police, Grevatt described how this protest, in post-Sept. 11 New York, stood apart from earlier demonstrations in Quebec City, Quebec and Genoa, Italy — and especially in Davos, Switzerland.

“The weekend’s events were more peaceful,” she said.

Gazing at a nearby sign, she signaled that while only time will tell where the movement will lead, activists were correct to insist, as the sign declared: ‘Another World Is Possible.’

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch