Today is the opening day of the World Economic Forum at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan, and the site of the grand annual retreat of the world’s movers and shakers is a maze of police barriers, concrete barricades, flashing lights, blue uniforms and bomb-sniffing dogs. Only authorized vehicles and residents are allowed past checkpoints set up on the blocks surrounding the hotel.
Every year the World Economic Forum brings together almost 3,000 business and political leaders, from celebrity C.E.O.'s like Bill Gates and Steve Forbes, to Russian oligarchs, kings, senators and patriarchs. An invitation to the conference is basically a membership card in a global economic and political elite: the WEF once boasted that its participants represented no less than three-quarters of the world's wealth. Leaders of 1,000 “foremost companies” from around the world pay about $25,000 each in annual dues and about $6000 for each participant who attends the meeting.
This year is the first since 1971 that the World Economic Forum has been held outside its home, the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Two years ago, thousands of anti-globalization protesters came to Davos and disrupted the meetings. So before last year’s conference, Davos actually declared a local ban on protests. Last year only about 200 protesters made it through the valley into the sealed resort town. But after the Swiss government balked at the rising cost of security this year, the organizers moved the conference to New York.
World Economic Forum organizers say they moved the forum here to express solidarity with the city after September 11th. But New Yorkers wonder if its because it will be hard to protest here, in a city so recently devastated by the World Trade Center attacks. To New Yorkers, the security lockdown in Manhattan is reminiscent of the tense days after Sept. 11.
Today we are joined by two of the Swiss organizers who have been mobilizing demonstrations against the WEF for several years in Davos.
- David Boehner, The Anti-WTO Coordination, a Swiss anti-globalization organization
- Andre Siegenthaler, Zurich based anti-globalization activist with the group Direct Solidarity With Chiapas