June 13th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
I’ve never joined a political party, never even been to a political convention. Last election, after being dragged by the hair to the ballot box, I was overcome by a wave of ennui more acute than the pain suffered by my friends who simply ingested their ballots.
Does this mean I’m a no-brain, knee-jerk anarchist, as many a Globe letter writer has claimed? Perhaps. But then why do I find myself agreeing that we need a new left political alliance, maybe even a new party?
What’s clear is that the left as it is currently constituteda weakened NDP, and an endless series of street protestsis a recipe for fighting like crazy to make things not quite as bad as they would be otherwise. A revolutionary goal for the left would be to actually make things better.
Is the New Politics Initiative the answer? It could be.
First, the basics. The NPI, leaked to the press last week, is not a new party trying to overthrow the NDP and crown Svend Robinson king of the socialists. It’s an idea about what a new party could and should be: more internally democratic, ...
June 6th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
A woman with long brown hair and a cigarette scratched voice has a question. "What does this place look like to you," she asks, with the help of an interpreter. "An ugly ghetto, or something maybe beautiful?"
It was a trick question. We were sitting in a ramshackle squat in one of the least picturesque suburbs of Rome. The walls of the stumpy building were covered in graffiti, the ground was muddy, and all around us were bulky, menacing housing projects. If any of the 20-million tourists who flocked to Rome last year had taken a wrong turn and ended up here, they would have immediately dived for their Fodor’s and fled for somewhere with vaulted ceilings, fountains and frescoes.
But while the remains of one of the most powerful and centralised empires in history are impeccably preserved in downtown Rome, it is here, in the city’s poor outskirts, where I caught a glimpse of a new, living politics. And it is as far away from Roman emperors and Caesar’s armies as you can possibly get.
The squat in question is called Corto Ciccuito, one of Italy’s many "centri sociali." Social ...
May 30th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
When I was 17, I worked after school at an Esprit clothing store in Montreal. It was a pleasant job, mostly involving folding cotton garments into little squares so sharp that their corners could take out your eye.
But, for some reason, corporate headquarters didn’t consider our T-shirt origami to be sufficiently profitable. One day, our calm world was turned upside down by a regional supervisor who swooped in to indoctrinate us in the culture of the Esprit brandand increase our productivity in the process. "Esprit," she told us, "is like a good friend."
I was skeptical, and I let it be known. Skepticism, I quickly learned, is not considered an asset in the low-wage service sector. Two weeks later, the supervisor fired me for being in possession of that most loathed workplace character trait: "bad attitude."
I guess that was one of my first lessons in why large multinational corporations are not "like a good friend," since good friends, while they may do many horrible and hurtful things, rarely fire you.
So I was interested when, earlier this month, the TBWA/Chiat/Day advertising agency rolled out the new "brand identity" ...
May 23rd, 2001
By Naomi Klein
A little over a year ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a major feature about poverty in the United States headlined "The Invisible Poor." It was a well-reported piece, with beautiful photographs, but there was something strange about it. It was as if, at the height of the high-tech boom, in the richest country in the world, "the poor" inhabited an exotic foreign country, there for journalists to discover, but not to cover.
The official story for most of the decade, supported by record low unemployment rates in the U.S., was that poverty was yesterday’s "old economy" problem. Sure, food bank use is up 75 per cent in some American cities, one in five U.S. children live in poverty and 44.3 million are uninsured, but you’d never know it as a casual media consumer. The occasional story may have appeared about the people prosperity "left behind" (as if by some cosmic typo), but in the major national media, there has been little very little appetite for these downer tales.
Not when journalists were checking their soaring stock options from their desktops. Not when their employers were being gobbled up by the ...
May 2nd, 2001
By Naomi Klein
The idea of turning London into a life-sized Monopoly board on May Day sounded like a great idea.
The most familiar criticism lobbed at modern protesters is that they lack focus and clear goals such as "Save the trees" or "Drop the debt." And yet these protests are a response to the limitations of single-issue politics. Tired of treating the symptoms of an economic modelunderfunded hospitals, homelessness, widening disparity, exploding prisons, climate changethere is now a clear attempt to "out" the system behind the symptoms. But how do you hold a protest against abstract economic ideas without sounding hideously strident or all over the map?
How about using the board game that has taught generations of kids about land ownership? The organizers of yesterday’s May Day Monopoly protest issued annotated maps of London featuring such familiar sites as Regent Street, Pall Mall, and Trafalgar Square, encouraging participants to situate their May Day actions on the Monopoly board. Want to protest against privatization? Go to a rail station. Industrial agriculture? McDonald’s at King’s Cross. Fossil fuels? The electric company. And always carry your "get out of jail free" card.
The problem was ...
April 25th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, is condemned for not calling off Maude’s Mob. Activist Jaggi Singh is in jail for allegedly possessing a weapon that he never owned or useda theatrical catapult that shot stuffed animals over the infamous fence in Quebec City during last weekend’s Summit of the Americas.
It’s not just that the police didn’t get the joke, it’s that they don’t get the new era of political protest, one adapted to our postmodern times. There was no one person, or group, who could call off "their people," because the tens of thousands who came out to protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas are part of a movement that doesn’t have a leader, a centre, or even an agreed-on name. Yet it exists, undeniably, nonetheless.
What is difficult to convey in media reports is that there weren’t two protests that took place in Quebec Cityone a "peaceful" labour march, the other a "violent" anarchist riot. There were hundreds of protests. One was organized by a mother and daughter from Montreal. Another by a vanload of grad students from Edmonton. Another by three friends from ...
April 21st, 2001
By Naomi Klein
"Where are you," I screamed from my cellphone into his. There was a pause and then, "A Green ZoneSt. Jean and St. Claire."
Green Zone is protest speak for an area free of tear gas or police clashes. There are no fences to storm, only sanctioned marches. Green zones are safe, you’re supposed to be able to bring your kids to them.
"Okay," I said. "See you in 15 minutes."
I had barely put on my coat when I got another call: "Jaggi’s been arrested. Well, not exactly arrested. More like kidnapped." My first thought was that it was my fault: I had asked Mr. Singh to tell me his whereabouts over a cellphone. Our call must have been monitored, that’s how they found him.
If that sounds paranoid, welcome to Summit City.
Less than an hour later, at the ComitÃ© Populaire St-Jean Baptiste community centre, a group of six swollen-eyed eyewitnesses read me their hand-written accounts of how the most visible organizer of Friday’s direct action protest against the free-trade area of the Americas was snatched from under their noses.
All say Mr. Singh was standing around ...
April 18th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
Brian Mulroney thinks the numbers are his friends. He proudly points to the percentage of Canada’s gross domestic product now made up by exports to the United States40 per cent! The number of jobs created by tradefour in five! And Mexico’s status as an important U.S. trading partnersecond only to Canada! These numbers are a vindication, our former prime minister believes, for the free-trade deals he negotiated first with the United States, then with Mexico.
He still doesn’t get it: Those numbers aren’t his friends; they’re his worst enemy. Opposition to free trade has grown, and grown more vocal, precisely because private wealth has soared without translating into anything that can be clearly identified as the public good. It’s not that critics don’t know how much money is being made under free tradeit’s that we know all too well.
While there’s no shortage of numbers pointing to increases in exports and investment, the trickle-down effects promised as the political incentive for deregulationtougher environmental standards, higher wages, better working conditions, less povertyhave either been pitifully incremental or non-existent.
The labour and environmental side agreements tacked on to the North American free-trade agreement ...
April 11th, 2001
By Naomi Klein
As soon as I wrote the sentence, I deleted it: "Is this really what we wanta movement of meeting stalkers, following the trade bureaucrats like they’re the Grateful Dead?"
It could be taken out of context, I thought; better take it out. Then I put it back in: The context was clear, and I was being paranoid. If you let your critics steal your sense of humour, they have already won. Paranoia, I’ve since learned, can be a healthy impulse.
That sentence, which was first published almost a year ago in the U.S. magazine The Nation, has been following me around like . . . oh, forget it. In The Economist, on CBC Radio, in The Globe and Mail just last week, it has been used exactly as I’d feared: to paint anti-corporate protesters as a roving band of thrill-seekers, in it for the party, not the politics. (On the upside, Deadheads are now convinced that I alone understand them: "Duuude," they say to me. "It’s so true what you wrote because Dead shows were all about community.")
In fact, the sentence never referred to the culture of the protests (though ...
April 1st, 2001
By Sarah Polley Clayton Ruby
Naomi Klein, actor Sarah Polley, and lawyer Clayton Ruby initiated this petition to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in anticipation of police violence during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. The letter sought to galvanize public opinion, particularly in the arts community. Over six thousand Canadians signed: artists, academics, journalists, judges, lawyers and intellectuals. Among them were some of Canada’s most prominent cultural figures, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Atom Egoyan, Michael Ignatieff, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and the Barenaked Ladies.
As Canadians who value freedom of expression as an essential democratic right and depend on that right to make our living, we will watch with vigilance the actions of police officers and immigration agents next week when the Summit of the Americas convenes in Quebec City.
The right to freedom of expression, so fundamental to our democracy, includes the right not just to speak and communicate but to be heard. The constitutional right to peaceful assembly encompasses the right to gather in public spaces in all Canadian cities. The right to freedom of movement across borders extends not just to trade and tourism but also to political rallies, ...