On the last day of November last year, I was walking among the swirling crowds and clouds of tear gas in Seattle and noticed Tom Hayden standing on a corner, checking out the tens of thousands of anti-World Trade Organization protesters--the Turtles and Teamsters together.
Given that our organization, Public Citizen, helped organize the WTO protests, I asked him what he thought about our mobilization against corporate globalization. A yearlong international grass-roots campaign had stopped a planned expansion of the WTO. He was impressed. Encouraged, I went for it: "Tom," I asked, "how does this compare to, you know, Chicago '68?"
"The difference," he told me, "is that you're winning."
Like many veterans of Seattle, I will be in Philadelphia for the GOP convention and in L.A. for the Democrats'. I wish we were organizing a massive street celebration of either party's post-Seattle epiphany that the flawed and failed free trade agenda must be replaced. If we were winning, the Democratic convention would ratify, in its party platform, a fair trade plank that meets the legitimate expectations of workers and family farmers and ensures that a living wage, the environment, health and democratic accountability are not subordinated to the imperatives of corporate managed trade.
But we're not winning, and the current platform draft, prepared by the corprocratic scriveners at the "Democratic" Leadership Council, includes a call to revive the outdated "fast-track" model of trade negotiating authority that gave us North American Free Trade Agreement and was defeated twice by Congress. Since Seattle, the trade policy showdown was a vote on China's permanent normal trade relations.
The China business lobby spent an unprecedented amount of money pushing PNTR. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Business Roundtable (a corporate lobbying group) companies have poured $58 million into the campaign coffers of both parties and members on both sides of the aisle since 1999, including dozens of Democratic "super-delegates"--elected officials. The business campaign spent tens of millions more on lobbyists and TV and radio advertising.
And, of course, transnational corporations are "sponsoring" the conventions; Motorola, for example, which dropped a cool million on pro-PNTR advertising, spent another million funding the DNC party next month. Then Al Gore selected Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, perhaps the biggest booster of corporate managed trade in any administration in history, as chairman of his campaign.
So, as I and my fellow activists don our protest puppets and the Democrats put on their party hats, a few words of advice and admonition are suggested by our experience in Seattle and a decade of grass-roots travails in the cause of fair trade.
To Democratic delegates: I urge you to walk off the Staples Center set, put down your scripts, come outside, cross the police line and join us in the street to share, for a few minutes, the spirit of Seattle. Globalization and trade policy are marker issues now, canaries in the mine shaft of Democratic policymaking, and this convention is an opportunity to return your party to its progressive, pro-worker antecedents. If you read the same polls I do, you should realize that your standard bearer stands a better chance in November if you push him to renounce his slavish devotion to corporate globalization.
To the mainstream media: You have all our sympathy for trying to find actual news in the predictable, scripted convention proceedings. You will do your readers and viewers a favor by coming outside as well to find some real stories. And please don't get distracted by protest tactics. You should be asking why we are outside with our signs and chants, not merely what we're planning to do to get our message heard.
To Mayor Riordan and the LAPD: We've all read about your baton-rattling preparations for protesters. Listen, nobody doubts that you're "Tough Enough to Turn L.A. into a Battle Zone". But hey, you invited the convention to L.A. (just as Seattle invited the WTO), and political protest is part of the package. So spare us the bluff and bluster about anarchists. We will be peacefully exercising our 1st Amendment rights.
To my fellow activists: Folks, we're holding our own against a much better financed corporate lobby because its agenda hurts the majority of people living with its results. Seattle was a battle in a larger war between corporate rule and civil society, and the great and good grass-roots of the international fair trade movement--workers, family farmers, consumers, environmental and human rights activists--must fight on united. The next skirmish, damn it, will be on the streets of L.A. I'll see you there.