Contusions Brian Dominick

Winter 2002 — FOR THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, my involvement in anti-capitalist globalization street protests has been as a street medic providing emergency first aid to demonstrators injured by police violence. In that capacity, I have had the opportunity to meet some interesting people — ordinary activists placed in terrifying circumstances. My patients have often inspired me. Despite personal suffering, instead of asking about their condition, "how bad is it?", the overwhelming majority of activists being treated by medics simply want to know when they can return to the action. They are brave and committed, very much unlike their typical portrayal in the media as spoiled brats itching to raise hell before it's time to sell out.

In Quebec City last April, I encountered a young "Black Bloc" activist named "Cabbage," who had been beaten over the head by a riot cop, resulting in a torn earlobe, a nasty gash across his scalp, and quite possibly a skull fracture. As battered as he was, this young radical insisted he was going to return to the front lines to confront the police. During a physical examination, I discovered Cabbage had sustained several nasty bruises from plastic bullets during the previous days' activities. Although this young radical had been wounded on two separate occasions, he wasn't ready to quit.

It's difficult to resist wondering if all the suffering I see as a medic is really worthwhile. Sure, it often radicalizes the victims, who tend to increase their commitment rather than shy away (it surely has the opposite effect on some, too). But in the end, is it achieving anything? There is some glory inherent in directly clashing with those who protect elites and elite interests, but it's quite limited. Street fighting involves significant losses, and it distracts both activists and the public at large from the real issues of wealth and privilege which we need to address. (And we have trouble understanding why those marching under the anti-capitalist globalization banner aren't more diversely representative of the populace, as we misdirect our energy against the guardians of elites instead of elites themselves, and pay a price so many cannot afford.)

Not so glorious is the job of actually articulating complex viewpoints on topics like political economy and global trade — not in journals or position papers, but in social settings where we can influence and learn from the perspectives of people outside our normal milieu. Far less spectacular than the street battle is the comparatively invisible conflict of working day in and day out to build the institutions which make real-world economic change in our communities and between societies.

If we can take the courage that so many of us carry into the streets each time a summit of world leaders/corporate delegates is held, and channel it toward work that really contributes to changing the world in tangible ways, then we will be onto something. But if our protest movement remains just that — a movement based on successive demonstrations but little change in people's economic lives — we'll accomplish little more than modest consciousness raising. If we can fight capitalism and capitalist globalization at the same time, why focus primarily on the latter and isolate ourselves from the people most in need of change?

If there were more people with the dedication and passion of someone like Cabbage actually working for change outside of the summit circuit, there would be no reason to believe anything can stop us from transforming the world.


Excerpted from Brian Dominick (Winter 2002) "Toward an Anti-Capitalist Globe: We Know Why, the Question Is How?," New Politics, 8(4).

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