I knew from email reports that something new was going on in Washington D.C. last weekend. A demonstration against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund was joined by an anti-war march, as well as a demonstration against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In the end, all the marches joined together in what organizers described as the largest Palestinian solidarity demonstration in U.S. history, 75,000 people by police estimates.
On Sunday night, I turned on my television in the hopes of catching a glimpse of this historic protest. I saw something else instead: triumphant Jean-Marie Le Pen celebrating his new found status as the second most popular political leader in France. Ever since, I've been wondering whether the new alliance displayed on the streets can also deal with this latest threat.
On Tuesday in Buenos Aires, only a few blocks from where Argentinian President Eduardo Duhalde was negotiating with the International Monetary Fund, a group of residents were going through a negotiation of a different kind. They were trying to save their home.
In order to protect themselves from an eviction order, the residents of 335 Ayacucho, including 19 children, barricaded themselves inside and refused to leave. On the concrete façade of the house, a hand printed sign said: "IMF Go To Hell."
What does the IMF, in town to set conditions for releasing $9-billion in promised funds, have to do with the fate of the residents of 335 Ayacucho? Well, here in a country where half the population now lives below the poverty line, it's hard to find a single sector of society whose fate does not somehow hinge on the decisions made by the international lender.
Most of the news out of Argentina focuses on angry professionals who have lost access to their savings. The truth is that, in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line, the vast majority of the protests are simply attempts meet desperate needs for food, shelter and work.
One of the symbols of this grassroots militancy is Emilio Ali, a leader of the “Piquetero” movement. The piqueteros are groups of unemployed workers whose hunger has driven them to find new ways of wining concessions from the state. In a reversal of the traditional picket line (they have no factories to close) the piqueteros block roadways into the cities, often for weeks at a time, stopping traffic and the transportation of goods. Politicians are forced to come to the road pickets and negotiate and the piqueteros regularly win basic unemployment compensation for their members, a right stripped away by decades of the IMF’s “sound economic policies.”
When the White House decided it was time to address the rising tides of anti-Americanism around the world, it didn't look to a career diplomat for help. Instead, in keeping with the Bush administration's philosophy that anything the public sector can do the private sector can do better, it hired one of a Madison Avenue's top brand managers.
As Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Charlotte Beers' assignment was not to improve relations with other countries but rather to perform an overhaul of the U.S.'s image abroad. Beers had no previous diplomatic experience but she had held the top job at both the J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather ad agencies, and she's built brands for everything from dog food to power drills.
On the first day of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre Brazil, the hallways were buzzing with rumours of defections from the North. Top delegates were jumping ship from the World Economic Forum in New York and coming to Porto Alegre instead: a European prime minister, World Bank directors, even corporate executives.
Some never showed up, others did. But debates raged nonetheless about what it all meant. Was it evidence of the Forum's new strength (it attracted some 60,000 participants, after all) or a sign of imminent danger? The World Social Forum was founded last year as an alternative to the annual gathering of the top 1,000 corporations, world leaders and opinion-maker who usually meet in Davos, Switzerland but this year met in New York City.
But with these new high-powered arrivals, the WSF now risked turning from a clear alternative into a messy merger: teams of photographers trailed politicians; market researchers from PricewaterhouseCoopers trolled hotel lobbies, looking for opportunities to "dialogue"; students threw a cream pie at a French minister.