Violence bad for activists' image
Doused in tear gas and decked out in bandannas, dreadlocks and gas masks, a new group on the world political scene focused the world’s attention on the “Summit of Americas.” Hell-bent against free trade in the Western Hemisphere, a frightening group of radical protesters made it known it will not be ignored.
The popular political buzzword “globalization” was at issue last weekend in Quebec. The summit and the word represent the convergence of information and especially economy and a loss of nation sovereignty.
The media has yet to tag the violent protesters with a nickname, but it’s only one highly publicized conflict away. This group, vehemently against globalization and the plight it believes it brings to the poor, made a spectacle of Quebec during the weekend, rekindling memories of the confrontations protesters had with police in Seattle during the World Trade Organization last year.
With the belief free trade between 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere basically will make the rich richer and the poor even poorer, these protesters have come out in full force to share their disagreement with the establishment.
Their belief is that free trade, as it is presented by the WTO, NAFTA and now the Summit of Americas agreement, isn’t free trade at all. There continues to be restrictions on trade by counties like the United States that allows it to maintain its economic stranglehold on the region.
They believe that NAFTA has not increased trade between Canada, the United Sates and Mexico. Instead, it’s allowed American companies to take advantage of cheap labor and Mexico has not seen the improvements promised by its northern neighbors.
Protesters believe the Summit of Americas agreement will give multi-national corporations from the United States a big playground to bully on, with newly industrialized countries in Latin and South America getting picked on the most.
While only 2,000 of the nearly 30,000 people in Quebec to protest the Summit of Americas agreement got violent, the images from the “Battle of Seattle” and Quebec riots will be of these protesters who take violent, retaliatory actions against the police protecting dignitaries on hand.
Feeling that the Summit of Americas was illegitimate because it was closed off to the public, protesters charged the chain-link fence erected around the zone known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas and brought it down Friday afternoon.
Riot police lined up where the fence once stood and began to fire canisters of tear gas, which the confrontational protesters threw back at the police along with rocks, glass bottles and whatever else they could get their hands on.
While the public has not completely caught on with reports of the protests failing to muster more than 15 seconds on the local news, organizers of these world trade events understand the protesters’ tactics.
They know not to repeat the mistakes made in Seattle, and they know any violence will make the protesters look like the aggressor. Any protest like this in the future will have the same or even worse effects on the images of all the protesters, not just the minority who get violent.
There were two reasons that civil rights protests of the 1950 and 1960s were so successful in getting attention of the nation and changing the minds of Americans. First, the entire movement was peaceful and non-violent; those who chose to not to follow the unified group were declared outsiders by the leaders of the movement. Secondly, white college kids from the north joined in on the protest. While they were not directly affected by segregation, they believed in breaking down the remaining walls of slavery.
To attract attention to the free trade cause, protesters need to follow a similar plan by creating a unified, non-violent front. After the Seattle and Quebec incidents, media coverage of the anti-free trade organizations should pick up. More violent protests only will make the public grow tired of their perceived whiny baby attitudes.
Secondly, they need to try to recruit more people to their cause.
Most would expect progressive college students and other far left-wingers to support the cause, but if these organizations really want more people to stand up and take notice of the free trade issue, they need to recruit regular young people without political affiliations but who feel the poverty that free trade is causing in some countries is extremely unjust.