[Corporations] The Massacre in Miami

Ben Manski manski at greens.org
Thu Nov 27 15:55:41 CST 2003

note: a version of this article appeared in today's The Capital Times at 

The Massacre in Miami

Miami is not Seattle. Both cities are beacons of the future, yet they light 
the way on different economic paths. Seattle, the Emerald City, the city of 
the new economy, high expectations, high technology and "high-road" 
capitalism. Miami, the Gateway to the Americas, a labor camp teeming with 
the refugees of imperialism, the poorest city in America. It's fitting that 
trade summits in each city should produce such different results.

In November 1999 the World Trade Organization met in Seattle. Last week, 
the ministers of the Free Trade Area of the Americas met in Miami. Several 
hundred Wisconsinites traveled to both ministerial meetings in protest. We 
went to speak for our own interests as farmers, workers, students, business 
owners and citizens, united in our conviction that corporations must not be 
handed the reins to the global economy.

Our experiences in each city were poles apart. Had we gone to Miami 
prepared to win, ready to derail the FTAA negotiations, as we had done with 
the WTO in 1999, the story you are about to read likely would have unfolded 
differently. As it is, the Miami story is one of defeat. The media dubbed 
Seattle a "battle," which the WTO opponents won. But Miami could best be 
called a "massacre," in which an overwhelming and disciplined police force 
wiped the streets of disorganized demonstrators.

Last Thursday over 22,000 people marched in Miami's streets against the 
FTAA. The message of the demonstration was clear: No to closed-door
trade meetings. No to corporation-made law. No to the race to the bottom. 
In sum: No to the FTAA.

For a little over two hours, contingents of unionists, civil rights groups, 
community organizations, farmers, students, Mexicans, Manitobans and 
Miamians, and countless others passed parade-like on a roundabout route 
beginning and ending at Bayfront Park.

As the clock neared 4, the tail of the march reached the corner of Biscayne 
and 3rd, near the park. Some stood and faced the police lines. Others 
attended a free concert in the park itself. Still others began to leave for 
home. The police bullhorn broadcast to the thousands still on hand that, 
"So long as the demonstration remains peaceful, it will continue. If it is 
not peaceful, it will not continue." One person shouted in reply, "Does 
that include police violence?"

Within minutes, they had their answer. Without any apparent provocation, 
the police attacked. First, with batons and tear gas. Then with rubber 
bullets, pepper spray and concussion grenades. Marchers began to run, and 
then, keeping our senses, to quickly walk, away from the police and toward 
safety. Those attending the concert in the park were trapped behind police 
lines, and gassed.

They chased us through Miami. This was not a police free for all as was the 
case with Seattle. This was military precision. Forty police forces - 
federal, state, local and military - were under a central command. Over 
three hours they forced us back, block after block, with little resistance, 
miles from Bayfront Park. They divided us from each other at each 
intersection, splitting us, and splitting us again, into small groups, each 
a fraction of the size of the one before it. They had clearly made a 
decision to suppress the protest, and this they did with the violence 
necessary to do the job.

Medics working with the protest reported more than 125 civilians suffered 
serious injuries. The Miami Activist Defense estimated that over 250 people 
were arrested for protesting the FTAA, including seven Wisconsinites.

If there is a lesson from Miami, it is this: Retreat usually leads to defeat.

In Seattle, the police ran amok. They lost the battle for legitimacy to the 
moral force of non-violence, and they lost control of the streets to the 
effective use of civil disobedience tactics.

In Miami, the police ran the protests out of town. They not only controlled 
the streets, but also often the media. Police commanders appeared on local 
television channels as "on-site commentators," in many cases displacing the 
channels' own journalists as reporters of the news.

In Seattle, the movement for global justice was new, creative and hungry 
for a major reversal of the consolidation of corporate power. The chief 
proponent of global corporatization was President Clinton, and it was 
Clinton who called up the National Guard in a futile attempt to insulate 
the WTO ministerial from criticism. We had no illusions, no saviors; our 
faith was in democracy, and movements from the streets.

In Miami, the movement was obviously in retreat. In some respects, the 
events in Miami represent the relative weakness of progressive politics in 
the post Sept. 11 era. Our actions were motivated by fears of the immediate 
by an immediate threat, in one case the police, in the other, the Bush 
administration, rather than guided
by an organized strategy for winning the day.

After congressional authorization of the occupations of Afghanistan and 
Iraq, and passage of the PATRIOT Act, we should have had no illusions that 
leadership remains within the political establishment to stop the FTAA. Yet 
our actions in Miami indicated that we were still operating under exactly 
those kinds of illusions. We looked for leaders to emerge who we could 
follow, rather than taking leadership ourselves.

However, not all is lost. Because of the leadership of the people of 
Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and other nations, the ministerial meeting 
produced no real movement toward the enactment of the FTAA. We have a 
reprieve, and it is up to the people of the United States to use it.

Attending the protests of the FTAA ministerial meeting was Delegate 
Leonardo Alvarez, a Green member of the Mexican Congress. As we said 
goodbye on Friday, Leonardo took hold of my arm, and did not let go. He 
told me, "We are counting on you. You must be aggressive. You are leaders. 
You will succeed, I know you will."

After Miami, we had better.

         Ben Manski is a lifelong Madisonian, law student and a co-chair of 
the Green Party of the United States.  www.GP.org

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