Protest: a short, but definitive guide
May Day 2001 - Alexander Barley gives a preview of anti-capitalist plans and warns us not t
What shape will the deliriously anticipated May Day protests in London take? Will there be hijackings, kidnappings, pillaging and plunder? Let's consider what actions have been publicised already. There's to be a veggie-burger handout by the McDonald's in King's Cross, a picnic in Victoria Embankment Gardens, and a city of cardboard hotels will be built on Mayfair. There's to be a Critical Mass cycle ride from Liverpool Street. London Animal Action will be feeding the pigeons outside Trafalgar Square and demonstrating outside the Philip Hockley fur store. There'll be protests against third world debt outside Coutts and the World Bank office. There'll be a picnic against privatisation on the Elephant and Castle roundabout, and a protest in Earl's Court against Accommodata, the contractor that the Home Office uses to house refugees. At Oxford Circus, there'll be drummers, jugglers and dancing. And there'll be a Beltane celebration by the statue of Eros under the neon lights of Piccadilly, for which you should bring musical instruments, masks, costumes and all the love that you can muster.
I am not sure quite where the "rioters armed with samurai swords and machetes" of which a recent broadsheet warned us will fit in. What I do know is that 1 May will bring together a wide range of groups falling under the anti-capitalist umbrella. This movement is a diverse amalgamation of numerous non-governmental organisations, student groups and environmental campaigners who are reacting against what they see as the absence of party political representation.
If there is any violence, it is far more likely to be the result of an irresponsible press that has unquestioningly printed stories fed it by the Metropolitan Police. We have been warned that, on May Day, we need only be standing around looking a little bit shifty to be sent straight to jail.
The anti-capitalist movement (or, as Naomi Klein terms it, the "pro-democracy movement") has realised that it cannot trust corporate media to see beyond establishment interests. They must "become the media" themselves.
For previous events, Reclaim the Streets produced spoof newspapers - Evading Standards and Financial Crimes - arguing the case for sustainable development and against corporate tyranny. It also produced discussion booklets following the protests of 18 June 1999 and May Day 2000, with informed debates on the effectiveness of one-day actions in the context of creating a wider movement for social and economic justice. Many campaigners have been using the internet to create their own news channels: go to www.indymedia.org.uk to read alternative accounts of the May Day protests. This is a democratisation of the media: anyone can post their own news stories, audio, video or picture files.
These networks are part of a campaign to spread greater literacy in economic, political and social affairs. The movement is characterised by workshops, conferences and lectures, and leaflets, manuals, magazines and books explaining what's wrong with the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and corporate power. Events such as those hosted by Globalise Resistance and the World Social Forum draw thousands. The anti-capitalist slogan "Our resistance will be as global as capital" has come true: it is now impossible to extend free trade agreements without hosting the talks somewhere as remote as Qatar.
While the writings of anti-corporate prophets such as Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky have inspired many, the movement remains non-hierarchical. We see this most clearly in the masked Zapatista Subcoman- dante Marcos, who terms himself "a conduit of the will of others". In academia, too, writers such as David Korten and Michael Rowbotham are providing a critique of the neoliberal economic system, while Colin Hines is presenting a vision of a community-based alternative.
Whatever happens on May Day, it won't mean what the next day's papers tell you it means. They are already asking their photographers to get that picture of a snarling punk about to kick in a window. But don't be fooled: if you want to know what the anti-capitalist movement is really about, go to some of the websites listed on this page.
Better still, take May Day off work for your own peaceful protest. Whatever Ken Livingstone, the press or the police might tell you, you do have the right to protest peacefully, and you can make a difference - without resorting to kidnappings, pillaging or plunder.
Protest 2001: Forthcoming events
5 May: Kyoto Protest, London Meet 11am at US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, then march to US ambassador's residence in Regent's Park.
14-16 June: Gothenburg, Sweden Protests against the EU summit. On 15 June, Reclaim the City plans a large street party in central Gothenburg.
25 -27 June: Barcelona, Spain World Bank meets to discuss development issues. A counter-summit will take place on 22-23 June. www.barcelona.indymedia.org
16-27 July: Bonn, Germany Climate change talks resume. Friends of the Earth plan street action. www.foeeurope.org/climate/
20-22 July: Genoa, Italy Protests against the G8 summit on the issue of third world debt. www.dropthedebt.org
28 Sept-4 Oct: Washington Protests against the AGM of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. www.50years.org
Who's who in the protest world
Reclaim the Streets first made headlines in the early 1990s with its street parties against road building. These legendary high-street raves inspired the North American anti-capitalist movement. RTS has been demonised by the press since its 1997 demonstration in London, alongside the Liverpool dockers, ended in a riot. Its most recent action was against the British Petroleum-sponsored "Ecology" display at the Natural History Museum. www.reclaimthestreets.net
Critical Mass is a long-established anti-car group that organises monthly mass cycle rides through London leaving from Waterloo, aimed at slowing traffic and reminding people of the environmental damage that cars cause. Its ideas have also been taken up in North America. Anyone on wheels and without an engine is welcome. www.critical-mass.org
Globalise Resistance hosts conferences, debates and workshops on the fight against corporations and the IMF/WTO. They are attended by thousands, despite the difficulties it sometimes has in finding venues to host them. On May Day, it will be protesting against the World Bank. www.resist.org.uk
Wombles (White Overall Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles) wear white overalls and foam padding with the intention of protecting demonstrators from police violence and facilitating the smooth running of protests. They take their inspiration from Italy's Ya Basta movement, and have been involved in actions against Iraqi sanctions and sweatshop labour. www.wombleaction.mrnice.net
Indymedia is a global news network for activists, campaigners, the underdogs and the dispossessed. The network has grown rapidly in the wake of the Seattle WTO protests and now includes sites in 40 countries from Brazil through Israel to Russia. It has launched a May Day Media Watch to expose and counter press misinformation, and will be the best news source on May Day. www.indymedia.org.uk
Corporate Watch is an Oxford-based research organisation that investigates and publishes reports on corporate malpractice. For the protest against global capitalism in the City on 18 June 1999, it issued a pamphlet, "Squaring Up to the Square Mile"; more recently, it has exposed GM food and oil companies. www.corporatewatch.org.uk
Undercurrents is a video activist group that has an archive of protest footage shot by demonstrators and independent journalists. It offers affordable video training workshops for activists. The Metropolitan Police clearly regards it as a threat, because it has been refused access to police press conferences. www.undercurrents.org