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Chronicle of Resistance: Review of "Fences and Windows"

James Tracy
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Globalization Debate is a collection of Naomi Klein’s dispatches from the many uprisings, big and small, commonly referred to as the global justice movement. Klein distances her work from the “anti-globalization” label early on and delivers a book that could bring the globalization debate closer to the mainstream.

Klein is at her best when she communicates ideas and depicts movements in terms that those not immersed in the global justice movement can understand. This is a good book to introduce a skeptical co-worker or friend to the history and key ideas of what these efforts have truly meant. The string of summits and counter summits, convention and anti-conventions (Seattle, DC, Los Angeles, Prague and Toronto) can seem silly and confusing to those with only the mainstream media to guide their understanding.

The book hits its stride in the second section where the costs of globalization are made most apparent. “The NAFTA Track Record” should settle many a dinnertime debate and “The War on Unions” exposes the real agenda of corporations like Nike against workers in Mexico. Anyone with an uncle convinced that “Mexico steals our jobs” would do well to read that passage.

The book’s weaknesses mirror that of the global justice movement itself. The globe hopping, summit-chasing theme can border on a leftist travelogue with the reader left wanting more depth and more analysis. There is little discussion of what it really takes to unite the disparate strands of people taking action against the current version of capitalism.

The model of protest celebrated and chronicled in this book, confrontations at various meetings of the power elite all over the globe, is by definition out of reach to anyone unable to buy a plane ticket and get time off work. This goes un-criticized for the most part.

Double edged

Much to Klein’s credit, she does turn her attention to the resistance fighters most unlikely to get on the plane to the next World Trade Organization protest: impoverished Zapatista rebels and unemployed workers in Argentina. However, those looking for insight on building links between those drawn to the movement out of conscience and those drawn to it by acute necessity will have to look elsewhere.

Attempting to write a book from the “frontlines,” is a difficult task. One will always be faced with criticism from those wondering if they were at the same protest the author was. This is an old problem; John Reed’s chronicles of the Russian and Mexican revolutions received a much more thorough trashing from the Left than from mainstream literary journals.

I suspect that Klein may be in for some of the same, and that is a testament both to the diversity within this young movement and to its Achilles heel. The tone is meticulously diplomatic to the point that she may end up pleasing no one. There are many points in the book that could use a little more analysis where the reader is likely to ask, “but what did she really think about that?”

Those involved in the anti-capitalist movement are very cautious of activists who come equipped with fully formed 10 point programs. This is a healthy break from dogma, and I believe that Klein comes from this school as well. A strong analysis, diplomatically stated, can ignite dialogue rather that stifle it. It is a testament to Klein’s considerable skills as a writer that the reader is left wanting more. It is also the most frustrating aspect of the book as well.

That said, Fences and Windows is a valuable historical document that will undoubtedly spark a dialogue with those turned off by the more polemical global justice texts.