My trip to Quebec City
During April 16-21, I accompanied seven other U. S. citizens to Quebec City, Canada, to participate in the Second Peoples Summit of the Americas and to join forces with others in opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Our task throughout the weeks activities was to build a strong international campaign to oppose corporate globalization, and to articulate our vision for farm and food policies that pay family farmers a fair price for the food that they grow while guaranteeing high-quality, affordable food for all people.
Other members of our delegation included Bill Christison (Missouri Rural Crisis Center and National Family Farm Coalition), Kathy Ozer (National Family Farm Coalition), Felder Freeman (Federation of Southern Cooperatives), Ron Morrissette (Rural Vermont), Dexter Randall (Rural Vermont), Heather Fenney (Rural Coalition), and Susan Davidson (Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network). Several hundred other U. S. residents came to Quebec to participate in related forums and events, with thousands of others staying home for local actions and events related to the proposed FTAA (an extensive list of these local events can be viewed at <http://www.stopftaa.org>
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is the name given to the process of expanding NAFTA to all the other countries of Western Hemisphere, with the exception of Cuba. The FTAA, if put into place by the 34 domestic governments in the hemisphere, will be the largest free trade zone in the world with 800 million participants representing a combined gross domestic product of $11 trillion. The FTAA is supported by corporations representing agribusiness, manufacturing, energy, finance, and other sectors of the economy.
Neoliberal trade regimes such as NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, and the proposed FTAA put the race to the bottom process into practice. Corporations scour the globe looking for the most regressive health, labor, environment, and agriculture standards. Broad-based support for family-farm based food production, clean air and water, fair wages, and the right to determine local culture and economy are subjected to the whims of corporate greed. Far from developing democratic economies as the free traders would have us believe, these policies exploit local people and resources for the benefit of corporate investors and financial speculators.
Little did we know it, but getting to the event would be a challenge in itself. Organizers and activists from the U.S. and other countries were harassed and turned back in preparation for the Peoples Summit. When I arrived in Montreal, I was immediately sent to customs to be investigated for coming to Canada. My backpack full of pro-democracy, pro-family farm, pro-fair trade propaganda was searched through and numerous pages were copied in an obvious attempt to gather intelligence on the fair trade movement. The customs officials were especially interested in names and phone numbers of contacts, information that would help them to link up the diverse segments of the anti-FTAA movement. Heather even had her personal daybook and planner searched and copied. After two and a half hours in customs, we were on our way to Quebec City.
During April 17 and 18, farmers from all over the Western Hemisphere met to share information, conduct small group discussion sessions, create action plans, and to formulate a declaration outlining our vision for the fair farm and trade policies. Missouri farmer Bill Christison explained the U.S. experience with free trade: low prices, farmers going broke, record agribusiness profits, and a lack of community food security. Each speaker concluded his or her remarks with a call to action, urging farmers and rural people to combine our efforts into a hemispheric alliance for fair prices, food security, and policies that would better balance supply with demand.
We heard from the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil and their efforts for access to land and the freedom that comes along with ownership of resources. From Ecuador, we learned about the indigenous movement to reclaim their cultural and economic heritage, and their general strike that ground the country to a halt resulting in the entire government being replaced. We heard about the efforts of Caribbean farmers role in the banana wars, and their success in promoting fair trade goods as a successful model for economic development. Jose Bove also participated in the Summit, telling the story of how he became a peasant farmer through his work for environmental and social justice.
Farmers from every country were telling similar stories of corporate concentration on both the input and purchasing sectors. Farmers compete for markets and go broke while agribusiness corporations cooperate for large returns on their investments. Free trade means more production, but a lack of food security reserves that creates the situation for possible shortages of commodities. Free trade means fewer farmers, and rapid urbanization as farmers move to the cities to compete for already scarce jobs. Free trade means record profits for Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson, Wal-Mart, and Philip Morris, and lower wages for family farmers and farm workers.
To combat this corporate agribusiness and trade agenda, farm groups at the forum agreed to participate in a better coordinated effort to implement our policy agenda. Groups agreed to work through Via Campesina, the international farm and peasant organization that is based upon the principles of local sovereignty, fair wages for farmers and farm workers, and food security. Within North America, members of the National Family Farm Coalition, the National Farmers Union of Canada, and several organizations from Mexico agreed to expand our cooperative efforts. We discussed a possible summer meeting to further explore these relationships, and to bring farmers to other countries in order to tell their stories about how corporate agribusiness is exploiting their communities.
Farmers took the message from our Forum to the Peoples Summit, where we joined with other forums including Womens Issues, the Environment, Labor, Human Rights, and Parliamentarians groups to outline a comprehensive agenda for fair trade and democracy. Several thousand people attended this Peoples Summit, including hundreds of other U.S. citizens.
This document was presented to the Peoples Summit and at a press conference explaining our experience with free trade and the policy positions we are proposing to replace the failed model of corporate profits at the expense of farmers, working people, and the environment.
On Thursday, we joined hundreds of protestors at the Quebec Minister of Agricultures Office to speak out against their administrative support for genetic engineering in agriculture. The event involved a rally with chants and speakers, colorful theatre and puppet shows, and GMO-free sandwiches and snacks for lunch. Canadian citizens were glad to hear about our efforts through the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture to impact U.S. farm planting decisions. We were able to help get out the message that food security is threatened by corporate ownership of the seed supply through private patents. People were also interested in hearing about the citizens movement to oppose corporate welfare for GMO research with public dollars in numerous U. S. states.
With our policy proposals and action plans agreed upon, we turned our attention toward the FTAA and the meeting of heads-of-state to implement the corporate trade plan. Knowing that they faced strong opposition from a diverse group of grassroots organizations, students, labor, farmers, and other concerned citizens, the free traders held their meeting behind a ten-foot wall of chain link fence and concrete pylons. Dubbed the wall of shame, this fence became a symbol of the free traders anti-democratic, closed-door approach to policymaking.
Friday and Saturday, Peoples Summit participants took our message to the streets with marches, rallies, and protests. While marching throughout the streets of Quebec, our numbers grew as local citizens that joined us in our carnival against the FTAA. This community support continued throughout the weekend, with cab drivers, food service workers, and other locals giving the free traders the international salute time and time again: the fully extended middle finger. Globalize this, read a popular t-shirt.
When we arrived at the fence to draw attention to the FTAAs impacts on private individuals lives, the police showed their impatience for popular mass movements. After numerous chants and songs, the police started shooting and lobbing tear gas into the crowd of nonviolent protesters. The face-to-face contact was limited with the police, as they seemed to choose the tactics of low intensity conflict. They attempted to disperse our crowd with tear gas saturation in the air.
Its clear by now, both to the people of the world and the corporate elites, that the new world order is trashing democracy to promote their free trade agenda. Whether they attempt to silence our outrage with tear gas, rubber bullets, or the rhetoric of economic development, the movement against corporate globalization is growing among citizens of all ages, races, and nationalities. Farmers and organized labor, women and men, environmentalists and human rights activists, and many other diverse constituencies are coming together around a common agenda for local sovereignty, international cooperation, fair wages, and social and economic justice. We have moved beyond merely criticizing the corporate agenda to proposing clear alternatives.
As the pictures of the FTAA free traders meeting revealed (almost entirely powerful men in dark-colored suits), corporate globalization means the creation of more wealth for the rich. Our movement, in contrast, is made up of the Missouri family farmer that is fighting for a fair price for soybeans and livestock, the Ecuadorian woman organizing to reclaim her indigenous culture, the Quebec steelworker working for fair wages, and the Bolivian village protesting the destruction of their fisheries. That diversity and the dialogue that occurred between peoples in Quebec is a true step toward creating a just and democratic world.
We have drawn our line in the sand during this round of the trade wars. The WTO, NAFTA, GATT, and now the FTAA are treaties that bind the people to the mandate of corporate capital and investment. Its going to be an interesting and difficult fight for us in the U.S. President Bush and his Congressional allies are pushing for fast track trade authority (Bush calls it presidential trade promotion authority), which will limit debate and disallow amendments from members, in order to shove the FTAA through Congress without much public participation.
For us in the farm community, President Bush is holding farmers hostage by saying that farm and rural prosperity will be dependent upon passage of fast track and the FTAA. Our struggle for a farmers living wage and food security is not even on the Bush Administrations radar screen. As the debate on farm policy expands during the next year and a half (Farm Bill reauthorization is upon us), we will need to use this opportunity to criticize the corporate trade agenda while proposing our policy positions as real solutions to the continuing rural crisis.
After meeting the other faces of opposition to the corporate trade agenda, I know that we can claim victory in our struggle. They may have the tyranny of military repression on their side, but we are on the side of justice and democracy.
The corporate elites may try to wrap their institutions in the rhetoric of freedom, but my Grandma (I like to think of her as the Sage of the Bluestem Prairie) has always told me that actions speak louder than words. In the streets of Quebec City, she was proven right yet again.
|Published in In Motion Magazine, April 29, 2001.
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