One Dead in Genoa
The Movement and its Martyr
by Geov Parrish
In These Times magazine, September 2001
One Dead in Genoa
The Movement and its Martyr
by Geov Parrish
y but never opened fire. As the In These Times magazine, September
For some 20 months, from Seattle through Washington, D.C.
and Melbourne and Windsor and Philadelphia and Los Angeles and
Prague and Davos and Quebec and Gothenburg, tactics have been
escalating on both sides as the protests against gatherings of
the world's political and economic elites have grown larger and
more raucous. In Seattle, some 50,000 nonviolent protesters and
blockaders, enraged by international institutions that exacerbate
global poverty, environmental destruction and the loss of democracy,
were overshadowed by a few dozen window-breaking vandals. By the
time of Quebec and Gothenburg, large blocks of protesters had
come to tolerate property destruction, and the hurling of everything
from teddy bears to Molotov cocktails, to make their points.
On the police side, the brutality that shocked the world in
Seattle was actually a step removed from what it could have been.
National Guard troops with live ammunition stood by but never
opened fire. As the protests have escalated, the wholesale use
of chemical warfare against protesters-whether they were breaking
any laws or not-has, at least in the public eye, become old news,
an acceptable price to pay to keep the "hoodlums" at
bay. The media surely have helped; in Quebec and Gothenburg, the
worst of the police mayhem was best reported not by the combined
resources of the world's elite media, but by www.indymedia.org.
The U.S. networks almost uniformly ignored it, blaming the victims
of police violence.
And now, in Italy, a man is dead. It was coming to this.
Perhaps more telling, even, than the death of 23-year-old
Genoa anarchist Carlo Giuliani at the hands of a terrified paramilitary
conscript three years his junior, are the hundreds of serious
injuries that occurred as Italian security forces launched repeated,
unprovoked attacks on G8 Summit protesters. Of the 150,000 or
so estimated to have gathered on the streets of Genoa, all but
about 2,000 are thought to have been committed to the nonviolence
pact agreed upon in advance by the Genoa Social Forum, a coalition
of some 1,300 groups that was an umbrella group for many of the
protests. It didn't matter. Italian authorities, working closely
with U.S. and other police agencies, dramatically escalated the
levels of violence with which these protests, now inescapable
at international summits, would be met.
There are numerous chilling accounts of the contempt for civil
liberties and human rights that marked security during the Genoa
summit, but the image that has circled the world is the prone
body of Giuliani. He died, in part, because he and his comrades
cornered terrified young paramilitary officers in a tactically
foolish way. But he also died because Italian police weren't carrying
rubber bullets, only live rounds. And beyond Giuliani, hundreds
more people-anarchist black bloc, "pacifisti," journalists
and bystanders alike-were seriously wounded, not because of their
actions or tactical mistakes, but due to intentional, premeditated
attacks by militarized police. It was a bloodbath. War.
When the weekend was over, each side saw what they wanted
to see. Establishment politicians and media, as well as a few
of the more moderate protest groups, railed against violent protesters
bent on disrupting the gatherings of democratically elected leaders.
But it was individuals who engaged in the thuggery and vandalism;
the pools of blood and a dead body were the calculated work of
20,000 public employees. Those are the images that will resonate.
Genoa is reminiscent of nothing so much as Kent State, where,
after (at least) hundreds of thousands of deaths in Southeast
Asia, it took the deaths of four young, privileged American students
on a Midwest campus in May 1970 to galvanize opposition and transform
the U.S. anti-war movement into a force that shut down campuses
across the country. At the time of Kent State, public opinion,
shaped by contemptuous politicians and judgmental media, was that
the guardsmen acted properly and the Kent State students were
anti-American thugs who had it coming.
This time, unlike at Kent, the violence was planned and approved
by the highest levels of government. In tandem, the Italian Constitution
was thrown out the window, starting with the government's suspension
of E.V. rules allowing free passage of citizens among European
countries, all the way through overtly fascistic, Mussolini-invoking
cops who brutalized thousands without provocation.
Such dangerous, menacing behavior-intended as much to dissuade
future demonstrators as to control crowds at Genoa-is likely to
continue to escalate until it proves either politically ineffective
or no longer necessary.
Global justice activists may be in shock after Genoa, their
largely abstract concerns (at least in the Western countries where
these protests have blossomed since Seattle) grounded by the realization
that they, too, could be shot for their opinions. In the Third
World, of course, this has been the reality for decades, with
the grave sites to prove it.
And, as in the Third World, the threat will not suppress the
movement. George W. Bush's smug platitudes notwithstanding, things
are getting worse, at times rapidly, even irreversibly. And since
the global justice movement itself is essentially leaderless-or
full of leaders-and transcends so many different issues and places,
it cannot easily be co-opted or repressed. Yet politicians can't
satisfactorily address any of its core demands without damaging
at least some of the corporate and economic interests that put
them in power. This leaves policy-makers with three generally
unworkable options: 1) dramatically change policies; 2) use reforms
to split or coopt the movement; or 3) repress the movement, violently
In the face of escalating security measures, global justice
advocates have managed to disrupt summits exceedingly well, repeatedly
drawing the attention of the world media and the ire of paramilitary
state forces. They also, in some arenas (especially around debt
relief), have won reform-oriented gestures that are grossly inadequate
but still far better than could have been imagined two years ago.
They have broad public support in some parts of the world, especially
in the Southern Hemisphere. In Bush, like Ronald Reagan before
him, the world sees an ignorant American fool with terrifying
power; and Dubya, unlike Bonzo's buddy, has no competing superpower
to either slow him or scare allies into submission. Bush's friendly,
arrogant, clueless face may turn out to be the best recruiting
tool global justice activists ever could have wanted.
But is public opinion enough? As enraged activists rightly
charge, supranational institutions like the G8, the WTO, World
Bank, IMF, NAFTA, FTAA and so on have no provisions for democratic
input on policies that are literally reshaping the world. And
the spectrum of changes demanded by advocates is so sweeping,
and the principles invoked so counter to the interests of corporate
rule, that they are in fact revolutionary. The global justice
movement, so far, has been a spectacle, but hardly the stuff of
We saw, a dozen years ago, how rapidly a popular movement
can take hold and shake a world. More than 30 countries experienced
nearly entirely bloodless revolutions in the span of a few months
in 1989-1990, and nobody saw it coming. The people in those countries
were often responding to generations of cruel repression, but
they were also rebelling against forces thought to be impervious
that proved (except in Beijing) to be deadly but paper-thin. And
in 12 years, there have been vast changes in the speed with which
the planet can be circled by information, tactics, inspiration
and images like a dead Genovese man in the street.
The global justice movement may be on the cusp of something,
but nobody seems to know what. It is far too multi-faceted and
scattered to "lead," or even steer. Here at home, a
majority of the public knows that these protests are occurring,
. but doesn't even have a clear idea of what the protesters are
upset about, let alone what, they want. Clearly, the global justice
movement is not going to get any significant help from mainstream
media or politicians in popularizing either its grievances or
any possible solutions.
But even as American activists point toward IMF/World Bank
meetings in Washington from September 28 to October 4, they must
start envisioning beyond the street warfare. What must emerge
are not ideologies or utopian blueprints, but practical, just,
achievable and necessarily imaginative solutions to vexing problems
and conflicting needs-and ways to make those solutions visible,
understandable and desirable to the public. It's a tall order.
But if activists show that an entire constellation of global policies
is fundamentally flawed, and don't give others a clear idea of
what they want instead and how to get it, somebody else will fill
that vacuum. And it won't be good.