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Protesters Primed for Economic Forum in N.Y.

January 31, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Behind a blue door marked International Action Center in a small Manhattan office building sandwiched between two shops, protesters practiced shouting for the benefit of television cameras: "Money for jobs and not for war!"

They put the finishing touches on stacks of yellow signs with black lettering for such causes as "End U.S. Aid to Israel" and "U.S. Out of Afghanistan."

Amalgams of like-minded activists--Vietnam War protest veterans, anti-globalization demonstrators, college students and labor union members--are expected to take to the streets of New York to oppose the World Economic Forum, which opens today.

The forum, which was held in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for more than three decades, moved its meeting to New York to show support for the city after the attack on the World Trade Center. Some officials in Davos also had complained about the growing cost of protecting the conference, which had become a magnet for anti-globalization demonstrations.

This year will be no exception. The International Action Center, a major group coordinating the protest, has been granted a police permit for a major demonstration Saturday on Park Avenue outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where 3,000 forum delegates--including corporate leaders and heads of state--will meet.

About 4,000 police officers have been assigned to guard the conference, along with agents from the FBI, the State Department and the Secret Service.

Strategists at the action center, which was founded to oppose the Persian Gulf War, view the Davos conference not only as a symbol to test the strength of the protest movement after Sept. 11, but also as a chance to recruit members for a larger demonstration planned in the nation's capital this spring.

"They want to shut our movement down. This is a test for us," the action center's co-director Larry Holmes told activists preparing signs for street protests. "We have to show the movement is not dead. It is alive. It is militant and defiant."

Just how militant is a touchy question. Holmes and other strategists at the action center are aware that violent clashes with police could hurt the movement's recruiting base and drive away civil rights organizations, labor unions and other groups necessary for growth.

"There are the young people who will come if they can get here. They will crawl on the ground to make it. Then there are the people from my generation who want to fight the good fight. They want to come out to the demonstration," Holmes said.

As she put tape on a sign this week, Nina Hawe, 50, a nurse, reminisced about her first demonstration.

"I was 16 at the time. It was against the war in Vietnam. It started off with a rally and then we marched down Fifth Avenue. It think it was 1967 or 1968. Oh, I loved it. It was just great. It was good to be around so many people."

The veteran activist said she plans to protest for several reasons.

"It seems like we're in a phase now or we're going into a phase of a lot of negativity and destruction and violence. I wouldn't say I am totally a pacifist, but what's the purpose? Violence just to dominate and control and manipulate other people is so unnecessary. So I guess the purpose of this demonstration is to try to say there is another way and people can live together in peace."

Nearby, Emily Tarasuk, 20, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, said it would be her first demonstration.

She said a friend who is active in the movement gave her literature and persuaded her to march. "I didn't know these problems existed, and I just want to learn," she said.

Tarasuk said her parents were anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, but never talked to her about their experience.

Michelle Quintus, 32, a flight attendant, said one of the reasons she planned to demonstrate was growing unemployment after Sept. 11.

"Thousands of flight attendants and others in the aviation industry have lost their jobs. But our CEOs and our owners are walking away with millions of dollars," she said. "None of their salaries are getting cut. They are asking for pay concessions. But it is us that are risking our lives every time we get on an airplane so that they can make money."

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