In other ways, too, September 11 changed little for OCAP: the nights are still getting colder and a recession is still looming. It didn't change the fact that, in a city that used to be described as "safe" and, well, "maybe a little boring", many will die on the streets this winter, as they did last winter, and the one before that, unless more beds are found immediately.
For other groups, those perhaps more interested in public opinion, September 11 changes a great deal. In North America at least, campaigns that rely on attacking - even peacefully - powerful symbols of capitalism find themselves in an utterly transformed semiotic landscape. After all, the attacks were acts of real and horrifying terror, but they were also acts of symbolic warfare, and instantly understood as such. As many commentators have put it, the towers were not just any buildings, they were "symbols of American capitalism".
Of course, there is little evidence that America's most wanted Saudi-born millionaire has a grudge against capitalism (if Osama bin Laden's rather impressive global export network stretching from cash-crop agriculture to oil pipelines is any indication, it seems unlikely). And yet for the movement some people call "anti-globalisation" others call "anti-capitalism" (and I tend to just sloppily call "the movement"), it's difficult to avoid discussions about symbolism: about all the anti-corporate signs and signifiers - the culture-jammed logos, the guerrilla-warfare stylings, the choices of brand name and political targets - that make up the movement's dominant metaphors. Many political opponents of anti-corporate activism are using the symbolism of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks to argue that young activists, playing at guerrilla war, have now been caught out by a real war. The obituaries are already appearing in newspapers around the world: "Anti-Globalisation Is So Yesterday" reads a typical headline. It is, according to the Boston Globe, "in tatters". Is it true?
Our activism has been declared dead before. Indeed, it is declared dead with ritualistic regularity before and after every mass demonstration: our strategies apparently discredited, our coalitions divided, our arguments misguided. And yet those demonstrations have kept growing larger, from 50,000 in Seattle to 300,000, by some estimates, in Genoa.
At the same time, it would be foolish to pretend nothing has changed since September 11. This struck me recently, looking at a slide show I had been pulling together before the attacks. It is about how anti-corporate imagery is increasingly being absorbed by corporate marketing. One slide shows a group of activists spray-painting the window of a Gap outlet during the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. The next shows Gap's recent window displays featuring its own prefab graffiti - the word "Independence" sprayed in black. And the next is a frame from Sony PlayStation's State Of Emergency game featuring cool-haired anarchists throwing rocks at evil riot cops protecting the fictitious American Trade Organisation. Now all I can see is how these snapshots from the image wars have been instantly overshadowed, blown away by September 11 like so many toy cars and action figures on a disaster movie set.
Despite the altered landscape - or because of it -it bears remembering why this movement chose to wage symbolic struggles in the first place. OCAP's decision to "shut down" the business district came from a set of very specific circumstances. Like so many others trying to get issues of economic inequality on the political agenda, the people the group represents felt that they had been discarded, left outside the paradigm, disappeared and reconstituted as a panhandling or squeegee problem requiring tough new legislation. They realised that what they had to confront was just not a local political enemy or even a particular trade law but an economic system - the broken promise of deregulated, trickle-down capitalism.
Thus the modern activist challenge: how do you organise against an ideology so vast, it has no edges; so everywhere, it seems nowhere? Where is the site of resistance for those with no workplaces to shut down, whose communities are constantly being uprooted? What do we hold on to when so much that is powerful is virtual - currency trades, stock prices, intellectual property and arcane trade agreements?
The short answer, at least before September 11, was that you grab anything you can get your hands on: the brand image of a famous multinational, a stock exchange, a meeting of world leaders, a single trade agreement or, in the case of the Toronto group, the banks and corporate headquarters that are the engines that power this agenda. Anything that, even fleetingly, makes the intangible actual, the vastness somehow human-scale. In short, you find symbols and you hope they become metaphors for change.
For instance, when the United States launched a trade war against France for daring to ban hormone-laced beef, José Bové and the French Farmers' Confederation didn't get the world's attention by screaming about import duties on Roquefort cheese. They did it by "strategically dismantling" a McDonald's. Nike, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Shell, Chevron, Pfizer, Sodexho Marriott, Kellogg's, Starbucks, Gap, Rio Tinto, British Petroleum, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Citigroup, Taco Bell - all have found their gleaming brands used to shine light on everything from bovine growth hormone in milk to human rights in the Niger Delta; from labour abuses of Mexican tomato farmworkers in Florida to war-financing of oil pipelines in Chad and Cameroon; from global warming to sweatshops.
Many activists have learned over the past decade that the blind spot many have concerning international affairs can be overcome by linking campaigns to famous brands - an effective, if often problematic, weapon against parochialism. These corporate campaigns have, in turn, opened back doors into the arcane world of international trade and finance, to the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and, for some, to a questioning of capitalism itself.
These tactics have also proven to be an easy target in turn. After September 11, politicians and pundits around the world instantly began spinning the terrorist attacks as part of a continuum of anti-American and anti-corporate violence: first the Starbucks window, then, presumably, the WTC. New Republic editor Peter Beinart seized on an anti-corporate internet chat room that asked if the attacks were committed by "one of us". Beinart concluded that "the anti-globalisation movement... is, in part, a movement motivated by hatred of the United States" - immoral with the US under attack. Reginald Dale, writing in the International Herald Tribune, went furthest in the protester-terrorist equation. "While they are not deliberately setting out to slaughter thousands of innocent people, the protesters who want to prevent the holding of meetings like those of the IMF or the WTO are seeking to advance their political agenda through intimidation, which is a classic goal of terrorism."
In a sane world, rather than fuelling such a backlash, the terrorist attacks would raise questions about why US intelligence agencies were spending so much time spying on Reclaim The Streets and Independent Media Centres instead of on the terrorist networks plotting mass murder. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the crackdown on activism that predated September 11 will only intensify, with heightened surveillance, infiltration and police violence. The attacks could well, I fear, also cost us our few political victories. Funds committed to the Aids crisis in Africa are disappearing, and commitments to expand debt cancellation will likely follow. Now aid is being used as payola for countries that sign up to America's war. Defending the rights of immigrants and refugees was becoming a focus for the direct-action crowd in Australia, Europe and, slowly, the US. This, too, is threatened by the rising tide of racism and xenophobia.
And free trade, long facing a public relations crisis, is fast being rebranded, like shopping and baseball, as a patriotic duty. According to US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, trade "promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle". We need, he says, a new campaign to "fight terror with trade". In an essay in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Lewis makes a similar conflation between freedom fighting and free trading when he explains that the traders who died were targeted as "not merely symbols but also practitioners of liberty ... They work hard, if unintentionally, to free others from constraints. This makes them, almost by default, the spiritual antithesis of the religious fundamentalist, whose business depends on a denial of personal liberty in the name of some putatively higher power."
The battle lines leading up to next month's WTO negotiations have already been drawn: trade equals freedom, anti-trade equals fascism.
Our civil liberties, our advances, our usual strategies - all are now in question. But this crisis also opens up new possibilities. As many have pointed out, the challenge for social justice movements is to demonstrate that justice and equality are the most sustainable strategies against violence and fundamentalism. What does that mean in practice? Well, Americans are finding out fast what it means to have a public health care system so overburdened it cannot handle the flu season, let alone an anthrax outbreak. Many public health departments are closed at weekends with no one on call. There are severe drug shortages and privatised labs are failing to come up with anthrax vaccines for US soldiers, let alone civilians. Despite a decade of pledges to safeguard the US water supply from bioterrorist attack, scandalously little has been done by the overburdened US Environmental Protection Agency. The food supply is even more vulnerable, with inspectors managing to check about 1% of food imports - hardly a safeguard against rising fears of "agroterrorism".
In this "new kind of war", it becomes clear that terrorists are finding their weapons in our tattered public infrastructures. This is true not only in rich countries such as the US, but also in poor countries, where fundamentalism has been spreading rapidly. Where debt and war have ravaged infrastructure, fanatical sugar daddies such as Bin Laden are able to swoop in and start providing basic services that should be the job of government: roads, schools, health clinics, even basic sanitation. In Sudan, it was Bin Laden who built the road that enabled the construction of the Talisman oil pipeline, pumping resources to the government for its brutal ethnic war. The extreme Islamic seminaries in Pakistan that indoctrinated so many Taliban leaders thrive precisely because they fill a huge social welfare gap. In a country that spends 90% of its budget on its military and debt - and a pittance on education - the madrassas offer not only free classrooms but also food and shelter for poor children.
In understanding the spread of terrorism - north and south - questions of infrastructure and public funding are unavoidable. This war is being fought in mailrooms, subways, airports, schools and hospitals, all at the front lines of the privatisation and deregulation battles of the past two decades. And yet what is the response from politicians so far? More of the same: tax breaks for businesses and further privatised services. On the same day that the International Herald Tribune ran the front page headline "New Terrorism Front Line: The Mailroom", it was announced that EU governments had agreed to open their postal delivery markets to private competition. And of course one of the top items on the agenda at next month's WTO meeting - the one where we fight for freedom and against terrorism -is the General Agreement of Trade in Services. This is the side agreement, drafted in 1995, that has steadily been pushing for more "market access" to public services, including health care, education and water, while restricting the ability of governments to set and enforce health and environmental standards.
The debate about what kind of globalisation we want is not "so yesterday"; it has never been more urgent. Many campaign groups are now framing their arguments in terms of "common security" - a welcome antidote to the narrow security mentality of fortress borders and B-52s that are so far doing such a spectacularly poor job of protecting anyone. Yet we cannot be naive, as if the very real threat of more slaughtering of innocents will disappear through political reform alone. There needs to be social justice, but there also needs to be justice for the victims of these attacks and practical prevention of future ones. Terrorism is indeed an international threat, and it did not begin with the attacks in the US. As Bush invites the world to join America's war, sidelining the UN and the international courts, we need to become passionate defenders of true multilateralism, rejecting once and for all the label "anti-globalisation". Bush's "coalition" does not represent a genuinely global response to terrorism but the internationalisation of one country's foreign policy objectives - the trademark of US international relations, from the WTO negotiating table to Kyoto.We can make these connections not as "anti-Americans" but as true internationalists.
Is the outpouring of mutual aid and support that this tragedy has elicited so different from the humanitarian goals to which this movement aspires? The street slogans - People Before Profit, The World Is Not For Sale - have become self-evident and viscerally felt truths for many in the wake of the attacks. There are questions about why the bailouts for airlines aren't going to the workers losing their jobs. There is growing concern about the volatilities of deregulated trade. There is a groundswell of appreciation for public-sector workers of all kinds. In short, "the commons" - the public sphere, the public good, the noncorporate - is undergoing something of a rediscovery in the US, of all places.
Those concerned with changing minds (and not simply winning arguments) should seize this moment to connect these humane reactions in the face of attack to the many other arenas in which human needs must take precedence over corporate profits, from Aids treatment to homelessness. As Paul Loeb, author of Soul Of A Citizen, puts it, despite the warmongering and coexisting with the xenophobia, "People seem careful, vulnerable, and extraordinarily kind to each other. These events just might be able to break us away from our gated communities of the heart."
This would require a dramatic change in activist strategy, one based much more on substance than on symbols. For more than a year, the largely symbolic activism outside summits and against individual corporations has already been challenged within movement circles. There is much that is unsatisfying about fighting a war of symbols: the glass shatters in the McDonald's window, the meetings are driven to ever more remote locations - but so what? It's still only symbols, facades, representations.
Before September 11, a new mood of impatience was already taking hold, an insistence on putting forward social and economic alternatives that address the roots of injustice, from land reform to slavery reparations to participatory democracy. Now seems like a good time to challenge the forces of both nihilism and nostalgia within our own ranks, while making more room for the voices - coming from Chiapas, Porto Alegre, Kerala - showing that it is possible to challenge imperialism while embracing plurality, progress and deep democracy. Our task, never more pressing, is to point out that there are more than two worlds available, to expose all the invisible worlds between the economic fundamentalism of "McWorld" and the religious fundamentalism of "Jihad".
Maybe the image wars are coming to a close. A year ago, I visited the University of Oregon to do a story on anti-sweatshop activism at the campus that is nicknamed Nike U. There I met student activist Sarah Jacobson. Nike, she told me, was not the target of her activism, but a tool, a way to access a vast and often amorphous economic system. "It's a gateway drug," she said cheerfully.
For years, we in this movement have fed off our opponents' symbols - their brands, their office towers, their photo-opportunity summits. We have used them as rallying cries, as focal points, as popular education tools. But these symbols were never the real targets; they were the levers, the handles. The symbols were only ever doorways. It's time to walk through them.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) coined a new term to describe the push for climate change action: "environmental jihad."
In a fundraising email to supporters on Tuesday, Johnson hit back at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), an environmental advocacy group, for a new ad campaign attacking the senator and other climate change deniers in Congress.
"The League of Conservation Voters is one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives," Johnson wrote in the email. "They use TV ads -- filled with smears -- because they work."
"The League of Conservation voters is not an organization with a balanced approach to a cleaner environment," he added. "They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad."
Johnson also asked his supporters for an "urgent donation" to help him respond to the group's attack ads "with the truth." The senator issued his call for help in response to LCV's Monday announcement of the new ad campaign, but before the senator had even seen the ads themselves -- LCV said the ad targeting Johnson will be released on Wednesday.
The group's advocacy arm announced the $2 million campaign Monday, targeting Johnson and House Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) in their districts. The spots will run for two weeks both on TV and online.
"The American people are tired of Washington politicians ignoring basic scientific facts and standing in the way of action on climate change," LCV president Gene Karpinski said in a release. "This ad campaign shows that members of Congress won’t be able to sweep their extreme, anti-science voting records under the rug."
Johnson does not face voters again until 2016, but has never been one to mince his words when asked about global warming. The Wisconsin Republican once said climate change was caused by "sunspot activity," and likened President Barack Obama's green energy proposals to the policies of the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Obama unveiled his environmental agenda in June in a highly-publicized speech, in which he announced a series of executive orders aimed at curbing climate change and adequately preparing Americans for its consequences. Republicans were quick to denounce many of the president's initiatives, prompting groups like the LCV and Organizing for Action to ramp up their efforts to draw attention to the conservative lawmakers who dismiss climate change and global warming altogether.
UPDATE: The LCV released its ad against Johnson later Wednesday, pointing out that the senator has accepted more than $100,000 in political donations from members of the oil and gas industry.
"Ron Johnson must be nervous about this ad because he’s responded with inflammatory rhetoric without even seeing it first," LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer said in a statement. "Senator Johnson knows he can’t defend his extreme anti-science views and the last thing he needs is for his constituents to find out about them."Watch the ad here: