GIobal Carnival Against Capital
by Katherine Ainger
Z magazine, September 1999
As G8 leaders met to shape the agenda for the global economy at the
summit in Koln, Germany on June 18 this year, 5,000 protesters carrying
signs saying "We ate the G" and "It's Stupid, the Economy"
were turning London's financial district upside down in a Carnival Against
Capital. Bankers and traders watched from behind their tinted office windows
as protesters played volleyball with inflatable globes and danced to samba
rhythms in the spray of a waterspout from a damaged fire hydrant.
The protest seemed to come out of nowhere. By the end of the day a group
of the protesters had invaded and trashed the ground floor of the London
International Financial Futures Exchange, three McDonalds had their windows
broken, two people had been run over by police vans, and riot police were
charging in. The sight of anarchy hitting the world's largest financial
center prompted newspaper headlines that denounced the protesters as "evil
savages," an ignorant "unwashed horde" hell-bent on turning
a "carnival into a riot."
Many of the scenes were undoubtedly ugly. But, in dismissing the protesters
as an inarticulate British subculture, the media were missing the biggest
story of the day. The carnival-goers in London-the majority of whom had
been non-violent in actions and intent-were members of a far larger, invisible,
but international constituency organizing around a common enemy: globalization.
The events in London were only one of many during the June 18 "international
day of action, protest, and carnival aimed at the heart of the global economy,"
when simultaneous protests against global capitalism, the international
financial system, and corporate power took place in 43 countries around
The response to globalization has resulted in some extraordinary new
coalitions. For example, this summer 400 Indian farmers invited by local
anti-globalization activists went on a month-long protest tour around centers
of power in Europe. The president of the All India Farmers Union, Vijay
Jawandia, said, "Those in the North have to understand our struggle
and to realize it is part of their own. Everywhere the rich are getting
richer, the poor poorer, and the environment is being plundered. Whether
in North or South, we all face the same future. "
New communications technology such as the Internet and email has played
an integral part in the process of economic globalization, but they have
also fuelled a parallel globalization of resistance. The idea for June 18
was proposed by British eco-activist group Reclaim the Streets, who had
organized illegal street parties against car-culture and capitalism. Circulated
on international email lists and through the Internet, the proposal caught
on and gathered momentum.
The June 18 events were as diverse as the groups taking part. In Barcelona
"street reclaimers" invoked the slogan of the rebellious Paris
students of 1968, "Sous les paves, la plage" ("Under the
sidewalk, the beach") and, dressed in swimming costumes, put out towels
and sun-bathed on the road, handed out french fries to commuters in their
cars, and later took part in a 700-strong street party. Music and dancing
also hit the streets of San Francisco with "art attackers" who,
armed with giant puppets and candy, lobbied those working for multinationals
that exploit sweatshop workers to take the day off work and "join the
revolution." In Melbourne, Australia, Kim Beazely, leader of the opposition,
received a custard pie in the face for speaking at a global trade conference
sponsored by Shell, while thousands of party goers in Sydney held up traffic
as a massive street festival got underway.
The National Alliance of People's Movements in India, a coalition of
200 grassroots organizations, declared they were taking part because so
many in India have "been marginalized by the market economy and World
Trade Organization policies," while in Pakistan union leaders risked
their lives to come out of hiding to protest for "bread, not nuclear
Most dramatically, 10,000 people in Port Harcourt, Nigeria gathered
to welcome back Dr. Owens Wiwa, younger brother of the executed Ogoni activist
Ken Saro-Wiwa, from a four-year exile. The crowd, led by a coalition of
indigenous activists, held a Carnival of the Oppressed against corporate
imperialism and the military dictatorship, during which they unofficially
renamed a main street Ken Saro-Wiwa Road, and blockaded the Shell office
headquarters. The singing and dancing in the streets brought the petroleum
capital of Nigeria to a standstill for the day.
A "virtual sit in" on behalf of the Zapatistas, prompted by
a group called Electronic Civil Disobedience, led to thousands of hits "flooding"
the website of the Mexican embassy in the UK. In Montevideo, Uruguay, protesters
took part in a parade through the Stock Exchange and McDonalds, accompanied
by a PVC jockey riding a giant Pollution Plastisaurus made of plastic rubbish
and ending with the ritual burning of a cardboard television as the "agent
of consumer-culture." A diverse coalition of religious groups took
to the streets in Brazil as part of the June 18 network to call for the
cancellation of Third World debt.
Street protests of various kinds-many targeting corporate headquarters
and stock exchanges-also took place in Tel Aviv, Minsk, Madrid, Valencia,
Prague, Hamburg, Koln, Milan, Rome, Siena, Florence, Ancona, Amsterdam,
Madrid, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Zurich, Geneva, Toronto, Vancouver,
Ottawa, Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Boston, and Eugene. The
website for June 18, which streamed live video images from Australia and
London on the day declared, "Our resistance is as transnational as
These new coalitions have been building since 1996, when Mexican Zapatistas
held an international Encuentro in Spain. Social and environmental movements
in North and South met and were strengthened by their common rejection of
their assigned role as "the expendable members of the global economy."
By February 1998 an international meeting in Geneva had attracted over
400 people from 71 countries involved in grassroots activism, from Argentinean
teachers hunger-striking against privatization to Canadian Postal Union
workers to landless peasants in Brazil to Indian farmers to indigenous groups
such as the U'wa to European anti-road protesters. Together they launched
a loose network called People's Global Action Against Free Trade and the
World Trade Organization. They wrote, "Despite the huge material differences,
struggles in privileged and under-privileged parts of the corporate empire
have more and more in common, setting the stage for a new and stronger sort
of solidarity. . . Scattered around the world again, we will not forget.
We remain together. This is our common struggle."
The energy gained from that meeting was tremendous. A Global Street
Party took place in 20 different countries during the G8 summit in Birmingham
in May last year. Two days later, 8,000 people erupted onto the streets
of Geneva in an anti-World Trade Organization protest, 50,000 Brazilians
participated in a "Cry of the Excluded" march, and 200,000 Indian
farmers and fisher folk took to the streets of Hyderabad demanding India's
withdrawal from the WTO.
By September that year, John M. Weekes, chair of the General Council
of the WTO was pointing out that "trade is no longer seen as an arcane
subject of no interest to the public," and the chair of Nestle, Helmut
Maucher, was criticizing "single-issue" protest groups afflicted
with "Globa phobia."
The United States has so far not witnessed the kind of mass anti-globalization
protests that have taken place in Europe and the Third World. But all eyes
are now on the millennium meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle,
from November 30 to December 3. One U.S. trade official predicts that Seattle
1999 will be "like Chicago in 1968." As the agenda of free trade
and liberalization comes into increasing conflict with realities of job
insecurity, exploitation, unemployment, and social and environmental breakdown,
more and more of the dispossessed will have little to lose in joining the
Katharine Ainger is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in News
from the Third World (media information NGO), the Guardian, and other publications.