My college roommate, B, moved to Brooklyn shortly after graduation. She spent her first year there immersing herself in the radical activist scene. One night in August of 2002 I went with her to see a documentary about the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. The screening was held on the rooftop of a building in Williamsburg; we went in through an unmarked metal door, up four or five flights of stairs and then a narrow metal ladder that led through a small opening in the ceiling and out onto the roof. People milled around, crouching to flip through books, newspapers, and CDs spread out over blankets. Someone sold beer to raise money for either New York Indymedia or an anti-FTAA group. I no longer remember which. I do remember being surprised that no one worried someone might get drunk and fall off the roof. That’s how I was back then. I didn’t buy any beer myself. I was still going through an anticommercial phase, and no matter what the intentions of the person selling the beer, the beer itself was still a commercial product. That’s also how I was back then.
The film turned out to be not so much a documentary about the FTAA as it was a montage of amateur footage of anti-globalization protests in general. Why should the Seattle WTO protest be mixed up in this? There was no focus, no specificity. I learned nothing, and wandered toward the edge of the building that faced Manhattan: that skyline of corporate headquarters, of steel and glass and grace. B came over to me with a plastic cup in her hand. She looked out at the lights across the East River and sighed. God, it really is beautiful, isn’t it.
March 3, 2012