"drilling, spilling and killing": why we protest, part two

This is the second part of my report on the "Shout Out for Global Justice" event that I attended on Friday, June 25. Part One is here.

* * * *

Next Amy Goodman took the stage. Her first three words were: "Drilling, spilling and killing." These so-called world leaders gathered here for the G20, she said, are not discussing how to fix the world's problems, but how to augment them.

Goodman related a few stories from Democracy Now!'s travels in the US Gulf of Mexico states right after the BP disaster. The fishermen whose lives have been devastated by the explosion, temporarily hired on cleanup crews, were afraid to talk to NPR because they had all been forced to sign hush contracts - forbidding them to speak in exchange for work.

This is why, she said, we need a media covering oil disasters that is not brought to us by energy companies.

Goodman read about the latest Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. (Two more were announced today.) This brings the number of Canadian forces killed in Afghanistan to 150. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed in that war-for-oil. And the only thing sadder, Goodman said, than knowing those numbers, is not knowing the numbers of Afghans who have been killed.

She mentioned Brock McIntosh, a US Afghanistan veteran who is speaking out against the war there, and the brave veterans, many in uniform - which puts them at great risk for military arrest, court-martial and punishment - who lead peace marches during the 2008 US political conventions. But the public never saw them on mainstream media.

This is why we need a media covering war that is not brought to us by weapons manufacturers.

A media covering the US health care crisis and the piecemeal privatization of Canadian public health care that is not brought to us by insurance companies.

"Two hundred tea-partiers hold a protest," Goodman said, "and their numbers are dwarfed by the number of mainstream media reporters covering the show. 15,000 people participate in the People's Climate Conference in Cochambamba, Bolivia, and 200,000 people crowd the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit, and no corporate media covers it."

This is why we need a media not brought to us by the same companies who profit from war and globalization and privatization.

Goodman told the story of the arrest and police abuse of herself and her colleagues at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. When she showed her media credentials, a secret service agent ripped them from her neck and confiscated them. One of her colleagues was dragged by her legs, face-down on the street. They were charged with felony offenses. Many in the audience didn't know about this, and they were gasping.

Right now, here in Canada, Goodman said, we are seeing the criminalization of dissent. A billion dollars spent on security means there is a truth they need to contain. She smiled and asked, "A billion dollars to contain all of you?"

* * * *

Leo Gerard spoke next. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers, and vice-president of the AFL-CIO. I imagine that for many in the audience, Gerard was the least interesting speaker, but his presence at the event was crucial. It is only through organized labour that workers can succeed in challenging corporate power. Even when workers unite, the battles are dire and desperate. But alone, it is hopeless. And when I say "organized labour," that doesn't have to mean a traditional union, although that may work. Vandana Shiva's farmer's networks are organized labour, too.

Gerard grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, a mining community with deep union roots. The town has been devastated by the mining giant Vale Inco. The mine workers of Sudbury have been on strike a full year. But still, facing so much pressure and loss, they stood strong and overwhelming rejected Vale's latest insulting offer. They have help and support from union leadership and rank-and-file all over Canada and the US, and they set an example for all of us. Gerard acknowledged the Sudbury strikers from the stage and all the union activists in the audience cheered them.

When Vale Inco came to Sudbury, it promised to be part of the community. Instead, it created a social disorder that, no matter what the settlement, will reverberate in the community for generations. And the Canadian government didn't just let this happen, Gerard said. The government made it happen.

He said that right now in Canada, 475,000 people are currently collecting Employment Insurance, but at least that many more have given up looking for work and are ineligible for the narrowly-defined benefits.

He reminded us that all over the US, people lost their homes and their life savings, taxpayers were forced to bailout the financial institutions from the mess they themselves created, and the heads of those companies helped themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

Economic sustainability, Gerard said, means regulation. It means a tax on global financial transactions. It means an end to the idea that we can have either good jobs or a clean environment - for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, we will have both or we will have neither.

* * * *

After more incredible rhythm music from the Raging Asian Women, John Hilary spoke. Hilary is director of UK-based War on Want. War on Want is an anti-poverty organization that understands that poverty is political. It works in partnership with people in developing countries, campaigning for human rights, and against the root causes of global poverty: inequality and injustice. It works with farmers, factory workers and people living on the margins of society, building networks and communities - not for charity, but for lasting change.

Hilary told us that Canada's image in EU countries has taken a drastic downturn, as former PM Paul Martin travels around lecturing on deficit reduction. How should countries reduce their fiscal deficits? By visiting pain on the poorest sectors of society, through drastic cuts to the social welfare systems.

It took decades to build these public systems so that seniors could live in dignity, children could be cared for while parents worked, and taxes could be used to help people meet their basic needs. And with one stroke of a corporate-government pen, these vital systems are destroyed. To Europeans who care about social justice, "Canada" now means the most regressive and socially unfair economic model.

We're seeing, Hilary said, a kind of macho game among governments to see who can cut the most services. With an emergency budget, the UK saw 25% of its public services cut, 500,000 public-sector jobs eliminated, and the VAT, the most regressive tax that hits working people the hardest, raised yet again.

And it's even worse for countries dependent on the IMF. Latvia saw a full 40% of its public spending cut in order to receive IMF funding. (If you've read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, you know how that works.)

The G8/G20, Hilary said, has declared war on working people and marginalized communities. The bankers get a free ride and we pay for the crisis they caused.

Now, he warned, the Canada/EU free-trade agreement that is being negotiated behind our backs is privatizing sectors of our society that we don't even realize can be traded away: water, health care, indigenous resources.

The G8/G20 is reviving all the failed institutions that caused such poverty and destruction in the 1990s: the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank. The re-emergence of these failed institutions goes to the heart of the illegitimacy of the G8/G20.

Hilary reminded us that the so-called leaders will emerge from their conference saying they will help this country or that need with a few million here and there. "They will dole out little bits of charity and aid. Don't get taken in!"

* * * *

Next came the other speaker, with Vandana Shiva, I was most excited to see, Pablo Solon, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN. In an amusing sidenote, emcee R. H. Thomson mistakenly introduced Solon as the "Bolivian ambassador to the US". Solon reminded us that Bolivia has no ambassador to the US, because they kicked the US embassy out of their country!

Solon was a water warrior; now he is a water warrior ambassador. If you saw the movie "The Corporation," you know something about the stunning victory of the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia over the Bechtel corporation, reversing the unilateral privatization of Bolivia's water supply. I have not yet seen the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars but I'm told it's a must.

Solon's present battle - the battle he urges us all to join, the battle the Council of Canadians leads in Canada and Maude Barlow leads in the UN - is to have water declared a human right. We must bring a UN declaration of Water As A Human Right to a vote, and, Solon said, "We must expose those countries who vote against it, as sometimes we must expose vampires."

After the people of Cochabamba kicked Bechtel out of their country, Bechtel sued Bolivia for $30 to $100 million to recover what they said were their losses. After a ten-year court battle in which the people would not surrender, Bechtel was paid damages of one dollar. And they left.

Then the people of Bolivia went on to re-nationalize all the industries that had been privatized: gas, oil, banking. "We re-nationalized our government," Solon said, which brought great cheers. Bolivians created public jobs, raised salaries, restored and increased social benefits. "We can do this," he said, "because we now control the economic power of the country, not the corporations." Before, 82% of the profits of the energy sector went into private hands, and 18% went into the public coffers. Now 18% goes to private hands and 82% is reinvested in the public sector. And do you know what? The companies still see a profit. There is no deficit. There is a surplus.

This is why we must listen to people like Pablo Solon and Vandana Shiva. They bring us living proof that another world is possible.

Solon spoke of the urgency of climate change and establishing "Mother Earth rights," as the people's climate conference in Cochabamba established. "We must recognize," he said, "that there are some things that cannot be commodified."

* * * *

As I said, I had to leave during Naomi Klein's talk and I didn't see Maude Barlow. I heard Barlow was a bit overwhelming and depressing, giving a litany of statistics and not a lot of hope. But I wasn't there. Barlow and everyone from the Council of Canadians deserve heaps of credit for organizing and promoting this incredible evening.

The part of Klein's talk that I did hear outlined how the G20 - which seems to have appeared out of nowhere - was created by Paul Martin, Bill Clinton and Larry Summers in 1999. Three powerful men choosing a few regional players who were friendly to North American interests to help the world's most powerful nations create the conditions that caused the global economic crisis. Summits like the G8 and the G20 are attempts to sideline and marginalize an already-weak United Nations, so these rich, powerful countries can't be outvoted by the world's poor.

Klein also mentioned how weird it is seeing Stephen Harper lecture the world on how to manage their countries, when she's not sure why Harper is allowed to run this country.

Of course we all laugh and applaud, but really. Why?

No comments: