Thousands march against WEF
By Lee Wengraf and Eric Ruder | February 8, 2002 | Page 12
"HOW DO you spell theft? W-E-F!" That chant rang out on the streets of New York February 2 as some 15,000 people demonstrated against the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The Saturday march was the culmination of a week of events to send a message to the global fat cats who gathered for the WEF conference. The message: Put people before profits.
"UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that $10 billion a year is necessary to fight the global AIDS epidemic," New York City ACT UP member Amanda Lugg told Socialist Worker. "The U.S. says it's pledging $200 million to this fund while increasing its military budget by $48 billion."
The demonstration--the first large global justice mobilization in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks and the U.S. war on Afghanistan--came in the face of a hysterical campaign against protesters in the media.
Police officials declared that their boys in blue were itching for a fight. "I came here to teach you people a lesson," said former Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney, who was brought in to consult with the New York Police Department after his experience directing police operations during the 2000 Republican National Convention.
But activists made it clear that they weren't about to be intimidated--and the police had to back off a bit in the run-up to the weekend. "People have a right to protest and we want to facilitate that," allowed Police Inspector Jay Kopstein.
The show of force against demonstrators was still incredible. New York City officials put more than 5,000 officers in the streets, building a virtual fortress around the posh Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Police overtime amounted to at least $10 million--and that doesn't even count the huge sums spent on private security forces.
"At the Waldorf-Astoria, every ounce of caviar, box of raspberries and case of single malts entering the building is X-rayed, said a catering executive familiar with the hotel's high-security operations," reported the New York Times.
WEF organizers said the conference was moved from the secluded Swiss resort of Davos, where it has been held for the last 30 years, as a show of "solidarity" with New Yorkers in the wake of September 11. But it fell to protesters to point out that the obscene amount of money spent on opulent cocktail parties and security wasn't a show of "solidarity" but an insult. That money could have been used to help the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who've lost their jobs since September 11--and the thousands who are overwhelming the city's homeless shelters.
Instead, WEF attendees made sure the media knew that they talked about poverty and inequality. "People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us," said a speaker on one panel. "I think it's a healthy sign that there are demonstrators in the streets. They are raising the question of 'Is the rich world giving back enough?'"
Who spoke these words, you ask? Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates--who could personally lift the world's poor out of poverty for a year and remain a billionaire many times over.
After they finished philosophizing about the world's problems, the 2,700 fat cats--corporate executives, finance officials and various hangers-on--drank fine wine and feasted at New York's top restaurants.
"The WEF is a living symbol of political and business leaders scratching each others' backs, proclaiming that they're meeting to solve the world's problems, while in reality they're looking for ways to enrich each other," said Eric Laursen of the Another World Is Possible coalition that organized the February 2 march.
The demonstrations against the WEF were an important step forward for the global justice movement--both in re-energizing the commitment of activists and reasserting the right to protest. "Dr. King died fighting in the Poor People's Campaign," Dedrick Muhammad of the National Action Network told Socialist Worker. "It's essential that all civil rights groups committed to a vision of social justice become a part of this movement--the global justice movement is really the modern Poor People's Campaign."