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Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate

by Naomi Klein

That two of the anti-globalization movement’s leading lights, women known in these circles on a first-name-only basis as Maude (Barlow) and Naomi (Klein), should come from relatively privileged but dissatisfied Canada is no surprise. Canadians are historically accustomed to complaining fruitlessly about decisions made far away – first in London, then Washington. Our proximity to the culturally overwhelming America and our early involvement with the British behemoth gave us a jumpstart on theorizing about the difficulties of preserving the local, the micro, the distinct, in the face of the international, the macro, the bland.

A follow-up to Klein’s succes fou about the infiltration of the corporate into our lives, No Logo, this book collects her newspaper columns and talk-in-style speeches from the front lines of the movement that found its voice and gasmasks in Seattle. The miscellany contains valuable snapshots of the times and places visited by the moveable carnival (Quebec City, Genoa, Washington), but lacks the penetrating analysis that made Klein’s earlier book such a rewarding, transformative read.

Klein considers the head of the Zapatistas, the iconically masked Subcomandante Marcos, the successor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. She praises the postmodern bottom-up poetry of Marcos’s activism, seeing in it a promise of a non-hierarchical, locally run world. But Klein never comes to grips with the violence that Marcos uses to achieve his podium. Does she consider it acceptable self-defence, necessary but evil, liberating and good?

Throughout her analysis of the post-Seattle protests, Klein generally glosses over the use of violence as a persuasive strategy, attaching to it the euphemistic label “direct action.” Although Klein points out, quite rightly, that Western police forces have been primarily responsible for transforming civil disobedience into rioting, she never addresses the quintessential difference between this generation’s supposed MLK, the jungle bandit-prophet Marcos, and the actual MLK, whose signature was peaceful resistance.

Klein also fails to imagine just what a world run by the chaotic movement she fronts would look like. Although she praises the internationalization of the antiglobalization movement, Klein doesn’t come to terms with the role of multilateralism. Is acting locally and thinking globally enough, or are there occasions when both the acting and the thinking need to be worldwide? How would a democratic, non-hierarchical, consensus-driven movement deliver effective international governance? Klein is not sufficiently independent of the movement to deliver it up warts and all, as Norman Mailer did in his masterful new-journalistic take on the anti-Vietnam marches, The Armies of the Night.

More intriguing is Klein’s attempt to come to grips with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. In the book’s preface, Klein writes sensitively and perceptively about what the disaster means for the movement. She praises her fellow travellers for serving as human shields in the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and for attempting to block the deportation of refugees from detention centres in the West.

There are signs of a new consciousness emerging in Klein’s always clear, well-argued columns. From her more balanced, often brave writing about Sept. 11, it appears that the promising, passionate youth of Naomi Klein is drawing to an end. This book is an intriguing intermission from what looks likely to be a play of several acts. The hard questions that were tabled here – whether force can be used in the service of justice, whether democratic multilateralism is possible – are, like the truth, still out there.