Copyright 2000 Southam Inc.
The Ottawa Citizen
June 3, 2000, Saturday, FINAL
SECTION: News; A3
LENGTH: 2699 words
HEADLINE: Bringing order to the anarchists: Protesters gathering in Windsor will be making mayhem with a plan
BYLINE: Andrew Duffy
DATELINE: WINDSOR, Ont.
WINDSOR, Ont. -- A Web site used to marshall the forces of mayhem for this weekend's meeting of the Organization of American States reveals both the threat and the limits of the new anarchism.
The Infoshop News Kiosk -- ''anarchist, activist and alternative news'' -- includes a call to shut down the Windsor meeting where foreign ministers will discuss a continent-wide free trade agreement.
''The experiences gained in Seattle and Washington will help our struggle against global capitalism remain autonomous, democratic and effective,'' the missive on www.infoshop.org begins.
''However, experience has also shown that our effectiveness is only limited to the organizational cohesion of affinity (protest) groups. We cannot stress the importance of meeting regularly with your affinity groups frequently before you come to Windsor.''
Organizers ask the groups to answer a few essential questions online: How many are you? What level of risk/confrontation does your affinity group represent? How many arrestibles are in your group? Is there anything other affinity groups should know about your group or your intentions?
They conclude with an apology of sorts for such an unseemly imposition of order: ''We realize this sounds like a very centralized process, but we're trying to facilitate autonomous co-ordination, and are always open to any suggestions.''
Once assigned to the quiet shelves of history, anarchists are back on the march and in the news.
Their long-dormant philosophy -- and its emphasis on empowering the individual -- has breathed intellectual energy and destructive force into protest movements worldwide. Curiously, it is anarchism that has provided the glue between fringe elements of the environmental, anti-trade, animal rights, labour and anti-poverty movements.
Although they may be difficult to organize and direct, these are anarchists with a cause. The disruptive power of the free- form radicals was on display at the World Trade Organization's gathering in Seattle and, to a lesser degree, at the April meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
Starting tomorrow, the City of Windsor will confront these same spirited and fleet-footed opponents of corporate power and state authority. Calgary, host of this year's World Petroleum Congress, faces them next week.
As the radicals ready themselves, police officials and politicians are still trying to assess the threat they pose and agree on appropriate counter-measures. Should these protesters be ignored or engaged? Should they be infiltrated, welcomed, annihilated or embraced?
Organizing the Anarchists
Jaggi Singh and Genny Santos canvass door-to-door in downtown Windsor, four days before the mayhem is scheduled to begin. Self- described anarchists, they're trying to spread their anti-corporate message among the city's working class and win recruits to their cause.
It's tough going, though, as the reputation of these radicals precedes them. The rampage in Seattle cost businesses there $17 million. The people of Windsor are on edge.
The city has barricaded a downtown city block with chain-link fences anchored in concrete; businesses have started to board up their windows; and some 2,000 police officers -- including Toronto's mounted crowd- control unit -- are preparing for the worst.
Mr. Singh, 27, and Ms. Santos, 22, organizers with the OAS Shutdown Coalition, insist that their presence here is misunderstood.
''Windsor is a working-class town: we're not targeting the city; we're targeting the OAS,'' says Mr. Singh, who played a key role in the 1997 APEC summit protests in Vancouver.
''This idea that we'd come to trash the city is just horrible,'' he says. ''I don't think you'll see any of that.''
Yet when he's pressed, Mr. Singh admits he can't say for sure what will happen since the coalition's primary job has been to attract so-called affinity groups to Windsor.
The affinity groups -- like- minded people committed to the same brand of disorder -- are expected to decide for themselves what they'll do during this weekend's protest. Some will perform street theatre, others are expected to scale buildings. Still others may decide to heave rocks through store windows. It's all part of what the new radicals call ''direct action.''
''People are tired of having rallies where they walk around in circles and don't have any kind of impact, '' says Ms. Santos, a University of Toronto political science graduate.
Direct action, she says, affords individuals the chance to alter the workings of unelected and hugely powerful organizations, such as the WTO, the World Bank and the OAS.
''We say that they're the problem,'' says Mr. Singh, ''and we're not going to accommodate ourselves to the problem. We're going to confront it directly.''
In keeping with the anarchist model of organization -- and yes, Mr. Singh insists, there is such a beast -- there's no leader, nor is there an official spokesman for the OAS protest.
Each affinity group acts for itself, but is supposed to send an emissary -- or ''spoke'' -- to the planning council, which passes on vital information about potential strategies and targets for direct action.
The anarchist structure makes it easy for radicals of all stripes to feel comfortable in the same formless tent. But it means the messages that emanate from protests like this one are muddled and often lost on observers who understandably view them as anti-everything.
''There's this idea that we're professional protesters, and you can use that term if you want, but it comes from a political perspective: the idea that this is a bigger struggle,'' says Mr. Singh.
''If it's a blockade to save forests, if it's standing up for low-income housing, or fighting against police brutality or brutality in prisons, they're all tied together. They're all part of the capitalist system.''
In many ways, the message is the mayhem. It's meant to remind everyone that the authorities are not in control. And indeed, the organizational structure reflects that goal since neither Mr. Singh nor anyone else is sure what's going to happen. No one knows if or when the first bottle will be thrown -- or how to stop the violence should it escalate.
''We can't predict what anyone is going to do, but you should also ask that of the police. I can't control what they're going to do,'' says Mr. Singh.
In Washington, Seattle and at the APEC summit in Vancouver, he insists, it was the police that unleashed the physical violence.
But the police must protect property against anarchists, many of whom do not regard property damage as violence. It makes clashes of some kind seemingly inevitable.
''If you had property downtown and someone was destroying it, you'd expect us to do something about it,'' says Windsor police Staff Sgt. Dave Rossell. ''We'll do everything we can to protect property ... We're prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best.''
For their part, protest organizers are also prepared for most eventualities. Affinity groups have been warned to come equipped with mineral water and alcohol swabs to defend against pepper spray. Legal and medical teams have been assembled.
''We're not giving anybody any orders,'' says Mr. Singh in rejecting a suggestion that anarchist organizers are, in effect, the puppet masters of disaster.
''We're giving people all the power and tools they need to be effective. That's not a form of control, that's a form of empowerment. We've set up a stage where people can express themselves as affinity groups.''
One Man's Anarchy
It turns out that even anti- corporate anarchists appreciate their Tim Hortons.
Jaggi Singh orders a medium double-double and a cruller before he sits down to explain what it means to be an anarchist today. ''I'm not too caught up in the label,'' Mr. Singh says, ''but I'm not ashamed to say I'm anarchist.''
At the University of British Columbia, Mr. Singh helped organize the APEC demonstrations and gained national notoriety when he was arrested in advance of the protest on flimsy charges that were eventually dropped.
''When you start to challenge authority, then you're a radical,'' he says. ''But I think we have to encourage people to become radicals. That's how things are really going to change.''
Like any of today's committed anarchists, Mr. Singh wants to tear down the instruments of globalization -- APEC, OAS, WTO, IMF -- organizations that extend the reach and power of capitalism.
He insists he's not against global trade that promises to improve the lot of workers in poor countries, but he is against a system that places corporations and their interests ahead of all other interests such as human rights, poverty or nature.
''They've taken trade and made it an idol,'' he says. ''Somehow to oppose it means you're nuts, like you're opposed to gravity.''
His mother, a nurse, and his father, a cab driver, came to Canada from India before he was born. His mother is quietly supportive of his activism, but would prefer it if he pursued his PhD or law degree.
''She obviously would prefer that I settled down,'' says Mr. Singh, who makes ends meet by writing for the alternative press in Montreal. ''But she sees that I'm satisfied with what I'm doing. And for now, she says she just wants to make sure if my photo is taken that I'm clean-shaven.''
'a Ride Into the Unknown'
For much of the past 60 years, the currents of anarchism crackled softly in the relative obscurity of coffee houses and university campuses.
That changed suddenly in May 1995, when the New York Times and Washington Post published the 35,000-word political manifesto of a mysterious domestic terrorist known only as the Unabomber. Its publication would lead to the arrest of mathematics professor Ted Kaczynski -- his brother recognized the tract and informed the FBI -- and provide inspiration to radical anarchists worldwide.
Mr. Kaczynski crystallized the radical case against technology -- he said it exacerbates the corporate control of people's lives and speeds the destruction of nature -- and offered a defence of violence as the only means to alter society's path.
''The technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless ride into the unknown, '' the Harvard-educated Mr. Kaczynski wrote. He said the system is so entrenched that it cannot be changed, only destroyed by revolutionaries like the Unabomber who ''by hastening the onset of the breakdown will be reducing the extent of the disaster.''
The manifesto won the admiration of John Zerzan, a Eugene, Oregon-based writer, whose prison visits with Mr. Kaczynski affirmed the Unabomber's status as an anarchist icon.
Mr. Zerzan, 56, is considered one of the most influential of today's anarchist thinkers.
A political science graduate from Stanford University who also holds a master's degree in history, Mr. Zerzan has produced an influential series of essays in which he denounces consumerism and technology as contemporary forms of slavery.
''The more high-tech society becomes, the more it tends to flatten experience,'' he wrote. ''People sit in front of a screen and life becomes emptier and emptier.''
Like the Unabomber, he equates progress with ''ecological collapse and the near-complete dehumanization of the individual. ''
Unlike the Unabomber, though, Mr. Zerzan equivocates about the use of violence to bring about a kinder, simpler society based on the classic anarchist model: small, independent communities that operate without elected leaders. He believes that peaceful civil uprisings, like the ones that led to the collapse of the Soviet East bloc, can effect the kind of freedom he seeks.
That view puts Mr. Zerzan in what might be called the mainstream of radical anarchism. Old school anarchists, like writer Chaz Bufe, maintain that the movement must be based on an ethical, non-violent approach lest one form of oppression replace another.
More radical factions believe that words and peaceful protests have accomplished nothing in recent years. They believe it's necessary to inflict damage on the corporations that extend the reach of global trade and technology at the expense of the Earth and its poorest citizens.
''Politicians and companies ignore letters, petitions and public inquiries,'' the Earth First! Web site at www.k2net.co.uk/ef/efhtmls/
introduction.html exhorts. ''They reject overwhelming evidence because it goes against their interests.
''Conventional campaigns are all too often narrow and are seen as single issues. The scale of change needed is forgotten. While the world burns, environmentalists debate recycling.''
Earth First! argues the situation is so dire that people must take matters into their own hands ''and physically halt the further destruction of nature.''
And increasingly, radical fringe elements are doing just that. Last year, FBI director Louis Freeh told a U.S. Senate subcommittee on domestic terrorism that ''the most recognizable single issue of terrorists at the present time are those involved in the violent animal rights, anti-abortion and environmental protection movements.''
The Portland Oregonian last year identified 100 significant acts of destruction on the West Coast since 1980 linked to ecoterrorists, or radical animal rights groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front.
A century ago, the individual acts of anarchists caused serious political havoc: anarchist assassins claimed as their victims President Sadi Carnot of France (1894), Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1898), King Umberto of Italy (1900), and President William McKinley of the United States (1901).
But today, the new anarchists are using numbers to wage mayhem. In Windsor, as the city awaits the OAS shutdown attempt, the police are still guessing at those numbers.
''We don't know if it's going to be 2, 000 or 20,000,'' says Staff Sgt. Rossell. ''And from what I can tell, I don't think the protest organizers know either.''
The Chaos Games
Jaggi Singh says he doesn't consider it a violent act to heave a rock through the window of a Gap Store or a Wal-Mart since it doesn't harm other people.
''The prospect of violence from us, no matter how you define it, is so minimal and marginal compared to the violence perpetrated in the name of global free trade,'' he argues. ''Poverty is a form of violence, prisons are violence. Putting some graffiti on McDonald's is farcical by comparison.''
Although he doesn't embrace Mr. Kaczynski's extremism, Mr. Singh says he believes the trashing of Seattle stores during the WTO protest was an effective form of direct action.
''The way they did it, they didn't put anyone else at risk, except themselves. They targeted Wal-Mart, Nike, Starbucks. These are symbols of a culture that, as my friend (APEC protester) Rob West says, 'looks like Disney, tastes like Coke and smells like shit.' ''
''There's this boredom out there,'' he continues, ''which even the people in the suburbs can relate to: the feeling that there must be something more to life than buying into mutual funds.''
For Mr. Singh, life is now about organizing anarchists and other radicals who share his views on the evils of big business and big trade deals.
He rattles off a series of upcoming international meetings: the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary, the International Monetary Fund in Prague, the Asian Development Bank in Thailand. Each of the big meetings -- they're like the Olympics for protesters, Mr. Singh says -- will draw radicals intent on disrupting their business.
Windsor is expected to be a small event by comparison. Mr. Singh calls it a warm-up for a meeting next April in Quebec City known as the Summit of the Americas, in which 34 leaders will discuss the proposed continental free trade deal.
He warns that the chaos games in Quebec City will be nothing less than ''huge.''
''It's going to be like Seattle and Washington. They're just crazy to try to hold it in Quebec City. It's a challenge to us, a slap in the face. Why would they hold it in that city when they know we're going to mobilize thousands to shut it down? It's crazy.''
GRAPHIC: P Black & White Photo: Eric Draper, The Associated Press / Demonstrators at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, Washington, confronted police with a model of organization that was prepared for the police reaction. ; Black & White Photo: Jaggi Singh