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This is what Democracy looks like, ten years later
November 28, 2009 3:54 AM   Subscribe

I think that ten years from now, the thing that's going to be written about Seattle, is not what tear gas bomb went off on what street corner, but that the WTO in 1999 was the first of a global citizens movement for a democratic global economy (This is What Democracy Looks Like). Ten years ago tomorrow, diverse activist groups appeared in Seattle to protest perceived globalization/corporatization exemplified by the World Trade Organization. (Wiki) Some more anniversary stuff from KPLU in Seattle, Real Change, and maybe the Teabaggers. Previously: One year after.
posted by twoleftfeet (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hopefully the teabaggers will be as effective as the anti-globalization protesters.
posted by delmoi at 4:17 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi, the WTO *did* change some of the most absurdly insulting of its procedures because of the protests. I quoted the following in a related thread in September:

Undemocratic Tactics: The tactics of the industrial powers also frustrated progress. In an effort to orchestrate the outcome of the conference, the major developed countries held informal "green room" meetings. Through these sub-caucuses, they sought to resolve their disputes privately and agree on a joint agenda for the next round of talks. They then hoped to bully the conference into incorporating their agenda into the final declaration. A few influential developing countries were invited to take part in these discussions as their support was considered pivotal to the strategy's success. But the vast majority of nations were excluded from these backroom debates.

These secretive and undemocratic methods prompted the African Ministers to draft a statement in which they declared that they would not "be able to join the consensus required to meet the objectives of this Ministerial Conference". The Carribean Community Ministers and some Latin American Ministers issued similar statements threatening to withhold their votes. In light of these statements and the general level of dissatisfaction with the WTO process, US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and WTO Director-General Mike Moore decided not to propose a declaration on the last day of the conference. They feared developing countries would reject the declaration, further discrediting the WTO and exposing the manipulative tactics of its most enthusiastic supporters...


The synergy that happened between the developing countries' stand and the thousands of protesters in the streets that week is impossible to ignore.
posted by mediareport at 5:29 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


The synergy that happened between the developing countries' stand and the thousands of protesters in the streets that week is impossible to ignore.

Could you perhaps cite someone on the inside in support of this? Not a snark, genuinely interested (frankly, I know fairly little about the Seattle protests, from the Midwest they seemed like more of a blip on the screen than apparently they really were), but it seems like the quotation you gave doesn't mention protesters - just the Global South's more or less unified front. It seems to me at least that that would be enough in and of itself....
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:33 AM on November 28, 2009


But then, of course, the undemocratic status quo reasserted itself:

One year after the Seattle collapse, talk about reforming the decision-making process at the WTO has vanished, with Director General Mike Moore saying that that the nontransparent, undemocratic “Consensus/Green Room” system that triggered the developing country revolt in Seattle is “non-negotiable.”

So maybe you're right. But for a while there, real change did look possible, primarily because of people in the streets. In fact, you could argue that the lack of people continuing to be in the streets is precisely what allowed the status quo to reassert itself. A one-sentence kneejerk dismissal of the one tactic that actually worked to shake things up, however briefly, is hardly the takeaway lesson here.
posted by mediareport at 5:34 AM on November 28, 2009


Adam, there's more of that quote in the thread I linked. The link I took it from is now dead but here's a copy. It discusses the civil protests as a key factor:

The Ministerial Conference in Seattle, Washington started with demonstrations and ended with demonstrations. The Conference failed to reach agreement on an agenda, a new round of negotiations, a final declaration, or even a joint statement of thanks to the host nation. Three key factors contributed to this outcome: civil society protests, the objections of developing countries to the non-transparent nature of the meeting and the impasse between the USA and the EU.

The idea that the developing nations' reps took at least some strength from the size and volume of the protest in the streets is an assumption I'll stand by. It seems pretty self-evident.
posted by mediareport at 5:40 AM on November 28, 2009


It means nothing, yet still freaks me out, that Michael Moore was the head of the WTO while these protests were happening.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:48 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


A one-sentence kneejerk dismissal of the one tactic that actually worked to shake things up, however briefly, is hardly the takeaway lesson here.

But it's probably a lot more accurate with regard to how the majority of people remember the protests. When they happened, I remember thinking how the protesters came across as a bunch of wannabes trying to act like they were in the 60's (or people just protesting for the chance to protest). If you had asked me then that anyone would even bother covering the tenth anniversary, I'd have asked why would someone bother. If anything, the Seattle Protests symbolized the oncoming era of schizophrenic protests, where everyone had to have their issue protested, no matter the circumstances or simply the feeling that people felt the desire to seek out a protest because it was the hip thing to do.
posted by Atreides at 5:52 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just want to say that the "this is what democracy looks like" chant is the most obnoxious fucking thing ever and I wish it would die.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


people felt the desire to seek out a protest because it was the hip thing to do.

A lot of the protesters were union workers. You can see more of this in the Showdown in Seattle videos.

I have to say that I find it incredibly offensive to suggest that these workers participated because it was "the hip thing to do".
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:05 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just want to say that the "this is what democracy looks like" chant is the most obnoxious fucking thing ever and I wish it would die.

I would even say that ALL protest chanting is fucking obnoxious. Why chant (other than for enjoyable, inclusive musical experiences)? Perhaps if the powers-that-be hear the chant enough times they'll change? "Oh, wait now I get it! That is what democracy looks like! I guess we'll just turn on our magic egalitarianism machine and disband."
posted by fuq at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


the "this is what democracy looks like" chant is the most obnoxious fucking thing ever

The rest of the chant points at the assembled riot police and says "that is what a police state looks like".

Maybe that bothers you. The idea is that you have peaceful protesters on one side and police with weapons on the other side. So you want to reinforce the idea that in a democracy people can assemble and protest and chant even if there is an armed force facing them.

Sorry if that bothers you.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Democracy actually looks like a lot of messy compromises, rather than a large number of people agreeing with each other.

But a police state does look a lot like a line of riot police.
posted by athenian at 6:20 AM on November 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


When they happened, I remember thinking how the protesters came across as a bunch of wannabes trying to act like they were in the 60's

Wow. How old were you.? Honestly, I think you'd have had to be either a child or only watching mainstream news accounts of the violence to not to see the core of committed working class, religious and activist groups behind the non-violent demonstrations. The "wannabes" were a distinct minority, and I'm surprised to meet someone who didn't know that.
posted by mediareport at 6:29 AM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


the WTO in 1999 was the first of a global citizens movement for a democratic global economy

That would be wonderful... if it were to have been the case. Yes, you had a few more WTO-style protests, and you had a few Social Forums, first in Porto Alegre and then elsewhere. But what else, and more importantly, what of substantive importance to the global economy?

My point is that the WTO protests were taken as signifiers of a new "people's movement" by many on the left, but they didn't gain the broad support and linkages to inside politics that is required if a protest is to turn into a movement is to turn into political change.
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2009


So maybe you're right. But for a while there, real change did look possible, primarily because of people in the streets. In fact, you could argue that the lack of people continuing to be in the streets is precisely what allowed the status quo to reassert itself.

I thought the "people in the streets" went away because they stopped having meetings in large cities and switched to either small resort towns or authoritarian countries like Singapore and Dubai.
posted by delmoi at 7:00 AM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Historically, protesting out in the streets has never accomplished as much as snarking about protesting out in the streets on an Internet message board.
posted by Legomancer at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


The Seventh WTO Ministerial Conference will start in Geneva in a couple days. Good luck getting anywhere close to the event.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:11 AM on November 28, 2009


Maybe the most significant thing that will mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1999 WTO protests is that many of the participants or supporters of that movement (like myself) will have come to understand economics and prosperity better and now support globalization, because it brings prosperity.

Plus, the entire hype over "backroom deals" or some sort of cabal running world affairs is not a particularly sophisticated point of view. Just like climate change treaties, the actual agreements that are inked at these sorts of meetups are difficult to enforce. Politicians also have trouble keeping promises, especially to other non-constituent politicians in other countries.

These WTO meetings are more like big junkets where suits can go and network and be driven around in big fancy cars.

And the protesters can throw trashcans through the windows of whatever corporate sacrificial lamb is in stone's throw, and then celebrate with paper-mache puppets and performers on stilts.

Meanwhile, globalization means that some worker in Hanoi or Nairobi can actually get a foot on the rung of the ladder to prosperity.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 AM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was there, but as a rock and roll roadie.
posted by Tube at 8:27 AM on November 28, 2009


>
To be fair, we're eating fruit from Chile and wearing flip flops from Malaysia. Say what you will, going out to the streets to say that you're angry doesn't usually get much done.

Besides, like it or not, globalization has a net positive effect for the world. If a person in the developed world loses a job, he gets unemployment benefits, and in the worst case scenario, he will go on welfare. A person in the developing world without a job will either continue to live on subsistence farming, or, worst case scenario, starve. They're willing to work for so much less because their needs are greater.

In addition, it's also economically beneficial to have cheap goods, as that means that American consumers then have more money, meaning that they can then buy more luxuries, which are more likely to be made in America.

Anti-globalization is ultimately isolationist and an attempt to slow down change. I feel bad for people who lose their jobs, and I'd be upset to be laid off because of outsourcing, too, but in a world of 6 billion people, it's silly to not think of the good of the whole. Individualism is no good if you end up creating a small number of very comfortable people and a large number of unhappy starving people. That's a good way to get the rest of the world to hate you. I don't mean to draw any alarmist conclusions, but that kind of inequality could motivate things like terrorism.

My main issue with making goods half a world away is the use of emissions, which is something cap and trade legislation would compensate for. That is a major issue, and global warming would likely disproportionately hurt the very people the jobs would help. Therefore, that would even it out, and that's why I tend to favor local food and used equipment from local stores when possible.

However, since most of the most vocal anti-globalization advocates tend to swing to the far right, I don't expect to hear that getting brought up.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2009


Meanwhile, globalization means that some worker in Hanoi or Nairobi can actually get a foot on the rung of the ladder to prosperity.

I think some of us are concerned that globalization also means a fiance in the USA who wants a diamond can have her diamond at the cost of African blood. And she can have the gold setting at the cost of dumping arsenic directly in a poor community's water, compromising their health.
posted by cbecker333 at 8:59 AM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


now support globalization, because it brings prosperity.

Turning a $30/hr first world job into a $2/hr third world job brings prosperity only to the people who were already prosperous. The net effect is increased concentration of wealth at the very top. Meanwhile, small countries are engaged in a race to the bottom, competing for factories with the laxness of their environmental regulations and health and safety laws and the desperation of their labor pool. Yeah, it brings prosperity when a company that used to have to prevent workers from becoming injured or burned alive, and pay long-term disability and pensions can now throw those same workers out in the street because there's an infinite supply of them.

Meanwhile, globalization means that some worker in Hanoi or Nairobi can actually get a foot on the rung of the ladder to prosperity.

That ladder has exactly 1 rung. Talk to a 26 year old Chinese assembly line worker who's just been kicked out of her 12 hour a day job and 24 to a room dorm and has nowhere to go because there's a 17 year old who hasn't burned out ready to take her place. She hasn't been able to save money because there are no worker protection laws and they've essentially stolen most of her pay. Be sure to show her exactly which rung her foot is on. Talk to the American she replaced, who used to be able to own a home and raise a family with the same job, and now has nothing. Which rung is his foot on, exactly? Globalization mainly helps the super-rich (who, in most countries, got where they are through government connections) become the insanely rich, at the expense of everyone else.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2009 [24 favorites]


If anything, the Seattle Protests symbolized the oncoming era of schizophrenic protests, where everyone had to have their issue protested, no matter the circumstances or simply the feeling that people felt the desire to seek out a protest because it was the hip thing to do.

I too wish to call out the ignorance and offensiveness of this statement. I wouldn't call myself a radical but growing up in SF and Berkeley, I have witnessed/participated in many public demonstrations. In 1991, I had just moved to Seattle and was really just an observer at the protests, but I had never in my life seen such a well organized, unified message from such a diverse group of people. From union laborers, religious leaders, Mexican factory workers, to the French farmers -- these were all people who traveled great distances at great expense to march peacefully and speak in turn at public forums to simply state that they wish to not be excluded from the discussion of what happens to the products of their labor. *One* Starbucks got smashed up by a bunch of idiots and this is what the world remembers of that week.

I too am tired of seeing the Teabaggers on TV and understand the protesters at the Republican Convention had a whole shit load of different things they were pissed about. But lumping all of these groups together or telling me they don't really know what they're in favor of, or they're just doing it to be cool? Fucking shame on you.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember the protests well; I was right there, although observing rather than really protesting. I remember it as a vehement confusion. There were unions in force, well-organized with ideas and procedures. But I also remember a drama-club guy in a trench coat who got up on the balcony of the Gap building and gave a long fist-up salute with a fuck-yeah smile. Lots of kids like him. In between: People in turtle costumes. Also many people like me, wondering when the action would start and what it would be about. It was just a mess — an exhausting, fitfully exciting mess.

There was a lot of play-acting going on. People were working really hard to have a real protest, a really Big Moment that Defined a Generation and Changed History. There were lots of attempts to say: It's really happening, right here right now, see it? But what is it? the whole thing kept shifting from one diffuse subject to another and pissed itself away on the spot. In the end it wound up as tear gas vs. chants, a televised standoff on a freeway overpass, lots of running and yelling.

The only thing that amazes me about the whole thing, in memory, was how effectively it canceled itself out. There was no post-WTO world or new politics or vocabulary of images and ideas to draw on. It was a big noisy not-much-of-anything.
posted by argybarg at 9:14 AM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


I didn't actually intend to directly counter Slarty Bartfast right in the next post. Coincidence.
posted by argybarg at 9:15 AM on November 28, 2009


In fairness, things were much more organized and clear before the head-cracking started.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:19 AM on November 28, 2009


Things were well-organized and clear in the minds of many who came there. I had a friend who had been on the mailing lists and forums that worked everything out, message included, in advance. But the end result, to me, was many ingredients that did not make a soup.

This may be a stretch, but I think the Seattle music scene — or, by that time, its remains — didn't help. Thanks to grunge, Seattle had become a place to move to in order to see a Scene. It was a momentary generator of hipness, and lots of people wanted to be there as it was being hatched. I implicate myself in this: I had moved to Seattle from the NW suburbs a few years earlier and wanted to see where it was headed, to see what big thing was next. Too many people like myself tend to smother fires. And there were a lot of us on the streets that day.
posted by argybarg at 9:25 AM on November 28, 2009


Several friends went to the WTO protests in Seattle. One started a politically-oriented blog afterward. One said he chanted "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES!" at the riot police. I remember thinking 'this all sounds like the anarchist black block protests I was part of in the 1980s. I guess those tactics and that look has a wider audience now.' So what I did (and walked away from) influenced Seattle, and Seattle made a blog happen. Perhaps more, but no less.
posted by eccnineten at 9:57 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I was living in Seattle at the time and (trying to) work downtown. I never saw any of this organized, coherence that you speak of. I saw mostly jackasses in trenchcoats and gas masks and costumes running rampant and endangering citizens more than police.

One Starbucks? hardly fucking likely. There were tons of acts of random vandalism going on the whole time, all the way up to Capitol Hill where the assholes from CA and OR went to blow off steam and brag after baiting the cops and fucking up the city.

It was a mess, if there was a unified protest going on it was more effectively overwhelmed by the other protesters than it was by the cops.
posted by mikoroshi at 11:42 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Globalization mainly helps the super-rich (who, in most countries, got where they are through government connections) become the insanely rich, at the expense of everyone else.

Yes, that seems to be the strategy. What's it called? Global Labor & Environmental Arbitrage? It must have a name.
posted by peppito at 11:55 AM on November 28, 2009


I had a big post lined up about how the miasma of scattershot protests centered around globalization meetings doesn't actually do any good, but you know what? Fuck it. I don't feel like arguing today. I actually have to head over to Wal-Mart to buy a new blanket because it's fucking cold here in Texas.
posted by Avenger at 12:15 PM on November 28, 2009


I mean "Race to the Bottom" is okay but doesn't really make clear what the Race is and what the Bottom represents. "Capitalism at its worst"? Too general. A combination of low taxes on the wealthy who are outsourcing the jobs of the underclasses, while they demand and get bailouts, tax breaks and loopholes, all the while complaining about workers' rights, environmental laws and too much transparency in business. "Fuck the poor" makes it pretty clear - I think.
posted by peppito at 12:18 PM on November 28, 2009


I was in graduate school in Seattle during the protests, and mostly what I remember is that (1) a bunch of bystanders on Capital Hill got tear-gassed (or at least tear gas drifted their way and was bothersome), and (2) downtown was pretty trashed the day after the protests. Somebody decided that there would be free parking downtown over the weekend to get people back to the downtown shopping district to do their holiday shopping.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:47 PM on November 28, 2009


I remember wandering around downtown Seattle during the protests. Very surreal. That was the day I realized that, in spite of my heavily liberal beliefs, most of the protesters were just there because they liked to provoke the police, and they didn't understand the first thing about what they were protesting.

One said he chanted "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES!" at the riot police.

Yeah.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those who feel that globalization brings net a good, I recommend the excellent and highly watchable Life and Debt which deftly breaks down this mythology.

I was at the WTO protests, and what I saw included struggling factory workers from what were being called "free trade zones" in Latin America and Asia telling their stories to embattled union workers from the US, union workers sharing umbrellas with anarchist kids, anarchist kids picking up trash after their buddies who were tossing rocks. A lot of people here have criticized the diverse foci of the demo, but I believe that was its strength. Personally, I can attest to having gained an enormous amount of new information simply by stopping by various protest areas and hearing the complaints of Jose Bove, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, or the United Steel Workers for example, (and I believe that most involved parties do believe that at least some change came as a result of the WTO protests).

I can't be sure why large-scale protest here in the US is, at least in the last 80 years or so, always met by nitpicking or derision by the mainstream left, and enraged cries of un-Americanism by the right. Maybe seeing people angry just leaves the comfortable middle-class uncomfortable. Maybe it betrays the unspoken social pact to conform. But I can tell you one thing, sitting around and bitching on the internet is not what brings about just social policies. It's not what ends slave-like labor conditions, or rescues endangered animals, or improves air quality. The WTO protests were imperfect because people are imperfect, but they mattered - they made a difference for individuals and for the world.

I can't prove prove their long-term impact: can we prove that the WTO lost so much power because of the demos - or would that have happened anyway? Can we prove that increased media coverage of economic and labor issues effecting the global South were due primarily to Seattle? Can we prove that mainstream discussions of environmental policy progressed in part because of these events? I can't prove it, but I'm glad I was part of those protests, because even if I can't prove what they did, I'm damn glad I tried to do something.
posted by serazin at 3:49 PM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Kokuryu, that's a pretty reductionist viewpoint I think. What you are in principle supporting - free trade - is arguably completely against the tactics and goals that developed nations take to meetings like WTO, and the Doha trade talks (hence their collapse).

In reality, for developed countries, 'free' trade means the ability to insist that developing countries buy our overpriced, publicly subsidised goods and services instead of their own fledging, once-state-owned-or-promoted industries, whilst simultaneously fucking them as hard as humanly possible over any goods they wish to sell to the west, especially where the goods in question are actually government-owned or the land they're grown on is owned by citizens of the country.

"Free" trade. What a misnomer. If we truly had global free trade, Africa would probably be the richest continent on earth and standards of living in the west would be dramatically lower - and costlier.

Whilst there are no doubt many ignorant, aggressive, protesters doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons - the idea that a global cartel funding our luxurious lifestyles at the price of most of the world's prosperity, health and lives is not worth protesting about, not worth getting angry about, not worth something, is pretty sad to me.
posted by smoke at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The benefits of export-led economic growth to the mass of people in the newly industrializing economies are not a matter of conjecture. A country like Indonesia is still so poor that progress can be measured in terms of how much the average person gets to eat; since 1970, per capita intake has risen from less than 2,100 to more than 2,800 calories a day. A shocking one-third of young children are still malnourished--but in 1975, the fraction was more than half. Similar improvements can be seen throughout the Pacific Rim, and even in places like Bangladesh. These improvements have not taken place because well-meaning people in the West have done anything to help--foreign aid, never large, has lately shrunk to virtually nothing. Nor is it the result of the benign policies of national governments, which are as callous and corrupt as ever. It is the indirect and unintended result of the actions of soulless multinationals and rapacious local entrepreneurs, whose only concern was to take advantage of the profit opportunities offered by cheap labor."

An op-ed on globalization from lefty Paul Krugman
posted by storybored at 5:30 PM on November 28, 2009


I had just gotten to China in October, and I remember hearing about the protests, and wishing I could be there. I think I've still got a bunch of articles from that time talking about the protest, saved somewhere on my computer. It seemed like (and perhaps this is due to the websites I was checking) it was the start of a new thing, that perhaps there would be actual change. I was excited, and sad to be missing out.

10 years later, god, I'm sick of those papier mache big head puppets. It seems like the protest "movement" has devolved into a craft fair/street theater movement. It's like the spectacle is more important than the message, and yeah, it feels like a lot of people are protesting because it's cool. The message is rarely clear, and the more of a spectacle they create, the further the gap between the art school zaniness and people like the organized union protesters become. Had they continued to work together, maybe something could have happened.

And if the teabaggers are supposedly a descendant? That's like finding out you gave birth to a mole person.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:44 PM on November 28, 2009


Automation is the only thing that turns low wage jobs into higher wage jobs. There were once experiments in training pigeons for limited sorts of assembly line work, but the project was abandoned when deemed cruelty to animals. I expect first world nations will eventually ban all products produced by humans working on assembly lines, sure only after full automation is possible, but eventually. A couple other jobs that should be eliminated are long distance trucking and call centers.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:51 PM on November 28, 2009


Currently there is a protest happening in Geneva against the WTO. Police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets. This protest hasn't yet been added to Wikipedia's list of demonstrations against corporate globalization.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:05 PM on November 28, 2009


Didn't we?

I feel ambivalent about the whole thing whenever I read about it, but I like this song.

(no you you didn't.)
posted by wobh at 7:23 PM on November 28, 2009


(Hope me! "we" was suppose to link to this youtube video but I also found a live version edited into the front of this video)
posted by wobh at 7:27 PM on November 28, 2009


"If we truly had global free trade, Africa would probably be the richest continent on earth and standards of living in the west would be dramatically lower - and costlier."


Let's say that all tariff barriers to African goods were dropped. Our standard of living would go up wouldn't it? The primary African exports are resources and agricultural goods. Dropping tariffs would lower the prices that Western consumers pay for food and for goods made from African resources. The living standards of farmers and miners in the West would initially fall, but the net effect would be a gain for the rest of us.
posted by storybored at 8:39 PM on November 28, 2009


serazin, the WTO protests are looked down upon because they were composed of privileged children bear-baiting for sport while claiming to speak on behalf of people who did not ask to be spoken for. They were disasters because they completely failed to communicate a message or win converts or garner sympathy or even present a compelling image besides kids having a blast in a playpen. "Raising awareness" only takes spectacle, but affecting policy requires intelligence, discipline, and a genuine grievance.

P.S. Actual political movements don't have to wonder if they've accomplished anything. They have specific and attainable goals that are pursued until they are achieved.
posted by Ictus at 9:22 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ictus - were you there? Because as I said, when I was there I actually talked to many middle aged union workers, international factory workers and activists, academics and others there. The people I was with there were not "privileged children". There is a legitimate point to be made about the way that middle and upper class white men dominated leadership within the various groups that organized the demos, there are valid critisisms that that massive demo was not adequately followed-up by longer term action, but your generalizations here aren't backed up by statistical evidence, or even anecdotal evidence that is rooted in direct experience.

And bullshit about "actual political movements". Can you prove that SNCC directly changed Jim Crow laws? No. SNCC was part of groups of movements that as an aggregate, eventually brought significant change. Can you prove that the Wobblies gave us the eight hour work day? No. The IWW was one facet of many years of labor organizing, all of which together eventually gave us the right to, say, weekends. Was any one anti-Vietnam protest responsible for ending the war? No, but the war was ended. Show me the evidence for what you're saying because I don't see it. The world isn't a simplistic and linear place where one discrete act leads to a clearly definable change.

Whatever you want to argue about the Seattle protest, I can tell you for sure that most people in this country would never have even heard of the WTO if that protest hadn't gone down. People have a right to contribute to the decisions that impact their lives. Those contributions aren't always in the form of letters to the editor or polite inquiries to the proper authorities. And why should they be? Show me the significant social or political changes that have come about by using only the channels prescribed by the authority being questioned.
posted by serazin at 11:24 PM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Let's say that all tariff barriers to African goods were dropped. Our standard of living would go up wouldn't it?

Nope, because they would put up their prices up immeditately, because western goods cost way, way more.

We would be paying, say, three times more for electronics, produce, and many minerals, just to give a couple of examples. Standards of living would certainly go up in developing countries, as a result of the money flowing back to them - especially if it was flowing into developing country companies, rather than western companies, which are a revenue suck from the other end of the production chain - but it wouldn't do much for those of us in the developed world.
posted by smoke at 2:34 AM on November 29, 2009


I'd like to have the telepathic ability to know how a critical mass of people at a demonstration are hipster wannabes who don't know why they're there.
posted by ersatz at 6:34 AM on November 29, 2009


We would be paying, say, three times more for electronics, produce, and many minerals, just to give a couple of examples.

I'm not following the logic. Help!

Right now most of the electronics are manufactured in Asia. Some of the raw materials for this come from Africa. If tariff barriers on African exports drop, that immediately means lower prices on those raw materials (regardless of where they come from) because of increased supply. That translates into lower prices for electronics.

This is exactly why we've been getting cheap electronics in the first place. There's a defacto free trade situation in cameras, dvds, computers etc between the West and China.

If free trade with Africa was added to the mix, it should push prices down even more.
posted by storybored at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2009


Two things Storybored; labour and import tariffs. You're looking at the wrong end of the supply chain, here. In the developed world we are able to slap import tariffs on almost anything we feel like (whilst insisting developed countries shut the eff up and take our subsidised goods).

This means - in any area with tariffs (primarily resources and agriculture) that countries exporting to the developed world are handicapped so to speak. i.e. to make their prices competitive, they have to be much cheaper than they otherwise would be because the import tariffs are making them more expensive.

So where do they cut costs? Labour, primarily. Which is why China is determined to keep its currency low and its workers cheap. If import tariffs were dropped by the developed world, these countries could immediately increase the cost of their labour, and the value of their currency without the risk of recession, making more money in the process. But this increase wouldn't just affect the tariffed goods, however, it would affect the whole market (why work making tv's for $1 an hour when you can farm produce for $2 an hour?). Thus, prices would rise for many of the cheap goods we take for granted now.

Meanwhile, in the west, without importation barriers some domestic industries would if not collapse than greatly reduce (growing bananas in Australia for example, vs. the Phillippines). Faced with rising prices for many goods and shrinking primary industries, we could expect recessionary symptoms in the western world sparked by less discretionary spending, higher prices and resultant unemployment.

It wouldn't be the end of the world as we know it, but we could expect our living standards to decrease somewhat as the developing world leaps ahead with theirs. I'm grossly oversimplifying here, and no doubt an enterprising mefite will jump in to correct to me, but in a nutshell the present state of affairs is only possible through the near-slavery of much of the world. See Dependency Theory for the gist of what I'm talking about.

Don't get me wrong, however, I'm all for free trade. But certainly not because it benefits me, just most of the world.
posted by smoke at 2:30 PM on November 29, 2009


I'm grossly oversimplifying here, and no doubt an enterprising mefite will jump in to correct to me, but in a nutshell the present state of affairs is only possible through the near-slavery of much of the world.

I'm jumping in to say you are EXACTLY RIGHT even if you slightly summarized. The whole problem is an economy that treats overseas workers as commodities, while American workers are more worth protecting and paying a living wage simply based on the fact that they live in the United States. "All men are created equal" - my ass.

A bit off topic ... It is mind-boggling that in a country which claims to be "Christian" and represent a majority Christian ethic, we never actually employ "give without taking" or "love your neighbor" and instead view the rest of the world as just "out there" laborers, stuck in some rut that many of us seem to think they created for themselves. They're not worth thinking about, relating to, caring for, or paying decent wages to. We put the cost of our fantastic all-the-cheap-oil-and-manufactured-goods-you-want party on the rest of the world, effectively STEALING from them. Just like Jesus would have, right?
posted by cbecker333 at 3:20 PM on November 29, 2009


I shouldn't say we as a country claim to be Christian, but certainly the majority is and believes in the Christian flavor of morality that implies.
posted by cbecker333 at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2009


What? Christians ethics are just as much based upon conquest, conversion, and enslavement as any other successful religion's.

Our moral progress has been due largely to merely understanding the world better, together with an underlying acceptance of universalism. I might even claim said universalism comes from exposure to the scientific method.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:40 AM on December 1, 2009


"So where do they cut costs? Labour, primarily. If import tariffs were dropped by the developed world, these countries could immediately increase the cost of their labour..."

That would be nice if it happened but there's the rapacious capitalist who has a say in this and he makes sure that labor costs *don't* go up.

Say I'm a boss of a manufacturing company in a developing country. My goods are shipping to North America and I currently have to pay a 10% duty. My costs are low enough now, both materials and labor, that i can eke out a profit. Fine.

Now if tariffs were to disappear. What happens? You're saying that my labor costs would rise. But they wouldn't. Because I'm the rapacious capitalist. Why would I suddenly pay more for the labor i currently have. My shop isn't unionized and there are no minimum wage laws.

What does happen is I suddenly have a great 10% increase in my bottom line. I get richer. If I can sustain my competitive advantage I can hire more workers at the same low wages. In developing countries there is so much unemployment I can do this.

At the same time that extra 10% profit means I can *lower* my prices more without taking a loss. If I do not have a competitive advantage which is the more likely situation (because my product is a commodity) I will end up cutting prices to maintain or increase my market share.

Result: Lower prices for everyone.
posted by storybored at 6:13 PM on December 1, 2009


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