FTAA Protests In Miami (11/19/03)

When I venture into downtown Miami, it’s as clear as day that global capitalism is on the run and in panic. An approximately 10 block section of Miami has been transformed into a police state, which is shocking to activists who thought they had experienced heavy police repression in previous mobilizations.

At least 20 people have been arrested in the last week leading up to the mobilization against the FTAA, while many more have been detained. All of these arrests have charges such as loitering and obstructing the sidewalk, and most have happened while people were flyering in an attempt to reach the citizens of Miami.

Yesterday brought the most shocking overreaction from the Miami Police Department. Two activists were downtown to attend a rally against big tobacco and were detained by police officers. Following their detainment, their car was rigged with explosives and blown open, shattering all the windows in the car. The reason was a suspicious object in the trunk thought to be a bomb, but of course nothing of that sort was found.

Unfortunately the police do not realize that they are being completely duped. The anarchist scare circulating within the ranks of the police and within the local population includes the claim that protestors have bought 15,000 cue balls to effectively combat the police. Even crazier is the rumor that activists are going to inject syringes filled with shit into civilians. The outrageous nature of these rumors is a testament to the hysteria sweeping through Miami right now.

The interaction with the local population has especially been a challenge for activists visiting Miami underneath the air of paranoia and fear. But the challenge has been accepted and an outreach effort is being made with flyers explaining to those who live in Miami the ill effects of free trade and dispelling the stereotype of the "violent anarchist."

This outreach effort has been coming out of what is being called "The Welcome Center," but what should more accurately be called "The Organizing Center." The Welcome Center was set up with the efforts of many activists who arrived in Miami weeks earlier to coordinate the organizing efforts. This center is also the hub for coordinating the direct actions planned against the meetings, and it is precisely for this reason that it has attracted an immense amount of press attention. At any given time there are at least four news vans outside the center trying to figure out what the deal is with these mysterious anarchists that police have been warning them against.

Outreach isn’t the only thing coming out of The Welcome Center. The efforts include an outstandingly organized Food Not Bombs kitchen. Food Not Bombs is an anarchist organization, with hundreds of chapters around the country. They collect food that would normally be discarded (through donations and often by collecting them from dumpsters) and cook meals to be served free of charge at public locations. Five Food Not Bombs chapters will be feeding thousands of people for the duration of the protests.

An integral part of The Welcome Center is the presence of the FTAA Independent Media Center (IMC), with which I am involved. Within the IMC around a hundred media activists are working hard to counter the disinformation campaign being led by the city authorities, supported by the corporate media. A video team is assembled to document every aspect of the events happening here in Miami, inside and outside of the FTAA meetings. Amazing audio coverage is also coming out of the FTAA IMC. To listen to streaming audio of two different radio broadcasts (The Free Radio Area of The Americas and FTAA Resistance Radio) go to: http://www.ftaaimc.org/en/static/radio_en.shtml. And of course for complete coverage: www.ftaaimc.org.

The planning for the direct actions within the relatively young counter-globalization movement in the United States has always been coordinated by spokes-council meetings. The idea behind a spokes-council is to provide a non-hierarchical forum for representatives of various affinity groups (people that partake in these actions are organized into affinity groups of five to ten friends in order to maximize safety and effectiveness) to dish out ideas and come up with an effective plan. These spokes-council meetings have been happening daily at The Welcome Center.

One of the problems that is becoming more and more evident within the counter-globalization movement is the emergence of some people as "movement leaders." This is especially problematic since we claim to be a non-hierarchical and decentralized movement. This concern shared by many activists here in Miami will surely become a topic of major discussion in the days to follow.

Another issue that has become apparent is the interaction between the "direct action movement" (mostly white, middle class and young people) and the unions in the United States. This is a key issue since workers are those who are primarily affected by globalization. This interaction is currently taking place through the accommodation of the "direct action people" to the permitted rally and march being held by the AFL-CIO. The permitted march is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. while the major street actions will happen at 7:00 a.m. six blocks away from the convening point for the permitted march.

More reflections on the power dynamics within the counter-globalization movement and our interaction with the working class tomorrow!

Read more: Why are people protesting the FTAA? | Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Ali Tonak graduated from Bard College after studying molecular biology. He is currently employed as a construction worker.