Reflections on the WTO excitment back home



8 December 1999

It is very surreal sitting halfway around the world, while the world's eyes are on Seattle. Thank you to all of you who have sent me accounts of your personal experiences with the WTO events in Seattle. These are very important to us as we feel a bit lost and disconnected from our city. Please keep them coming.

(I have posted these various personal accounts on the web, you can find them at www.kempf.com/~mrk/other/wto.htm.)

We both REALLY wish we had been there, because the issue has long be extremely important to us. It is also strange to miss this, one of the most important events in the history of Seattle -- I actually feel a loss of sorts for that reason alone.

In the months before I left for Europe, as the planning was cranking up for the protests, I stayed only partially involved because I knew I would not be in Seattle -- but I was glad that someone was planning protests and I hoped that they would be significant and beneficial.

This is an extremely important issue, and one that I have been ranting about for years -- I honestly believe that GATT/WTO is the greatest political threat to PEOPLE in the second half of our century. It is wonderful to see the scale of the protests.

I can offer three observations from 15,000 km away:

1. The press.

During most of this trip we have ignored the news, for a variety of reasons, it is VERY expensive over here, we rarely have time to read, and the English language press is not well distributed. I look at headlines now and then, but since most places only have USA today -- it's pretty hopeless. But for this event we have been searching out German papers and/or the International Herald Tribune. I was EXTREMELY surprised by the IHT -- this is owned by the New York Times and Washington Post, but they didn't have the right wing spin that one is accustomed to from those papers at all -- it was quite balanced, offering a coherent, extensive and POSITIVE explanation of the protesters' complaints early in each article; blaming the police for the outbreak of violence; and offering analysis that gave credit to the protesters. One article ended with: "... one goal was achieved. Before this week almost no one knew the WTO existed -- that will never be the case again." It was refreshing!

2. We were sitting in a Polish hostel in the mountains on Sunday evening, the IHT lying on the table. We were chatting with the Poles who were sharing the room with us. One asked about the newspaper, asked if it was from the USA. We explained that it was in English, owned by US papers, but published in Paris. Then Cheryln pointed to the large photo on the front page and said, "That is our home, we live in that city." The guy picked up the paper, turned to his friend, pointed at the photo and said, "Look, war."

3. It is very bizarre to not be in Seattle for the protests, but where are we, Slovkia and Poland, as well as the rest of Eastern Europe. We are in a place which demonstrates to us 300 times a day why Free Trade is such a dangerous, vile and unfair concept. We see the effects all around us. This is a place which has recently been opened up -- are local companies being created to fill needs? No. This is the free trade zone. Almost every industry and sector is filled by US, German, Italian or British companies. Fast food, cell phones, grocery stores, banks (General Electric bought the Post bank in Romania!!!), department stores, you name it... almost everything. Nothing is local. They are all huge western companies that had the capital and the organization to come in and plop down 10 or 50 or 200 stores in a country. They own it. They dominate the market and no local company can slowly grow to fill the market as the dogma states. Eastern Europe has been bought. That's what free trade does -- not only is it terrible for the people here, but even the local corporate community finds it, rightfully, unfair. It is even anti-capitalist because it is preventing a true capitalist economy from developing here -- right now all the money just leaves the country.

So count me among the protesters, even though I was not there. I now regret planning this in such a way that I wasn't. And I can't believe that the mayor suspended civil liberties. If I was there I would be leading the recall Paul Schell movement -- I admit it, I was wrong: even that looney Republican controled Charlie Chong would've been better than this jerk.

© Copyright Mark Canizaro 1999



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