This Boat Won’t Float
As we head into December, the holiday season kicks into high gear and we are encouraged by the Bush administration, via newscasters across the country, to do our patriotic duty and spend, spend, spend (what do you have those credit cards for if not to give beyond your means) in order to keep the sinking ship USA afloat with deficit spending that will eventually bring about our personal and national ruin. But this year, in addition to Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa, December will also bring with it the 4th annual meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministries, to be held in Hong Kong.
With a trade deficit on the rise and the American worker sinking fast, our only contribution to the world economy is our dwindling cash. In other words, we are only useful if we keep buying, which for most of us means going further into debt. We are mere dollar signs to the multi-national corporations, and our ability and willingness to buy their cheap crap, manufactured at the expense of workers around the globe, is the only thing keeping our heads above water. This realization is what is driving more and more people into the anti-globalization camp, many of whom will be giving up their holidays to travel to Hong Kong in order to get the message out. How much we in the U.S. will actually see or hear of it is another story.
The protests during the Summit of the Americas in Argentina this past November, were labeled by the mainstream media as anti-Bush demonstrations, but that is only a small part of the story. Sure there were plenty of anti U.S. banners and hostile slogans regarding our Commander in Chief, but the thrust of the movement comes from a much broader agenda. Bush may bring them out into the streets, but the negative impact of so-called “free trade” agreements keeps them there. The American media treats these demonstrations as fringe lefties and anarchists, fueled by the rhetoric of the likes of Hugo Chavez, never bothering to examine the real message. It’s not that difficult to understand, but that’s the point, if they can confuse the issue, most viewers will not take the time to decipher the true meaning. The MSM in this country does their dutiful best to keep the electorate as uninformed as possible of the policies of this administration and downplays the negative effects of those policies at every turn. So when reporting on protests against US sponsored “free-trade” abroad, they are content to marginalize the message.
I walked in the protest march against the WTO here in Seattle in 1999 and it was the largest, most cohesive protest I had ever participated in. Those who came out that day to peacefully voice their dissent knew what was at stake. The WTO had provided a common enemy that pulled the myriad of leftist causes together and everyone understood that the growth of a World Economy was not going to raise the standard of living for those in underdeveloped countries, but rather would pull those of us already struggling to stay above the poverty line down below it. What we feared then has indeed come to pass, making the need for continuing protests that much greater. I was a first hand witness to the ferocity with which the government shut down dissent in Seattle, and that was with a Democrat in the White House, I shudder to think what would happen now.
The reason we are not seeing the same level of protest against “free-trade” policies in this country, is not because the sentiment has diminished, it’s merely fear of ending up on the “no-fly” list or getting a personal visit from Homeland Security. Plus, the main purpose of civil disobedience and political protest is to get media coverage for your message. With the mainstream media on the short leash of this administration, it hardly seems productive. Most of the time they don’t bother to show up, and if they do, they downplay the numbers and distort the message until it becomes unrecognizable, even to those fighting so desperately to get it out.
The problem is not globalization and the creation of a world economy, it’s that the people of the world, the workers who drive the global economy, are being left out of the process. The multi-national corporations who benefit from free trade are attempting to sell us on the idea that the rising tide of global trade will raise all boats, but the workers of the world are not buying it. We’re not stupid, we can feel the anchor around our collective neck holding us to the bottom, threatening to drown us every day. But as much as the American worker has suffered under the guiding hand of the WTO, NAFTA, GAT and now CAFTA, we are still sitting on top of the global food chain, so we have been slower to react and realize that our common interest lies with the poor workers of the world, not with our Corporate countrymen.
Activist are not anti-free trade as a concept, but rather as it has been practiced for the last 50 years. Americans have turned a blind eye to the application of capitalist free market ideals to under-developed countries and now the chickens are coming home to roost. We can no longer ignore the damage we have done abroad. The US has acted as a loan shark around the world, promoting a “free-market” economy that preaches debt as a way to get started. Here, borrow this money from us to build up your critical infrastructure so that you too can become a wealthy country, reaping the benefits of the global economy. The only problem is that the work in building that infrastructure goes not to the local economy, but home to the US and transnational corporations that get awarded the contracts. Public works programs help strengthen the economy by providing jobs to the people, thereby putting money into circulation that supports local businesses. This doesn’t work if the money goes to foreign companies and foreign workers who take the money back home. We may have missed this critical defect when it occurred in countries where Americans weren’t footing the bill, but now that our pockets are being picked to fund the same scheme in Iraq, the message may be getting through.
Most South American countries have either undergone this conversion to a free market economy or have seen it up close. The results were not thriving cities and booming economies, but rather a widening gap between rich and poor, and a hemorrhaging of national resources. It’s no wonder they are not jumping at the chance to sign away what little they have left to an imperialist power that has shown no mercy in the past.
So this holiday season, as we all sit down with our families and enjoy the festivities, we should give a collective thought to our brethren who are fighting the good fight in Hong Kong this year. The United States has a long way to go in repairing the damage to our relationships around the globe, and until we admit our part in their ugly history, we are doomed to repeat it, but this time around we will see it up close and personal.