Keepers of the Flame

| February 1, 2002

Keepers of the Flame

With mainstream activist groups lying low, this weekend's World Economic Forum (WEF) in New York looks like a coming-out party for the new leaders of the global justice movement: the anarchists.

As Esther Kaplan reports in The Village Voice, the post-9/11 political climate has caused organizations that were active players in the Seattle WTO demonstrations, such as the Sierra Club, Global Exchange, and the AFL-CIO, to limit their WEF presence, leaving the heavy lifting to a growing network of anarchists. But such a development isn't as surprising as it may seem, Kaplan notes. 'As the months have rolled by since Seattle, more and more activists, with little fanfare, have come to explicitly identify as anarchists, and anarchist-minded collectives are on the rise,' she writes. 'The anarchist fringe is fast becoming the movement's center.'

In New York, that means the only group granted a permit to march is the anarchist collective Another World is Possible. And that worries movement stalwarts such as Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, who fear a reprise of the violence that characterized Black Bloc actions in Seattle. 'The test of any tactic is whether it builds the movement,' he says. 'And you don't attract people to a movement that looks dangerous and messy.'

But Kaplan notes that since Seattle, the growing network of anarchists have helped build a nationwide infrastructure that includes more than 175 Food Not Bombs chapters, some 60 Independent Media Centers, nearly a dozen People's Law Collectives, as well as countless puppetistas troupes, and even medic teams. 'In debates over the sustainability of the global justice movement, the anarchists are mostly chalked up as a problem,' writes Kaplan. 'But their spirit of cultural celebration, combined with an elaborate web of small, accessible collective endeavors, has clearly provided activists with skill, support structures, and points of entry.'

And they've had the kind of media impact that other dissident groups can only dream of. 'To be honest, what the left has done since the '60s hasn't been that successful, and we can't afford to embrace tactics that don't work,' says Warcry, part of the large anarchist contingent in New York. 'I don't think Seattle would be on the map if it weren't for the catalyzing level of rage that was made visible through property destruction.'
--Craig Cox
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