Earth Democracy Author, Vandana Shiva, Speaks at WMU

Activist Vandana Shiva Recently Spoke at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo

Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva spoke at Western Michigan University last Thursday on the theme of sustainability, the topic of one of her most recent books,Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.

Shiva began her talk by saying that we live in extremely important times, because the paradigm of fossil fuels consumption is killing us. She also used a comment from the founder of the Indian Satyagraha movement, Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi, when writing about the Western World, said that it “only promotes consumerism and comfort.” But, this model, according to Gandhi, is one that is self-destructive.

Corporate Globalization is a Dictatorship

Shiva then went on to talk about corporate globalization as a form of dictatorship. Corporate globalization uses force to achieve its goals as well as legal and institutional constructs such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). One example the author gave was how the global grain giant Cargill took control of the agricultural policies under the GATT/WTO. Shiva said they wrote the agreement and essentially represented the US at the international level to push through an agricultural policy that would allow them control of much of the world’s grain market.

Another way that Cargill has negatively impacted local agriculture is their dumping of soy oil on the market in India several years ago. Shiva said they were able to do this with huge subsidies, also part of the WTO agreements, which undercut the local market. People could not compete with the price of the soy oil, which was not nearly as good for human consumption as the dozens of other oils that Indians used. In response, women organized a Satyagraha campaign and made their own oil in defiance of the law.

Intellectual Property Rights and Seed Theft

The other main issue that Shiva addressed was the destructive consequences of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights were essentially an expansion of traditional property rights that included seeds, humans, and any other form of life. India had a non-patent framework for products built into their constitution, but that changed with the WTO. What this has meant is that Monsanto controlls 95% of the global seed store. Seeds–which are the ultimate regeneration resource–have now been privatized.

This control of the global seed stock is being manifested in three ways. First, corporations are using genetic modification that necessitates the use of more pesticides, most of which are manufactured by the same corporations. Second, the control of global seed stock means that these corporations can control the price of seeds. So for example, last year Monsanto raised corn seed costs from $200 a bag to $300, which meant that they profited even more off world hunger. The third way they control seed stock was to legally insert into the WTO agreements the inability of farmers to save their own seeds, thus making them dependent on companies like Monsanto to buy their seeds.

One crop where this seed control has been devastating for Indian farmers is with cotton. The GMO cotton seeds that Indian farmers are now forced to buy also require large amounts of pesticides and farmer just end up going into debt. This crisis has resulted in a great deal of resistance, but it has also meant that many Indian farmers have taken their own lives. Shiva said that over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide as a protest of the seed control. One irony with this is that the highest areas of suicide are the same area of Indian where Gandhi’s campaign of homespun cotton began, a campaign that complimented a national boycott of British made clothes from cotton.

Climate Chaos or Earth Democracy

Shiva also addressed the issue of Climate Change, which she said is an inaccurate way of naming the problem. We should call it climate chaos, because with Global Warming, weather patterns have become unpredictable and destabilizing. This, the author/activist said was due to our addiction to fossil fuels.

“We are not phasing out fossil fuels, because they are now used in agribusiness. The toxic nature of fossil fuels agribusiness is killing the soil. 40% of greenhouse gases are produced because of the way we grow and distribute food.”

Shiva believes that the only way to move away from this addiction to fossil fuels, as it relates to agriculture, is a shift to localism, “The local level is where the change must happen, with food production and energy creation. Local food systems are very important and are even an antidote for wars,” Shiva said. “Why did the US go to war in Iraq? Oil. The same is true for Afghanistan and other parts of the world.” She then said that a shift to bio-fuels is not a sustainable solution either. “If all of the corn that is grow in the US right now is used for bio-fuel it would only provide 7% of the fuel needs. So, if the appetite of resource consumption continues then wars are inevitable.”

The author/activist said that the only viable transition away from this corporate structure is what she calls earth democracy:

“The current economic system is based on theft. We have to restore our economy. I started the seed saving group Navdanya as a way of defending life. Life is to be shared, not bought and sold. The earthworm does not eat up the soil that it lives in, it enriches it. We need to catch up to these other species. We need to look to them as teachers, these species, the soil, because that is where life gets renewed. The soil is an alternative to the collapsing economy, to the fossil fuel destruction, and it is an alternative to wars.”

Shiva concluded by saying that earth democracy is different than electoral democracy because in electoral democracy you expect someone else to do it for you, but with earth democracy we must make the changes ourselves.

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Michigan Environmental Group Launches Toy Safety Website

healthytoys.org logo

The Ann Arbor, Michigan based Ecology Center has launched a new website called HealthyToys.org containing the results of tests on over 1,200 children’s toys. The toys were tested for toxic chemicals in response to widespread concern over the safety of children’s toys coming from China. The tests found that “some toys had high levels of chemicals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic,” while only 28% did contain any lead, cadmium, arsenic, or PVC–all of which have been linked to health concerns or are restricted in some capacity by regulatory agencies.

While the website contains an online database to help parents purchasing toys for their children, it does also make it clear that the problem is a result of regulatory failures and that the problem cannot be solved simply by selectively purchasing toys. The group encourages people to contact their elected officials to demand that they restrict the use of toxic chemicals in toys. However, the watchdog group Public Citizen has argued that this might be difficult as World Trade Organization (WTO) rules make it difficult to inspect items coming into the United States, especially when it comes to dealing with “problem” countries.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later

Seven years ago yesterday, protestors in Seattle shutdown the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting and effectively launched an anti-corporate globalization movement that spawned a renewed era of activism and street protests in the United States. Out of this context, groups such as Media Mouse formed and evolved.

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Seven years ago yesterday, protestors in Seattle effectively disrupted and shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting and essentially launched an anti-corporate globalization movement that put the spotlight on a variety of little known entities including the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), the G8, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, the World Economic Forum, and others. In the intervening five years, mass mobilizations across the globe–from Seattle to Cancun–greeted nearly every meeting of the global elites. While the effects of these protests can (and should) be debated, they were successful in establishing a movement in the global north that was able to act in solidarity with movements in the global south to limit the expansion of the neoliberal agenda, with planned agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) or the Doha round of WTO negotiations coming to a standstill due to widespread public opposition while also playing a significant role in reinvigorating an anti-capitalist movement within the United States.

Out of the context of Seattle, Media Mouse was formed here in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1999 and actively participated in the anti-corporate globalization movement. In Grand Rapids there was a rise in activism following Seattle, with groups like Media Mouse and Students Against Sweatshops forming, as well as community, labor, and church groups putting a focus on trade and participating in the movement. Like Seattle and subsequent protests, the resistance in Grand Rapids was varied and incorporated educational events, street protests, and even a coordinated graffiti campaign (in the Grand Rapids Press’ reporting on the Seattle protests they mentioned a graffiti campaign and communiqué by a group calling itself the Midnight Special Committee). Media Mouse, taking its inspiration in part from the global indymedia network and the Independent Media Center movement, emphasized the role that grassroots media plays in building movements for social change and covered protests both in Grand Rapids and across the country. Media Mouse covered the June 2000 protests against the Organization of American States and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Detroit, the April 2001 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City and produced video and photos, the 2002 World Economic Forum protests in New York City, and the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami.

Because of the importance of the WTO and the subsequent anti-corporate protests in Media Mouse’s history, Media Mouse is printing the afterward from a new 64-page booklet on the 1999 WTO protests released yesterday by CrimethInc. While the analysis in the afterward does focus somewhat narrowly on the anarchist portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement, the booklet is essential reading for those involved in movements to challenge corporate power and is useful for remembering an important moment in recent radical history. The forward-looking analysis may be helpful in reinvigorating current movements and fostering a renewed sense of commitment and motivation in light of a disempowering fight to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the invasion of Iraq. Those organizing in the United States should also not lose sight of the fact that while times may be difficult here in this country, recent events in the Americas, from the Oaxaca and Zapatista struggles in Mexico to the electoral victories of leftists in Central America, give plenty of reason to be optimistic.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later…

…From this vantage point, it is possible to interpret the WTO protests according to any number of frameworks. They were a watershed in the development of the contemporary anticapitalist movement, at which thousands of disparate groups discovered each other and the power they could wield together. They were the point at which, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the old “democracy versus communism” opposition, the fundamental dichotomy of global politics was recast as corporate capitalism versus the common people. They were, as the researchers of the RAND corporation self-servingly discovered, the substantiation of theories about how new communications technologies would shape social conflict. They were simultaneously the beginning and the high point of a “movement of movements” which ended when terrorists hijacked the global stage on September 11th, or when communist splinter groups hijacked the anti-war movement a year and a half later, or which continues so long as certain anthropology professors require a subject for inquiry.

The only thing that matters for us anarchists, of course, is what we can learn from the past to act effectively in the present. Does it make sense to pursue “another Seattle,” or is that just a will-o’-the-wisp? Could any of the tactics that succeeded in Seattle be as effective today, or are they subject to a law of diminishing returns?

What Happened in Seattle

Immediately following the Seattle WTO protests, some reformists moaned that the confrontational tactics and far-reaching goals of militant participants alienated people and ruined any chance of concretely affecting national policy. Yet by reformist standards, the so-called anti-globalization movement [1] associated with the Seattle protests achieved practically unprecedented triumphs, and the credit for this must go at least in part to the militants. The next WTO meeting had to be held in Qatar, cementing the image of the WTO as an anti-democratic, oppressive elite. Many of the proposals that had most outraged activists were immediately dropped; likewise, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement is now essentially dead in the water. Some analysts have concluded that the mobilization against corporate globalization peaked early because its goals were not ambitious enough.

In addition to giving the WTO a public image makeover and successfully forcing concessions from it, the militancy of the demonstrators in Seattle pushed its supposed critics to adopt a more uncompromising stance. Organized labor and segments of the Democratic Party have to present the illusion of being oppositional in order to justify their existence. As was frankly acknowledged in the RAND report, they hoped to maintain this illusion and simultaneously absorb and neutralize any radical tendencies by putting in an appearance at the Seattle WTO protests. Once they found themselves caught up in a huge, obviously popular demonstration against the WTO, they had to feign at least some sympathy or else reveal their “opposition” to be a mere pretense. Thus we can see that direct action is the most effective means both for putting pressure on adversaries and for exerting leverage on supposed allies. Even if you don’t want to overthrow the government, forget about voting and petitioning–the only hope for change is in the streets.

Finally, the successes in Seattle brought US anarchists worldwide visibility, along with a needed morale boost, and provided a format for future actions. The “summit-hopping” model made a virtue of the transience that has been such a stumbling block for anticapitalist organizing in North America; like it or not, a movement must make the best of its weaknesses, and if many anarchists couldn’t be counted on to stay in one place long enough to do effective local organizing at least that mobility enabled them to come together occasionally at capitalist summits.

The breakthroughs in Seattle that affected the anarchist community turned out in the long run to be dangerous gifts: as soon as the media attention, the thrill of victory, and the effectiveness of the new model were taken away, many anarchists felt they were back at square one.

A Complex Legacy

In reflecting on the mobilization in Seattle, people often overlook the years of failure that had preceded it. What happened in Seattle was possible precisely because it had been years, if not decades, since so many people joined in disruptive action against a capitalist institution in the US. As noted in the RAND analysis, police expected symbolic arrests à la the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1980s, not the coordinated obstruction and rioting they got. Subsequent mass actions were much more difficult to pull off, as the authorities mobilized every resource to ensure that what happened in Seattle would not happen again.

Despite this, Seattle was followed by a series of demonstrations unlike anything in the preceding decade: Washington, D.C. was shut down the following April by protests against the International Monetary Fund, and a year later the FTAA ministerial in Quebec City occasioned the most intense street fighting since the Los Angeles riots of 1992. All the teargas in the country was no match for the enthusiasm of the anticapitalist movement once people had a model to work from and a structure to plug into. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that the tide finally began to recede, and this occurred primarily as a result of the widespread self-fulfilling prophecy that the high point of anticapitalist mass actions was over. The momentum that followed Seattle was not destroyed by the government response, it was abandoned by those who had maintained it: the most significant question presented by the post-Seattle phase of struggle is not how to handle repression, but how to sustain morale.

After anticapitalists lost the initiative, it was inevitable that the partisans of willful impotence would regain it. Proportionate to the number of participants, the antiwar movement of 2002 to 2003 was incredibly ineffectual, largely due to the machinations of liberals and communists who did their best to prevent anyone from taking effective action. And once the legend of Seattle ceased to be the origin myth of an existing, vibrant movement, it became a burden upon everyone who tried to apply the mass action model. Even though many anarchist demonstrations between 2002 and 2005 put everything that happened in the mid-1990s to shame, they seemed stunted and disappointing compared with the Battle of Seattle. Past accomplishments always cast a shadow over the present, and shadows loom bigger the further the object casting them recedes.

The FTAA ministerial in Miami four years after the Seattle WTO protests showed how much ground anticapitalists had lost and how much their adversaries–both those in uniform and those carrying protest signs–had learned. While there were probably almost as many committed anarchists in Miami as there were in Seattle, far fewer other protesters showed up–partly because Miami is so far from the rest of the US, partly because it has the most reactionary Latino population of any US city, and partly because the ability of anticapitalist networks to bring out protesters had been sapped by demoralization and competition with antiwar organizing. The AFL-CIO duplicitously coordinated with the police while asking demonstrators not to carry out direct action during their march, and the demonstrators–insanely–agreed to this request. This enabled the police to concentrate on beating and pepper-spraying people before the union march, controlling the streets during it, and then viciously brutalizing and arresting everyone who remained in town after it. The police tactics in Miami, which were significantly more aggressive than those of the police in Seattle, showed that the fluke in Seattle was not that the police were so aggressive but that the corporate media were caught off guard and accidentally reported on their violence [2]. Finally, the strategy of the demonstrators in Miami, which consisted of a largely symbolic assault on the fence surrounding the meetings, had no hope of actually interfering with them. The protests in Miami only succeeded in disrupting business as usual and giving the FTAA a bad name because the authorities, still transfixed by the specter of Seattle, went to such lengths to repress them.

As of this writing, the Miami FTAA ministerial is itself three years behind us, and there have been no major mass actions in the US since Bush’s second inauguration almost two years ago. Paradoxically, the good news is that enough time may now have elapsed since the WTO protests that a mass mobilization with a clever strategy could catch the powers that be by surprise again–but the bad news is that anarchists, demoralized from so many years of trying to “repeat Seattle,” may not yet be ready to stake everything on another attempt.

What Next?

The presidential campaign of 2008 will be the next backdrop against which major mass actions can be expected to take place. Whatever misgivings some of us currently have about them, for anarchists not to have a powerful presence in mass actions in 2008 would be tantamount to our disappearance from the national arena of social struggle.

The essential challenge of the mass action model is that its greatest strengths and weaknesses are identical. Working from the physics equation tension=force/area, this model brings together a great number of people in a small space so their coordinated actions can have exponential effects–but with sufficient warning, the state can also concentrate its forces to neutralize their efforts. Consequently, successful mass actions must either come as a surprise themselves or employ an unexpected strategy. At the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, for example, participants outwitted the authorities by dispersing into the countryside to block roads outside the areas where police forces were concentrated.

Effective mass action necessitates that people from a broad range of perspectives work together without limiting each other. In that regard, mass actions are good practice for building the symbiotic relationships fundamental to an anarchist society. The mobilizations that succeeded in Seattle, Quebec City, and elsewhere succeeded because a great number of people simultaneously engaged in a diverse array of complementary tactics. Regardless of the success of a particular action, the ability to do this itself constitutes a victory over the segregation, isolation, and conflict promoted by the capitalist system. In that regard, the Seattle WTO protests were not an unrepeatable miracle, but rather an example of how powerful we can be whenever we find ways to work together.

Suggested Reading

We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism–Through testimony, photos, tactics, and history, this book provides an excellent context for anticapitalist organizing in the years up to and immediately following the WTO protests.

Five Years After WTO Protests” by Chuck Munson–In this article, one of the administrators of http://www.infoshop.org refutes corporate media reports that the movement behind the WTO protests had come to an end by 2004.

N30 Black Bloc Communiqué” by the Acme Collective–Some of the participants in the Black Bloc in Seattle released this excellent and nuanced defense of anarchist property destruction at the WTO demonstrations immediately afterwards.

Demonstrating Resistance,” the feature article in the first issue of Rolling Thunder–This extensive analysis follows the anarchist experimentation with mass action and autonomous action models that occurred between 2000 and 2005, drawing conclusions about what factors must be present for each approach to succeed.

1–Ironically, the “anti-globalization movement” was perhaps the most globally interconnected movement in the history of protest movements. The corporate media christened it with that misnomer because identifying it for what it was–a movement opposing capitalist globalization–would acknowledge the existence of capitalism, and thus the possibility of other social and economic systems.

2–Likewise, as the dramatically militarized police force in Miami consisted of at least six times as many officers as protected the WTO in Seattle, and they faced off against crowds perhaps a fifth the size of those that had gathered in 1999, they could not fall back on the excuse of being “overwhelmed” and forced into violence. If anything, the police in Miami were more violent than those in Seattle, thoughtlessly attacking demonstrators, retired union members, and corporate media reporters alike.

Whose Trade Organization?

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

For many people, the protests at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the first time they heard of the WTO and its agenda. However, activist and public interest groups such as Public Citizen had been monitoring the General Agreement on (GATT) for years and, consequently, have since followed the actions of the WTO. Following the Seattle WTO protests there has been a wealth of information published about the WTO, although much of it has been published in a variety of different sources and mediums, sometimes making it difficult to easily find information on all the different aspects of the WTO and the implications of its policies and rulings. Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition remedies this problem, putting together a wealth of information on all the various components of the WTO–environmental policy, intellectual property provisions, agricultural rules, the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), and numerous other WTO sections–in an easy-to-read and well indexed volume.

Whose Trade Organization systematically goes through the major and minor provisions of the WTO, grouping them into chapters focusing on the environment, food safety, labor, human rights, agriculture, and other such topics. Throughout these broadly focused chapters, the authors present detailed analyses of the various components of the WTO. The authors examine the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rules, the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS), the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, and other components of the WTO, conclusively demonstrating that the WTO is both an oppositional and unaccountable agent in the lives of people around the world, both in the “developed” and “underdeveloped” world.

In addition to the breadth of its content, Whose Trade Organization’s other major strength is the quality of its information and research. Whereas much of the information circulating in activist circles regarding the WTO is presented in very vague ways, Whose Trade Organization discusses the specific sections of the WTO and how they will negatively affect people and the environment, often citing the text of relevant WTO documents. For example, when discussing the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS), the authors explain how the agreement’s function is to set criteria that WTO member nations must follow regarding their domestic policies affecting trade and protection of life and health in food and sets parameters on domestic policies regarding livestock and fisheries. The authors then go on to explain how the primary goal of the SPS is to increase and facilitate trade by eliminating differences in food, animal, and plant regulations among WTO member counties–a goal that undermines countries capacity to craft protective policies by making domestic regulations and their enforcement the subject of WTO review. Additionally, each chapter contains case studies that show the WTO policies in action and describe how they work to undermine democratic government.

Whose Trade Organization is an indispensable resource for anyone involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement, as well as a great introduction to anyone curious about why there has been so much attention focused on the WTO in recent years.

Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodall, Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition, (The New Press, 2004).

Report on the May 22 Actions in Grand Rapids Against the IMF, WB, and WTO

Reprinted from Get Up (June 2000)

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).