February 3, 2002

A Lot To ANSWER For In Manhattan

By: Clay Waters

A group calling itself ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War & End Racism) met at a Unitarian Universalist church in Midtown Manhattan early this month as part of the broad-based far-left protest against the World Economic Forum meeting in New York.

Though the nominal topic of discussion was globalization, teach-in rhetoric centered around the aftermath of 9-11. The speakers were angry. Not at Osama Bin Laden, whose name I never heard mentioned, but at George W. Bush and the war against terrorism, or as speakers put it, the “so-called” war on terrorism. In this worldview, September 11 is less of a tragedy than an excuse to crack down on civil liberties and anti-capitalist dissent.

The American Left seems to have come to a dead-end after September 11, if the ANSWER coalition is any indication. Speaker after speaker demonstrated the distrust and contempt for America we expect, minus even the false hope of socialist utopias to come.

Things got going when a short, dark-haired young woman who never gave her name approached the dais and said, “Good afternoon”–at 10:40 am. She lit into “that state-sponsored terrorist enterprise called the Pentagon” and encouraged the assembly of about 120, which was heavily skewed toward goatee-stroking college kids and senior citizens, to protest in front of the meeting venue at The Waldorf-Astoria.

Greg Butterfield of the Leninist Worker’s World Party was the only speaker with enough wit to rally a coffee run, much less subversion of the globalist paradigm. After acknowledging that “some suggest” the New York Police Department has had a rough time lately and doesn’t need protester aggravation, he said that most of the violence in Seattle and Genoa was instigated by police, who are after all “working on behalf of the 1% of the population who owns 40% of the wealth.”

A 1998 speech by Butterfield on the Cuban embargo demonstrated his impressive ability to ignore reality: “Every important economic and political decision is made with the direct input of the Cuban people, who meet regularly to discuss and debate how best to maintain the revolution in these difficult times.” One can just imagine those freewheeling discussions in a country where the number of political prisoners remains in the hundreds.

Katherine Hoyt of the Nicaragua Network reminisced that when the Sandinistas were in power, education was “free” and Nicaraguan children got to go to school without uniforms–or shoes. In much the same way, I imagine, the Cubans “get to” ride bicycles to their voluntary political debates.

Michelle Fuentes, with her stylish black suit and handheld computer, looked like a career girl Manhattanite, the one panelist who could have conceivably had a real job (as it turned out, she had worked for an airline, but been laid off after September 11). Yet she said “the real terrorists of workers are in the Waldorf-Astoria right now.”

Not even Monica Moorehead could beat that. Moorehead, who ran for president on the Workers World ticket in 2000, concentrated on Mumia Abu-Jamal. (She declared him an innocent man, although I imagine an admission of guilt from Abu-Jamal concerning the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner would not have lowered his standing here.) Moorehead didn’t say what she thought of bin Laden, but a pro-Saddam article in the Workers World gives a hint: “A similar pattern can be seen in the demonization of presidents Qaddafi of Libya, Kim Il-Sung of north Korea, or Fidel Castro of Cuba.”

The left-wing National Lawyer’s Guild flew in from San Francisco to attack Attorney General John Ashcroft’s anti-terrorism laws, relaying anecdotes about “normal white guys,” as program director Riva Enteen called them, contacted by the FBI after September 11. She also hinted there may be more to know about the WTC attack, mentioning pre-tragedy “blips” in airline stocks as well as the settlements bestowed on survivors’ families in return for giving up their right to sue. “Hush money?” She pondered.

The ANSWER manifesto’s essay on Isreal begins with this charmer: “Contrary to the Zionist myth…” An Iraq tract goes nine paragraphs before mentioning the “ultra-demonized president” Saddam Hussein and criticizing U.S. support for “right-wing Kurdish elements” fighting Baghdad. The collapse of the Soviet Union is called “the greatest victory for U.S. imperialism since World War II.”

Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were trotted out defensively, as if to point out that dissent is not terrorism, a slogan I’ve seen plastered on more than one Manhattan newspaper box. Of course, to some of these people, “terrorism” isn’t terrorism either.

ANSWER bills itself “the new movement for peace, social justice and civil rights.” But underneath the fresh crust is yet another unappetizing casserole of left-wing leftovers–Sandinista supporters and ex-Vietnam War peaceniks spiced up with Saddam Hussein suck-ups, complete with warmed-over anti-U.S. rhetoric from the 1960s.

I hold no brief for the World Economic Forum, which moved this year from Davos, Switzerland in order to show “solidarity” for New York City, bringing blocked streets and unease to a city that has had enough of both lately. But an afternoon with ANSWER is enough to make you appreciate conspicuous consumption by rich elites.