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Seeking Change in Genoa

by Patrick Beckett Saturday, Jul. 21, 2001 at 2:12 PM

G-8 nations have pledged to address poverty, disease and debt reform at this weekend’s meetings, but activists and campaigners don’t believe the G-8 has what it takes to make real change.

While the Group of 7 plus Russia meet behind the guard of more than 15,000 Italian police and military, thousands of demonstrators concerned with the structure of the world economy are also in Genoa. It appears that estimates of up to 150,000 protestors may be excessive, but tens of thousands may have already arrived in Genoa. There are demonstrations scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In one of the largest security operations yet seen at a meeting of the G-8, the Italian government has suspended the Shengen agreement and closed airports, trainstations and ferry terminals. This may be one reason fewer demonstrators have arrived than initially expected. A special train carrying over 500 demonstrators from England was stopped in France yesterday until pressure from the train operators union and other groups convinced the French government to allow it passage.

G-8 nations have pledged to address poverty, disease and debt reform at this weekend's meetings, but activists and campaigners don't believe the G-8 has what it takes to make real change. The G-7 emerged in the 1970's to provide a mechanism for multilateral decision making among the advanced capitalist countries, especially in economic issues. But as Walden Bello, a prominent economist and critic of the current economic system, said Monday in Genoa, concept is flawed.

"Especially under the administration of George Bush, Washington has embarked on a unilateralist course that has brought it to sharp conflict with other members on the issues of Climate Change, missile defense and reconciliation between the two Korea's."

Bello and others criticize the G-8 and other economic institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization for serving the interests of corporations. Hundreds of special campaign groups have converged in Genoa to present their case for reform on myriad issues. The Genoa Social Forum is a coalition of almost 700 of these groups, and has organized a Public Forum for discussion and debate on these issues this week.

The Public forum is taking place under a series of large white tents along Genoa's beautiful coast. For more than twelve hours a day, people meet to listen, discuss, and take part in workshops aimed at building alternatives to the current world economic order.

Susan George is the associate director of the transnational institute and is with Attac, France. She urged people to work towards change. "We can do this, but what it means is learning a little about how all this works, and it can be fairly technical when you get into the details, but learning how it works, and telling our governments, and particularly the new Italian government that we are not going to accept this, that we will fight them right down to the wire."

Critics of globalisation are often characterised by the media as rock throwing anarchists, partly because of the difficulty of analysing the complex issues that are really at stake. In truth, many demonstrators use the convergence of so many diverse interest groups to share ideas, and develop effective strategies to achieve their goals of reform.

Oronto Douglas is an attorney from the Nigerian Delta region. He came to Genoa to discuss the ecological crisis in his country which he says is largely the result of influence from Multinational corporations. "Corporations have been committing crimes against humanity. Corporations have been committing crimes against the rest of the world, and the world is silent. Nobody wants to punish the corporation because they think they are too powerful. I am saying we can put hands together. I am saying, we can globalize against the corporation. I am saying that we can all stand firm to say no to ecological injustice and corporate rule," said Douglas.

As the size and number of protests outside of economic summits continues to grow, more people are recognizing that there is a growing call to challenge corporations. The strategy of different groups working to transform these multilateral institutions into something more accountable is far reaching and diverse. Again Douglas. "We must not condone the culture of violence. Economic violence. It is important that we stand firm to say what ever form of violence that manifests itself, which as I said, were sown by the seeds of injustice, and have grown into the trees of oppression, that these trees must be uprooted. And the people that can uproot it is me and you. We can uproot those trees by our manifest display of anger, via peaceful, non violent protest, by our manifest display of disgust, via writing and capture of political power, and returning this power to the ordinary people."

Between the tents where the social forum is being held and the Red Zone to the west, is an enormous parking lot being used as a convergence space. Here, activists are holding meetings, and food and drink is available. Campaign groups have information tables set up. On Wednesday night there was a concert held by the group Manu Chao, whose music gives voice to the immigrant, the invisible and unseen of society.

Across the street from the convergence space is a group of tents where Italian organic farmers are giving out free or low priced food, wine and coffee. Tied to a nearby palm tree, a black and white cow munched hay, while a magician rode a colourful bike in circles, a rabbit in his basket, and two doves on his handlebars. Local Italians sit side by side with activists from around the globe.

But people here in Genoa must carefully adhere to the strict control of the Italian Security forces. Police routinely stop and question people on the streets, and have visited the stadiums and parks. Early Wednesday morning, Police arrived at the Carlini Stadium where demonstrators are legally camping, and announced the would search the stadium. Earlier in the week they diffused a petrol bomb that was discovered in the stadium.

The Red Zone comprises the centre of Genoa, including the palace where the G-8 will meet. It is completely off limits to anyone with out a special pass issued directly by the police to those people who live or work inside. A spokesperson for the Genoa Social Forum criticized the heavy security tactics of the police. "Violence, if nothing else, is the closure of the historic centre of Genoa. They have closed up the inhabitants of the city centre as if they were in a cage, this is a shame."

As in Goteborg Sweden in June, police are using shipping containers to create barriers along many streets. Italians living inside the red zone have expressed disgust at the extreme security measures.

The first demonstration, on Thursday, focused on the rights of immigrants and refugees seeking asylum. Friday, the workers general procession and strike will occur, and Saturday, the mass meeting will take place.

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