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Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Catch Our Anti-Corporate Puppet Show!

The Eclectic Swarms of Protesters Come Not to Praise Capitalism but to Bury It--Along With the Shallow, Consumerist Value System It Rode In On.

August 13, 2000|Nicholas Riccardi | Nicholas Riccardi is a Staff Writer for The Times' Metro Section

Breakfast is over and it's time to get back to the Revolution. The vegan bread, snatched from a bakery's discard pile, sits on the table, next to the tubs of organic yogurt and cups of certified Fair Trade coffee. Two dozen members of the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC) hold hands in a ring around the center of a room in Eugene, Ore. Many have just met after months of conference calls and e-mails. Some got to know each other last night as they crashed at strangers' houses and watched

a video of activists trying to block logging of Oregon's old-growth forests. "This," says Jocelyn Furbush, a 19-year-old Portland State University student with an eyebrow ring and serene smile, "is what I want the rest of my life to look like."

To Furbush, life will take one of two forms--either a world of friendship, community and ecological living or one of sterile suburbs, environmental destruction and soulless corporate affluence achieved on the backs of others. Want a closer look at those options? Come to downtown Los Angeles this week. Inside an arena named after an out-of-town company, where luxury suites cost $307,500, Democratic Party delegates will nominate a preordained, soft-money-fueled, white male candidate for president of the United States. Outside, if all goes according to plan, thousands of students, artists and veteran activists--in a loosely knit coalition of progressive organizations--will sing, dance, wave towering papier-mache puppets and perhaps shut down City Hall or somehow slow the capitalist juggernaut. In a rolling, collective stream-of-consciousness critique, these anarchists, socialists, environmentalists and trade unionists will strive to illuminate every dark problem under the sun: the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos on death row . . . Asian children earning $2 a day making chain-store clothes for yuppies . . . Occidental Petroleum's efforts to displace the indigenous people of the Colombian cloud forest by drilling for more oil that will go into more cars that spew more exhaust and heighten global warming. If all this sounds like a scalding geyser of angst, well, it's been building for 30 years. And if it seems unlikely to be changed by dancing and marching, just remember that anything is possible nowadays. If iVillage stock can go from 24 to 80 in its first day, the economy can grow for 42 consecutive quarters and a ragtag crew of environmentalists and unionists can actually shut down a meeting of the World Trade Organization, maybe the radical street party in Los Angeles this week will change the world.

*

"FOR ME," MICHAEL EVERETT TELLS THE JUBILANT crowd, "the '60s ended last week when I saw the torch get passed on to this generation." It's mid-December, about a week after the Battle in Seattle, and the Southern California Fair Trade Network is celebrating in a cramped downtown community center. More than 200 people, their name-brandless clothes festooned with bright buttons--"People Before Profits" and "Stop the WTO"--are wedged in the steamy second-floor meeting room, listening to protesters' war stories.

The week has been a vindication for people such as Everett. Decades back, he participated in lunch counter sit-ins, "resisted" the draft, marched on the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Then he watched the country get self-satisfied, the rallies dwindle, the media lose interest. He continued to do union organizing and fight for rent control in Santa Monica, but mainly focused on his career as a Hollywood set-lighting electrician. Until the North American Free Trade Agreement dispersed much of the work to Canada. He thought it was over. Little did Everett, 58, suspect that the magic was coming back. These kids in Seattle, he tells the crowd, were fearless. And funny.

Seven months later the veterans are still marveling at the resurgence of protest. Leone Hankey, who is in her mid-40s , stands outside a two-story stucco Hancock Park manor where the Fair Trade group is holding its July fund-raiser, talking about how long she's been waiting for people to take note of "the war on the poor." Bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay sit by the Pepsi and tequila at the buffet table. But this movement remains cash-strapped. People slip wadded-up bills into the passing plastic bucket, and few bid on the silent auction items, not even the bag of genuine Cuban sand. On a table in the back of the garden lie pamphlets and fliers on the problems of globalization ("Median U.S. hourly wages have fallen steadily as the economy has become more globalized . . . . ") and inviting participation in causes such as lifting the U.N. embargo against Iraq, which foes say is causing the starvation of thousands of Iraqi children. Like many others these days, the party wraps up with a video of the Seattle protest. Beaming, Hankey says it was the best demonstration she's been in since 1972. "I've been waiting a while to feel that dynamism of a mass movement."

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