Chapter 3: Anarchy Inaction
Spiritual matters and economic matters cannot be separated. Economics too is a form of spirituality, though a dark form. The pain that the poor and the dispossessed feel is real, their hunger, their insecurity, the violence they suffer, all of this is fed into the World Soul, as it were: all of this feeds into our dreams. It disturbs our sleep. It keeps us awake at night. It haunts us like an unconscious ache. No one can rest easy in his bed any more. No one is perfectly happy. The comfort and security we feel is like a veneer over rotting wood. It cannot hide the infestations stirring beneath. The violence of poverty is the reality we can no longer hide from.
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like this:
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both North & South America
52 would be female
48 would be male
70 would be non-white
30 would be white
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death;
1 would be near birth;
1 would have a University education
1 would own a computer.
Small world, eh? That kind of puts it into perspective.
My friend Dave (an old Marxist-Leninist) gave me another illustration. He said, imagine that the whole world was lined up to pass in front of you in the space of one hour, all sixty billion of us. Now imagine that everyone is measured economically according to their wealth, so that the average wealth (total world wealth divided by total world people) corresponds roughly to average height, say 6ft. For the first 45 minutes the people passing by would be the size of cigarette butts, rising to matchsticks. That’s the world’s poor. After that their height begins to rise, to the size of small children. That’s us, the majority of ordinary working people in the Western world. Only in the last ten minutes or so are people of average height and getting bigger. That’s the professionals: the lawyers, doctors, university professors and the like. Then they grow to the size of houses and beyond. Those are the one’s we think of as rich, the millionaires, the pop-singers, the film-stars, the Captains of Industry, the ruling elites of the Third World. No, not the Third World any more: the Forgotten World. And then, in the last 30 seconds it’s the giants who are strutting by, the real rulers of our World, the size of sky scrapers, the size of mountains, brushing the clouds with their coiffured locks: the Pharaohs of our modern age, just as cruel, just as despotic, because just as separate. And these are the one’s who, though physically the size of men, are economically the size of gods, who have come to believe that they are gods, and that they can do anything they like, no matter how vile, because nothing outside their Olympian World matters. No one matters but them.
The last century was the most violent in the history of the World. The present one is beginning even worse. The forces of genocide are massing. In Turkey, against the Kurds. In Chiapas, Mexico, against the Mayan indigenous tribes. In Columbia, against the U’wa. All over the world the forces of economic repression are in a feeding frenzy of greed. They want everything. They will have everything. They will own the Earth and all its store. They will patent Life itself. No one will stand in their way.
A war is being fought against the people of Iraq, while her Dictator is being strengthened. A war is being fought against the people of Serbia, while her Dictator is being strengthened. Wars are being fought all over the world, so that Dictators may be strengthened. Who can doubt the presence of fascism at the heart of our economic life?
No one can dare believe what they are told any more. The news is infrequent and brief and merely slides over the surface of things. No one knows what’s going on.
Protest is the only answer.
Protest is self-empowerment. If everyone protested about everything they saw that was wrong—against child abuse in our institutions, against quackery in our health service, against crimes of the State against innocents around the World, against broken pavements even—there would be no more wars, there would be no more crime, there would be no more lies. Real protest is a sacred duty, no less. It is obligatory, for the soul. Real protest comes from a sense, at the deepest heart of the Universe, that life matters, that human beings matter, that all of Creation matters. A sense of the sacredness of Creation makes protest against its desecration inevitable and absolute.
I said that fascism is still with us. It is the face behind the Clown’s mask. It is the eternal enemy of the sacred. It says that life does not matter, that human beings do not matter. It says that Creation—this gorgeous complexity, this profusion of living forms, this infinitely varied abundance of joy and expression, this Nature, our Earth—that all of this is no more than a commodity to be bought and sold on the stock exchange, to be privatised, fenced-off and owned by the few, to be packaged and patented, and sold for a profit.
At the heart of the Universe lies a Beauty so breath-taking, so awe-inspiring, so wondrous, that you would die for it. It has no Name. It has no Purpose. It does not tell you what to do. It lies beyond all categories, all forms, all explanations. It is just Love, that’s all. Just pure, simple love. Like the kindness of a stranger who shares his bread, like the look in the Mother’s eye when she first beholds her child, like a melting of opposites in a blissful sea of contemplation, like the breath of a cool wind from the ocean, that Beauty, that Love, suffuses all of Creation. It is God’s Choral Symphony of all Time and all Space, and we are the choir.
The first act of the revolution is an act of consciousness. It is the act of recognising the sacredness of Creation, of recognising the beauty that sings Life, Life, Life and more Life! Life is for Life. No less.
MD2K was billed as a four-day festival of anarchist ideas and action. Later that got changed, to a four day festival of anti-capitalist ideas and action. That way perhaps other groups could get involved. Not that they did. It was a four day festival of anarchist ideas and action masquerading as a four day festival of anti-capitalist ideas and action, masquerading as a book fair.
Actually the anarchist book fair has been going for years. There’s a lot of obscure anarchist literature out there, varying from the very strange, to the very boring, to the very perverse, to the occasionally awe-inspiring and inspirational. I’d been to one of these events before. This previous one had been billed as “Ten Days That Shook The World”, the title lifted from an American writer’s book about the Russian Revolution. His name was John Reed, and it must stand as a source of happy embarrassment to the US authorities, that the most famous book about a communist revolution happens to have been written by an American author. Who says Americans can’t be communists? John Reed was.
It was at this previous anarchist book fair that I first met Ian Bone.
Ian Bone, in case you don’t remember, was once justifiably famous as the creator and main contributor to one of Britain’s most controversial newspapers, Class War. It was full of violent rhetoric about killing and maiming Rich Scumbags and the like. Actually it was very funny at times, being an exact send-up of a tabloid newspaper. Page Three was a Beat-Up Copper Of The Month.
Ian is a great tabloid writer. The methods he uses to further his own cause, are the same methods the Sun uses to further its cause. The reason he winds people up with his frenzied propaganda is cos he knows he can do it. He knows how the Sun reader thinks.
I was there to interview him for a BBC Radio 4 travel programme. The angle was supposed to be “Protest as a leisure activity”.
We went to the pub. Ian likes pubs. So do I. He told me a story, about when the tabloid press used to follow him around. They were reporting things like, “Bone was holding strategy meetings with a variety of people in a variety of pubs.”
“No we weren’t,” he told me. “We were on a pub crawl.”
So while we were downing our pints, someone came in with the news that some squat around the corner was being busted. Ian banged the table with his glass and announced it to the pub. Soon there were all these spikey-haired punks marching out in a squadron to rescue the squatters from the massed forces of State Oppression. Only when they got there nothing was happening. So they all marched back in again.
After a while we went out to do our interview. It was in a doorway. I began a long-winded introduction, referring to Ian (as he was known by the tabloid press) as “The Most Evil Man In Britain”. He interrupted me. He said, “I thought you were supposed to be interviewing me, not talking to yourself.”
Obviously that irritated me and we began to squabble about violence as a political tactic. I have to admit that he out-manoeuvred me on every point, which irritated me even more. It was not a good interview.
Later I got to know him better. Just before the Notting Hill Carnival one year we met up. It was Ian and his girlfriend, Jane, and a few of their political associates. We were in a pub, as usual, and got completely sloshed. I got so sloshed I have no idea how I got home that night. That’s all I remember of that occasion. Except that, despite our political differences (which were, and are, legion) he kept on making me laugh. As a politician he makes a great stand-up comedian. I’ve always got a soft spot for people who make me laugh. I’d probably have liked Hitler if he could have come up with some good jokes.
He’s the son of butler, so he grew up listening to people calling his Dad “Bone” while he had to refer to them as “Sir” or “Madam”. That probably explains Ian’s politics more than anything else.
Actually, his Dad was a communist, so Ian saw a lot of demonstrations when he was growing up. He says he saw that the anarchists amongst them were having the most fun. That’s when he decided to be an anarchist too.
There’s something of the Restoration Man about him, something oddly old-fashioned, despite his punk following. Often he carries a stick or an umbrella, which he leans on in an 18th Century manner. That is his constituency: the punk movement. He knows how to talk to the disaffected urban youth in their own language. He holds his pint and leans on his stick and twitches his right leg while launching into obscure tirades on obscure subjects in the manner of some feathered freeman with a ferret down his pants. There’s even something faintly aristocratic about him. The true aristocrat is the aristocrat of the revolution.
Another time I went down to Bristol to celebrate his 50th birthday. Yes: he’s a Granddad! The Most Evil Granddad In Britain.
He’s in a punk band. So there’s this little bald-headed, faintly aristocratic, middle-aged man with granny glasses launching into howling tirades about the blood that will flow in the streets come the revolution, while being backed by raging punk discordance. A bit like his conversation really.
Somebody bought him a dirty magazine for his birthday present. He promised he’d wank to it later.
I was living in a van at the time, which was conveniently parked in the pub car-park next door, so I could make my escape fairly easily. Nevertheless, I still managed to get excruciatingly drunk.
The following day I drove over to see him. His house was like a morgue. Like a morgue where all the corpses have hangovers.
Someone came blearily to the door to answer. He went blearily into the kitchen to make coffee. We sat blearily down to drink it. We had some bleary conversation. The party had gone on till the bleary wee hours.
Eventually Ian and Jane came down and I think we drank more coffee.
I was in the toilet when it happened. I was just having a quiet pee, listening to the jolly tinkle of piss against pot, looking up at the wall, when there was a commotion in the other room. Everyone was cheering. I went into the living room to take a look. They were dancing round in circles holding crossed hands, like in a barn dance, singing, “Better red than dead! Better red than dead!”
“Wha’? What’s going on?” I asked. I thought they’d all lost their marbles.
“It’s Di,” they declared happily. “Di’s dead!”
“No. I mean—no!—how? I mean, no it’s not… it can’t be…”
“Yes, and Dodi too. It was in a car crash. Serves them fucking right, the rich cunts. Ha!”
And then they danced around in circles again. The news was Ian’s best birthday present.
After that we went to the pub to celebrate. I mean, they went to the pub to celebrate. I went to the pub to watch and to cringe. The pub was the Princess of Wales, aptly enough. I’m not even sure we didn’t choose it because of its name, though it was the nearest pub. Either way, it was a singular moment. We sat under a photograph of Diana. The whole pub was in a state of shock, watching the news on TV. That’s all there was on TV, just Di, Di, Di, and occasionally Dodi too. Various people’s reactions to the event. The whole Nation in a state of shock. Funereal waves of desperate sadness and confusion. People crying on camera.
Meanwhile I’m sitting next to Ian Bone and his anarchist crew while they’re laughing and making Dead as a Di and Dodi jokes and threatening to turn the photo on the wall around.
“Don’t, Ian,” I said. “You’ll get us killed.”
How does he do it? I mean, he comes out with all this violent rhetoric. He gets followed by the tabloid press who call him The Most Evil Man In Britain. Everyone knows who he is. And yet he can sit in a pub called the Princess of Wales on the day the actual Princess of Wales dies in a tragic accident, when everyone is a state of shock and bewilderment and grief, and he just openly laughs about it. And no one comes near to even touching him. Not even a cross word, let alone a punch in the eye. He’s charmed. He definitely is.
Finally, and several pints later we got up to go.
Back at the house a record came on the radio. It was San Franciscan Nights, by Eric Burden and the Animals.
Old Child, Young Child, feel all right,
On a warm San Franciscan Night.
“Listen to that Ian,” said Jane. And she began singing along with it.
Ian embraced her from behind, and then he was singing along with it too, his head on her shoulder. They were embracing and swaying and singing a sweet hippie love song together. Love and peace and flowers, not blood and death and the revolution.
“Wait a minute Ian,” I said, mildly bemused, “you mean—have I got this right? – you were hippies were you? Not punks, hippies?”
“Of course,” he said. “It was such an optimistic time. We really thought we were going to change the world.”
This is the e-mail I got just before the events of MD2K were due to unfold:
A festival of anticapitalist ideas & action
The Resistance is Growing!
MayDay 2000 is a four-day series of events in central London exploring the diverse facets of our struggle against exploitation and environmental destruction. From Friday 28 April to Monday 1 May, actions, parties, gigs and discussions will take place across London. This will coincide with events all over the world generating solidarity and resistance to global capitalism… from Lagos to London, Sydney to Seattle.
Mayday has been a festival of life, renewal and pleasure since ancient times. Later as International Workers’ Day, the 1st of May celebrated oppressed people rising against systems based on profit and domination. On MayDay 2000 we’ll look at how these these strands are intertwined; a celebration of the earth, the ruled standing against their rulers for a vision of freedom and plenty throughout the world.
The emphasis of MayDay 2000 is on reclaiming our lives so we can thrive in a global community without politicians and bosses, based on equality and cooperation. It’s about learning from each other and our past to create the future.
Events over the weekend include:
Massive Critical Mass (bicycle demo) on Friday 28th April
Active open art exhibtion
Walking tour of the East End’s alternative history
The debates are diverse as:
Capitalism and revolution in the 21st century
The myth of globalisation
Workplace, local and international networking
Women speak out
Education, housing, sexuality, historical and recent world events
Banner and screen-printing workshops
RESISTANCE IS FERTILE
Start planting seeds now for Mayday’s Guerrilla Gardening actions in cities around UK. Transform the cities into places where we live rather than work to live.
I’d arranged to meet an old friend of mine at the conference on the Saturday before Mayday. I also wanted to meet Ian Bone, and maybe a few of my other anarchist friends. I get along with anarchists. Not always their politics, not always the divisions they seem to create whether they want to or not. I just like the fact that they can have a laugh. It’s the sense of freedom they carry. That nothing much matters. That all the lies we are fed—and which other people take so seriously—are just chaff in the wind, irrelevancies, pointless issues of debate. I can relate to that, having endured endless pointless issues of debate at endless Labour Party meetings over the years. It’s a particularly pompous form of personality who wants to sit in meetings and have his (or her) voice heard, on every issue, on every topic, at every opportunity. Sometimes you just want to go to sleep. But there’s a personality type who loves that. Who loves all the “Point of order Mr Chairman” type stuff. People who are addicted to a legalistic interpretation of what our role on this planet actually is.
The anarchists just subvert all that. They say, “This is what I want. This is what I will do.”
Unfortunately it can also make them extremely stupid at times. It makes them unwilling to co-operate with other groups. They become pompous, but in a different sort of way. They start to believe that they are more important—because more spontaneous—than all the other dumb fucks who are only striving for democracy, for some sort of order or intelligence. They scorn the normal rigours of debate, preferring to go their own way. They set their own agendas, and meet up in private “affinity groups” to discuss tactics. Anarchist politics means that the “insider” always wins. It’s who you know that matters.
But I wasn’t here to discuss anarchist politics. I was here, like most of us were, to meet up with old friends.
The conference was taking place on the Holloway Road in London. I arrived at the tube station and—more by instinct than by judgement—started in the direction of the conference centre. Actually I was following all the sticky-up hairstyles and nose-rings and sloganed tee-shirts, guessing that they must all know where we were supposed to go. There were a few policemen about. I had no idea what to expect. It was a gorgeous sunny day, hardly a cloud in the sky. I was keeping my head down, pretending not to be an anarchist.
You could tell immediately where the conference centre was. All these colourful people lined up on the pavement outside, basking in the sunshine, showing off their tattoos. A few stalls set up. Mostly these were the Marxist-Leninist groups, relegated to the outside. I took a poster from someone from the Clean Air society urging me to vote for Ken Livingstone for Mayor (it was 6 days before the Mayoral election) and a Che Guevara badge from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Someone from the Socialist Party sold me a newspaper, while a car belonging to the London Socialist Alliance (in support of Ken Livingstone) ranged up the road with a huge communist flag floating from the window, shouting slogans. It sent a shiver down my spine to see it. I’m still an old commie at heart.
The conference centre itself was unexpectedly modern. Most anarchist gatherings take place in squatted buildings where dyed hair and piercings kind of blend in. But this was brand-new, all red brick and polished wood, with a reception desk and carpets and a bank of sweeping stairs. It seemed odd and out of place to see all these scrawled notices stuck with blue tack on the doors and walls, announcing various meetings, “Zapatistas this way –>” with arrows to point the direction.
I was wandering around in a daze, not sure where to go. There were rooms all over the place, most of them filled with attentive people listening to activists from other parts of the world bringing fraternal greetings and highlighting the issues. The rooms were very quiet, and if you opened the doors, everyone turned to look at you.
Really I was just looking for a face I knew.
Eventually I found one. It was Warren from the SchNews collective.
SchNEWS is one of the most important resources the activist network has. It’s a simple double-sided A4 sheet which comes out weekly (or when they can get it together), which you receive by sending them stamps, or by e-mail if you have access. All the work is voluntary and collective. There’s no strict editorial line. The front page is usually a feature story, on events around the globe, or highlighting certain issues. Sometimes the politics is decidedly green, as when it reports on environmental actions; sometimes it has a red flavour, reporting on strikes and Labour issues; sometimes it is black, giving information about anarchist actions and events. It depends who’s writing that week. There are a number of regular features, such as Crap Arrest Of The Week, and a regular update on all the parties and protests taking place around the country. The writing is straight forward and precise (there’s not much room on an A4 sheet) but always witty and with an edge. It’s a remarkable piece of work, professional, concise, readable and packed with information, most of which you would never read in your daily newspaper. It’s all the more remarkable considering it comes out of a loose collective of individuals in the Brighton area—from all sorts of backgrounds—none of whom have been trained in any way. It goes to prove just what people can achieve when they are motivated enough. It has no regular income of any kind, is given away for free, and yet it contains more detailed information, more reliable news, more independent analysis and coherent debate, than all the newspapers, all the TV networks, and all the radio stations put together.
Warren was manning the SchNEWS stall.
I’d met Warren a few times, here and there, around the activist network. We’ve downed a pint or two together on more than one occasion. He’s a tight, fit, skinny individual with a kind of gnawing tension in his bones. He’s also down-to-earth and unpretentious with a varied and highly advanced sex-life. I get the feeling that most of the women even remotely connected to the activist network or to SchNEWS have been favoured by his attentions at one time or another. Luckily most of them know what they’re in for. He freely admits to being a “tart” (that’s his word, not mine). There’s a kind of aggressive/dismissive quality to his manner, particularly when it comes to talking about the Trotskyite groups. He calls them “paper-sellers”. “Fucking paper-sellers” is his usual disparaging line.
We exchanged a few words, and then I carried on with my circuit of the building.
Eventually I ended up in the cinema, where they were showing grainy sixties film-footage shot by the Black Panthers. Scary stuff.
It was some time later when I finally caught up with Ian Bone. I’d not seen him for a couple of years, not since his birthday, in fact, the day that Di and Dodi had died, when I’d spent my time cringing, while Ian made bad jokes, and I was in fear of my life. His new enterprise is called Movement Against the Monarchy (MA’M), so his table was scattered with suitably contentious material with all the usual disparaging slogans. One of the posters said, “Queen Mum, Hurry Up And Die!”
“Controversial as usual, Ian,” I said.
“CJ!” he said, greeting me with a hand-shake, while I kissed him on top of his bald head.
Kissing violent revolutionary anarchists is one of my many traits.
We arranged to meet in the pub later.
Someone else I wanted to meet was Paul. I’ve known Paul for some years. We’ve been involved in a number of subversive activities together, including masterminding a road-protest a few years before. I’d actually arranged to meet him at the conference, and had rung him before I’d set out that morning. Only he didn’t seem to be here, so I went to the pub.
So I was sitting in the pub reading a copy of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! the newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Group. There were a number of other obvious revolutionaries in there. We were all members of the Revolutionary Drinkers Group. We produce no newspapers, rarely hold meetings (except in the pub), have no constitution, pass no motions, never campaign on any issue whatsoever, but our sense of solidarity is awe-inspiring, and boy should you hear the speeches. They usually involve questions of who’s going to get the next round.
Two pints and a nice warm glow later I was heading back to the conference. And there was Paul, sitting on a street bench, drinking lager and smoking spliffs, dressed all in black and looking like some deranged undercover agent as usual. The way he looks can sometimes be a problem. Most people think he’s working for the CIA, or for some other, even darker institution, so secret no one knows its name.
He’s a taut, tense, excitable soul with a great sense of purpose: very direct, very pointed in his manner, with piercing blue eyes. There’s something demonic about him. Not only his features—you can see all the bones in his skull—but also in his movements, like some fierce avenging angel with wings of fire.
His is my preferred wing of the anarchist movement, the spiritual anarchists: guided by portents and signs, by numbers, by wind-blown messages from the Cosmos, rather than by ideology or economics.
He’s from South London.
He was with a friend, called Chris, also all dressed in black. I got a can from the nearby shop and sat down to join them.
So we’re sat there on this baking hot late-Spring day, on a street bench in the middle of London, with anarchists of every variety passing up and down in front of us, the occasional policemen with yellow jackets, strolling along in twos, truncheons dangling; with a MacDonald’s just up the road to the right, with a scared looking black guy on the door (they’ve obviously deployed him there for the day, expecting trouble), leaning around the doorway nervously and talking frantically over a two-way radio. One of the strolling police patrols stops for a chat.
A brightly dressed rainbow hippie passes by looking self-conscious and lost. He has multi-coloured dyed hair. He looks like he’s auditioning for a part in the teletubbies.
Chris, meanwhile, is doing walkie-talkie impressions, bringing his hand to his ear, thumb and little finger extended, and making crr-crr-crackling noises with his throat.
“Hippie alert, hippie alert! Hippies approaching at four o’clock, crr-crr, over!”
All of this goes on for quite a long time.
Later a very drunken woman passes by and asks for a light. Then she asks for a drink. We pass her a can. She’s one of the Revolutionary Drinkers Group I’d seen in the pub earlier. There’s a bloke following dutifully behind. You can see he’s hoping that—in her drunken state—she might have some favours to offer. He’s shrugging his shoulders and tutting at her flaunting state, but hopeful nonetheless. She’s clearly not in the slightest bit interested.
But Paul and I catch up on our news, like the old-timers we are, remembering events from the past. I have a huge affection for Paul. For all his stern looks and aggressive South London manner, he’s a true being. His talk is all of angels, and bringing the light back into the world, but cross-referenced with quotes from Monty Python and The Return of the Jedi. That’s one thing I don’t share with him, his affection for the Star Wars trilogy. “Let’s talk about angels again Paul, eh? I prefer angels to Jedi Mind Tricks.”
But he goes on anyway.
We all agree that the conference is boring. So we get more cans and continue to bask in the sunshine on this revolutionary away-day city break in London.
London seems unconcerned at our presence.
Meanwhile, in the same month that all this was going on, in Sonoma County, California, an anti-biotech activist group calling itself the Petaluma Pruners was destroying grape plants grown by the biotechnology corporation, Vinifera.
Their communiqué stated, “With pruning shears in hand and a vengeance against GE and the patenting of living beings, concerned farmers called the ‘Petaluma Pruners’ conducted a non-violent direct action against the grape biotechnology corporation Vinifera Inc. We snipped, snapped, and hacked up Vinifera’s grape plant starts, fuelled by a vision of a safer farming environment, free of the runaway-train science of GE.“
And in Bolivia, after protests following the sale of water rights to a private company (Aguas del Tunari, owned by International Water Limited) which then doubled water rates for poor families, Martial Law was declared. Several people were killed (including a 17 year old boy) and many more transported to a mysterious location in the Bolivian Jungle, for some nefarious purpose.
There was a Roma rights public meeting arranged in the UK, speakers to include Jeremy Hardy, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Ladislav Balaz (Europe-Roma Organisation), and Donald Kenrick (author ‘Gypsies under the Swastika’), while all around the country different groups were preparing for the forthcoming MayDay events.
And in the US Bruce Silverglade of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest
managed to get himself invited to a day-long high-level seminar on “After Seattle: Restoring Momentum to the WTO.” Speakers included Clayton Yeutter (former US Secretary of Agriculture), Robert Litan (former Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget), Lawrence Eagleburger (former Secretary of State), and Luiz Felipe Lamreia, (the foreign Minster of Brazil). This is Bruce Silverglade’s report:
“I was disappointed that only one representative like myself from a non-profit organisation concerned about the impact of the WTO on food safety regulation was invited. But I was pleased that the door had been opened and I looked forward to it.
“As it turned out, I got a lot more than I bargained for.
“The seminar turned out to be a strategy session on how to defeat those opposed to the current WTO system. Apparently, no one knew who I was (perhaps my greying temples and dark suit helped me blend in with the overwhelming older male group of attendees) and I did not speak up until the end of the meeting.
“The meeting was kicked off by a gentleman named Lord Patterson who had been Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He began by stating that our number one job is to restore confidence in the WTO before embarking on any new rounds of trade negotiations. So far, so good, I thought.
“But he then proclaimed that non-profit groups have no right to criticise the WTO as undemocratic because the groups themselves do not represent the general public. (I wondered which groups he was talking about because organisations that are gravely concerned about the impact of the WTO on environmental and consumer protection, like the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, have hundreds of thousands of members). He then stated ‘That we must never have another WTO meeting on US soil because it was too easy for advocacy groups to organise here and security could not be assured.’
“He added that President Clinton’s speech during the WTO meeting in Seattle, in which the president acknowledged the protesters’ concerns, was ‘disgraceful’ and stated that it was also disgraceful that delegates to the WTO meeting in Seattle had to survive on sandwiches and couldn’t get a decent meal during three days of social protest. The Lord finished his speech by recalling better times having tea with Maggie, and stating that the staff of the WTO Secretariat should not be balanced with people from developing countries just because of the colour of their skin. After a few words with the chairman of the meeting, Lord Patterson added ‘Oh, I hope I have not offended anyone.’
“The largely American audience of trade officials and policy wonks took the Lord’s pronouncements seriously. The first comment by an American, picked up on the criticisms and asked ‘How can we de-legitimise the NGOs (Non-Government Organisations)?’
“The questioner claimed that these groups are usually supported by just a few charitable foundations and if the foundations could be convinced to cut off funding, the groups would be forced to cease operations. Mr. Litan, the former White House budget official, had another approach. He asked ‘Can’t we give the NGOs other sandboxes to play in and have them take their concerns to groups like the International Labour Organisation?’ (A toothless United Nations sponsored-group). The representative from the US Trade Representative’s office said nothing.
“Under the banner of rebuilding public confidence in the WTO, (former Agriculture Secretary) Yeutter concurred with his British colleague’s suggestion that the next WTO meeting be held in some place other than the US where security can be assured. He further suggested that the WTO give the public little advance notice of where the meeting would be held to keep the protesters off balance. He said that the protesters’ demands for greater transparency in WTO proceedings was a misnomer because the protesters didn’t really want to participate in WTO proceedings—all they wanted was to get TV coverage and raise money for their organisations.
“The day ended with the usual Washington reception. During desert, the foreign minister of Brazil lamented that if the next WTO meeting had to be held in an out of the way place, he preferred that it be held on a cruise ship instead of in the middle of the desert. He then gave an impassioned speech in which he opposed writing core labour standards into the WTO agreement and defended child labour by describing how in one region of Brazil, more than 5,000 children ‘help their families earn a little extra money’ by hauling bags of coal from a dump yard to a steel mill. He stressed, however, that the children do not work directly in the steel mill.
“He was greeted by a hearty round of applause.”
Afterwards Paul, Chris and I met Ian Bone in the pub. I don’t know how I got home that night. I never do after a session with Ian Bone. I was on automatic pilot, clutching a bunch of newspapers to my chest, bag over my shoulder, stumbling down the Holloway Road to the tube. Stumbling onto the tube. Stumbling off again at Victoria Station, and onto my train. Sleeping fitfully all the way home, then stumbling back to my flat. And all without a touch of intelligence or awareness. My usual state. How did I manage it?
I let my boots do the walking.
I woke up the following morning, in bed with my boots on. My boots had carried me all the way to my bed.
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