THE WTO PROTESTERS AND THE POWERS THAT BE
> All week I've been cringing at the news. Tear gas. Broken windows. Bloody
> faces. The National Guard called in to defend Seattle against anti-WTO
> demonstrators. From far away, totally in sympathy with the demonstrators, I'
> been yelling at them, "No, please, get hold of yourselves! Don't tar our cau
> with violence!"
> Of course only a tiny fraction of the protesters in Seattle were violent. Th
> folks I know who went there are middle aged, serious, professional. They
> conducted workshops and prepared well-reasoned press briefings. Their
> grievances are real and important to every person on earth.
> One friend there emailed Thursday morning: "There were teachers, steel worker
> longshoremen, carpenters, pilots, farmworkers. Speakers were clear that it w
> about working people AND the environment. There was a colorful, well-mannere
> march through the city. The sun came out. We sang and chanted and waved our
> signs. The only bad parts were scrambling over dumpsters and seeing smashed
> windows. When we left the streets, back came the vandals, to be burned into
> the public mind as what the protest was about. But what it was really about
> was a beautiful assembly of caring, concerned people with serious points to
> My first reaction to this travesty was to blame the demonstrators. Couldn't
> they reign in the extremists? Didn't they give everyone training in nonviole
> engagement? Warriors for human rights and nature should have learned long ag
> from Gandhi and Martin Luther King and nuclear power protests, how to avoid t
> "irresponsible terrorist" label.
> Actually many did learn that lesson. Another email message argued: "If we wa
> to help those at the other end of the political spectrum see what we see, we
> should talk about things that are meaningful to THEM. Like national
> sovereignty. People who object to US troops being commanded by NATO officers
> should also be opposed to submitting the US economy to control by foreigners.
> I'd like to see a phalanx of conservatively dressed grown-ups parading with
> signs that say, 'Hands off the US economy!'"
> Nearly all protesters were conservatively dressed grown-ups. But this outbur
> of WTO opposition was not centrally planned. People poured in from all over
> the world. The excitement may have attracted local rowdies who neither know
> nor care about the WTO. My conspiracy-minded friends suspect they were
> corporate plants. And every protest movement has its radical edge. Not even
> Gandhi was able to control the extremists in his cause.
> When the cameramen can choose between activists talking earnestly about
> corporate abuse of intellectual property rights or delinquents breaking windo
> on the street, what will appear on the nightly news? Part of the problem her
> was the sensationalizing media, falling into another well-worn, trivializing
> reporting groove. Cover an election like a sport event; talk about game
> strategy, not the issues before the nation. Cover a natural disaster like so
> sort of statistical soap opera; keep a body count and interview sobbing
> survivors. Cover a protest as in the '60s; emphasize the bizarre behavior an
> ignore the serious participants.
> The trade issue is an especially tough one for the major media to cover fairl
> since they are themselves large corporations that have helped shape the WTO.
> They broadcast over and over the central myths of free trade. Free trade wil
> make everyone better off. As people get rich, they can afford to clean up th
> environment. The larger a corporation gets, the more efficient it gets.
> What's good for General Motors (Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Boeing) is good for the
> None of these statements is clearly demonstrable, but all of them serve the
> interests of the privileged and powerful. People went to Seattle to protest
> abuses of the privilege and powerful. We can hardly expect the privileged an
> powerful to give us an even-handed report.
> The reporters, however, are only the handmaidens of the real powers, the trad
> ministers and the corporations who flock around the WTO helping to write its
> rules. Maybe they are the real causes of the violence in Seattle.
> They are indeed, when it comes to authorship of the WTO mindset that made the
> protesters so angry: Trade Uber Alles, trade above environment, above fair
> working conditions, above full consumer information, above national
> sovereignty, above protection of health. The powers may have inadvertently
> created the outburst they are now confronting, not just by creating the
> injustices that propelled outraged people to Seattle, but also by expecting a
> warning of violence.
> The head of the WTO had been worrying out loud about "terrorists." The polic
> were warned to prepare for the worst. The cops were nervous; this sort of
> thing doesn't happen every day in Seattle. A few jeers, a shot of tear gas,
> scuffle, and there are the sensational shots for the evening news. From the
> Winter Palace to Kent State, from the Bastille to the march on Selma, this is
> an old drama. It doesn't take much to push the proletariat over the edge; th
> you can dismiss their cause as lawless and illegitimate.
> The problem is, neither causing violence nor reacting righteously against it
> will get us, the whole world of us, where we need to go. A new layer of
> social structure is being invented here, a global government, appropriate for
> and needed by a world of rapid communication and transportation. So far this
> government has been created entirely by the powerful, for their own benefit.
> It can't last that way. People won't tolerate it. And it doesn't have to be
> that way. We can conduct orderly and profitable trade in ways that do not
> oppress workers, communities, or the environment. We urgently need to do tha
> We can find out how, if we stop focusing on the self-protective elites and th
> destructive hoodlums and start listening to the less colorful but far more
> numerous and constructive folks on both sides of the real, crucial argument.
> (Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor at Dartmouth College and director of
> the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vermont.)
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