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Then, pointing his comments to the gathered youth, Becker added: “In Seattle, you shocked the government and world institutions. You shook the establishment to the roots of the system, you challenged the status quo . . . The world was forced to listen to you . . . You have an idealism that holds no bounds. If this is going to be a better world, it is up to your generation to change history. And history is on your side . . . You put your convictions on the line time and time again. That’s why we won in Seattle, and that’s why we are going to win in D.C.”
Earlier in the week, organized labor flexed its political muscle during the A 12 action. A number of unions, but most prominently the Teamsters and the Steelworkers, joined with activists of the Citizens Trade Campaign and produced 15,000 workers to conduct a “citizen lobby.” Its one single-minded goal: to block the Clinton administration’s aggressive legislative push to grant permanent normalized trading relations to China. Early on in the run-up toward A 16, some prominent activists argued that this pressing trade issue, and not the IMF/WB, should be the major focus after Seattle. That argument was lost, but A 12 was a resounding success, and the administration is currently struggling uphill to find the votes it needs to win the China pact.
Not Where — but What?
HOW TO keep labor in the blue-green coalition emerging post-Seattle is the question crucial to the expansion and consolidation of the new movement for global justice. There was certainly nothing about A 16 that weakened the fledgling alliance. But it’s not clear either that A 16 strengthened it.
The magic of the explosion in Seattle was that it shattered the prevailing official consensus on the international economy. It opened up a much needed space to discuss and review some of the more complicated facets of globalization. And Seattle was, in some ways, beginner’s luck. Its militant tactics are the sort usually seen as a social movement crests, not as it is born. So the world after Seattle is fraught equally with opportunity and peril. Opportunity to enrich and broaden a citizens’ movement for domestic and international economic justice. But also the danger of letting tactics outpace and overwhelm political strategy. “That’s definitely a concern,” says Tom Hayden. “But that’s a logical outcome when politics fail, when electoral politics are bankrupt. Your response can be extreme when you feel no one is listening.”
Indeed. Capitalism is neither reformed nor threatened by a string of shut-down meetings or conventions, from Seattle to D.C. to Philadelphia to L.A. or to next fall in Prague, when the IMF reconvenes. Militant shutdowns cannot be the strategic goal. They are, instead, fertile propaganda-by-the-deed that interrupts official narrative and re-focuses attention on alternatives. But those alternatives have to be clearly drawn and presented.
In that sense, some of the questions raised after Seattle, and now in the wake of A 16, are improperly framed. It’s not so much where we go from here. Because the answer should be political and strategic, not geographical, the question should, instead, be what do we do now? How? And, most importantly, with whom? Our goal is not to feel good or indulge in mere self-affirmation — but to win tangible victories.
It was in that precise context that I had a memorable discussion with Mike Dolan, field director of the Citizens Trade Campaign. As one of the chief organizers of the Battle in Seattle, Dolan concentrated his efforts this week almost exclusively on A 12, the day of labor-backed lobbying against the free-trade pact with China. We chatted outside the Calvary Methodist Church on the night of A 16 as the activists inside charted their plans for the second morning of direct action. I asked Dolan where he would be during that next morning’s street protests.
“I will notbe participating in Monday’s protests,” he answered pointedly. “I have to go back to my real work of confronting the corporate elite on the most important and strategic trade vote still pending before this Congress — the China vote. That’s a real victory we’re about to score for this movement, and I can as much as taste it.”
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