Sen. Patty Murry, Trade Cop

Jeffrey St. Clair sitka at
Mon Nov 15 13:56:02 PST 1999

From: Mark Sommer <msommer at> Subject: Letter to Eco Globalization Spokes

Dear Colleagues,

Many of you may be aware that in recent weeks concern has been mounting about possible violence and disruption at the upcoming WTO summit in Seattle. Protest organizers have successfully generated intense public and media interest in the event and have persuaded large numbers of people to converge on the city at the end of this month. At the same time, for reasons that are not entirely clear, an aura of menace has been building

around the event that threatens to do great damage to the many movements we have all been quietly and laboriously building for the past few decades.

This is a moment of immense opportunity for socially transformative ideas, initiatives, and organizations to gain the attention of a broader public. But it is also a moment of grave risk. For a public

that knows little about the solid and responsible work that has been done for the past few decades, a first exposure to these movements that is marked by violence and mayhem could leave them with the lasting impression that such people are just too reckless and irresponsible to be entrusted

with the reins of power.

In recent days, according to Mike Dolan of the Citizen's Trade

Campaign, several Molotov cocktails were thrown into a Gap clothing outlet in Seattle and an anarchist symbol left on the building. Talk of shutting down the city's traffic has local police and city leaders taking extreme

measures while an immense security force is being assembled to guard some 5,000 delegates and dignitaries from more than 150 nations. Sen. Patty Murray (WA), a liberal Democrat, has written to President Clinton warning that Seattle could be a disaster for the cause of free trade if stronger

measures aren't taken to suppress protests.

Some of this is a predictable response to the growing influence of the NGO community and alternative social movements. Perhaps we should be heartened by the statement of Jeffrey Garten of the Yale School of Management that "If Washington and Corporate America don't move decisively, NGOs could dominate public opinion on global trade and finance." But this influence could soon wane if the Seattle summit descends into a free-for-all with aimless violence against people and property. Even if the great majority of protesters are responsible and self-disciplined, the media will be drawn to those few malcontents who may know nothing about the issues but are attracted to the spotlight to express their inchoate anger at the world. Not least of all, both government and corporate image-makers (and-breakers) may be seeding chaos with their own agents provocateurs, a time-honored tactic to discredit rising political opposition.

Whatever the sources of this growing alarm, it is emphatically

not in the interest of anyone but the corporate globalization lobby that

the Seattle summit be allowed to disintegrate into either chaos or a police crackdown. At the moment there is widespread if not yet deeply committed

sympathy among the general public for democratizing global trade and finance, reducing economic inequality, enforcing labor rights and strengthening environmental protections. But shutting down Seattle and impeding the functioning of ordinary life for local people while leaving

trade ministers free to deal secretly inside their conference halls could quickly turn that latent sympathy into active resentment. Those of us who participated in the antiwar protests of the Sixties watched with increasing dismay as the tone of the demonstrations turned from hope to rage and the public's response turned from sympathy to anger and contempt. In many ways, the reactionary politics of succeeding decades were fueled by fears skillfully stoked by politicians and the media in response to increasingly aimless, angry, and nihilistic protests.

We mustn't let that happen again. We have all done far too much of the hard work of envisioning and building practical alternatives to current policies to allow these fragile experiments to be discredited in a flash by a spasm of futile if temporarily cathartic fury. To the extent that our movements have been successful in shifting both policies and public opinion over the past three decades, it has been thanks to the diligence and discipline with which activists have assumed the gritty tasks of studying the challenges and thinking anew, placing themselves in the position of policymakers and designing pragmatic solutions to longstanding problems. They have testified in legislative committee hearings, pored over voluminous reports (and produced not a few of their own), spoken and written in media large and small, listened, organized, and networked with like-minded souls across the country and around the world. This is quiet, unspectacular work, like tilling a field and planting seeds by hand, with progress measured in seasons that sometimes seem to move at a glacial pace. It lacks the surge of solidarity that courses through a protesting crowd

when it senses its collective strength.

But like a drug-induced high, that momentary exhilaration can sometimes exact a frightfully high price. For those on the outside of the bubble of like-mindedness, there is a sense of exclusion and, worse yet, of exclusivity, as if those who are marching claim to have hold of a truth that outsiders are too dense to grasp. And for those whose interests are

more directly threatened, this concentration of the opposition in one place and time is an alarm bell, a signal that decisive action must be taken to derail the momentum of a popular movement. To judge by Jeffrey Garten's Nov. 8 Business Week column, that alarm has already been sounded. In response, as Garten himself advises, corporate and governmental advocates free-trade advocates are likely to mount a highly skillful and sustained

campaign to sell their argument, in part by seeking to discredit all those who question their aims and motivations. Garten directly targets the NGO

community that has grown up in this country and around the world in recent years to challenge unchecked corporate power: "Governments and business

associations should demand that NG0s part the curtain on their own activities -- including disclosing exactly who their members are and how

they are financed."

NGOs are indeed becoming a powerful force in global politics, not just because they have attracted bright, talented, highly motivated individuals but because their sentiments are shared by a much larger if less active public. But they are also quite fragile institutions dependent for their survival on the beneficence of foundations that are themselves

ultimately dependent on corporate wealth. Foundations are notoriously timid institutions. If pressured by Congressional and corporate critics of the

nonprofit sector, many could quickly retreat from their recent support for movements that challenge the dominance of multinational corporations.

What does all this mean for Seattle? In my view, it means that we must act both with great boldness and great care, making sure that our actions there -- and those of others around us -- reflect well on the movements we represent. It means that we must try to shift the expectations of the media, the public, the police, the politicians and the demonstrators from violence and mayhem to thoughtful and open debate. I suggest that we do so by emphasizing several key points:

* We come to Seattle with peaceful intent and urge all others who plan to be there -- including demonstrators, delegates, and police officers -- to refrain from violence -- in speech or action against people or property. We will do all we can to defuse tensions and ensure a free and

open exchange of views.

* While we are critical of economic globalization as it is currently being implemented, we have also done the hard work of developing practical alternatives. We have developed sound policy options across a broad range of globalization issues and are prepared to describe them in

detail to the media, delegates, and the public.

* We both challenge globalization's advocates to debate the issues openly and at length. We also challenge them to open their deliberations to the broader public whose lives and livelihoods will be profoundly affected by the decisions of the WTO and other global financial institutions.

Through your communications with your organizations and networks

and your media appearances (including those arranged by the Mainstream Media Project), you will have many opportunities to discuss the events in Seattle before, during, and after the summit. Expectations have a powerful influence on outcomes.If you are concerned about the expectations of violence and mayhem being voiced in the media and elsewhere in advance of the event, you may wish to use these venues to help shift perceptions.This is a moment of exceptional opportunity. If we use it well, Seattle will represent a quantum leap in our ability to cooperate and communicate as a unified movement. If we do not, our ability to influence the debate and the reshaping of global institutions will be greatly diminished.

With best wishes,

Mark Sommer Director, The Mainstream Media Project

Mark Sommer, Director Mainstream Media Project 854 9th St. Suite B Arcata, CA 95521 PH 707-826-9111 FAX 707-826-9112 msommer at

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