Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

THE WTO PROTEST IN SEATTLE AND THE LEFT

The protest in Seattle against the World Trade Organization may mark a turning point, not only in public attitudes toward the WTO, but in the focus of energies on the left. Throughout the cold war era, progressive forces were most concerned about issues of peace and war. Our greatest successes were ending the war in Vietnam and turning the public against nuclear weapons. Our great historical moment in the streets came at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.

Now we have a new generation of activists whose cry is not peace but fair trade. Their memory will be of facing the mace, not to end a war but to end the tyranny of multinational corporations. This yearís war against Yugoslavia revealed that the Left is as split over war and peace as it is united on trade and globalization issues. Many might be tempted to abandon the campaign for peace altogether.

That would be a tragic mistake. Now is precisely the time to reinvigorate the peace movement, and strengthen the fair trade movement, by bringing the two together. In the axis of power that runs from the White House to the Pentagon, war and free trade are already inseparably linked.

The White House wants to give the Pentagon over $100 billion of new money in the next five years. To fight whom? No single enemy, as in the good old days of cold war, but a broad array of yet-to-be-named enemies. To make our nationís enemies list today, you simply have to refuse to jump on the global "free market" bandwagon. If you wonít play the game the way the WTO, the G7, and the multinational corporations tell you to, you risk U.S. and NATO bombs raining down upon your people.

The bombs are there to bring "order and stability," the corporate media tell us. When workers demand labor rights, when farmers refuse to use genetically modified seed, when housewives refuse to allow their environment to be polluted ó all that is called "instability." And when this so-called "instability" threatens, the U.S. military threatens back with its ever-expanding arsenal of high-tech weaponry. The forces of economic globalization depend on U.S. military power and military technology to to remove irritating obstacles like workers, farmers, and housewives.

The global economy could become just one more issue on the left, taking away energy from war and peace and other vital issues. Or the concern about globalization could become the center of a new coalition of progressive forces, bigger and wider than anything we have seen in a long time. It has already created the most powerful labor-student alliance since the 1930s. It is already more international, more inclusive of people of color, than the peace movement ever was. Peace activists can bring experience and expertise as well as added energy to this coalition. And they can educate us about the immensely complicated links between globalization and militarization.

Those links wonít be cut soon. But once brought into the public spotlight, they can at least become a matter of open public debate. The most powerful argument against the WTO is its secretive, undemocratic process. The plans now being made to kill thousands on the automated battlefield of the next century are just as secret and undemocratic. Now is the time for a reinvigorated left to demand democracy, fair trade, and world peace. It all goes together.


[ HOME ]   [ COURSES ]   [ RESEARCH ]   [ CONTACT ME ]
[ OP-ED COLUMNS  /  SINCE SEPT. 11 ]   [ PUBLIC CITIZEN ]