Environmentalists, artists, farmers, numerous student groups, pro-democracy and women’s rights activists, pro-fair trade organizations, peace and justice groups, religious organizations, labor unions and many more traveled thousands of miles to Seattle to make their voices heard. The occasion? A meeting of the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, I am not among the thousands who are in Seattle now. Writing this letter is the least I can do to express my solidarity with remarkably strong and courageous activists, and to try to convey the message they took to Seattle to students who, like myself, are concerned.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand the substance of the protests from numerous accounts on television, over the Internet, and in newspapers since more often than not they reflect numerous media biases, which more often than not are not in favor of the protesters. It is unfortunate that the point of the protests has been somewhat overshadowed by the rare cases of violence, which, it is important to notice, the peaceful protesters strongly condemned. What exactly are they protesting, and why are the questions on many students’ minds? To answer them, it is essential to understand the nature of the WTO itself.
The World Trade Organization, a 134-member inter-governmental agency, is responsible for managing trade flows between member nations. Since its inception in 1995, the WTO has consistently supported a policy of increasing free trade, decreasing national control over foreign investment, and implementing agreements that benefit multinational corporations and increase their control over nations’ economies. These policies have been implemented behind closed doors, often beyond public scrutiny and in some cases beyond the control of some governments. Such globalization policies, especially when implemented in secret, usually pay little or no attention to the social and human effects of trade liberalization. They have resulted in a world of sky rocketing income disparity, falling wages and massive environmental destruction.
It is my belief, and the belief of thousands of other activists, that encouraging managed trade in the absence of attention to human costs leads to inequality, injustice and repression. I am inspired by the firsthand accounts that I receive via e-mail from activists who have made it to Seattle to say no to the violence and the harm that WTO does to the environment, democracy, women, and workers around the globe. It is important to note that the activists gathered in Seattle do not oppose free trade, nor do they oppose development. They do, however, oppose oppression and exploitation. They support the expansion of international trade, but demand that such trade be controlled so that its benefits are shared in a balanced and just manner. They call for increasing respect for workers’ rights and environmental protection on the part of multinational corporations.
I conclude with excerpts from an inspiring e-mail from a protestor who starts out by saying, I am writing this from Seattle, amidst the clouds of tear gas, the pepper spray, the national guard and the state of emergency declared by the governor of Washington.
He describes in detail the brutality and injustice of the police but concludes his e-mail with encouragement, Remember, however dramatic the police rioting and police violence is, it is nothing compared to the violence of the WTO. This is the story of the week: the violence of the WTO has been named and challenged. People of all kinds will not stand for it anymore.
He is right. The world is watching, and the destruction will be stopped.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a member of the Progressive Student Union.