It was a focused, but strangely incomplete message. Considering the anti-corporate tone that fueled activism throughout the '90s, the message against CEOs, greed and corporate imperialism has been notably absent in the current anti-war demonstrations.
But that may be changing.
After Saturday's march through downtown, several individuals and a few small groups broke off from the pack. Earlier in the week they had decided to protest Nordstrom and Meier & Frank--two primary members of the Portland Business Alliance (PBA). In recent weeks, the PBA has come under attack for lobbying city council members to veto an anti-war resolution. Activists are also upset that the PBA is pushing to place an ice-skating rink in Pioneer Square, a prime location for political rallies.
Organizers of Saturday's "shop-in" instructed participants to place anti-war leaflets in clothes, and to waste employees' time by purchasing and immediately returning items. By sabotaging routine commerce, the activists hoped to flex their anti-war opinions and make the PBA recognize they are not immune from political activism.
According to organizers, their action succeeded because both department stores had to hire additional security to deter the protest--a measure that cut into profit margins.
"There were 20 burly muscle men sitting in chairs listening to the classical piano," reported one participant, "except for when a couple of them would get up and tail suspicious people through the store."
The participant also reported they saw security guards posing as customers receiving facials and as employees giving the facials. "Both 'customers' and 'employees' had on long smocks so you couldn't see billy clubs, handcuffs, etc.," he explained.
This low-key and subversive protest was perhaps the most obvious sign that anti-war activism has added more anti-corporate sentiments into its camp. From protesting Nike's labor practices in Southeast Asia to the rambunctious WTO protests in Seattle, anti-corporate themes were perhaps the most prevalent rallying cry for activists during the years leading up to September 11th.
Now, activist groups can protest corporations on an even grander scale: by using big business itself as a tool to fight an even grander cause, the war. The epicenter for this movement is in San Francisco, where a group, Rise Up, is calling for demonstrators to shut down the city's business district by blockading businesses and transit.
"We will impose real economic costs and stop business as usual until the war stops," declares their website (www.actagainstwar.org). "If the government and corporations won't stop the war, we'll shut down the war-makers!"
Similar actions have been called for in Portland. For more information contact 877-572-5727 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.