by Orin Langelle, Co-Director and Strategist from the Global Justice Ecology Project
Dennis Brutus, poet, scholar and famous anti-apartheid activist, shot in the back by the white controlling regime of South Africa, who served time with Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, recently encouraged that we should all ‘Seattle Copenhagen’. This is in reference to actions a decade ago when activists shut down the World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle.
He is on the mark, as the Copenhagen UN climate talks scheduled for this December have been hijacked by corporations. Copenhagen is no more than a CorporateHaven for trade talks by corporations.
But what does “Seattle Copenhagen” mean? Well to those who understand our history, it is obvious. But to tell you the truth, I was thousands of miles away when tens of thousands of anti-corporate globalization activists, labor unionists, environmentalists and anarchists halted the march forward of the trade model of neoliberal capitalism in Seattle: a harbinger of modern day resistance.
So where was I when this historic moment occurred? Why wasn’t I in Seattle, where in the words of friend and songwriter, Jim Page, “Didn’t we shut it down?” For what it’s worth, I was with other solidarity activists in the Selva Lacandona of Chiapas, Mexico visiting indigenous Zapatista communities of resistance, that had declared their autonomy from Mexican governmental authority. That resistance resonated around the world on New Years day in 1994–the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect–when the indigenous resistance movement (EZLN) said “¡Ya Basta!” (enough!) and took control of most of the state of Chiapas, including the municipal offices in San Cristobal and other major cities, freeing political prisoners while while taking control of their land.
Another cry heard from campesinos and indigenous in a resistance movement many years earlier in Mexico was, ‘Tierra y Libertad’.
Tierra y Libertad. Land and Freedom. It all boils down to who controls the land and what it is used for.
But I digress. Back in 1999, after we dodged the Mexican military on the way out of rebel territory, we returned to San Cristobal (a city of intrigue with many different foreign service observers embedded in the secrecy of obscure hostels and bars) on the day after the shut down in Seattle. Our Mexican colleagues from the above ground resistance in San Cris saw us and waved the front page of the leftist La Jornada daily newspaper in front of us that showed a photo of U.S. police pointing weapons and spraying tear gas at protesters in Seattle. Our friends exclaimed, “It’s about fucking time you people in the United States did something for the rest of the world and got off your asses!” We smiled. Sometimes in this corporate dominated world something happens that you can really smile about.
Okay, so I’m not a seasoned Seattle veteran. However, two weeks prior to Seattle, a team of us went to Toronto, Canada where one of the first Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ministerial meetings took place. The FTAA is a neoliberal scam designed to expand the disaster of NAFTA and control production, land and people from Alaska all the way to Tierra del Fuego–encompassing all of the Americas. At the Toronto Convention Center where the trade ministers were meeting we unfurled at 600 square foot banner decrying, “Stop the FTAA!” To us, unfurling the FTAA banner was a warning shot over the bow of a runaway capitalistic death ship headed for oblivion. To us, the reformist notion of rearranging the deck chairs of this Capitalist Titanic is intensely absurd.
So we fired a warning shot with the words, “Stop the FTAA.” Was it was heard? Well that’s a matter of bizarre existentialist thought. Seattle was indeed shut down. Afterwards did the WTO continue? Sort of– but then in Cancun, Mexico a Korean farmer committed suicide on the barricades during the 2003 WTO ministerial in Cancun There the cry was “WTO kills farmers.” Where does the does the WTO flounder now? Ten years after, in Geneva, on the tenth anniversary of the WTO shutdown and a week before the Climate talks in Copenhagen, a limp attempt will be made to revive it.
Did our struggle against the FTAA succeed? Yes, but… A Miami Model, named for the city that in November of 2003 hosted the FTAA ministerial meeting and saw the police unleash extreme violence against activists. The Miami Model of repression, still practiced by the U.S. government today, basically denies the right of protest in the U.S. (unless you consider protest an expression “permitted” and/or behind razor wire and cages). The almost-stop of the FTAA has produced the rash of bilateral trade scams that former U.S. trade representative (and co-author of the Neoliberal blueprint “Project for a New American Century”), Robert Zoellick, now World Bank President, has fostered.
So get ready for CorporateHaven. This possibly is one of final gatherings where all the players with stakes in their neoliberal trade games will come together again to conduct their high stakes gambling with all of life on earth to squeeze out every final dollar. As the planet burns, the questions haunts, “which side are you on?” To me it doesn’t matter if we shut the ‘self appointed governmental-corporate leadership’ out of the climate negotiations or shut them in–what matters is that we take responsibility to ensure the Earth is inhabitable for all with justice. That is our challenge and that is our struggle.
It really boils down to who controls the land and what it is used for, doesn’t it? Remember, CorporateHaven is only a symptom of the bigger problem. It is this bigger problem that must be shut down. We don’t need to go to Copenhagen to solve the big problem, CorporateHaven is in your own backyard.
For more information on what North American activists are planning for the road to CorporateHaven, please visit the Mobilization for Climate Justice http://www.actforclimatejustice.org/
For more information on Global Justice Ecology Project please visit http://globaljusticeecology.org/