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New Left Review 10, July-August 2001

The operations and outlook of the Ruckus Society, leading conspirator behind the outrages at Seattle and elsewhere: America’s dynamo of direct action, in the vision of a key organizer.
Since our last issue, mass protests against global capitalism have continued to capture the world’s attention. The casualties inflicted by the armed police of Centre-Left and Centre-Right regimes alike, in Göteborg and Genoa, testify to the common response of current European governments, from Persson to Berlusconi. The debacle of the G8 meeting in July offers at least hope of relief from the dreary and odious round of such summits in future. In this issue, following Gabriel García Márquez’s interview with Subcomandante Marcos and Naomi Klein’s discussion of the anti-globalization protests in NLR 9, we publish an interview with John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, which gained international fame at the Battle of Seattle. In the months before the WTO meeting, Ruckus’s GlobalizeThis! camp provided the first physical forum for the Direct Action Network which coordinated the demonstrations, and itself trained many of the participants. Since then the Society has provided educational camps prior to organized protests at IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington, and the Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions of 2000. This year, it has coordinated camps for Free Tibet activists, training sessions for the ‘Spank the Bank’ campaign against Citibank, and protests against a biotechnology conclave in San Diego. Ruckus has trained and mobilized over three thousand activists, in a growing if still disparate resistance to unfettered international capitalism, Americanization, frankenfoods, human rights violations and environmental degradation. The Society stresses non-violent direct action and strategic use of the media. Its pupils have become a scourge of international meetings.At Seattle, Sellers participated in the kick-off action of hanging a huge banner from a crane, for which he was arrested. Released from jail, he surveyed the police-riots only to be held and released again. After Seattle, Sellers was a marked man. He was detained by several agents and policemen in Washington, and again in Philadelphia during the Republican Presidential Convention, when he was held on $1 million bail—a distinction reserved for detainees who authorities fear may flee or inflict great damage on society. The Philadelphia Assistant DA argued for this dizzying sum—unprecedented bail for misdemeanour offences—on the grounds that Sellers ‘facilitates the more radical elements to accomplish their objective violence and mayhem’. Sellers is no stranger to American jails, having been arrested or detained at least twenty times, for protests including a dramatic 1992 banner hang on Sears Tower, Chicago, on the 50th anniversary of the first nuclear detonation.



How did you get into political protest—what were your starting-points?

I wanted to be an activist since I was a little kid. My parents were pretty concerned people—my mom was a teacher and my pop was a United Rubber worker in a Goodrich tyre plant, till they closed it down. So I grew up in somewhat of an activist house. I remember when I was ten or eleven watching a Greenpeace story on Sixty Minutes—all these lunatics with long hair in little inflatable rubber boats, zipping round the ocean and putting themselves in front of explosive whale harpoons. I guess that’s when I decided I wanted to do that, some day. That would have been around 1977, in the heyday of Greenpeace. After college in west Pennsylvania, I went back-packing around the South Pacific for about a year. There my commitments were reinforced by seeing the environmental devastation of the region, particularly in Australia. My uncle managed one of the largest oil refineries in the Southern Hemisphere for Caltex outside Sydney, and Greenpeace was regularly plugging his outfalls into the Cronulla Bay. I would see these images on the news and feel inspired. Then my uncle would come home and say, ‘Those green bastards! You know, they flooded my pipes today!’

When I got back to the United States, I started to work for Greenpeace in Philadelphia in the winter of 1990, and got into my first action in the spring of 1991. I then moved down to Washington to be the Assistant Director there in the summer. I became a Director a few months later, and ran the DC office of Greenpeace for about five years. At the time it was pretty healthy economically, but soon afterwards it started to crumble—I was constantly saying good-bye to friends as it downsized and downsized. By 1996 I decided I wanted to work more on rivers and forests anyway, and to see the Northwest. Greenpeace wasn’t working on forests at all, and wasn’t focusing on rivers as much I wanted. So I left and pretty soon afterwards got involved in a bunch of EarthFirst actions in the Headwaters forest in northern California. One of the things I wanted to do was take the ethic of excellence and the technological sophistication of Greenpeace actions, and spread it around. Greenpeace had an amazing training regime, but it was only for an elite cadre inside the organization. My idea was to dumb this down technologically, so it would be cheaper, and then popularize it.

Who created Ruckus?

Mike Roselle, my non-violence trainer at the last Greenpeace action camp and one of the founders of EarthFirst, was the key person. He had been the first direct-action coordinator for Greenpeace in the United States. In the early nineties he and Twilly Cannon were living out in Montana, where they were up against a really nefarious piece of legislation called the Timber Salvage Rider, which was opening up some of the biggest roadless areas left unlogged in our national forests, on the pretext of clearing the three Ds—down, dead or dying, and diseased trees. This was antithetical to everything that a real biologist would tell you about an ecosystem—in fact, dead and dying trees are of vital importance to any kind of forest. It was just a rationalization to destroy some of the last wilderness left. There was big struggle against it, that drew in a whole new generation of activists. Mike, who comes from Kentucky, grew up on and off in orphanages because his mom couldn’t afford to have the kids at home. He was like a living legend, a veteran of actions involving hundreds of arrests, that I’d read about while growing up. In 1995 he and Twilly and a few others founded the Ruckus Society.

Basically they took the Greenpeace direct-action model, threw away the little rubber boats, and imposed it on the forests. Instead of teaching how to steer inflatables, they taught people technical tree-climbing for doing tree sit-ins, tripods, and tree villages, to defend wilderness areas. Then they built a large scaffolding to teach urban climbing techniques. The rest of the skills were very traditional: non-violence training, media training, direct action planning and strategy, and scouting.

Where did you come in?

At the time I was still working for Greenpeace; so far as I recall, when Roselle, Cannon and the others held their first informal camp, I was on the Rainbow Warrior. But I was soon working as one of their lead climb trainers, even before leaving Greenpeace. I took over as Director two years ago.

How was the name Ruckus picked?

At some point during the campaign against the Timber Salvage Rider, Howie Wolke—one of the founders of EarthFirst—made an off-hand comment to Roselle that we don’t need a wilderness society any more, we need a ruckus society. That really resonated with Roselle. Ruckus, as the definition on the back of our T-shirts says, is a loud, angry interruption, a hullabaloo, a disruption. It’s not an acronym, it doesn’t stand for anything. It just announces what we’re about: strategically, non-violently raisin’ hell, because we don’t like what’s happening to the planet. Some people claim it’s too provocative and we need to change it, that people are going to misunderstand us because of it. ‘When your name is the Ruckus Society, they’re going to believe just about anything they are told about you’. But it suits us.

What kind of an outfit is Ruckus—is it right that it’s primarily a training organization, that doesn’t have an actual membership?

The Ruckus Society is in many respects anomalous, in that we have some attributes of EarthFirst, and some attributes of a movement, while organizationally we in some ways resemble Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network. But we’re not actually any of these things—we’re not an institution, and we’re not a movement, we operate in some middle ground. We like to think of ourselves, if you will, as a volunteer fire department for the movement. What we want to do is hold a place in the centre, which offers the resources and contacts and political opportunities for people to come together. You can think of Ruckus as a set of concentric rings. We have a very small staff; then we have probably twenty or thirty volunteers that really orbit close to that; and about a hundred and twenty who probably come to one camp a year, or once every couple of years; and then we have close to three thousand people who have graduated from our programme, with whom we keep in close touch. Who are they? Demographically they’re still fairly homogeneous, but getting more diverse. When we first started, it was almost entirely folks from Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network, with a few EarthFirsters. But in the five short years we’ve been around, an entire generation of Ruckus trainers has had the torch passed on to them, and as we’ve gotten more involved with the human rights movement, with social justice and fair trade organizations, and labour groups—so we’re seeing a slow but steady diversification of that general population. We have a couple of grandmothers that are trainers, though no grandfathers yet. But most Ruckus trainers are somewhere between 22 and 35.

What’s your response to those who say these activists are white middle-class kids with authority complexes about their parents?

We are who we are. We can’t escape where we’ve come from. Five years ago we were an organization composed predominantly of white tree-huggers. We’ve come along since then. One of our priority pushes this year is the Schools Not Jails campaign on the West Coast, and supporting youth-led communities of colour struggling against the expansion of the prison–industrial complex. In our pre-convention camps in 2000, things were really changing—before the Republican Convention in Philadelphia the white trainers were the minority, and for the Democratic one in LA I’d say the camp was about 50–50. I was in Greenpeace when it was trying to diversify its stock in a really tokenistic and unstrategic way, and asking a lot of the wrong questions—such as ‘How do we bring more brown-skinned people out into our movement, out onto the streets with us?’ Ruckus is asking: ‘How do we get more white faces standing in solidarity with movements and struggles that are central to people of colour? How do we support those campaigns?’

How is Ruckus funded?

Ruckus started out with the generosity of one individual, essentially. For a couple of years he carried Ruckus on his back, but he asked us to use those two years to diversify our funding base, and wean ourselves off him. Ruckus did that with only very limited success, and was struggling by the third year—which was when I came in as Director. We had one institutional support in the Turner Foundation, which was giving us five or ten thousand bucks a year. We ended up having a decent run with Turner—the last year they funded us we got fifty thousand dollars from them. But in 2000 we asked for a hundred and they said, politely, ‘No thank you’—we were told that we weren’t operating as a forest organization any more and that we had too much of a WTO residue on our proposal and resumé. Ted is a big fan of free trade. Since that time, we’ve diversified considerably. We get about 40 per cent of our funding from small but pretty radical foundations, in five-, ten- and twenty-thousand-dollar chunks. We don’t receive anything from Ford, Rockefeller or Hewlett-Packard, of course. Currently we’re getting about 40 per cent of our budget from individuals, and most of that money comes from a pretty small number of people. We also get some 15 per cent or so from other NGOs that co-sponsor our camps, or contract us out as an action team for hire, or as consultants; and the other 5 per cent comes from merchandise.

How does the decision-making process work?

Obviously, those who are closest to the centre get more input than people who are further away from it. For example I took the decision to hold the WTO camp, and that’s how a lot of the decisions have been made since. We’re not a consensus organization. But we’re not an overwhelming hierarchy either—it’s a pretty flat management structure. We don’t even like to use the word management, preferring to be called coordinators. But we try to communicate as a society, with a lot of transparency and availability to a larger community around us.

You’ve spoken of media training—what do you mean by that?

It’s mostly nuts and bolts of media for activists: how to write a good press release; how to flack your story; how to identify and develop friendly media ties. But the most important thing we teach is how to distill very complex campaign themes into very simple messages, that can pass through the filter of corporate-controlled media and still make it out the other side into the homes of the American or global public, in a form that you would still consider effective—and can begin to create the political will we need to turn things around.

Do you see any problems here? At the demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, it often seemed too many messages were being put on the streets, sometimes cancelling each other out.

We were driven into a false competition between messages, between campaigns, with far too little time to talk about a people’s platform which had lots of diverse planks to it. They were all based on social justice, but they were different and there was no chance to talk properly about any of them. The reporters would sanitize the scene even more completely by just labelling us ‘protesters’, without mentioning any of the issues we were acting on. Still, we knew this was going to happen—we’ve seen how the media work, and know the pathology of these giant corporations, which will always try to marginalize and stereotype us. So there needs to be smarter planning of our messages to the world. At Seattle a great effort was made to bring lots and lots of different people under the tent, and not discount anyone’s campaign or slogans. In Philadelphia and LA, we could have framed matters better.

Does the search for consensus among very disparate groups become a real difficulty?

Because we exist in symbiosis with lots of different kinds of organisms in this movement, Ruckus moves in and out of situations where we have to help make decisions in a consensual framework. When that happens we try to demand transparency and accountability, since there is often a tyranny of endurance—the last ones left at the table get to make the decision. When the process of consensus is being tweaked in the direction of some hidden agenda, it can be a very disempowering experience. We try to ensure not only that good decisions are made, but that whatever the decision, those who take it are accountable.

How do you see the role of Ruckus, as distinct from groups like Global Exchange, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, or EarthFirst?

I would say we differ starkly from EarthFirst, and from Rainforest Action Network. These are campaigning organizations, who target very specific political issues. We are more of a strategic and tactical clearing-house and support network. I’m not saying that’s all we do. We’re evolving and looking at how Ruckus operates, and whether or not we are in fact doing something like campaigning—and the answer we keep coming up with is ‘Yes’.

What’s been the overall evolution of Ruckus, then?

We started out as an environmental group, with a very specific focus on forest issues. Then as we gained notoriety, we moved into other bio-regions. The first time we went down to the Southeast, into Appalachia, a lot of different activists came out to our camp—not just folks working on chip mills, but also environmental justice types. That began to happen more and more, so we started going into a region and asking ‘What are the most compelling issues round here? Let’s bring everybody together, talk about common adversaries and build solidarity, so that when one campaign needs support and help, additional numbers and resources, it can count on others who’ve met at our camps coming out and heeding the call.’

Then we took another step about two years ago, when I became Director. We were in some serious financial straits, and we realized we could go to foundations concerned with human rights, if we organized around these issues. We set up our first human rights camp in 1998, and another in 1999. So we ceased to be just an environmental group; we diversified our portfolio, if you will. It was at a 1999 camp that we first began to discuss setting our sights on the WTO as a concrete political target. We could see there were different constituencies we could approach, and show how useful the set of skills we had to offer could be to them—the human rights community, the fair trade community, the labour movement, the social justice movements.

The confluence of movements that came together against the WTO was possible because it was such an all-encompassing adversary to so many different people, so evil and nefarious on so many levels. For Ruckus, targeting the WTO was a way to force open the larger issues of corporate globalization—it was an entry point, to gain traction and pique the American public. Since the WTO campaign, we’ve seen Citigroup as the perfect target because if you look at Citi, you find it’s number one, two or three in almost every sector of extraction you could think of—oil, forests, mining; and if you consider red-lining and predatory lending in disenfranchised communities of colour, they’re way up there too; or if you take sweatshop labour and exploitation, Citi also casts a long shadow. They’re virtually a poster child for corporate globalization. So now we’re going after them. Likewise, we want to work on biotech and Schools Not Jails.

Do you see this kind of activity as a break from the past, or as following a consistent trajectory?

Well, I think that it is a fairly logical progression. It is an expansion of our worldview; we’re seeing more and more people coming into the fold. A lot of people that were big-time wilderness defenders five years ago have now moved into urban environments, working on social justice issues. I was blown away to see how many young students, high-school-age activists working on Schools Not Jails, who come from inner city communities in Los Angeles, have a real environmental sensitivity. Something very exciting and dynamic is happening right now: a general recognition that people can cut across traditional boundaries of race, class, culture and gender, by building a sense of community that creates reciprocity—the knowledge of each group that when its time comes, it will need and can get the support of the others as well.

How would you assess Ruckus’s role at Seattle?

I think that we made a very important contribution to the battle against the WTO. All kinds of organizations pitched in, and I wouldn’t say that our role was any more or less significant than anyone else’s. But we brought together a lot of the direct action community and leadership for the action in Seattle. In fact, the Direct Action Network was born at our camp two months before Seattle, and it was great to see all the different tools and gear that we granted out for the action being put to such good use by people in the streets, the lock-down devices and well-trained people who put the blockade in place. Beforehand, we planned to hang this giant banner from a crane, so you could see the Space Needle behind it. We went back and forth for weeks about what this damn flag should say. Finally we settled on a pair of one-way street signs pointing in opposite directions—one to the WTO, the other to Democracy. It was very simple and beautiful, and stark: people got it. I jumped into the banner-hanging action on November 30, not even expecting to get to the streets the next day. But the cops let me out on bail, so I got to make a complete circumnavigation of the Convention Centre, while thirteen simultaneous actions made an incredible festival of resistance before the cops attacked and all hell broke loose. It was an amazing week. I’m very proud of our share in it.

What about the following demonstrations in DC, Philly and LA? In Seattle, the police weren’t really ready, but in the next cities the authorities already had a siege mentality.

Yes, no question. In DC, I think we made a tactical mistake. We were so inspired by the incredible victory of shutting down the WTO conclave in Seattle, that we announced we were going to close down the World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington. That gave the authorities the opportunity to win, by keeping it open. Our success or failure should be defined by the vision of the world we develop, and the kind of solutions for it we offer, rather than by whether we can tactically out-manoeuvre the most powerful combined police forces in the world—in DC they have fifteen different agencies in a multi-jurisdictional task-force. In Seattle, we told them exactly what we were going to do. I had dinner with the captain in charge of the entire downtown area, and the lieutenant in charge of the Convention Centre itself. They literally didn’t believe us. They just couldn’t credit that thousands of people were going to come out there and risk arrest to intervene against the most powerful business meeting in the history of the planet. But in DC they believed us: and they were willing to launch COINTELPRO-like operations, to engage in surveillance, in pre-emptive strikes, suspension of free speech and constitutional guarantees, to make sure it didn’t happen again. They were quite ready to throw the Constitution into the Potomac, if need be.

In Philadelphia and Los Angeles, it was much harder. A lot of activists knew that in the States political conventions are a black hole as far as media coverage of any quality goes. The Democratic and Republican parties are far more entrenched in the American psyche than an institution like the WTO. They have intimate connections with the media, and can silence dissent around them in a much more chilling and effective way. Also, by then people were tired. It was a long year to go from Seattle to the World Bank/IMF four months later, to the political conventions in the summer. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and begs the question of how many mass actions we can mount effectively in a year. I’d rather we organized one great action every two or three years than three mediocre ones every year. It’s true that police behaviour is getting more and more outrageous each time we show up. But that goes with the territory. I don’t want us to be distracted from our own aims into campaigning against COINTELPRO conduct by the authorities. The police are a symptom, not the real problem. We have to keep our eye on the prize. To be truly radical, you’ve got to go for the roots, and the cops aren’t the roots.

What recent actions have been inspirational for Ruckus outside your own participation?

Two weeks before Seattle, fourteen thousand-plus people marched in Fort Benning, Georgia, to demonstrate against the US counter-insurgency training centre, the School of the Americas. If Seattle could be considered a hotbed of progressive consciousness in the United States, Fort Benning is really its polar opposite. The fight to eliminate the Confederate flag in South Carolina, where ten thousand marched in Columbia, was also inspiring. If you keep your ear to the ground, you can hear a kind of unrest, a dissent that is building against the dominant elite. Another very effective action was the campaign against Home Depot, as the largest corporate player in the market for ancient forest products. It was turned back within a very short space of time by a grass-roots movement that won not because it cut into corporate earnings, but because of a psychological campaign it waged against the CEO and Board of Directors of Home Depot. The message was: ‘If you don’t watch out, we’re going to make you into the leper of every cocktail party that you go to—we’re gonna turn you into an oil executive’. It worked. Then there has been the fight around factory trawlers, and the biotech campaign that bloodied Monsanto’s nose in public. We can be proud of all these.

How far is the unity achieved at Seattle based just on anti-globalization, and how far does it have an anti-capitalist undertow—if you accept such a separation?

Certainly, there are different tribes within the movement. There’s some classic Marxist, anti-capitalist energy, and a lot of the most thoughtful and intellectual material comes from these people. But there’s also a lot of input from college students and outfits wanting to create more sustainable and responsible corporations, more stable forms of capitalism, who aren’t going to have the same kind of systemic critique. They’re willing to take radical action to bring about a world with benign corporations, but they see the solution to our economic nightmare in something that would still look pretty much like it to people who want to get rid of the whole thing.

What thinkers most inform the agenda of Ruckus?

I think it’s really important to study all kinds of different historical movements and social philosophies. I like to read Gandhi and King, so if I were to pick out two particular thinkers I guess it would probably be those two. Marx’s critique of capital is terrific, but I’ve always thought Weber was right that human beings can find some way to exclude and oppress one another, without necessarily involving capital. At the moment I’m reading Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch, about America during the King years, which spends some time dissecting the decisions and calls that were made during the Civil Rights movement—questions like why was Rosa Parks chosen? What was her background? This is an important type of political analysis for me, and I think for Ruckus. We’re trying to create powerful symbols that will help to build a movement of populist resistance. We need to be funny, and smart. We want the kind of grass-roots social revolution that people will be attracted to. So I look at the Yippees and Merry Pranksters, and the early culture-jamming those guys were pioneering. I like to read Adbusters magazine and look at the culture-jamming of The Onion today. I don’t read as much as I should. I don’t read a lot of social philosophy, but I watch a fair bit of corporate news to figure out how that medium functions.

Media coverage of anti-globalization actions often likes to raise the spectre of anarchism. What’s your view of the black flag?

Anarchism has got a really bad rap, like communism. There are probably a lot of trainers in Ruckus who, if you forced them to identify themselves with anything, would say maybe they were anarchists—though they would never use the term to the media, because of the way the American public perceives it. I meet great anarchists all the time. It is a beautiful philosophy to believe that we can take care of one another without centralized institutions that take on a life of their own, and impose their will on us. When Ruckus is ready to develop a sense of its own intellectual place and push for solutions, we will have to think about how practical such a conception might be. For the moment, what we’re good at is saying to the corporate world: ‘Stop—you’re wrong, turn back’, but we do a very poor job of describing the sort of world we envisage. In my view, this has to start at the local level, in the effort to build sustainable communities that can provide for their own needs without exploiting others, that don’t depend on giant highways and massive infrastructure, that can recreate green space and cover their own energy needs. That kind of vision is pretty anarchistic. The reputation of anarchism, however, has sometimes been damaged by unstrategic and potentially dangerous acts. Ruckus holds very near and dear the idea that you can be as radical and non-violently confrontational as you want, so long as you don’t scare people or endanger them.

In Europe a distinction is often drawn between vandalism and violence, which doesn’t seem to have played out in American consciousness.

I get asked about this all the time. You’re right—Americans, even though we actually have a rich tradition of political acts of property destruction, starting with the Boston Tea Party, are very slow to grasp that. In Europe there have been major labour struggles and large-scale political riots in cities in much more recent times than in the States. But I also think there is a difference of intellectual tradition. In this country, we have so skewed a concept of private property—it’s such a sacred, inviolate value that people think any harm done to it is inherently violent; it’s actually written in our criminal code as violence to property. Time magazine even thought it worth quoting when I once simply remarked that violence can only be done to living beings.

Having said that, violence is in my view a lot like obscenity—I don’t have a hard and fast definition for it, but I can tell you what it looks like when I see it. There is a big difference to me between José Bové and his French farmer friends, and some of our anarchists here. They dismantled a McDonalds with their tractors while the whole town including kids had a picnic and a band played, with the community out in force to support them in this largely symbolic action. To a corporation like McDonalds, this was nothing, it was less than a drop in the bucket. There’s a big difference between an action like that and four or five people in black masks suddenly emerging from a crowd of people celebrating a positive, forward-looking movement, and smashing a few windows at a McDonalds. This kind of gesture can incite a violent reaction from the cops, in which people who didn’t come to take part in or even witness the action could be hurt. Here you can really speak of a violent act, which may harm others and let the cops label us as ‘terrorists’.

It’s very important for Ruckus that what we do is understood by the public, that people connect with our intentions and accept the tactics we adopt. I’ve engaged in property destruction. When I sailed with the Rainbow Warrior in 1995, we were attacked by the French navy while we were confiscating a French driftnet in the Mediterranean, which I cut with a pocket-knife. It was illegal in length, but was someone’s private property. The net belonged to a fisherman, but the global public knew why I was doing it. They were ready to understand why industrial strip-mining of our oceans is wrong, and to identify with people that were cutting the nets—but that took lead-time, outreach, and educational work.

Greenpeace always made an effort to explain the context in which its actions made sense. So they did make sense, to a great many people. In Philadelphia, on the other hand, during a day of action against the prison–industrial complex, I saw a lot of cop cars being beaten up, and at some level, I can understand that—some people are living in neighbourhoods where an urban police force is more like an occupying army. But then I also saw Department of Recreation vehicles getting smashed up, right next to the police cars, and I thought to myself, how are we ever going to get the American public to understand why we’re stopping inner-city youth from going to parks? What kind of message is that sending to anyone? Isn’t it just going to alienate people? I think all of us, whether we self-identify as anarchists or revolutionaries, revisionists or Marxists, Taoists or whatever, have to look at the message that we send and ask ourselves who is our audience—how can we speak to their set of values?

How do you assess the role of new technology in organizing and getting your message out? Do you think Independent Media Centres, or groups like FENAMAD in Peru, linking up indigenous people with the internet, offer hopeful tools for social change?

Ruckus is very interested in exploring digital tactics for the various challenges that face us as activists. Our last camp of this year will be called ‘e-genius’, and half of it will be dedicated to analysing and refining the emerging model of independent media centres. The reason is obvious: you have only to look at the potential here for reaching the public. The website of the Independent Media Centre was getting a million and a half hits during the week of the WTO protests in Seattle, which dwarfed even CNN during that time. That’s an amazing feat. If we could create alternative institutions to which people can turn for credible news and analysis of what’s happening on the planet, then more power to us. The pitfall, of course, is the informational overload that comes from this electronic world. That threatens to become an anarchist’s nightmare. But I think we have to develop some portals with a critical mass, that we can project as the places to be. Then we would have the kind of listenership, or viewership, or readership that we need to compete with the corporate media.

You don’t fear that the internet will ultimately fall under the control of the same corporations?

My friend Han Shan is fond of what he calls the slave adage: use the master’s tools to tear down the master’s house. We need to make the most of the net, it’s a very powerful medium. It allows Subcomandante Marcos to communicate with Mumia Abu-Jamal, and with sympathizers in Prague at the same time. That’s power—the ability to build a truly global resistance to what is a completely global system of exploitation.

What do you see as the future for Ruckus, over the next decade—do you have any plans to move overseas, as more struggles break abroad?

The movement against globalization started way before anything much happened in the United States, and long before Ruckus existed. Today we get requests from all over the world to set up our training-camps for tactics of resistance. But to tell you the truth, we’ve resisted the urge to travel because we feel we’ve got more to learn from those movements than we have to teach them. We were invited to South Africa, but what would we instruct them in there? The South African movement toppled apartheid. So many of the engines of global oppression reside here in the United States, where our government supplies the political basis for its corporate citizens to extract the natural wealth of the world, that we believe the most profound political act of which we are capable is to mobilize resistance in the belly of the beast itself. People all over the world were so inspired by Seattle, partly because it was the most heavily televised protest in history—there is probably more celluloid on that week than on any political action of all time—but also because most people had no idea that there was real dissent here in the United States. But when they saw tens of thousands of people in the streets, and the façade of democracy peel away to reveal armed storm troopers with shields, grenades and gas, wielding chemical weapons against unarmed crowds, it really drove home the fact that there are all kinds of different opinions in this country, and that there can be a true, sweeping social movement in the United States. Since then we’ve gone to a couple of camps in Canada, and consider ourselves in many ways a North American group. We would definitely be interested in working in Mexico, and Central America next. But it’s going to be a long time—if ever—before we set up a Ruckus action camp overseas. We are where we are.

No Qatar camp?

When the WTO chose Qatar for its next meeting, I enjoyed playfully hinting to the Wall Street Journal that we were planning to train for the desert, and we were looking for desert camouflage. But we’re proud to be North American, and we know this pathological corporate culture that rules our lives better than any people in the world. We have the best tools to tear it down and start rebuilding something in a more compassionate and sustainable way. That’s where we’ve got to concentrate our efforts.

Related articles:

  1. Bernard Cassen: On the Attack The founder of the single most successful movement against neoliberal globalization, and architect of the World Social Forum, discusses the French origins and international growth of ATTAC. Its connexions with Le Monde diplomatique and vision of the battles against financial markets and privatization to come.
  2. Walden Bello: Pacific Panopticon The Filipino analyst and organizer of Focus on the Global South, veteran of the years of Allende and Marcos, discusses the prospects for the World Social Forum after September 11, arguing for the need to link protests against the IMF and WTO to campaigns against US military expansion.
  3. Immanuel Wallerstein: New Revolts Against the System The longue durée of resistance to the established order: after a hundred and twenty years of socialist and nationalist revolts, does the World Social Forum represent a qualitatively new alignment of forces and strategies for change?
  4. Joao Pedro Stedile: Landless Battalions A leader of Brazil’s Sem Terra explains the history and geography of the world’s largest movement of the rural poor. How to occupy land, mobilize support, resist the media and the state under a tropical brand of the Third Way.
  5. David Graeber: The New Anarchists Is the ‘anti-globalization movement’ anything of the kind? Active resistance is true globalization, David Graeber maintains, and its repertoire of forms is currently coming from the arsenal of a reinvented anarchism.
  6. Michael Hardt: Porto Alegre: Today's Bandung? The World Social Forum at Porto Alegre has become symbolic of the forces beginning to shape a front of common resistance to the pattern of imperial globalization. Yet its character and composition remain little understood. Michael Hardt analyses the debates within it, and their political potential.
  7. Naomi Klein: Reclaiming the Commons The anti-globalization movement is the talk of the financial press. Naomi Klein asks how far it is against globalization and whether it is a movement, arguing it is better described as a broadening series of different struggles against privatization—in every sense.
  8. Emir Sader: Beyond Civil Society A Brazilian view of the World Social Forum, in its regional and international context. How the landscape of the world’s Left has changed, and whether the ideologies of non-governmental organization and civil society are capable of resisting what they criticize.
  9. Subcomandante Marcos: The Punch Card and the Hourglass Interviewed by García Márquez and Roberto Pombo just after the EZLN’s entry into Mexico City, Marcos explains the strategy of Zapatista patience and the literary origins of a revolutionary militant.
  10. Tom Mertes: Grass-Roots Globalism Replying to Michael Hardt with an alternative look at Porto Alegre, Tom Mertes argues that while the variety of movements and forces in the WSF is not to be reduced to a single scale, the differences between them are less to do with organization than strategy.
  11. Jose Bove: A Farmers' International? The demolisher of McDonald’s explains his personal background, the history of the Peasants’ Confederation in France, and the international objectives of Via Campesina. Struggles in the countryside of the Massif Central or Karnataka as spear-points in the anti-globalization movement.

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