Davos: Where pragmatic protestors voice only quiet dissent

Davos protest against inequality and growth

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    Davos protest against inequality and growth

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Story highlights

  • The World Economic Forum in Davos attracted only quiet protestors beyond its security
  • This year's dissenters, unlike the Occupy movement of previous years, didn't attract much attention
  • They appeared as the world's business and political leaders were leaving town

As the World Economic Forum drew to a close, at the far end of the chic Promenade running through Davos and well away from the conference center, police had closed off a small section of the road.

Gathered within the cordon was a group of around 20 protesters, some in costumes and face paint, waving flags and dancing.

A 20-something in a long coat attempted to whip up some enthusiasm with a megaphone shouting "We are the 99%," and "Occupy!" while a middle aged man strummed a guitar. Italian rock music played through an amplifier that another protestor had wheeled into the road.

On the periphery of the group stood a wiry man in a woolly hat, with the rainbow flag of peace wrapped around his waist. Alec Gagneux was handing out flyers and speaking softly to interested passers-by.

Of all the criticisms leveled at Davos, its elite nature is the biggest gripe. Like other such pow-wows of the powerful, the lack of access to this minute sphere of massive influence has in past years stirred up visible dissent around the venue itself.

At the height of the Occupy movement in 2012, protesters even camped in igloos near the heavily fortified conference center.

Davos this year was oddly quiet though. Like the bitter cold that can often grip this mountain resort in January, protests were noticeable by their relative absence. There was a small group from Ukraine attempting to draw attention to their predicament on Friday, but little to really catch the eyes of the delegates safely cocooned behind the venue's ring of security.

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Gagneux's disparate group had been gathered via the internet, but while they had made it to Davos they were still a long way from the action. "This is the only thing that was possible," Gagneux said. "It is absolutely taboo to go further towards the center where the people ...are meeting from the World Economic Forum."

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I asked him why he and his fellow protestors were here. Just like the delegates at the other end of the street, growth and inequality were on his mind too. "The 2015 goal is to halve extreme poverty," he told me, "but we don't talk about (the fact) that we have to halve extreme riches as well."

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Gagneux's primary concern was for the long term impact of growth. The flyers he handed out quoted the economist Kenneth Boulding: "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

"The planet is limited," Gagneux told me. "In 30 years or in 70 years we have four times more cars, pollution, resources that are exploited, and future generations' family will have nothing."

He had been at Davos the entire week, and had been coming to the town for the past 12 years. "This evening I will make another gathering," he told me.

He planned to make what he called a "thought stone" representing WEF organizer Klaus Schwab. "Mr Schwab (is) a very important person in Davos, but actually we are all the same, including the animals and the plants," he said.

Why had Gagneux left his protest until the end of the week, and not staged it while the Forum was in full swing, I asked. "Most of the people still have to work during the weekdays, so Saturday is the easiest way for people (who are not from) Davos to come here."

The global economy may be getting back on track, but even protesters need to pay the bills.

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