Talk Back on Globalization

Bill McKibben says last winter's protest in Seattle were an attack on something even more pervasive than free trade: the conventional wisdom. How different is the current anti-globalization movement from the anti-war protests of 30 years ago?

Read the article being discussed: "Muggles in the Ozone"

Mon Apr. 10, 2000 12:00 AM PDT

Bryce Oates

I am a family farm organizer and social justice activist, recently graduated from college. I think that today's activism is different from that of the 60s because there is not a major student organization like Students for a Democratic Society for students to be a part of.

There are thousands and thousands of wonderful grassroots student groups working for peace, justice and sustainability. These groups are out there hitting the pavement every day, speaking out against the School of the Americas, corporate-managed "free trade" and the erosion of democracy worldwide.

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However, there are very few national networks or coalitions that bring together students from all over the country to converse about national and international movement-building. In short, we have no Port Huron Statement or SDS to rally around.

As a veteran student activist who is now a farmer and organizer, I know that there are few things more empowering or fun than confronting and embarrassing an elite power-monger (CEO, university president, politician, etc.). However, we need to be concerned about building a movement that sustains itself and flowers into positive social change in the future. Without an infrastructure that allows folks to continue their involvement, we will lose many good people as they graduate and move away from school.

 

Bill McKibben responds:

Good points. I think that more organizing is going to be event-oriented -- e.g. Seattle, or this week's Washington festivities -- than organization-centered. However, what I think we're lacking almost as much as groups are visible leaders who can articulate a deeper message. In some ways the lack of clear leadership is good, but it makes it hard to take the next steps into an ever-more-serious discussion. I'd like a King or a Hayden.

Chris Wiers

My confusion about the Muggles movement is the seeming lack of solidarity among the participants. The 60s movement appeared much more cohesive, a consensus around a short list of values. Naysayers lumped the protesters in Seattle together as anarchists, but this is wide of the mark as an explanatory label for the movement as a whole. (Can we even distinguish a "movement" so early?) Inasmuch as there is a unifying theme for the movement, I agree with McKibben that it is against the economic measure as a supreme value (that is, so long as a project makes or promises money, we can overlook or postpone other, lesser concerns, such as human rights violations or free-speech oppression.). Marx said, in effect, that economics could explain everything; contemporary free-marketers appear to have proved his point. Star pupils.

 

Bill McKibben responds:

Excellent point. The wonderful thing about living in a post-Marxist world, by the way, is that dissent is less scary to potential dissenters -- that is, you don't run the risk of being labelled a communist because no one takes communism as a serious threat any more. By the way, I'm not certain that the 60s movement was much more cohesive -- there were political radicals and cultural radicals then too, and their paths often diverged.

Ben Ament

Much of the difference between then and now is the numbing nature of our collective experiences. The 60s had focus: peace could win over violence. But the violence was selective. The violence was in Vietnam. The violence was against blacks in the US. The violence was not indiscriminate. It could be fought. It was not in our schools. It was not violence brought to children by children. It was brought by power structures against those who could do little to resist.

Many of us are numbed by a helplessness brought about because we no longer know what to protest. And many of the obvious protest targets are victims themselves. Do we protest against our own children? Is it the fault of our schools? Where do we start?

Corporate structures encompass us. We depend on them for our financial survival. We depend on them for our physical sustenance. We seem to have reached the point of believing that if we protest the WTO, we are then protesting the very thing that sustains us and gives us hope. Our collective futures, we are told, ride with the fate of the corporation. We watch our retirement portfolios and believe it.

We are numbed with the novacaine of our collective experience into inaction. We have been taught to not bite the hand that feeds us.

 

Bill McKibben responds:

Beautifully put. And the best way out of numbness is to do something -- to protest, to volunteer, to do both. Anything that puts you in touch with deeper emotions and more real contact with others. If that sounds a little giddy, I was in downtown D.C. this morning for a truly creative protest that Ozone Action mounted outside the World Bank, and it reminded me anew of how powerful such things can be for the participants, never mind the viewers on the tube.

Matt Sadler

I can not compare today's struggle to that of the Vietnam war era because I was not even born at the time, but being a young man in today's society I felt it would be relevant if I explained my feelings about this new protest movement. It seems to me that we protest now because we are scared. And because we yearn to protest something to escape the mundane lives we all live.

We are long past the era of completely trusting the government to do what is in our best intrest, and technology has moved so rapidly we seldom have time to weigh its consequences. We are scared of all we don't know. Todays youth are troubled because of the surreality reality has taken on. We are looking for someone to trust and for control over our own lives -- a control which can never be fully realized. We search for happiness, and for equality and all the same ideals that drove the 60s counterculture. More and more of today's society is rejecting money as the principle source of happiness, but we don't know where else to find it. We are confused, and angered that the world can be so cold and heartless. But we want to change the world to make it better.

Free trade is good; perhaps we should reexamine those in charge instead of trying to destroy the whole system. Free trade has given you your clothes, your shoes, your bike, your computer, and has generated more financial weath and comfort than any other system devised by man. Sure, the distrubution of wealth is a problem, but one that can be remedied through constructive analysis and change rather than replacement of the system.

 

Bill McKibben responds:

No one is going to replace "the system." Pretty much everyone agrees that markets allocate things more efficiently than other mechanisms. But what we are going to do is say some things are too important to be left to markets: human rights, the temperature of the planet, to name just two. Those we need to figure out ways to set apart from the market and protect for their own reasons.

 

Read last week's discussion on globalization.

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