“Seattle East,” “A16,” “Mobilization for Global Justice”–by whatever name you call it, a coalition of Teamsters and turtles, students and scholars, church, human rights, consumer and environmental activists is about to descend on Washington to call the global economy to account. On April 9 the AFL-CIO joins the church-based Jubilee 2000 in a rally to demand the cancellation of the debts of impoverished countries. On April 12, student activists will join 10,000 workers and their families as they flood Congress on “lobby day,” urging a no vote on a bill that would clear the way for China’s entry into the WTO, a move that would almost certainly dash any hope of fundamental change in that corporate-friendly organization. On April 16 there will be a rally and direct action against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Already, A16 has generated consternation in high places. The business lobby carted in 500 employees to lobby for the China vote. The Washington Post featured a story on police training for the coming confrontations and another that portrayed the nonviolent activists, who were remarkably well disciplined in Seattle, as eerie anarchists. Hysterical corporate apologists have been fulminating against know-nothings and protectionism.
But the cacophony won’t drown out the message. Even in the midst of the longest US economic expansion on record, the global economy faces a growing crisis of legitimacy. The movement against it has many voices, but it is united by a sense of moral urgency. This is the new internationalism that has captured the imagination of the most politically committed young people, just as civil rights and Vietnam did for their parents’ generation. And much of its agenda is supported by the vast majority of Americans. Polls consistently show that more and more Americans believe workers are getting the shaft in the global economy, oppose giving China permanent trading status, favor enforcing workers’ rights and environmental protections in trade accords, and want action against sweatshops and child labor. It is also a movement that is not restricted to the United States: The protesters in Seattle included farmers from France, human rights supporters from Tibet and environmental activists from Latin America.
This movement, like its predecessors, is faced with the entrenched resistance of both major parties, whose leaders join in pushing the corporate globalization agenda. Even now, the Administration is working behind the scenes to find some fig leaf that will allow Democrats in Congress to vote for the China bill while maintaining that they are concerned about workers’ rights.
Seattle East will display the passion of this growing movement, but it represents only a corner of its activities. Pension fund managers are now forced to address questions of corporate behavior. University administrators are learning how to deal with sit-ins again. Democrats are discovering that newly energized labor will no longer give them a free pass. And this is just the beginning. Spring is in the air–and a new movement is blossoming.