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April 21st & The Borders Within Our Own Movement

by Jackie Carpenter Saturday, Apr. 28, 2001 at 4:28 PM

The April 21st San Diego-Tijuana Border March enjoyed symbolic success in that a border was crossed and some exposure was gained, but what the events of the day also exposed are some divisions within the counter-globalization movement.

errorApril 21st & The Borders Within Our Own Movement

The April 21st San Diego-Tijuana Border March enjoyed symbolic success in that a border was crossed and some exposure was gained, but what the events of the day also exposed are some divisions within the counter-globalization movement.

Many maintain that the chief strength of this movement lies in its ability to spawn an activist community of unlikely companions, like environmentalists and labor, for instance. The horrors of globalization have such a wide-ranging and debilitating impact that the various, disparate interests of the Left are brought together in response to it, or so the theory goes.

What marches and rallies like last Saturdays Border March demonstrate, however, is not so much the Left united, but rather, the Left, well, assembled. It is true that various causes and groups were represented, such as Save the Redwoods, Service Employees International Union locals and the anarchist black bloc, and it is also true that this movement gives all of them common ground. What isnt clear, though, is whether anything is being built on this common ground, or whether it is being used as little more than temporary space to don a zapatistas bandanna, effigy of Bush, or a purple union cap, shout a few slogans, and leave. While one Canadian officials remark that the Quebec protests are merely the demonstrators excuse to party is clearly an unfair, dismissive comment, the failure of the counter-globalization movement so far to present a cohesive and clear agenda and image to the public cannot be ignored. This was evident during the Democratic National Convention as well. The L.A. Times ran various quotes by delegates perplexed by the protests and unable to decipher what they were all about, despite a genuine curiosity.

The rally at Larsen Field on Saturday unfortunately highlighted this lack of either focus or objective. Each of the speakers was noteworthy and some were quite passionate, but the speeches themselves did not draw an explicit link between the plight of the particular group being discussed (women, Mexican truck drivers, the Uwa of Brazil) and what we were there specifically to protest the signing of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) treaties in Quebec City. Instead, several distinct activist agendas were outlined in fiery phrases, and the crowd was left awake to another injustice, but only vaguely aware of how marching against the FTAA was helping to remedy it. In this way the rally failed to connect the dots between itself and Quebec.

One notable exception to this was Medea Benjamins onstage cell phone call to Kevin Donahue of Global Exchange in Quebec City, during which she communicated, piece by piece, instantaneous news from the front. The crowd stood quiet and riveted during the call, which effectively plugged the demonstration into a larger movement with global goals.

However, when the speeches ended without an announcement by the organizers as to when the march would begin, the crowd grew impatient and began to disperse. Rumor spread that there would be no march after all, since the organizers did not have a permit. Furthermore, the demonstrators were informed that there would be no rally on the U.S. side of the border, since the road to the rally site was supposedly flooded. The black bloc began marching in a circle, demanding that the march begin, and eventually just marched out into the street, leading a crowd of about seven hundred people behind them to the border.

The spontaneous nature of this little march that could was another nice moment of solidarity. One might have to wonder, though, if it was just a happy accident when reports appeared on this website insinuating that a gutless crowd of other demonstrators co-opted a march of the black bloc. Comments of this type were also overheard during the march itself, which was a bit demoralizing to say the least. The funny thing is, before hearing these comments, one might have stopped thinking of the black bloc as a separate activist group for a moment, and had actually seen them asperhapsleaders?

The Difference Between Organizing and Planning

The shortcomings of the march aside, the organizers conceived of a brilliant idea for a demonstration and pulled off a successful event. Arriving at Playa Frontera on the Tijuana side of the border, one could understand the impressive strategy behind the location, and the demonstration this could have been had the U.S. side of the event been allowed. The demonstration would have straddled the border, demarcated by a simple chain link fence, and symbolically disintegrated it altogether.

The Left has never been short on inspired ideas such as these, but always seems a little strapped when it comes to gathering the resources to carry them out. I attended an actionLA meeting, and was impressed by the enthusiasm of the group, but less impressed by the large amount of money they needed to raise in a short amount of time. The bulk of last-minute fundraising seemed to fall to one person who worked in a soup kitchen, didnt have access to a phone, and was somehow supposed to find a space to set up phone banking for groups of people. Despite her best efforts, this just didnt happen. The march came off anyway, but probably would have garnered more media attention had the resources been in place.

So, with such a broad base of activist groups in the counter-globalization movement, why are events like these barely scraping together the funds to pull off such an important protest? Perhaps one answer lies in the tendency of individual activist groups to plan demonstrations and protests, but rarely to organize them: that is, individual activists groups dont collaborate enough with other individual activist groups when their interests are in common. What I understand from secondary sources is that there are various groups in the San Diego area, such as MECHA and Barrio Logan, which have organized large border marches in the past and were not even contacted in connection with the April 21st demonstration. This serves to underscore the point further: a firm coalition of activist groups throughout the Southern California area is crucial in order to organize the type of demonstrations that can help fuel a movement. Only a strong coalition can foster the true solidarity and organization needed to begin to take on the well-funded, well-organized, solidly-entrenched powers of the Establishment.
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