Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fight the Power
Just filed this as part of our WTO coverage. The demonstration will be described by most, if not all media, as "violent" but I saw none because I left before the hoohaw began. Except for some cretin who almost beaned me and another Standard reporter with a water bottle tossed from a high apartment overlooking the marchers, there was no mayhem until the HK cops had herded the protestors into their "authorized" protest area about 400 yards across the bay from where the WTO group was meeting. It was essentially a concrete box canyon with two small exits (guarded by cops) and 8 PortaPotties for several thousand crowded, excited demonstrators. You pack 'em in with no place to go, you have a recipe for trouble and pepper gas.
If you were looking for Danes dressed as Holstein cows marching with life-size copper statues of starving Africans, strident Hong Kong youths yearning to ``revive the Chinese communist revolution under Maoist ideals'' or Korean students blaming the World Trade Organization for their tution hikes, Victoria Park was the place to be Tuesday.
Idealism met delusional thought in a variety of national costumes, protest symbols and half a dozen tongues. But rhetoric was the universal language.
``WTO kills farmers'' was very popular, largely among the many Korean peasants some of whom spent the morning hours pounding together a large mock coffin symoblizing their hope of burying WTO (``RIP WTO'' read the sign taped to it) and memorializing a dead comrade, Lee Kyung Hae, a farmer-activist who stabbed himself in the heart at a WTO protest in Cancun, Mexico in 2003.
``Sex Work Is Work,'' was one of several messages courtesy of 25 Taiwanese young people who were blaming the WTO for ``vampires'' who exploit sex and labor migrant workers. ``We have the chance and, honestly, it's very cheap to come here,'' said spokeswoman Lai Hsiang-ling in one of the more refreshing statements of candor heard prior to the march. As she spoke, a Latin American activist on one of two stages in Victoria Park was proclaiming his working class solidarity in Spanish with Korean peasants who listened politely, though they were probably a bit vague on the specifics, even if they were being translated into English and Cantonese.
``The people united will never be defeated'' and ``Number one terrorist, US imperialist'' rolled rhythmically off the tongues while more unwieldy statements such as ``Today's disparity among rich and poor is a creation of the WTO and nothing else'' just didn't have the crowd-catching lilt to move the masses, though it looked good on poster board.
Media workers at times seemed nearly equal to the protestors who happily mugged and posed for news organizations and camera toting tourists alike.
``Our presence is threatening the deal brought about by the WTO,'' proclaimed a gentle-looking Indonesian gentleman named Ahmad Baso for the press. Baso, incidentally, was wrapped most unthreateningly in a brown fake fur women's jacket against the Hong Kong chill.
``A Korean activist!'' exclaimed a 58-year-old tourist from Brisbane. ``Would he mind posing with us?'' Though he spoke no English, a member of the Korean Peasant's League got the message, held up his drum and smiled gamely as the visitor and her husband flanked him for an exotic photo opportunity.
There was widespread agreement among media types that the Korean Peasant's League rocked. Though few, if any, spoke English or Cantonese and translators were at a premium, their discipline and stolid solidarity spoke volumes even if they were largely preaching and chanting to their own choir.
And you've got to admire a group that had the foresight to order in the delivery of hundreds of box lunches from Joseph's Catering while other activists made due with whatever they'd managed to scrounge from multi-national 7-Elevens or Hong Kong street vendors on the way to the park.
Prior to the pepper gassing and mayhem that concluded the march, there was no hint of impending trouble.
``Hong Kong police and people are so nice to us,'' said Lee Miok, a small, beaming 22-year-old Korean college student holding a sign with emblazoned with Adolf Hitler's picture and dollar signs as swastikas. ```We don't want to fight the Hong Kong police,'' she said. ``This is normal in Korea. We have two huge demonstrations every week there sometimes. But Hong Kong people are worried. I read the newspapers here. I understand.'''
Indeed nervous looking Wanchai restaurant, retail and office workers watched from behind the locked barred gates of closed businesses as the protestors marched slowly and patiently past them on Lockhart Road.
Most chanted slogans, banged gongs, pounded drums and made sure that the ominpresent TV and newspaper photographers got plenty of time for shots of, for example, sometimes puzzling symbolism such as a woman in a flowing orange and purple dress, her face covered in a violet ``gas mask'' made from two plastic bleach bottles who pretended to slowly flog a cowering young Indonesian man whose blue painted face was encased in a makeshift wire cage with a tag reading ``GATT'' attached to it.
Even for those who knew that GATT meant General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades it was mystifying; like cross between a Passion play gone wrong and an S&M fantasy betweeen kinky economists.
What wasn't mystifying but unexpected and momentarily startling was when a full plastic water bottle was lobbed from a high window of a flat overlooking the Marsh Lane bridge that led to the WTO protestors holding pen. It exploded at the feet of two Standard reporters leaving them wet, but unscathed.
At least twenty TV and newspaper camera people swarmed to document the torn, dripping bottle -- evidence of violence, at last!
Sadly, about 90 minutes later they'd have much more than one busted water bottle on which to focus.
I want to attend an Economist's S&M party now. Or throw one. I'm blaming you if this idea goes south. If it works, you will also be given credit, but not nearly as much.
Alan Greenspan says the "safe word" is "stagflation."
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