The critics of globalism as we know it played a judicious hand during the five-day fandango in the Waldorf-Astoria. Perhaps they’ve learned that there’s no point in simply handing Thomas Friedman material for a month’s worth of columns denouncing scatter-brained idealists and the cynical hacks at the head of the god awful labor movement. Or maybe they understand that with Enron’s depredations in the news nearly every day, there’s no need to scream about the need for corporate ethics, economic justice and simple equity. That argument is quickly becoming self-evident.
There was no repeat of Genoa, Seattle or Quebec City on the streets of midtown, in part because New York has Ray Kelly as its police commissioner and those other cities don’t. But in truth, Mr. Kelly’s skills as a tactician were not given a full test during the World Economic Forum, mostly because the anti-globalists chose to let their putative adversaries serve as walking billboards for their critiques. The masters and mistresses of the universe went about the business of being rich and powerful without fear of molestation in the form of placard-waving or the occasional pie-throwing. Denied the coveted status of victimhood, they were free to pursue pleasures that were dutifully recorded and chronicled by the city’s society writers during a weekend that also brought news of hard times among the college-tuition-paying classes. Point made.
The police found cause to haul in dozens of protesters in midtown and in Greenwich Village over the weekend, but a middle-aged woman who warned that the world must adopt a “more ethical globalization” was able to deliver her message to the delegates not while shaking a manacled fist, but while enjoying the company of the great worthies.
Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was among the forum’s speakers on Feb. 2, and it was she who spoke about finding “a way to have civic democracy on an international level.” Had she been hanging out on Park Avenue and carrying a poster with such sentiments, perhaps not as politely delivered, certain newspaper columnists would have demanded her immediate detention for the crime of dissent.
Commissioner Robinson was hardly alone in delivering a critique that sounded suspiciously like that made by those infernal youths and mangy union bosses who have dared to question the globalists’ motives. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reverend George Carey, likewise sounded a less-than-celebratory theme as he addressed the great men and women. “There’s a big question mark over capitalism today,” the archbishop said. “It’s one word and it’s ‘Enron.’ And what is that challenge? Capitalism has to act within boundaries.”
That sounds like a reasonable demand, one with which most critics would agree. But the thoughtful dissenters from the theology of globalism often are grouped with the violent loonies who speak glowingly of anarchy, communism, revolution and the delicate aroma of a good French chardonnay.
The flannel-shirt brigades were out in limited numbers, their activities restricted to a few blocks along Park Avenue. On Day 3 of the forum, even as Commissioner Robinson and Archbishop Carey were making their pointed remarks, protesters gathered on the west side of the avenue, listening to what’s become of their movement. A speaker on a flatbed truck was raving on not about Enron or industrial pollution or the exploitation of Third World workers, but about the world’s most famous cop-killer. “I bring you greetings from our brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the speaker said, referring to the Philadelphia radio host and felon convicted of murdering a police officer 20 years ago. The bedraggled spectators seemed uncertain when they should applaud; they decided upon little golf claps rather than raucous cheering. With any luck, some of them wondered precisely what kind of cause would adopt a cop-killer as a “brother.” Mr. Kelly’s police remained impassive while Mr. Abu-Jamal’s many fine qualities received an airing.
If the free-Mumia crowd were the face of anti-globalism, it would deserve the scorn of the op-ed brigade. But those demonstrators on Park Avenue were a fringe within a fringe–and a discredited fringe within a fringe at that. Critics from the outside or within the globalist club itself have as much in common with the street leftists as the New York Republican Party has with the pro-Nazi militias of Montana.
A few blocks south of the anarchists’ demonstration, a crowd of about 30 people, most of them military veterans, staged a small but spirited counter demonstration that, as one of the protesters admitted, wasn’t really so, well, “counter.”
“What those people up the street don’t understand is that we agree with some of the things they’re saying,” said Jim Bancroft, a Marine veteran from Bristol, Conn. “But we support capitalism, while they’re over there yelling about anarchy.”
Of course, anarchy and capitalism occasionally intersect, as the employees of Enron will attest.