Seeking a New Globalism in Chiapas
Few in North America are informed about the passionate protests exploding to the south, largely because of the absence of press coverage. For the flavor of events from the ground up, take an eyewitness report of a street confrontation--on the scale of the 1999 "Battle of Seattle"--that took place in Quito, Ecuador, last fall during an FTAA summit meeting. According to an Internet account, 8,000-15,000 activists, including indigenous Ecuadoreans with rainbow-colored flags, traveled from remote mountain villages to face the assembled thirty-four US and Latin American trade ministers at Quito's Marriott Hotel. Included in the ranks were shamans, trade unionists, campesinos, students and Bolivia's Morales, who marched with coca growers with coca leaves taped to their foreheads. According to the eyewitness account, "old women chanted ceaselessly for four hours,
No queremos, y no nos da la gana,
Ser una colonia, norteamericana.
("We don't want, and it doesn't do us any good,
To be a North American colony.")
The police bombarded the crowd with a massive dose of tear gas, hospitalizing numerous people, before eventually allowing a group of insistent protesters to address the ministers. While they spoke passionately under an Inca banner proclaiming Yes to an Integration Based on Solidarity, US Trade Representative Zoellick "stared fixedly at his shoe." Having made their point, they returned to join thousands in the streets dancing to traditional Quechua music for five hours.
The Quito confrontation was just one of many that are erupting across Latin America. Most North Americans would sympathize with the protesters' demands for minimum justice, agrarian reform, free collective bargaining, a meaningful voice in matters of trade and the inclusion of the indigenous as autonomous beings. The programmatic demands, for now, are more radically reformist than revolutionary, which makes their rejection all the more disquieting.
What is new about corporate globalization, and perhaps will prove its undoing, is that the process simultaneously pushes manufacturing jobs to sweatshops abroad while pulling desperate immigrants into the sweatshop economy of the United States. Without fundamental change, sooner or later Maria or her friends will be flowing northward with the human tide, where she will join the growing immigrant underclass increasingly demanding a living wage and political representation. Globalization as a return to nineteenth-century class domination under military watchtowers is a futile vision.
An alternative is emerging from the populist dynamic set in motion first in Chiapas and now across Latin America. Instead of NAFTA's corporate escape from New Deal-style regulation, the new agenda would be an extension of the most progressive elements of the New Deal to global society, a new social contract in place of market fundamentalism. Globalization from the bottom up. Instead of NAFTA-style agreements that solely protect foreign investors, this alternative model would offer enforceable protections to workers, women and the environment as well--on both sides of the border. Instead of sweatshops and child labor there would be unions and literacy programs. Instead of damming rivers and slashing rainforests, there would be conservation programs for future generations. If this seems too costly, it is well to remember that the net contribution of the US government to the UN's global war on poverty is tiny--the United States spends only 0.13 percent of its gross national product on UN programs combating hunger, disease and illiteracy, down 90 percent from the JFK era forty years ago.
Could the Democrats, heirs to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, overcome their current identity crisis and commit to expanding the best of the Roosevelt heritage? Not on their own. But as the crisis bred by globalization deepens to our south, and millions more Marias are pulled by the same globalization toward America's barrios, powerful new coalitions for change are being birthed.