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The TABD convenes in Cincinnati and N16 follows

Nov 16, 2000 at 2:06 pm
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue conference downtown likely will attract protests such as this one against the World Bank n Washington, D.C. this spring

Is Cincinnati ready for a naked bloc? Nude protesters are but one possibility when the anti-globalization movement takes over downtown the next three days. One organizer vows, "I think it's fair to say that Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky will have never seen anything like what will happen here in mid-November."

That prediction speaks to the size, creativity and determination of the demonstrations. But it also hints at possibilities more consequential than political nudity.

Police are concerned that the demonstrations might turn violent. Demonstrators are concerned police will be violent. In the midst of it all is an international business conference attended by the fattest of corporate cats and high-ranking government officials from two continents. And keeping an eye on the entire event is the FBI, because of the possibility terrorists are watching.

The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and N16, the movement opposed to it, will simultaneously place in Cincinnati the largest concentration of economic power and the most boisterous street demonstrations the city has ever seen.

To make the setting even more tense, all of this comes one week after two men died in Cincinnati Police Division custody, one of them by suffocation.

Stronger than law
TABD is not a government body. Its members, by invitation only, are the chief executive officers of the largest corporations in Europe and the United States, such companies as United Technologies Corp., Astra Zeneca, Bayer, America Online, Ford, Xerox and Suez Lyonnaise.

But government is the reason for TABD's existence. Simply put, the organization seeks to eliminate the multiplicity of regulations pertaining to business around the world. That's where the problem starts.

Harmonization of rules — for example, making headlight-manufacturing standards in France the same as they are in the United States — helps international trade. If all countries have the same rules, headlight manufacturing is easier. More profitable, too.

Those who worship at the altar of the Free and Unfettered Marketplace tell us profit is good for everyone, because wealth trickles down, lifting all boats. Soon we all become yachtsmen on the Sea of Prosperity.

But more than headlights are at stake. Corporations would like to harmonize environmental regulations and product-safety regulations — the very things that make a First World country safe and nice. Harmonization has as its motto the principle "Approved once, accepted everywhere." In theory, medicine approved by scientists in Albania ought to be acceptable to Americans, without the niggling interference of the Food and Drug Administration.

The TABD cannot force countries to abolish laws. But the World Trade Organization might be able to, and it's certainly trying. Member countries of the WTO effectively give up the power to enact laws against products (and byproducts) they consider unsafe, accepting WTO rulings on fair-trade practices. Member countries also give up the power to protect certain industries (and their jobs) from foreign competition.

Where does the WTO get many of the recommendations for international trade agreements? From the TABD. The Free Trader in Chief has himself endorsed TABD's work.

"Mutual Recognition Agreements will abolish requirements that a broad range of products, including telecommunications and medical equipment, be reinspected and recertified for each other's markets," says President Clinton. "I want to thank the TABD."

The TABD CEO Conference at the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel doesn't just bring together the big corporate moguls. The government officials coming to meet with them are no slouches either: Pascal Lamy and Erkki Liikane, commissioners of the European Union; U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; Deputy Commerce Secretary Robert Mallett; Sen. Charles Hegel, R-Nebraska; and delegations from Congress and the European Parliament. According to Jeffrey Werner, U.S. deputy chair of TABD, the final list isn't yet known, falling victim to uncertainty over the presidential election.

"Given the election situation, everything is up in the air," Werner says.

In all, the TABD conference will include about 110 to 120 CEOs plus their staffs and 100 government officials plus their staffs, for a total of about 400 people, Werner says.

Each year the TABD conference alternates between cities in the United States and Europe. Last year, TABD met in Berlin; in 1998, the conference was in Charlotte, N.C.

Cincinnati was one of 15 U.S. cities bidding for the TABD. Given such choices as Miami and New Orleans, the organization chose Cincinnati because it has the right facilities for this conference, Werner says.

"Cincinnati has a fantastic airport with direct flights from Europe," he says. "There's a fantastic hotel. We try to attract the European guests, who are very heavily into the aesthetic."

Werner is nothing if not a gracious guest. He says all the things Cincinnati likes to hear about itself.

"In terms of showcasing an American city, Cincinnati is great," he says. "Cincinnati is the symbolic heart of the Midwest. What really swung it with the leadership here for Cincinnati is the people seemed to really be willing to work with us. The people on the ground have been very helpful."

Puppets and pastries

The people on the streets are also being helpful, educating people on issues that can get lost in such dispassionate terminology as "globalization of the economy," "free-trade agreements" and "harmonization." What they're really talking about is our jobs, our air quality and the purity of the foods we serve our children.

Although the moniker N16 has the ring of a revolutionary cadre, you'll find the demonstrators are actually a fun-loving crowd. For every Zapatista coming to town with fiery chants, there's a puppetista who will use humor to mock injustice. A black bloc of anarchists might cause tempers to flare, but the clown bloc should relieve them.

N16 is protesters' parlance for Nov. 16, the first day of the TABD conference and the first day of demonstrations against it. The core of N16 is two local groups, Coalition for a Humane Economy (CHE) and Cincinnati Direct Action Collective (CDAC), each sworn to nonviolence.

Sister Alice Gerdeman, director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, is spokeswoman for CHE. If she succeeds, N16 will be the culmination of months of workshops and teach-ins on globalization, an event consistent with CHE's emphasis on educating the public.

If CDAC succeeds, a building might be occupied, some protesters might chain themselves to a building and/or a TABD bus caravan to Union Terminal might be blocked. If the Cincinnati Police Division succeeds, those who seek arrest will have it, no one will be harmed and no property damaged.

CHE and CDAC have been working hard, planning for every contingency. Attorneys and law students will serve as legal observers during the demonstrations. Volunteers have undergone training to serve as street medics. (New Age street medics, too; some plan to use herbs and accupressure to help the injured.) Housing and car pools have been organized. A group called Food Not Bombs is arranging food distribution for demonstrators.

All indications are N16 will be an orderly, peaceful protest. And loud. And colorful. And imaginative. One group is urging people to mail old doughnuts and coffee cakes to the conference in a campaign called Send Something Stale to the TABD.

"All over the world, CEOs and bureaucrats are meeting over croissants, strudel and fresh pecan rings to gut our worker protection, civil rights and environmental laws," the campaign says. "Tell TABD convener Ruth Harkin at United Technologies, 'Corporate globalization is as stale as this pastry I'm sending you.' "

A People's Party will give N16 participants a chance to relax after a full day of marching and sloganeering Friday. A pig-puppet theater Saturday will poke fun at Cincinnati and corporate greed.

But Gerdeman can't control the demonstrations, because she can't control who comes here to protest TABD. Internet discussions of N16 include tactics sure to cause a strong police response: throwing paint balls at riot masks, for example, so officers become exposed to their own tear gas, and throwing ball bearings on a street if officers give chase.

A little bit of that kind of hooliganism goes a long way toward alienating innocents. What many remember of the WTO protests in Seattle last December is not the merit of the campaign against globalization but the broken windows.

Some N16 organizers seem to assume violence and mass arrests will occur. Protesters are circulating tips for homemade protection from tear gas, gear for deflecting billyclubs and ways to "unarrest" fellow demonstrators.

CHE and CDAC have organized large public events. But affinity groups are also making plans, and they don't announce them in advance.

Using techniques handed down from the Vietnam War protests through the anti-nuke movement to the campaign against globalization, affinity groups use code names and don't discuss their plans with outsiders. They teach how to detect a police infiltrator and how to protect "lockdowns" — people who chain themselves to doors or other objects — when a crowd starts shifting.

"We are, not to be dramatic, waging a brief war," one activist says via e-mail. "That is, think of the Cincy experience tactically. We are going to attempt to converge on and occupy space in a public demonstration against the TABD. The police are going to use violence to try to stop us."

Police have secrets, too
TABD expects protests.

"We had a similar situation in Berlin last year," Werner says. "Everybody here respects the right to express an opinion. We just hope it happens in a peaceful and constructive way. What's going to happen in Cincinnati? We're really not sure. In terms of security preparations, that's up to the police. They're the professionals."

One reason TABD chose Cincinnati is the Omni Hotel can accommodate both TABD sessions and guests.

"We've done this for five years now, and sometimes you have to do it in two different sites," Werner says. "It's a logistical nightmare."

N16 might try to shut down TABD, as protesters tried to prevent the WTO from meeting in Seattle. They might try to shut TABD attendees in, blocking buses carrying guests to events at Music Hall and Union Terminal. One wag suggested keeping attendees from leaving the hotel, using the slogan, "Starve the Rich."

Street cops are talking about two lines of officers greeting demonstrators, with riot gear in evidence as a show of force from the start.

The Cincinnati Police Division is restricting discretionary off-time this week, according to Lt. Col. Richard Janke, the assistant chief in charge of TABD planning.

"We are trying to have full staffing for next week," Janke says. "We are managing discretionary comp time at each section."

The division's authorized strength is 1,000 officers. Janke refuses to say how many officers are assigned downtown through Saturday.

"I'm not going to tell you that," Janke says. "It's not public-record information, and we don't have to release it, other than to say we will be prepared. We consider that part of contingency planning. We're not required to give it out, and we're going to retain that as confidential intelligence information. We don't want anyone — the media, the public, the protesters — to know that."

When pressed, Janke allows the department is concerned about public relations. Saying how many cops will be on the street might be off-putting.

"We can't control the perceptions that would be generated by a particular number," he says. "Some people might think it's too many. Some people might think it's not enough. It's flexible. It's collapsible. It's expandable. We want to emphasize to the public we've done this before. We have a good track record. We will be ready."

But openness about police plans would benefit everyone, according to Steve Schumacher, chairman of CHE.

"We keep getting reports that seem to contradict what police are telling us face to face," Schumacher says. "We want to make sure they're not getting ready for trouble they're not telling us about. We have asked repeatedly to explain what their preparations are, and they've not done that. We want the dialogue to be upfront and very frank. We want very clear rules of engagement on protests."

Schumacher says CHE agreed, at police request, to move its rally staging area Friday from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine to Sawyer Point. CHE wants to cooperate with police, but officials have not given details about what to expect, he says.

The official line is to play down expectations N16 will be anything out of the ordinary. But in a Nov. 10 memo to the police chief, Dist. 1 Capt. Vincent Demasi estimates a crowd of 3,000 demonstrators Friday. Although Janke has repeatedly stated police plan no road closings, DeMasi's memo outlines possible last-minute closings.

"This rally may cause the police division to close Race Street at Sixth Street, Vine Street at Third Street, Fourth Street at Walnut Street and Fifth Street at Elm Street," the memo says.

"We don't anticipate any significant problems," Janke says. "This is a big city. We attract groups that like to make statements of many types."

Having extra officers on duty for a large public gathering isn't unusual. Janke compares planning for N16 to planning for a sports event.

"This isn't out of the ordinary," he says. "If the Reds had gotten into the World Series, we would have done the same thing."

But Janke declines to go into detail even about the old ballgame. Asked if officers will be deployed in riot gear, he refuses to comment. Have Cincinnati Police ever deployed riot gear during the World Series?

"I'm not going to say," Janke says. "The principles of crowd control are the same. You're trying to sneak around and get information."

Cincinnati has mutual-aid agreements with police departments throughout Hamilton County. Gary Lewis, spokesman for Ohio Highway Patrol, says Cincinnati Police have asked if its troopers in Hamilton and Lebanon are available if needed.

"We have been contacted by Cincinnati operations," Lewis says. "Basically their request is, if there were any unforeseen problems, could they count on the Highway Patrol for assistance. The answer is yes."

The Blue Ash Police Department also is planning for N16, according to Lt. John Pohlman.

"We have some facilities here in the city and we did do some planning," Pohlman says. "I'm not sure it's going to be on the level of Cincinnati. We simply have some P&G research sites down here. It's a matter of catching up and seeing if there is any possibility of them doing anything here.

h92.346z9.475b0:Colleen O'Toole, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, says hospitals are ready in the event of injuries during N16. Each facility has a disaster-preparedness plan. But past demonstrations against globalization have shown few participants are likely to need emergency help."We know from what happened in Seattle there were a number of people who were injured," O'Toole says, "and the hospitals were able to respond without initiating their disaster plans."

TABD will bring international attention to Cincinnati as a place for doing business, according to Mayor Charlie Luken's statement last winter announcing the conference.

"This is a prime example of how the Greater Cincinnati region can work together to benefit the economy," Luken said. "It is the kind of cooperation that makes Cincinnati a good place to live and work."

But much will depend on how the protesters behave and how police officers conduct themselves. If this goes well, Cincinnati could see a burgeoning progressive movement and a newfound reputation for tolerating dissent.

If demonstrations turn ugly, however, or police overreact, Cincinnati will be long remembered for what happens these next few days. ©