writer and activist
b. 1970, Montreal
Naomi Klein is certainly one of the most well-known figures in the “anti-globalization" movement. Her influential first book No Logo is an international best seller in numerous translations, and is probably one of the most accessible books yet written about the abuses of modern transnational capitalism and the encroachment of private enterprise into our public spaces and our minds. Arguably, people have been feeling uneasy about sweatshops, prominently branded clothing, bizarre advertising, and the general runaway presence of seemingly inappropriately branded products for quite a while now, but it was Klein's engaging writing style and extensive research that really helped it "gel" together in the minds of a lot of people I know. I've just read Fences and Windows, her compilation of her newspaper columns and magazine articles from the past three years, and though it's not really as eye-opening as No Logo was (unless you've been living in a cave perhaps) it works as an excellent historical perspective on the anti-globalization activities of the late 90's-2002.
Klein comes by both her politics and her ability to express them honestly. Her grandfather was a Marxist labor organizer who was fired from Disney (!) for participating in a unionization drive. Her mother, Bonnie Klein, produced the National Film Board porn expose/documentary "Not a Love Story". As a teenager in the 80's she lived the culture of branding: Esprit, Ralph Lauren, alligator on the shirt. She is frequently described in media profiles as an "ex-mall rat". At the University of Toronto she became politically active, especially in feminist activism and opposition to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. The latter, despite being Jewish herself, didn't go over very well with the strongly Zionist Jewish students' union - she even received bomb threats! She left university to work at the Globe and Mail and edit the "alternative" This Magazine, returning in 1995 to finish her degree. No Logo was written roughly between 1996 and 2000, and apparently started as a piece for The Village Voice.
It would be fair to say that she is currently one of the darlings of the Canadian Left - she's even married to Avi Lewis (son of NDP legend Stephen Lewis and author Michelle Landsberg), and is a good friend of well-known activist Jaggi Singh. It seems that Ms. Klein gets a lot of criticism from all sides, either simply for being left-wing (from the Right), or for being a "brand" herself, and publishing her books with major publishing corporations and thus being a sellout (from the Left). I can't address the Right's criticisms (being somewhat biased against them) but I find the "sellout" argument rather reminiscent of the sort of person who rejects their favourite band when they start to become too successful. To be blunt, if you don't publish with a large company, it's a lot harder to get people to read your books. The same argument applies to her columns in the Globe and Mail, The Nation, and the New York Times. As for being a brand, she herself acknowledges that the "No Logo" logo is inherently (and intentionally) ironic, and she did not copyright it. She's certainly very mediagenic - young, attractive, articulate, and down-to-earth, but holding this against her smacks of some very ugly exclusionary politics. The fact that she is the interviewee-of-choice says more about the people making that decision than it does about her. She's not the "voice of the movement", but she's a voice, and that's a start, right?
- "Hand-to-Brand Combat: A Profile of Naomi Klein" - The Guardian, September 23, 2000 (http://www.commondreams.org/views/092300-103.htm)
- Now Magazine, Sept. 26, 2002
- and of course, No Logo and Fences and Windows themselves