Wow. Direct action has gone so mainstream that even former VP Al Gore is calling for it. According to the NYT:
“If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration,” he said at the third annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton’s initiative, which arranges partnerships between the very rich and the very needy.
In a related note, I took in Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle" last Friday night here in DC, after years of anticipation and weeks of positive and negative critical reviews. (And it's opening in a ton of new cities this weekend.) Mark Weisbrot fairly captured the movie in his recent column:
Perhaps most unusual for a feature film, it gives the protesters credit for what they accomplished: they changed the debate over what has been deceptively marketed as “free trade.” They were beaten and jailed, choked with tear gas and shot with rubber bullets, but they succeeded in raising awareness about what these organizations and international agreements really do.
The movie also captures the instances of both tension and cooperation between diverse tactics, such as insider lobbying, "Yes Men" style infiltration, outsider direct action, and even property destruction. Stuart could have put a seal of approval on any one of these methods, but he holds back. Would an obscure international commercial agency like the WTO have received attention if thousands of people hadn't put their bodies on the line, if there hadn't been broken Starbucks windows? Is negative attention better than no attention? You'll just have to make up your own mind.
There were some puzzling reviews of the movie. The Washington Post, for instance, chided the movie for not focusing on telling us enough about the WTO, but then also for giving insufficient attention to character development. On the third hand, other reviews slammed the movie for giving us too much character backstory.
Huh, what? A drama that discusses in rapid but significant detail issues like the WTO sea turtle case and the TRIPS agreement does not tell us enough about policy? Well, if you insist, I could put on a tweed jacket and a top hat and tape myself speaking into a handheld camera about the base and growth of export trends to Bahrain. I could even put some wicked Manu Chao tracks over it. But, judging from my wife's glazed over eyes anytime I get into that level of detail (and she's a flippin' economist), I'm betting there's a pretty limited audience at best for greater detail into the issues that Stuart generously provides.
The charge of insufficient character development also rings untrue. I have worked, partied, supped, dated, and studied with people in the global justice movement for over a decade. With very few missteps, Stuart captures almost exactly the personality of the median activist: earnest to a fault, a little weak on understanding of (class, establishment, etc.) politics and details, occasionally fruity in their interpersonal relations, unable to compartamentalize different parts of their life, but mostly absolutely devoted to making this world a better place. There are outliers of course, who try to get the rest of the movement to take class politics and/or fun more seriously, but there's a reason that they have to write books to make their point.
Think activists wouldn't say "icons of violence"? Tell that to the kid
that handed me a flyer slamming the movie for being a
"Blockbusterization of Reality." This ain't agitprop, it's a mostly loyal reading of the cohort of people who made Battle in Seattle happen. And for better or worse, it celebrates both our past accomplishments and the real challenges we face in growing the movement and making it as effective as possible in 2008.