Headlines: House Passes Stimulus Bill; Global Economy Sees Lowest Growth since World War II

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

House Backs Economic Stimulus

The House has approved President Obama’s more than $800 billion economic stimulus package. The vote was entirely on party lines, with not a single Republican supporting the bill. Obama says the package would create more than three million jobs. Hours before the vote, Obama met with corporate leaders at the White House.

President Obama: “As we discussed in our meeting a few minutes ago, corporate America will have to accept its own responsibilities to its workers and the American public. But these executives also understand that without wise leadership in Washington, even the best-run businesses can’t do as well as they might.”

The measure now goes before the Senate with debate beginning on Monday. The price tag of the Senate version is approaching $900 billion as senators continue to add earmarks. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia has included a provision that would provide $4.6 billion for the coal industry.

IMF: Global Economy to See Lowest Post-War Growth

The debate over the stimulus package comes as the International Monetary Fund has warned the global economy will see its lowest growth since the Second World War.

IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard: “We expect the global economy to come to a virtual standstill in 2009. There are important differences across countries. In the advanced economies, we basically forecast the sharpest contraction in the post-war period.”

7 Palestinian Girls Wounded in Israeli Attack

Israel continues to bombard areas of Gaza despite its declaration of a ceasefire. Earlier today, at least nine Palestinians, including seven girls, were wounded in an Israeli air strike on Khan Yunis. The attack came hours after Israel also attacked a metal foundry in the town of Rafah. Israel says it’s responding to a small number of rocket attacks from Gaza that haven’t caused any injuries.

Israel: Gaza Borders Closed Until Captured Soldier Freed

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is claiming it will continue to close Gaza’s border crossings until the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is released. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert laid out the condition in a meeting with Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Shalit was captured in 2006 from an area near the Gaza border where Israel has launched countless attacks. Israel has banned all imports and exports from Gaza and only allows a limited number of humanitarian goods. After the meeting, Mitchell called for expanding the recent ceasefire.

Middle East envoy George Mitchell: “As the Prime Minister and I discussed, of critical importance is consolidating the ceasefire, including a cessation of hostilities, an end to smuggling and the reopening of the crossings based on the 2005 agreement. President Obama has said that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and to its right to defend itself against legitimate threats. The President has also said that the United States will sustain an active commitment toward reaching a goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Mitchell is set to meet Palestinian leaders from the Fatah party on the West Bank today. But he has no plans on meeting democratically elected Hamas officials in Gaza.

Israeli West Bank Settlement Expansion Grew 57% in 2008

Meanwhile, hours before Mitchell arrived, the Israeli group Peace Now issued a report showing Israeli settlement activity on the occupied West Bank has increased for another consecutive year. More than 1,200 new structures were built in 2008, an increase of 57 percent.

Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now: “We can see expansion of existing settlements, of existing illegal outposts. We can see that the construction is all around the West Bank, not only in the settlement blocs, but also in the small isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank.”

The World Court has ruled all Israeli settlements are illegal. In 2001, Mitchell led a US commission that became the basis for the “road map,” which calls for a freeze to all Israeli settlement expansion.

EU Signals Readiness to Recognize Hamas

Meanwhile, a European Union official has indicated for the first time the EU might break from the US-backed boycott of Hamas. Speaking in Jerusalem, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU would deal with a Palestinian unity government including Hamas, if Hamas accepted a two-state solution.

Javier Solana: “It has to be a team of people that will continue trying to obtain what is the desperation of so many people, which is two states and two states that can live together and, at the same time, that they can live together in the context of a very important initiative taken by the Arab League, which is the Arab peace initiative. Those who can work in that direction, of course, they have to be helped and supported.”

The new stance would break from Israel and the US, which has demanded Hamas also recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence. But Israel has refused to adopt the same conditions toward Palestinians.

Hamas Official: “We Accept a State in ’67 Borders”

Solana’s comments come as Hamas officials continue to repeat they’d accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad said, “We want to be part of the international community. I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world.” Hamad continued, “We accept a state in the ’67 borders. We are not talking about the destruction of Israel.”

UN Nuclear Chief Boycotts BBC Over Gaza Appeal

The UN’s top nuclear watchdog is boycotting the BBC over its refusal to broadcast an appeal by aid agencies for Palestinian victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza. International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei says he’s canceled planned interviews with the BBC, saying it has violated “basic human decency.” The three-minute appeal came from groups including the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Christian Aid and aired on other British networks this week.

UN: 250,000 Trapped in Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the UN is warning some 250,000 civilians are trapped in clashes between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels. The civilians have fled amidst escalating fighting that has left some 300 dead over the past week. Another 1,000 people have been reported wounded. The UN has accused the Sri Lankan government of indiscriminate bombing, including an attack on a government-declared “safe zone” over the weekend.

Iraq Holds Provincial Electionsv

In Iraq, tens of thousands of people have cast early ballots ahead of this weekend’s provincial elections. It’s Iraq’s first national vote since 2005.

Iraq Won’t Renew Blackwater License

In other Iraq news, the Iraqi government has announced it will refuse to renew the operating license for the private military firm Blackwater Worldwide. Iraq says it also won’t allow Blackwater guards accused of wrongdoing to work for other companies. An Interior Ministry spokesperson said Blackwater will be ordered to leave Iraq as soon as Iraqi and US officials complete a new set of rules governing private contractors. The State Department employs Blackwater to guards US officials and installations. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

Report: Admin Drafts Letter to Iran

The Guardian of London is reporting the Obama administration has drafted a letter to the Iranian government offering improved relations. The letter is said to assure Iranian leaders the US is not trying to overthrow their government.

Iran Calls for US Apology for 1953 Coup, Jetliner Attack

The news comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would be open to talks with the US if it apologized for past actions. Ahmadinejad called on the White House to apologize for the US-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s nationalist government in 1953 and the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plan in 1988.

CIA Algeria Station Chief Accused of Raping 2 Women

The CIA’s station chief in Algeria is under investigation for drugging and raping two Muslim women. According to ABC News, two Algerian women independently accused Andrew Warren of lacing their drinks with a knock-out drug before the alleged rapes occurred. Warren was recalled back to the US after the allegations were made in October.

Holder Denies Assuring No Torture Prosecutions

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Eric Holder’s nomination for Attorney General, sending it before the full Senate. The vote comes as Holder has denied a report he told a Republican lawmaker he won’t prosecute Bush administration officials linked to torture. Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri told the Washington Times that Holder had given him the assurances. Bond also said Holder had told him he won’t try to revoke the retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies involved in wireless spying on US citizens. An aide to Holder is denying Bond’s claims.

Penn. Judges Accused of Taking Kickbacks for Jailing Youths in Private Prisons

In Pennsylvania, two judges are being accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for placing youths in privately owned jails. Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan are said to have received $2.6 million for ensuring juvenile suspects were jailed in prisons operated by the companies PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care. Some of the youths were jailed over the objections of their probation officers. Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center says it’s considering a class-action suit on behalf of several jailed youths.

Union Membership Grew in 2008

In labor news, the percentage of American workers belonging to unions has grown for the first time in years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of unionized workers grew by 428,000, to 16.1 million.

SEIU Removes Leadership at Dissident California Local

Meanwhile, the executive of the Service Employees International Union has taken over one of its largest locals, California’s 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West, after a more than year-long dispute. The SEIU has removed the local’s leadership, which has vocally criticized SEIU president Andy Stern. Critics have accused Stern of ignoring overwhelming opposition from local members. The local says it plans on forming a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Postal Service Seeks to Cut Delivery to 5 Days

The US Postal Service has announced it wants to cut mail delivery from six to five days a week. Postmaster General John Potter says the move would address a growing deficit, with the postal service facing a $6 billion loss this year.

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WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later

Seven years ago yesterday, protestors in Seattle shutdown the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting and effectively launched an anti-corporate globalization movement that spawned a renewed era of activism and street protests in the United States. Out of this context, groups such as Media Mouse formed and evolved.

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Seven years ago yesterday, protestors in Seattle effectively disrupted and shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting and essentially launched an anti-corporate globalization movement that put the spotlight on a variety of little known entities including the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), the G8, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, the World Economic Forum, and others. In the intervening five years, mass mobilizations across the globe–from Seattle to Cancun–greeted nearly every meeting of the global elites. While the effects of these protests can (and should) be debated, they were successful in establishing a movement in the global north that was able to act in solidarity with movements in the global south to limit the expansion of the neoliberal agenda, with planned agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) or the Doha round of WTO negotiations coming to a standstill due to widespread public opposition while also playing a significant role in reinvigorating an anti-capitalist movement within the United States.

Out of the context of Seattle, Media Mouse was formed here in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1999 and actively participated in the anti-corporate globalization movement. In Grand Rapids there was a rise in activism following Seattle, with groups like Media Mouse and Students Against Sweatshops forming, as well as community, labor, and church groups putting a focus on trade and participating in the movement. Like Seattle and subsequent protests, the resistance in Grand Rapids was varied and incorporated educational events, street protests, and even a coordinated graffiti campaign (in the Grand Rapids Press’ reporting on the Seattle protests they mentioned a graffiti campaign and communiqué by a group calling itself the Midnight Special Committee). Media Mouse, taking its inspiration in part from the global indymedia network and the Independent Media Center movement, emphasized the role that grassroots media plays in building movements for social change and covered protests both in Grand Rapids and across the country. Media Mouse covered the June 2000 protests against the Organization of American States and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Detroit, the April 2001 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City and produced video and photos, the 2002 World Economic Forum protests in New York City, and the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami.

Because of the importance of the WTO and the subsequent anti-corporate protests in Media Mouse’s history, Media Mouse is printing the afterward from a new 64-page booklet on the 1999 WTO protests released yesterday by CrimethInc. While the analysis in the afterward does focus somewhat narrowly on the anarchist portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement, the booklet is essential reading for those involved in movements to challenge corporate power and is useful for remembering an important moment in recent radical history. The forward-looking analysis may be helpful in reinvigorating current movements and fostering a renewed sense of commitment and motivation in light of a disempowering fight to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the invasion of Iraq. Those organizing in the United States should also not lose sight of the fact that while times may be difficult here in this country, recent events in the Americas, from the Oaxaca and Zapatista struggles in Mexico to the electoral victories of leftists in Central America, give plenty of reason to be optimistic.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later…

…From this vantage point, it is possible to interpret the WTO protests according to any number of frameworks. They were a watershed in the development of the contemporary anticapitalist movement, at which thousands of disparate groups discovered each other and the power they could wield together. They were the point at which, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the old “democracy versus communism” opposition, the fundamental dichotomy of global politics was recast as corporate capitalism versus the common people. They were, as the researchers of the RAND corporation self-servingly discovered, the substantiation of theories about how new communications technologies would shape social conflict. They were simultaneously the beginning and the high point of a “movement of movements” which ended when terrorists hijacked the global stage on September 11th, or when communist splinter groups hijacked the anti-war movement a year and a half later, or which continues so long as certain anthropology professors require a subject for inquiry.

The only thing that matters for us anarchists, of course, is what we can learn from the past to act effectively in the present. Does it make sense to pursue “another Seattle,” or is that just a will-o’-the-wisp? Could any of the tactics that succeeded in Seattle be as effective today, or are they subject to a law of diminishing returns?

What Happened in Seattle

Immediately following the Seattle WTO protests, some reformists moaned that the confrontational tactics and far-reaching goals of militant participants alienated people and ruined any chance of concretely affecting national policy. Yet by reformist standards, the so-called anti-globalization movement [1] associated with the Seattle protests achieved practically unprecedented triumphs, and the credit for this must go at least in part to the militants. The next WTO meeting had to be held in Qatar, cementing the image of the WTO as an anti-democratic, oppressive elite. Many of the proposals that had most outraged activists were immediately dropped; likewise, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement is now essentially dead in the water. Some analysts have concluded that the mobilization against corporate globalization peaked early because its goals were not ambitious enough.

In addition to giving the WTO a public image makeover and successfully forcing concessions from it, the militancy of the demonstrators in Seattle pushed its supposed critics to adopt a more uncompromising stance. Organized labor and segments of the Democratic Party have to present the illusion of being oppositional in order to justify their existence. As was frankly acknowledged in the RAND report, they hoped to maintain this illusion and simultaneously absorb and neutralize any radical tendencies by putting in an appearance at the Seattle WTO protests. Once they found themselves caught up in a huge, obviously popular demonstration against the WTO, they had to feign at least some sympathy or else reveal their “opposition” to be a mere pretense. Thus we can see that direct action is the most effective means both for putting pressure on adversaries and for exerting leverage on supposed allies. Even if you don’t want to overthrow the government, forget about voting and petitioning–the only hope for change is in the streets.

Finally, the successes in Seattle brought US anarchists worldwide visibility, along with a needed morale boost, and provided a format for future actions. The “summit-hopping” model made a virtue of the transience that has been such a stumbling block for anticapitalist organizing in North America; like it or not, a movement must make the best of its weaknesses, and if many anarchists couldn’t be counted on to stay in one place long enough to do effective local organizing at least that mobility enabled them to come together occasionally at capitalist summits.

The breakthroughs in Seattle that affected the anarchist community turned out in the long run to be dangerous gifts: as soon as the media attention, the thrill of victory, and the effectiveness of the new model were taken away, many anarchists felt they were back at square one.

A Complex Legacy

In reflecting on the mobilization in Seattle, people often overlook the years of failure that had preceded it. What happened in Seattle was possible precisely because it had been years, if not decades, since so many people joined in disruptive action against a capitalist institution in the US. As noted in the RAND analysis, police expected symbolic arrests à la the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1980s, not the coordinated obstruction and rioting they got. Subsequent mass actions were much more difficult to pull off, as the authorities mobilized every resource to ensure that what happened in Seattle would not happen again.

Despite this, Seattle was followed by a series of demonstrations unlike anything in the preceding decade: Washington, D.C. was shut down the following April by protests against the International Monetary Fund, and a year later the FTAA ministerial in Quebec City occasioned the most intense street fighting since the Los Angeles riots of 1992. All the teargas in the country was no match for the enthusiasm of the anticapitalist movement once people had a model to work from and a structure to plug into. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that the tide finally began to recede, and this occurred primarily as a result of the widespread self-fulfilling prophecy that the high point of anticapitalist mass actions was over. The momentum that followed Seattle was not destroyed by the government response, it was abandoned by those who had maintained it: the most significant question presented by the post-Seattle phase of struggle is not how to handle repression, but how to sustain morale.

After anticapitalists lost the initiative, it was inevitable that the partisans of willful impotence would regain it. Proportionate to the number of participants, the antiwar movement of 2002 to 2003 was incredibly ineffectual, largely due to the machinations of liberals and communists who did their best to prevent anyone from taking effective action. And once the legend of Seattle ceased to be the origin myth of an existing, vibrant movement, it became a burden upon everyone who tried to apply the mass action model. Even though many anarchist demonstrations between 2002 and 2005 put everything that happened in the mid-1990s to shame, they seemed stunted and disappointing compared with the Battle of Seattle. Past accomplishments always cast a shadow over the present, and shadows loom bigger the further the object casting them recedes.

The FTAA ministerial in Miami four years after the Seattle WTO protests showed how much ground anticapitalists had lost and how much their adversaries–both those in uniform and those carrying protest signs–had learned. While there were probably almost as many committed anarchists in Miami as there were in Seattle, far fewer other protesters showed up–partly because Miami is so far from the rest of the US, partly because it has the most reactionary Latino population of any US city, and partly because the ability of anticapitalist networks to bring out protesters had been sapped by demoralization and competition with antiwar organizing. The AFL-CIO duplicitously coordinated with the police while asking demonstrators not to carry out direct action during their march, and the demonstrators–insanely–agreed to this request. This enabled the police to concentrate on beating and pepper-spraying people before the union march, controlling the streets during it, and then viciously brutalizing and arresting everyone who remained in town after it. The police tactics in Miami, which were significantly more aggressive than those of the police in Seattle, showed that the fluke in Seattle was not that the police were so aggressive but that the corporate media were caught off guard and accidentally reported on their violence [2]. Finally, the strategy of the demonstrators in Miami, which consisted of a largely symbolic assault on the fence surrounding the meetings, had no hope of actually interfering with them. The protests in Miami only succeeded in disrupting business as usual and giving the FTAA a bad name because the authorities, still transfixed by the specter of Seattle, went to such lengths to repress them.

As of this writing, the Miami FTAA ministerial is itself three years behind us, and there have been no major mass actions in the US since Bush’s second inauguration almost two years ago. Paradoxically, the good news is that enough time may now have elapsed since the WTO protests that a mass mobilization with a clever strategy could catch the powers that be by surprise again–but the bad news is that anarchists, demoralized from so many years of trying to “repeat Seattle,” may not yet be ready to stake everything on another attempt.

What Next?

The presidential campaign of 2008 will be the next backdrop against which major mass actions can be expected to take place. Whatever misgivings some of us currently have about them, for anarchists not to have a powerful presence in mass actions in 2008 would be tantamount to our disappearance from the national arena of social struggle.

The essential challenge of the mass action model is that its greatest strengths and weaknesses are identical. Working from the physics equation tension=force/area, this model brings together a great number of people in a small space so their coordinated actions can have exponential effects–but with sufficient warning, the state can also concentrate its forces to neutralize their efforts. Consequently, successful mass actions must either come as a surprise themselves or employ an unexpected strategy. At the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, for example, participants outwitted the authorities by dispersing into the countryside to block roads outside the areas where police forces were concentrated.

Effective mass action necessitates that people from a broad range of perspectives work together without limiting each other. In that regard, mass actions are good practice for building the symbiotic relationships fundamental to an anarchist society. The mobilizations that succeeded in Seattle, Quebec City, and elsewhere succeeded because a great number of people simultaneously engaged in a diverse array of complementary tactics. Regardless of the success of a particular action, the ability to do this itself constitutes a victory over the segregation, isolation, and conflict promoted by the capitalist system. In that regard, the Seattle WTO protests were not an unrepeatable miracle, but rather an example of how powerful we can be whenever we find ways to work together.

Suggested Reading

We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism–Through testimony, photos, tactics, and history, this book provides an excellent context for anticapitalist organizing in the years up to and immediately following the WTO protests.

Five Years After WTO Protests” by Chuck Munson–In this article, one of the administrators of http://www.infoshop.org refutes corporate media reports that the movement behind the WTO protests had come to an end by 2004.

N30 Black Bloc Communiqué” by the Acme Collective–Some of the participants in the Black Bloc in Seattle released this excellent and nuanced defense of anarchist property destruction at the WTO demonstrations immediately afterwards.

Demonstrating Resistance,” the feature article in the first issue of Rolling Thunder–This extensive analysis follows the anarchist experimentation with mass action and autonomous action models that occurred between 2000 and 2005, drawing conclusions about what factors must be present for each approach to succeed.

1–Ironically, the “anti-globalization movement” was perhaps the most globally interconnected movement in the history of protest movements. The corporate media christened it with that misnomer because identifying it for what it was–a movement opposing capitalist globalization–would acknowledge the existence of capitalism, and thus the possibility of other social and economic systems.

2–Likewise, as the dramatically militarized police force in Miami consisted of at least six times as many officers as protected the WTO in Seattle, and they faced off against crowds perhaps a fifth the size of those that had gathered in 1999, they could not fall back on the excuse of being “overwhelmed” and forced into violence. If anything, the police in Miami were more violent than those in Seattle, thoughtlessly attacking demonstrators, retired union members, and corporate media reporters alike.

Report on the May 22 Actions in Grand Rapids Against the IMF, WB, and WTO

Reprinted from Get Up (June 2000)

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).