You might not see things yet on the surface, but underground, it’s already on fire. - Indonesian writer Y.B. Mangunwijaya

The surface reports of the recent Quebec City trade talks belie their real import. The mainstream media reported on the heads of state, the official pronouncements, free trade as if it were. The U.S. president declared the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is about “liberty and democracy.” We saw images of the police fighting protesters, the tear gas, and the fence “protecting” those gathered to negotiate an agreement.

Nowhere in the mainstream media did we read substantive stuff of the drama. No one mentioned the power being wrested from sovereign states, giving corporations the right to sue governments when health or safety or environmental policies limit their capacity to make profits. Nowhere was there debate about the proposed expansion of corporate power to challenge governments’ “monopoly” on public services. Nowhere was there a call to accountability for the fact that under NAFTA the U.S. has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, while Mexican workers’ wages have fallen even lower than pre-NAFTA earnings.

Most telling of all, nowhere did we gain a sense of the resistance afoot against increasing corporate globalization as exemplified in the trade regimes. An eyewitness letter written by a New England professor sharpens the images considerably. Here is Steve Chase’s description of his experience in Quebec:

Nowhere in the pages of the Boston Globe did I find a picture of the festive, huge, completely peaceful, four-hour long Peoples Summit of the America march and rally on Saturday that brought out around 30,000 trade unionists from Canada, the US, Mexico, Haiti, Columbia, Brazil as well as over 20,000 environmentalists, human rights campaigners, feminists, community organizers, student activists, and consumer advocates to march through town with brilliantly colored signs, flags, banners, giant puppets, drummers, and chants like “This is what democracy looks like!” or “So.. So.. So.. Solidarity!” or “No Globalization Without Representation” in English, French, and, sometimes, in Spanish.

This amazing coalition of people marching together was awe-inspiring. The march was so big that it took three hours for all the marchers, marching shoulder to shoulder and crushed tightly together across a six lane highway, to move completely past a single intersection. The march went on and on and on, cheered by a hundred Haitian activists drumming and singing as we moved by, as well as the chanting of the “Raging Grannies,” a collective of elderly activist women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s….We were also waved at and shouted to by many spectators standing out on their porches and balconies, many of whom flashed us the V-sign for victory.

This crowd was not the relative handful of purple-haired, body-pierced, and scruffy-looking young people that were featured in photos in the newspapers back here in the States. No, this was tens of thousands of ordinary people of all ages—most of them in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and several marching with their young children. I remember one “union” kid, probably around nine or ten years old, carrying a hand painted sign in French that said, “End the exploitation of child labor now!” That looked like a good photo opportunity to me, but according to the Boston Globe, this child and her parents simply don’t exist. We were all but erased from the official record. I even checked the AP photo database of the Summit protests on the web and, out of 332 photos, I didn’t find a single photo of this march—the main march of the weekend’s protest events! Nor was there anything of the week-long teach-in/conference that had preceded the summit of national leaders and brought together thousands of rank and file labor activists and members of NGOs to study the issues surrounding corporate globalization and “free trade.” Ah, a free press is a precious thing. I look forward to having one some day.

We are faced with two questions: 1) What are the implications of these trade agreements? 2) Why is our media so silent to those implications? Perhaps we could explain the silence if it were merely an aberration, a first-time occurrence. It is not. In Seattle, November 1999, 50,000 people engaged in a massive teach-in, involving people from all over the world who were united in opposition to the Bretton Woods institutions—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In cities across the world, massive protests have dogged all the gatherings of international trade regimes for the past year and a half. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, January, 2001, 15,000 people gathered to declare “A different world is possible,” and to actively engage that agenda.

Also missing from media reports in this country was coverage of the “Ten-point plan for the Americas.” Launched by consumer, labor, environmental and other international civil society groups in Quebec, the ten-point plan includes protecting the ability of governments to set health, safety and other public interest regulations that cover both domestic and foreign investors and companies; stopping the corporate patent protectionism that is keeping vital AIDS medicines and seeds out of the hands of poor people in the hemisphere; ensuring that services needed for survival, such as health, education, water, energy and other basic social services, are not subject to trade rules; and ensuring that citizens and governments—not transnational corporations—have the right to make decisions about the use and protection of natural resources. A copy of the full action plan is available at

The next critical step for the FTAA, and all other trade regimes currently being negotiated, is for Congress to define President Bush’s negotiating authority. He will be asking Congress this summer for fast-track authority which would limit Congress’ approval of any trade agreement to a “yes” or “no” vote once it has been negotiated, no amendments allowed. Given the scope of what is at stake with the FTAA and other current trade negotiations, it is critical that Congress deny President Bush fast-track authority.

The implications of these trade agreements are so large that it is no exaggeration to say the future of life on planet Earth is at stake. One need only look at the fact that the Summit of the Americas in Quebec prompted the biggest police action in Canada’s history to realize that the picture is far more encompassing than “free trade.” How broad and how deep the resistance is anyone’s guess. That it is international in scope, diverse in its enormous cast of characters, and united in opposition to corporate hegemony is certain. How long the fire will remain underground is yet to be determined.

Marilyn Welker is a local activist, member of Simply Living and presently working on globalization issues.

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