GENTECH archive


Seattle: Free Trade's Happy Face Falls (fwd)

Date: Mon, 06 Dec 1999 01:52:28 -0800
From: Norman Solomon <>


By Norman Solomon   /   Creators Syndicate

	SEATTLE -- After enjoying a free ride in American news media for many
years, the World Trade Organization just hit a brick wall. The credit
should go to a vast array of civic activists -- represented by tens of
thousands of protesters from every continent who took to the streets here
with determined nonviolence.

	The WTO has been fully accustomed to operating with scant media scrutiny
in this country. Even for alert consumers of mainstream news, the WTO was
apt to seem distant, aloof and fully protected from the intervention of
mere mortals. No more.

	By the time President Clinton arrived in Seattle on Wednesday for the WTO
summit, it was clear that mere mortals have thrown themselves onto the
gears of global trade designed by the rich and powerful. The Oz-like
curtain shielding the operators of corporate machinery had gone up in smoke
-- symbolized by the tear gas and pepper spray wafting over the city.

	This month began with the acrid smell of illusions turning to ash. For the
general public, the WTO will never again be able to claim automatic
legitimacy. And while the hotshots running the WTO lose momentum, the
parallel activities of global loan sharks like the International Monetary
Fund are also sliding into further disrepute.

	The peaceful marchers in downtown Seattle compelled media
attention because they were so clearly and deeply rooted in communities
across North America and every other continent. Formerly isolated from
each other, advocates for diverse interests -- the environment and labor
rights, for instance -- are finding common cause. 

	At a union-sponsored demonstration that stretched for many blocks,
amid protesters dressed as sea turtles (endangered by WTO edicts), I saw a
sign that captured the moment: "Turtles and Teamsters -- United At Last." 

	Over the years, news coverage has been stuck in a default
position, routine and implicit: When government leaders and top corporate
officials reach agreement on economic rules for the planet to live (and
die) by, those rules are basically sound. Kindred elites arrived in
Seattle hoping for a celebratory event. Instead, resistance spoiled their

	Guardians of the WTO's image got a break when a small group of
hoodlums went on a window-smashing spree and drew appreciable media
attention. It's easy enough for TV cameras to videotape scenes of random
violence in a shopping district. A much more difficult task would be to
cover the institutionalized violence that is a quiet part of daily life. 

	While Western banks collect huge interest on loans to poor
countries, the suffering -- and the links between wealth and poverty -- go
largely unreported. That's how 20,000 children worldwide continue to die
each day from preventable diseases. 

	The chain of events that led to a virtual military lockdown of
Seattle's core business district at midweek was set in motion by wide
opposition to the WTO in many societies around the globe. Now, the battle
of Seattle has torn off the WTO's happy-face stickers. 

	Without such visible opposition, reigning power brokers are glad
to pose as tolerant souls. But at the historic crossroads in Seattle, when
the WTO found itself unable to proceed with business as usual, it was time
to exchange the velvet glove for the iron fist. 

	This is logical. After all, the World Trade Organization is
supremely anti-democratic. Unelected WTO officials deliberate in secret
and issue rulings that deem local or national laws to be unfair "trade
barriers" if they impede the pursuit of profits. This, we are told, is
"free trade" -- and laws that protect workers or the environment or human
rights are supposed to get out of the way. 

	As I write these words on Wednesday evening, a few blocks away
police are attacking nonviolent protesters in downtown Seattle with heavy
batons and new rounds of pepper spray and tear gas. Armored personnel
carriers have moved in. Some policemen are arriving on horses. National
Guard troops are putting on gas masks. All day, helicopters have droned
steadily overhead. 

	In a perverse way, all this seems to make sense. While boosters of
the World Trade Organization keep talking about "free trade," the
consequences of contempt for democracy include more contempt for
democracy. Elites may insist on the right to rule, but the rest of us --
including journalists -- should not go along to get along. 


Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."