Direct Action Reaction

Provoking a cop doesn't exactly improve working conditions for Latin America's poor

Yet none of this explains away the hundreds of other direct-action advocates doing everything in their power to provoke the police into charging. They weren't all cops acting as agents provocateurs. And just what did our brave teenage warriors imagine the police would do if they'd actually managed to breach the fence and storm the Inter-Continental? Holster their pepper spray and stand aside?

If Hayden seems particularly aggrieved, it's because he certainly knows too well where this direct-action gambit leads. He himself moved from the nonviolent civil disobedience of the 1961 Freedom Rides to, in August 1968, calling for Chicago's antiwar crowds at the Democratic National Convention to refuse to be "good Germans," to march on the police and "turn this overheated military machine against itself. Let us make sure if blood flows, it flows all over the city." By 1970 Hayden was part of Berkeley's Red Family commune, leading target practice outings and preparing for guerrilla warfare. Lest we forget, the end result of all this was the election -- and the decisive reelection -- of Richard Nixon. As for the Vietnam War, it ground on into the Seventies until battlefield realities -- not the rifle-toting Red Family and their ilk -- forced a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

So what's the alternative? To hear our direct-action friends tell it, the choice is between an unbroken string of sweatshops from Tierra del Fuego to Toronto, or physically disrupting the FTAA. Not coincidentally, this is the same stark contrast U.S. trade reps offer (though they tend to portray those sweatshops in a slightly different light). And following that time-honored Sixties script, in the wake of the police's FTAA abuses, protesters of many persuasions are bandying about the Nazi card. Sad to say, even a few New Times reporters have been leveling the cry of "fascist" at Miami's men in blue.

FTAA trench warfare in downtown Miami
Jonathan Postal
FTAA trench warfare in downtown Miami

In Latin America itself, however, there are plenty of principled activists who are charting a Third Way. Chile's current socialist government is filled with men and women who've suffered through the true fascism of the Pinochet era. They've dodged steel bullets -- not rubber ones. Yet their response to taking power is hardly to pull out the faded Che T-shirts from their youth. Rather they're hunkering down and grappling with the market economy in hopes of providing a better future for their children.

Likewise in Brazil, the presidential election of lifelong Marxist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Workers Party has not resulted in the type of wholesale nationalization and class warfare that have plunged Venezuela into a stifling depression. Rather, Lula has tried to honestly build an economy that offers real hope and opportunity to his nation's poor -- and those of the entire region. Lula's rhetoric may be fiery, but his actions -- cutting bloated budgets, reforming unworkable public pensions, initially raising interest rates -- speak louder than any paeans to Fidel Castro.

Leftists in Miami can hold aloft signs that declare "Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed." Leftists in Chile and Brazil can't afford that kind of self-indulgent luxury. They know the difference between causing a ruckus and actually changing the world. For those still working out their middle-class guilt in public, for those still enraptured by the adrenaline rush of facing off against a policeman, they -- and Kulchur -- have a simple message: Get out of the way.

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