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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 15:42 GMT
Counter-summit focuses on poor
Demonstration outside World Economic Forum
Protesters want global poverty tackled
By the BBC's Ben Wright in New York

Re-arranging the flyers and pamphlets on her makeshift wooden table, Amy is clear why she, and many other young Americans, have come to this World Economic Forum counter-summit at Columbia University in northern Manhattan.

"There are no other legitimate channels open to us," she says, pointing to the invisible decision-making that is in progress downtown at the real World Economic Forum.

Many see the activities of bankrupt energy business Enron as immensely symbolic

It is a theme repeated by many of those attending the meeting during the afternoon.

There has been a brisk flow of people through the Alfred Lerner Hall which is housing the event.

The counter-World Economic Forum has been organised by a recently formed student group called Students for Global Justice.

Passionate certainty

Under their umbrella, a number of other groups have come to set up stalls and add their voice to the two-day event.

At seminars, panel discussions, workshops and stalls, issues ranging from debt-relief to Enron are debated with passionate certainty.

How has 11 September changed the movement?

Masked demonstrator
The attacks off 11 September have not dampened the protests
According to Jonathan, it is has only added further urgency to their cause.

"Has global poverty changed?" he asks. "Absolutely not."

He says 11 September was like "throwing down the gauntlet" to the developed nations of the West, a challenge to tackle what he thinks are the fundamental causes of terrorism.

It is this belief in the vital need to tackle global poverty that, Jonathan says, unites the anti-globalisation movement and overrides the philosophical and tactical differences that are evident at today's gathering.

The myriad causes represented here are a sample of the movement that is frequently lumped together and labelled anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist.

Vision needed

It is a generalisation that angers James Keady, co-director of Educating for Justice, a group dedicated to creating better working practices at Nike.

Yet he does not see it simply as the fault of a lazy media.

James thinks the movement should recognise, for instance, that it does want to see concepts of democracy and human rights globalised.

Placard outside World Economic Forum
The counter-forum allows campaigners to make their point
He is also adamant about the need for campaigners to have a clear vision of what they want to achieve.

That needs to be allied, he says, to the tools of PR and respectability of which the delegates at the Waldorf are such skilled masters.

Many see the activities of bankrupt energy business Enron as immensely symbolic.

James sees Enron and the World Economic Forum as key examples of people being "absolutely disconnected" from the human consequences of their actions.

Across the street at Synod Hall, a panel of speakers leads a debate on how best to make an impact on the symptoms of globalisation.

United belief

As is perhaps inevitable at a meeting arranged entirely by collective decision-making, it is a fairly ramshackle affair, a vivid contrast to the well-oiled operation in midtown Manhattan.

And, yes there are plenty of hemp hats and yes, some people are drinking Starbucks coffee and yes, there are more questions asked than there are answers given.

But there is also a united belief that the issues they are discussing and the solutions they are providing have no resonance within the frozen zone downtown.

The feeling of political disenfranchisement is acute.

As Amy concludes: "If they could hold the World Economic Forum on a cloud they would."

See also:

03 Feb 02 | Business
Global economy 'recovering'
03 Feb 02 | Business
Eyewitness: Protest on Fifth Avenue
01 Feb 02 | Business
WEF: New York's big deal
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