The WTO and Mumia Abu Jamal

Michael Albert


World Trade Organization treats working people in countries throughout the world

as assets to manipulate in pursuit of private corporate profit. From Guatemala

to South Africa and from Thailand to the South Bronx, this causes

impoverishment, illness, and even mass starvation. When resistance to

exploitation follows, the flip side of exploitative trade and aid policies is

coercive repression. We need change, yet we cannot civilly persuade people who

regard us as a target for exploitation, manipulation, and repression that they

ought to curtail the pain their policies cause because of humanitarian concern.

They don’t care about our humanity or that of a 15 year-old earning $1.50 a day

in Jakarta or dying of starvation in Malaysia. Instead, to get change from

economic elites, we need to raise social costs until the elites see that

maintaining their policies will cost them so much that they must relent.


to the raise social costs of maintaining abhorred policies, however, come in two

broad types. (1) They can fight for immediate reforms, such as reversing WTO

policies, as ends in themselves with no further aspirations, taking as given the

underlying relations of the economy. (2) They can fight for the same immediate

reforms, but seeking to empower constituencies to create lasting infrastructure

and organization and to raise consciousness and commitment, all leading to

winning further gains and ultimately transforming underlying relations.


are many differences between these broad approaches, each of which, however may

use letters and lobbies, teach-ins and leaflets and rallies, speeches and

marches, civil disobedience and even massive strikes and more militant

disruptions to convey to elites that they have to change course or suffer

unacceptable losses of legitimacy and stability. But, differences aside, I want

to make a single, simple proposal that I hope both wings of anti-WTO activists

will find congenial: WTO activists should reject WTO policies and economic

hardship and oppression, of course – but also Mumia Abu Jamal’s incarceration

and pending execution as well as coercive repression more broadly.


U.S. is hell-bent on killing Mumia in large part to make a powerful statement

about the efficacy of state repression. This death penalty, like lynching in the

past, is in considerable part meant to send a message about the futility of

opposition. Mumia does not deserve to die. Moreover, activists should not sit

idly by while repression is legitimated by lethal injection. Sincere advocates

of social justice seek liberty for the oppressed and resist efforts to destroy

opposition to injustice. They thus work to save Mumia Abu Jamal just as they

fight exploitative globalisation. The only way to save Mumia, however, is to

raise social costs sufficiently to force a new trial. But to raise social costs

requires activism of many shapes and forms and …and diverse activism is what

Seattle is about. The anti-globalisation movement is big, visible, and recently

relatively rich in assets. What an opportunity it has to reverse one of the most

damaging attributes of contemporary movements – their parochialism and

single-issue narrowness.


isn’t that every movement needs to enunciate all demands of every other movement

all the time. Of course not. But it should be obvious to all, it seems to me,

that prospects for winning major gains on a grand scale – and turning back

international trade agendas or U.S. domestic repressive agendas are, in fact,

major gains on a grand scale — are enhanced rather than reduced by building

solidarity among movements and especially by bridging long-standing gaps and

even chasms. At this moment Mumia and the WTO are arguably the two most pressing

focuses of political activism in the U.S. The trade agreements are in process.

Mumia’s date of execution is currently set for December 2. Neither struggle is

peripheral in any sense. To have many members of each of these movements openly

support the aspirations of the other would go a long way to creating trust and

broadening consciousness in both cases, and to communicating to elites that

their policies are having still another effect they can’t afford – uniting

opponents of injustice. More, all indications so far are that in the U.S. WTO

organizing is being done, overwhelmingly, by white activists. So in addition to

the general benefits of mutual support, we have the possibility of a largely

white-led movement taking the initiative in expressing solidarity with the Black

community over preventing the execution of a very prominent black political

figure. Imagine that Ralph Nader or Noam Chomsky was awaiting execution. Would

their plight enter the consciousness and visible manifestations of the folks

going to Seattle? Then so should Mumia’s.


anti-WTO forces can in one simple act of inclusion communicate that struggles

for justice are necessarily interconnected and mutually worthy. They can teach

that winning valuable gains in any venue requires raising social costs so high

that it cannot be accomplished without diverse constituencies from many venues

joining the effort. To either overcome WTO plans or to free Mumia it is

necessary to unite and fight…so let’s do both. What an opportunity for a

largely white-organized project, at least in the U.S., to evince solidarity with

a Black activist and a Black-led movement.


we have in Seattle is an opportunity for better communication and better

activism. We need to seize the opportunity. We need to recognize that social

change legitimately and understandably bubbles up in many forms and with many

agendas, but that ultimately it’s all about the same damn thing: winning

justice, creating a better world.


to Seattle or bring the spirit of Seattle to your locale. Add to Seattle Mumia,

and add to Mumia Seattle. As Mumia writes: "Conventional wisdom would have

one believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires…. But

what history really shows is that today’s empire is tomorrow’s ashes, that

nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own

oppression. The greatest form of sanity that anyone can exercise is to resist

that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human



Mumia can practice solidarity and mutuality from death row, surely we can do as

much from outside.

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