[McLibel] What can be learned from McLibel?

From: McSpotlight (info@mcspotlight.org)
Date: Sun Mar 05 2000 - 15:53:52 GMT

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    posted by: McLibel Support Campaign/ London Greenpeace
                        post: 5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX, UK
                       tel/fax: +44 (0) 171 713 1269
                       email: mclibel@globalnet.co.uk
                       web: www.mcspotlight.org

    WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM McLIBEL ?

    Around the world there is a war being waged on society by a powerful
    minority who seek to control and use other people, animals and the planet in
    order to make profits for themselves. But many around the world are
    fighting back, for ecological sustainability and for freedom for all people
    and animals. Increasingly companies are turning to the courts to suppress
    this dissent and opposition. But the thousands of people around the world
    who participated in the McLibel battle have demonstrated that when people
    are organised and defiant these corporations do not succeed in getting
    everything their own way, and that court cases can instead be used as an
    opportunity to draw the issues to the attention of many more people.

    In September 1990 McDonald's issued libel writs in order to suppress the
    distribution (at that time in the thousands) of London Greenpeace
    anti-McDonald's leaflets, and with the wider aim of frightening off and
    silencing all other critics of the company. Instead the leafletting has
    mushroomed since the writs were served and there is a much greater public
    awareness of what McDonald's really represents - for us it is a symbol of a
    whole system geared to ruthless exploitation and profit. The 'McSpotlight'
    Internet site, with over 75 million 'hits' in its first 3 1/2 years, has
    enabled campaigners, researchers, journalists and interested people
    world-wide to have immediate access to a huge range of anti-McDonald's
    material and news.

    This victory in defiance of McDonalds' threats demonstrates the power that
    ordinary people have when they believe in themselves and decide to fight
    back against the powerful institutions who currently control our lives and
    the planet.

    The company had predicted that the case would last '3-4 weeks', but instead
    it was turned into an extensive public tribunal in which corporate 'McWorld'
    was put on trial. McDonald's spent an estimated 10 million as against a
    defence total of 35,000 raised from public donations. Despite all the cards
    being stacked against them, and the vast amount of work involved, it was an
    amazing and empowering experience for the defendants (and for others too).
    People rallied round to help out in all kinds of practical ways: as
    witnesses; helping with admin; giving legal advice; sending copies of press
    cuttings & company documents, money and even just messages of support. The
    defendants were determined to be seen as fighters rather than passive
    'victims'. Representing themselves in such a huge trial was exhausting but
    was also the most rewarding aspect of the trial, giving them the opportunity
    to challenge corporate propaganda head on, bring out previously secret
    information about the company and put forward an alternative world view.

    Critics of McDonald's and of the food industry in general were completely
    vindicated by the evidence, the judge making some damning major findings
    against the company's core business practices. Following this McDonald's
    capitulated by abandoning all efforts to get costs, damages or an injunction
    to stop the leafleting (which had been their primary aim).

    But none of this would have been effective without the actions of thousands
    of ordinary people continuing to distribute leaflets, ensuring that the
    public heard the other side of the story to that spun by McDonald's. The
    McLibel Support Campaign was set up by volunteers to galvanise public
    interest and support, to help with legal finances and practical tasks, but
    amazingly for most of the time it was run from an office in someone's
    bedroom. Despite this it succeeded in ensuring that the private and often
    seemingly obscure legal battle in the courtroom became a public issue
    fought and won in the court of public opinion and on the street.

    Regular supporters' mailouts, hundreds of e-mailings and numerous
    international 'Days of Action' were organised to ensure the public got to
    hear about the issues. Although the media (establishment and alternative)
    were consistently contacted and given reports of what was going on, the
    capitalist media largely trivialised or ignored the case, focussing on the
    personal side rather than the real issues. The campaign, with varying
    success, also made links with residents' associations opposing plans for new
    McDonald's stores, gave encouragement to kids wanting to circulate
    anti-Ronald leaflets, and made contacts with disgruntled employees.

    So, despite being up against one of the most successful propaganda
    organisations in the world, campaigners were able to throw the company so
    much on the defensive that after the trial their usual sophisticated PR was
    reduced to an embarrassed silence on the subject. The courts were also shown
    to be powerless in the face of mass defiance.

    DIY VICTORY: This was a real DIY victory, echoing other recent movements
    defying legal suppression - e.g. over issues of free speech, rights to
    organise and demonstrate, and to party, Poll Tax, environmental and animal
    rights direct
    actions, occupations of empty homes and buildings, and workers' struggles.
    We can all benefit from those movements which have gone before, giving us
    the perspective and strength to be able to fight and win current battles and
    ultimately, the long war for a better world. Social inequalities and
    controls, and conflict and environmental destruction are serious and growing
    problems, so public discontent and opposition is bound to increase - as will
    our contact with the courts. Rather than be intimidated by repression, we
    should see it as a sign of our success and be even more determined to fight
    back.

    We need to create a new society by taking direct control of our lives,
    workplaces, streets, neighbourhoods and land. Together ordinary people can
    reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and
    create an anarchist society based on strong and free communities, the
    sharing of precious resources and respect for all life.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Further details of the case and the campaign, or about London Greenpeace,
    from 'McSpotlight' - available on CD-Rom. Also available: 'McLibel: Burger
    Culture On Trial' (Pan Books, Macmillian press, 5.99) and the superb
    documentary 'McLibel: Two Worlds Collide' (53 mins - from One Off
    Productions, 0171 692 4997)

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