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The World Economic Forum (WEF) was founded in 1971 by Swiss-based German entrepreneur and academic Dr. Klaus Schwab. Annual meetings are held which are attended by about 2000 of the world's most influential political leaders and chief executives of multinational corporations. This is when the leaders of these corporations have a great chance to discuss their interests dealing with globalisation of the economy with the government leaders who make the decisions on such policies.

Meetings are taking place January 25th to 30th, 2001 in Davos, Switzerland. Protests are underway by a number of groups opposed to neo-liberalism and economic globalisation, such as Friends of the Earth International. Swiss police are determined to not allow protestors to influence the course of the meetings. Protestors have been harassed and rejected at the border and banned from entering the country until the end of the month.

Details are at http://davos.indymedia.org.

The World Economic Forum will be holding its annual meeting in New York City in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel at 301 Park Avenue (between 49th and 50th st.) from Thursday, January 31, 2002 until Monday, February 4, 2002. For more information about the meeting itself, you can go to:

http://www.weforum.org/site/homepublic.nsf/Content/Annual+Meeting+2002

The six themes of the conference are:

You can come to your own conclusions about whether you support or despise the aims and outcomes of the forum. Whether you support globalization, or against it, this meeting should spark some interest for you. What is truly interesting about this meeting to me, however, are the preparations being made by the New York City police department. In light of recent violent protests at WTO meetings in Seattle, Quebec City, and Genova, the NYPD are preparing for the worst. Over 4,000 police are being made ready to enforce a "frozen zone", only accessable to employees working in that region.

Protesters have obtained permits, and will be allowed into to vocalize their disfavor with the WEF, but police chief Joe Esposito has indicated that a rarely enforced 1845 law prohibiting groups of 3 or more to wear masks. This would, in their theory, inhibit the actions of left-wing and anarchist groups using tactics such as the Black Bloc, by allowing for the immediate arrest of those wearing masks. They would most likely be arraigned, and held without bail, only to have the charges dropped after the meeting. In addition, this would allow for the arrest of peaceful protesters who donned gas masks, if the police resorted to such methods of crowd control. However, it seems it would be reserved for the violent

The following were instructions sent to employees working within the "frozen zone." (I received these via a company-wide email sent to the employees of Bristol-Myers Squibb):

  • Employees will experience delays upon arriving at their place of employment.
  • Employees are asked NOT to carry luggage or knapsacks. They will be searched.
  • Employees should be prepared to have various forms of photo ID and their building ID cards with them.
  • All visitors/guests without proper building ID will have to be escorted by a representative of the building or the Company.
  • No private vehicles will be allowed to enter or park within the "frozen zone."
  • Employees will not be allowed to linger on the Park Avenue plaza for coffee or lunch.
  • Employees should check with their local transportation carriers to determine if normal bus/train routes will be affected.
  • Employees are reminded to immediately notify Security (x2752) if they lose their ID card.
  • Employees are asked not to schedule any seminars/conferences with numerous attendees from January 31 to February 4.
  • If employees are unable to cancel scheduled appointments, they should ensure that the visitors/guests have the direct telephone number of the employee.
  • Furthermore, employees will need to be available to respond as escorts in the event that their visitors/guests are not permitted into the "frozen zone."

Pretty much sounds like a lock down. The question remains, however, who will be worse, the police or the protestors? It sounds like both sides are making a valiant effort to limit the violence (through the frozen zone and the protestors decision to obtain a permit). However, with the decision to arrest those wearing masks, and the likely antagonistic behavior of protestors, this could turn into another fiasco.

This poses the most important question. With previously unseen support for the police and the government following the September 11th incidents, will the protesters help or hurt their cause? Will they lose the support of the average citizen if they struggle with police? Or, playing it safe, will they remain peaceful in light of recent events? Hopefully, both the police and the protesters will do their best so make sure that no one gets hurt. This however, seems unlikely.


There will be aftermath added to this node, as the meeting plays out.


Update: After the first day, there were almost no arrests (5 women for tresspassing on a roof, and a couple others for vandalizing stores) and no reports of violence! Huzzah!

Update (2): Seems some wiseguys have done a DoS attack on the WEF's website. See here:
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/technology/tech-forum-hackers.html

Update (3): (Feb,4) To this point, there have been a pleasingly low number of arrests, about 160, considering how many people are protesting, and how many police officers are there. 87 were arrested Sunday afternoon for stopping traffic (They supposedly had led a type of protest parade called a snake march against traffic in the East village). Another 70 were arrested when, later on sunday, according to the New York Times:

Hundreds of people left an "earth and animal liberation" rally to roam the Upper East Side. Red paint was spilled, a door and windows of a high-rise apartment building were smashed
This could be alot worse. Thankfuly, both the police and protesters kept their violent sides under wraps for the most part.
You can find the NYTimes article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/04/nyregion/04STRE.html
Perhaps the numbers say it best in regards to the currently-ongoing New York City meeting of this illustrious organization (with enthusiastic thanks to http://nyc.indymedia.org, grudging thanks to http://www.cnn.com, and apologies to Harper's Magazine):
Summary of the protest actions accompanying the World Economic Forum meeting in New York City:

Thousands of people from New York City and from around the world participated in several protest activities in response to the World Economic Forum. As a forum where corporate leaders have the exclusive ear of gevernment officials, the WEF is emblematic of the way corporate influence subverts democracy the world over, and is therefore a very appropriate target for protest.

Constant features of these street demonstrations were unconstitutional and unfair police tactics, and media coverage that was at turns either scant or blatantly false.

Preliminary activities:
An umbrella organization, the Another World Is Possible coalition, was granted a permit for a march and rally on Saturday, February 2 from Central Park to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where the WEF conference was taking place. In an unprecedented move, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a radical group, endorsed the permitted march. Amazingly, the city and police department refused a request by the AFL-CIO for a permit to hold a march and rally.

The police department stated that they would be enforcing a 19th century anti-masquerading law, making it a crime to conceal one’s face while in the presence of two other people. The law was intended as a puritanical measure designed to discourage carnivals, but was being dusted off as a way to discourage expressive costumes, face concealing bandanas, and gas masks. Either way it is blatantly unconstitutional.

As reported on Indymedia, an activist overheared a police officer saying "Don't they know it's fucking futile to resist?"

Ongoing Activities
The United Nations was the site of the Spotlight on Davos conference where academics from around the world held seminars critiquing the economic policies favored by WEF participants. This official UN summit received absolutely no media coverage.

Concurrently, the World Social Forum, a gathering with 60,000 participants (as opposed to the WEF’s 7000) was being held in Porto Allegere, Brazil. This summit received no mainstream media coverage.

Thursday, January 31
About a thousand people gathered at noon outside The Gap store on Fifth Avenue and 54th street in Midtown Manhattan to draw attention to the Gap’s sweatshop labor practices. Many protestors were affiliated with the U.N.I.T.E. garment workers’ union and the Jobs With Justice coalition.
Police action: None
Press coverage: there was a New York Times story and blurbs on local radio.

Friday, February 1
A lunch-hour demonstration at the same Gap store, this time to draw attention to the destructive forestry practices of a subsidiary of the Gap, drew about 30 activists, and for some reason hordes of media and a heavy police presence. A redwood stump was rolled in front of the store. Protestors were outnumbered by media! Still, there was virtually no coverage, and the rally was only mentioned in the frustrated-seeming context of ‘Protests Still Not Violent.’

A group of 20 or so activists joined the crowd of pre-teeny-boppers in Times Square that tries to get on MTV's Total Request Live. The activists had signs saying things like "Turn off Your TV-Shut Down the WEF" and "Your TV Lies." They were standing on a public street holding signs just like the rest of the TRL crowd, and just like the TRL crowd that assembles every weekday, but they were approached by police and told to leave. Not wanting a confrontation, they did so.

A casual evening assembly at Washington Square Park drew truckloads of heavily armed riot police.

Saturday, February 2
This was the major day of demonstration. The Another World Is Possible coalition rally assembled at 1 pm in the southeast corner of Central Park and was joined by a Reclaim the Streets march from Columbus Circle. By conservative estimates (NY Times) there were approximately 7000 people in attendance at this rally and subsequent march (figures much distorted by the media, as described below). However, there was no press coverage yet.

At this point, riot police suddenly descended on a section of the non-confrontational crowd, doused an area with pepper spray, and arrested 30 some people, claiming to have information that they “intended to attack police.” This ‘pre-emptive arrest’ tactic is unconstitutional. As of Monday, they are still being held. Media coverage of this incident generally stated that 36 'potentially violent' demonstrators were removed and was favorable.

The march was entirely non-confrontational, and eventually led to the vicinity of the Waldorf. Police herded the marchers into a series of pens, where we continued to be non-confrontational for about an hour. Then the police announced that the rally was over, and that everyone had to leave or face arrest. Amazingly, the crowd of 10,000 peacefully left without incident. This was not noted in the media.

At the same time the media lauded the police commissioner, they underreported the size of the crowd. Typical was the way CNN.com distorted the facts, reporting that about 2000 people were assembled outside the Waldorf, and were later joined by “others” from a march. The “others” were of course the 7000 strong (by conservative estimates) who had been on the march.

Sunday, February 3
Activists were instructed to meet in the East Village at 1:00 and follow the sound of drums for a spontaneous rally. Squadrons of riot police were already on hand throughout the neighborhood. At 1:30, a drum band was heard on St. Mark’s Place and activists rushed to join it. Two groups of about 100 emerged. One group linked hands and held a “snake march” through several blocks, while the other, of which I was a part, clapped and danced its way up the streets and sidewalks of First Avenue and over to Second Avenue. At the corner of Second Avenue and 13th street hundreds of police in riot gear tackled and arrested about 40 of the revelers. The only ‘crime’ we committed was jay-walking (which is never enforced in New York anyway) but police said activists would be charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. They are currently being held. It is unclear whether they will actually be charged.

The other group fared much worse, as they were pepper sprayed and clubbed one block away, One activist was beaten unconscious. A police officer was overheard saying “Let’s get this over with so we can catch the Super Bowl.” Approximately 40 people were arrested. Again, the only ‘crime’ was walking in the street. Both of these police actions were hailed in the media. It was not mentioned that the demonstrations were non-confrontational and were not engaged in any illegal activity. Again, it is unclear whether they will actually be charged with anything.

Later in the day, demonstrators on an Animal Liberation March knocked out the lobby window of an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where an executive supposedly lived. Several were arrested. This was the only illegal action carried out by protestors the entire weekend. Hillariously, this act was attributed to the Sierra Club in radio reports.

Monday, February 4
At noon about 75 demonstrators assembled for a non-confrontational 'Enron Healing' on Sixth Avenue and 54th street, outside the midtown offices of Arthur Andersen, the auditing firm that failed to audit its client. They were surrounded by an equal number of riot police. The intent of the demonstration was to proceed around the corner to the Argentine consulate, to demonstrate solidarity with the Argentinian people in light of their ongoing ass rape at the hands of the IMF, and to drive home the theme They are all Enron and we are all Argentines. Police prevented the demonstration from turning the corner, again in violation of the right of people to peaceably assemble. The demonstration then continued in its original spot until about 2:30.

Updates to follow


Jennifer: In Argentina it was the undemocratic (and CIA supported) fascist military dictatorship of a generation ago that agreed to those loans and the terms that came with them, not the Argentinian people. You can bet much of that IMF money went straight into the pockets of the murderous military rulers, just like it did in Indonesia, Zaire, etc... The whole point was to lock the country into privatization schemes and force it to limit its state sector.

The people who spoke out against this government were the infamous 'disappeared' who were tortured and burried in mass graves. So no, I would say the Argentinian people in fact had very little say in agreeing to this 'free money'!

I have to disagree with you on another point: The freedoms you speak of, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to disseminate one's ideas, the right to dress and live as one chooses, are NOT 'privileges.' They are RIGHTS. They are not to be given or taken away based on the whims of whatever man or ideology happens to be in charge. Yes, in this country we are fortunate to have them to the extent that we still do, as opposed to a place like Singapore, but we are no more privileged than the person who has barely enough to eat while many others starve.

The meeting in New York was not about media coverage, or about making policy. I was told it was more about networking, and putting politics aside. It is not about attracting attention of the media. Most of these people are dedicated to improving the economy, reducing overall poverty.

Everybody I met this weekend were, judging from their actions and words, very dedicated to improving human rights and developing their respective economies. However, I'm not going to pass judgment on everybody who was there-- I am quite sure that with such a diverse attendance, it is very hard to say.

I am not really quite sure what sort of message the protestors are trying to send. I understand that by protesting the WTO, one is demonstrating that they are against globalization. However, this meeting, the WEF, spreads so many national, ideogical, religious, and economic viewpoints that I don't believe it sends any very specific message. It's basically an event for a bunch of economists who never really get out to feel important.

First stop on Sunday: Brunch at the Singaporean Consulate, near the UN. Tons of police, deserted streets, no protestors. In fact, I hardly saw any at all this weekend.

There were about 18 people there, including the PM, and other cabinet ministers. This was not an official WEF event (there's no way I would have been allowed in if it were official), just a social gathering. We discussed Singapore's role as the most successful totalitarian government, and yes, freedom. One of the ministers stressed 'The difference between freedom to and freedom from.'

This made me think about the nature of freedom in America: I mean we talk about 'the media' and we talk about 'violating freedoms' but we never realize that freedoms like this are such a privilege. In Singapore you can't walk down the street and clap your hands; they don't really regard it as an infringement on freedom because everybody has to follow that rule, no matter if you are the majority or the minority.

One of the issues that we talked about during brunch was the banning of Muslim headscarves at schools. As a primer, Singapore is a hugely diverse nation, with significant populations of Chinese, Malaysians, and Indians.

This ban has recently become an issue; however it has been in effect for a number of years. The Minister of Information explained it that Singapore has a uniform; and the headscarf is not part of that uniform. He stated that the government wanted the diversity to help Singapore's success, rather than separate it. Apparently, they ban all religious clothing at schools, in an effort to reduce racial and religious division between the students.

A certain other cabinet minister admitted to running red lights in the middle of the night when there are no other cars around.

Anyway, I found the Singaporean contingent to be very receptive, and quite entertaining.

After that I went to have lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria (even though I just ate). I didn't think I'd get in, since I don't have the WEF nametag, but they just sent a security guard to walk us there. Desmond Tutu sighting. A friend observed that most people there looked quite nerdy. We assumed they were economists.=)

My driver parked and waited for us on 52nd street; while he was there, the police blocked it off, and we had quite a scene trying to get it out. They searched the car, and even made us get out. Overall the weekend was very calm.


Clarifications:
boi_toi: Yasser Arafat was noticably absent.

Purvis: I think some of the protestors on the Upper West Side damaged somebody's home, rather than a business as mentioned above. They knocked out windows and splashed paint over the steps and front of the building.

Purvis: Argentines were the ones that took advantage of the IMF's 'free money', no?

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