Looking for substance behind the protest

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After nearly a year of protests, the signs and chants are familiar: "Dump the Debt." "Worker Rights, Not Corporate Rights." "World Bank, what are you for? You feed the rich and starve the poor."

Never mind that this isn't Seattle, Philadelphia, or San Francisco. The police here sport bicycles, not riot gear, and the biggest business around these parts is tourism. Nevertheless, at the gravel entrance to the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit ideas forum, some 75 men and women have come to protest a conference on globalization.

Not since the Vietnam era has an issue so galvanized people. Old-line hippies rub elbows with Gen-Xers. Women nearly outnumber the men. And the movement is gaining momentum.

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If protesters can organize an alternative conference and a credible street protest in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, they can make their presence felt in any major American city. Just like the antiwar movement - except it's different.

"In the '60s, you still had a hierarchical structure," says Stan Wilson, a Vietnam era protester who saw the war end before he got drafted. "It was very male dominated. The women of the '60s never got the ink that the men did."

"Now the movement is more honest," he adds. "It's really a leaderless revolution."

He is seated with some 30 other anarchists (the more extreme part of the protest movement) in an apartment rented for the weekend. Over a lunch of vegetarian soup from Styrofoam trays, the group gets down to business. One woman serves as facilitator, handling the "stack" (the order of people who want to speak). The mood is upbeat because the Aspen Institute allowed the group to send four representatives to ask questions of the conferees.

"We have learned a lot from the '60s," explains Mark Cohen after the meeting. But "in a lot of ways, people are more sophisticated today. Sixties people were still trying to work through the Democratic Party."

The protest movement has its own internal divisions. Some want to reform the capitalist system; others, including these anarchists, want to replace it. But even these anarchists don't oppose globalization; they merely want to guide it in a new direction.

And because of that, they have made a big impact on the elite whom they criticize.

"When thousands of young Americans and people around the world gather in the streets, it's an enormous mistake to dismiss them as a group of overindulgent, dissatisfied technological Luddites who ought to be disregarded," Bruce Babbitt, US Secretary of the Interior and a civil-rights activist in his own day, warned conferees. "That cry is a voice of skepticism about the hubris of modern technology, about science, and other forms of globalization."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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