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Lost in Cyberspace


© 2000 by H.B. Koplowitz

Lately I've been trying to understand the protesters who descended on Seattle and Washington, D.C., with their next declared convergence to be this summer's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: I must really be getting old.

I mean, once upon a time there wasn't a cause I didn't love. Civil rights, pacifism, perhaps more grudgingly feminism and gay lib, but save the whales, boycott grapes, no nukes, you name it and I was there. So when did I get so out of touch with the revolution that I don't know the difference between the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, much less the groups that make up the movement? Heck, I don't even know what to call the movement anymore.

Take every tree-hugging, Kathie Lee baiting, Tibetan, vegan perennial protester who shows up at political events as religiously as the guy who holds up biblical citations at football games, sprinkle in some reputable celebrity consumer advocate types, season with populist fears of the future and desire for simpler times, then half-bake in a generation of young people yearning for a cause and what do you get? How about globaphobes?

So I went online to try and figure out this globaphobia thing, and it turns out that the terminology may have changed, but many of the issues are the same -- human rights, the environment and good old-fashioned colonialism and capitalist greed. Such groups as "Global Exchange" <>, "Sweatshop Watch" <> and "Corporate Watch" <> blend the same volatile mix of structure and anarchy, nonviolence and militancy as the activists of the '60s, along with a media awareness every bit as savvy as the Yippies. And now, of course, they use the Internet to organize and spread the word.

The nascent anti-globalization movement first began to congeal in opposition to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and "fast track," which would have made it easier for the Clinton administration to negotiate trade agreements. Not exactly hot button issues. But under the broad banner of global justice, people as diverse as environmentalists and union leaders, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, found themselves in the same unwieldy coalition.

Globaphobia's Woodstock was Seattle, a surprisingly large and effective protest last November during which 50,000 exuberant and sometimes riotous demonstrators representing a smorgasbord of causes flummoxed a meeting of the World Trade Organization, an obscure multinational bureaucracy that tries to remove obstacles to free trade. In addition to Y2K jitters and the Seattle Police Department, whose overreaction brought the protests to world attention, much of the credit for the success of the "Battle in Seattle" goes to the fledgling Direct Action Network <>, which uses many of the same tactics as activist groups in the '60s -- not just mass demonstrations but teach-ins, street theater and boycotts.

Other umbrella groups involved in the Seattle and Washington protests include the Mobilization for Global Justice <> (A16 is globaspeak for April 16, the date of the Washington protest) and "50 Years is Enough" <> (it's been about 50 years since the creation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund). The April protests of meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington were less successful, but organizers have vowed to gather again during this summer's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Except for places like Cuba and Iraq, the Clinton administration generally supports globalization. It argues that free trade creates jobs, increases competition and lowers prices while helping poor countries develop their economies and promote human rights and democracy. But globaphobes say all free trade promotes is capitalism, and that it only enriches first-world corporations and third-world dictators at the expense of indigenous people and everyone's environment.

Just who is the enemy? So far it seems to be businesses that cater to yuppies, like Nike, The Gap and Starbucks, and international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, who make the Trilateral Commission seem like pikers.

The World Trade Organization <> is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was created in 1947 and became part of the WTO in 1995. The WTO promotes economic globalization by adjudicating disputes between nations over barriers to trade, which can include health, safety or environmental laws. Because its rulings can take precedence over the laws of individual states, kind of like the United Nations, it has drawn fire not only from environmentalists and labor unions but also populists, right-wing militias and others opposed to the "New World Order."

The World Bank <> lends about $30 billion a year to the governments of poor countries. It was created following World War II to help rebuild Europe, but after the Marshall Plan came along it shifted its focus to Africa, Latin America and Asia, where its declared mission is "to reduce poverty by promoting sustainable economic growth in its client countries." For many years it was headed by Robert McNamara, who ran it about as well as he did the Vietnam War.

The International Monetary Fund <> was also set up after the Second World War to make short-term loans to stabilize currencies. Dominated by rich countries, especially the U.S., it, too, makes economic development loans to poor countries and tries to help manage their economies. But both the World Bank and IMF have funded a lot of megaprojects like dams, factories and oil pipelines that benefitted multinational corporations while exploiting underdeveloped nations.

As harmful as the projects themselves has been the crushing debt payments on the loans, which now totals some $2 trillion and is the single largest expenditure for some debtor nations, forcing them to further cut spending on health, education and welfare. Separate but aligned with the anti-globalizationists is an ecumenical movement called the "Jubilee 2000 Coalition" <>. Jubilee 2000 wants the World Bank and other financial institutions to simply cancel the debts owned to them by the poorest countries, which is kind of like Visa or Mastercard sending you a letter saying you no longer need to pay off your credit cards. Now there's a cause I can support.

Copyright 2000 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

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