Naomi Through The Window

I'm currently reading Fences and Windows By Naomi Klein, most often described as the ´darling' or the ´posterchild' of the anti-globalisation movement. I suspect that if this collection of short essays and speeches had been written by a man, such patronising terms would not be used. However, part of Klein's success, I think, comes from her feminine style of writing. Instead of collecting all the varying strands of anti-capitalism and scientifically distilling them down into a single concept, a simple vision, she takes The Idea and creatively opens it to encapsulate everyone's thoughts, philosophies, movements and protest - from the American students' anti-sweatshop campaigns to the actual sweatshop workers' campaigns. From South American resistance to the IMF and World Bank to French farmers' protests against McDonalds. She covers Canadian logging, the opening of borders to trade yet the closing of them to people (new budgets of $395m for screening immigrants at the Canadian border), violent police tactics at demonstrations, GM crops, file sharing, reclaim the streets parties, the fetishisation of activist-culture (Zapatista baseball caps!), the BBC, the concept-lifestyle (shopping as ideology), the foot and mouth crisis, drug patents, reparations for slavery and so on and so forth.

These pieces may be individual essays, but they all link together to provide an amorphous vision, one of resistance to the homogenous corporate world and the opening up of new possibilities, of a new diverse, multi-headed political sphere. Klein does not come up with a precise, rigid 'one size fits all' political ideology to face up to capitalism. She creates rhetoric-free windows of political opportunity - there is less time spent trying to name or pinpoint her concept of political utopia (and indeed she recognises that decentralised autonomous democracy would be hard work and imperfect - but it's got to be better than Corporate World╗, where governments are over-ruled by the World Bank or crippled by Free Trade Agreements) and more time laying out her shop (as it were) for a new political movement that is beyond merely protesting outside McDonalds. She calls for:

    Self determination
    Grassroots democracy
    Participatory democracy
    Ecological sustainability
    Economic sustainability
She proposes many-headed solutions to achieve these aims, stating not only protest, but visions of social centres, decentralisation and democratic spaces - for debate, discussion and dreams. This is no ´aux armes' call for revolution. It is a 'revolution that makes revolution possible'. It's not sexy, violent or even really very thrilling until you consider what exactly it would mean for the empowerment of people. She takes global examples - Zapatistas in Mexico, Social Centres in Italy, May Day Activists in Britain to form her own concept of where her own country (Canada) should be; not for her the unrealism of demanding a society without money or a plan to oust the government. It's just a suggestion of what might be possible.

Klein also has a traditionally feminine sense of self-deprecation. Faced with partnering with David Solnit, a 'legendary activist', at a 'Teach-in' she becomes embarrassed ('these instant-intimacy rituals have always made me want to run....and slam the door'). At demonstrations, she is not reporting on the protestors, she is one of the protestors, part of it, not retaining a detached masculine stance. She uses her personal experience to illustrate a point, but not to the extent of egoism. And while she might repeat a point to get it across, she never becomes boring, never becomes bigger than the issues at stake. She sees herself, I believe, as a conduit for the aspirations, anger and activism of the anti-capitalist movement. This makes her writing all the better - eminently readable because of the lack of self, the loose structure and the concept of flowing ideas encapsulated in an anti-capitalist bubble. If we have to have a posterchild for the movement, we could do a lot lot worse than Ms Klein.

© 2003 Rachel Stevenson