Kevin Danaher is a founding director of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org), an international human rights group based in San Francisco. His new book is “Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power,” co-authored with Jason Mark (Routledge, 2003).
Nico Pitney writes daily at NotGeniuses.com. He is a student activist and writer based in southern California.
Pitney: Before we discuss the draft that came out of the FTAA meetings, let’s touch on the reaction to the protests that accompanied the meetings. The Miami City Council attempted to pass an ordinance that “would ban masks, puppets, padded clothing, bandanas or signs on sticks…; the rules would end when talks do,” according to the Wall Street Journal. At the protests, you had peaceful, law-abiding citizens who were attacked with rubber bullets, tear gas, stun guns, and concussion grenades. The behavior of the Miami police was condemned by various groups, including the National Lawyers Guild. You also had the arrest and detention of credentialed journalists, including Democracy Now! producer Ana Nogueira, apparently because they had not pre-registered as “embeds” with the local police. What is the significance of this reaction to the protests?
Danaher: The bumpersticker analysis is, “Empire Destroys Democracy.” Because whether you’re talking about the invasion of Iraq to protect access to oil, or you’re talking about the FTAA and WTO writing a constitution for the global economy that subordinates life to commerce – life values to money values – you can’t allow democracy. Democracy means diversity. It means everybody having a seat at the table, not just white, male, millionaire corporate lawyers. That’s who’s making these rules, is white, male, millionaire corporate lawyers. But they’ve got a problem (as we saw at the WTO meetings in Cancun) because there are whole countries, like Brazil and Argentina, etc., where there are interests other than those of corporations and banks, other than those of white, male millionaire corporate lawyers that want a say, that want to be heard.
Think about monocropping, because that’s what they’re doing, right? If you have only white, male, millionaire corporate lawyers making policy, that’s a monocrop. How does a monocrop work? A monocrop works when you’re using toxic chemicals to kill everything but the corn, or everything but the wheat, or everything but the soy, or whatever the monocrop is that you’re doing. Well, with the policy-making equivalent of that, you have to violently suppress those other diverse voices that want to have a say in the rulemaking.
Essentially, the two questions are, who is sitting at the table making the rules? Who gets to participate in the discussion, devising the rules?
And two, what are the values? Are they money values or life values? Money values are values of corporations – particularly the big ones, because they dominate – and life values are human rights and the environment.
What if we go out and say to the public, “Which is sacred, life or commerce?” Most people know that life is sacred and commerce is an activity, like sports, religion, entertainment. It’s an essential activity, but it’s just an activity. It’s not sacred. It’s not holy, as life is.
What they’re saying is that we should subordinate life – human rights and the environment – to commerce – money values. And what we’re saying is, no, you subordinate commerce to life. And, in fact, that’s happening. I work in the green economy/fair trade movement and there’s this thing about the triple bottom line – you have to balance your financial profit-making with social responsibility and environmental sustainability, and only when they’re in balance can you say you’re a successful enterprise. That model of economics is growing rapidly.
The other model, that subordinates life to commerce, is dying. Right, look at the scandals of Enron and the corporations, Bush having to steal the presidency, having to lie to invade Iraq (if Iraq’s major export were brocolli instead of oil, would there be any war? Of course not), the scandal in the mutual fund industry. Now there’s a scandal in the foreign currency trading industry. And it’s all the same – they’re lying and cheating in order to make more money.
Pitney: You mention white, male, millionaire corporate lawyers. The Washington Post reported that “corporate lobbyists…fumed at the outcome” of the FTAA meetings in Miami. They claimed “the delight of activists…was matched by the gloom among U.S. business representatives.” Walden Bello (of Focus on the Global South) described the event as a victory for the Global Justice movement. What is your assessment?
Danaher: Well, I agree with Walden, and not just because we’re old friends and comrades and both have PhDs in sociology and all that. Here’s the problem for the Bush administration: they’re in an election year. They can’t afford to have a failure like they had with the WTO. They want to come away with a success. But you’re not going to get – you know, they use the image, “The locomotive is moving and it’s pulling all these boxcars.” Well, those boxcars are empty. There’s no substantive content to them.
The circle that they’re trying to square is, they want transnational capital – the biggest corporations – to be happy. But in an election year, you can’t be seen to be giving away the house to just the gazillionaire corporations because you’ve got to rely on the votes of farmers and the votes of workers and housewives and small business people, all of whom get screwed by these FTAA/NAFTA/WTO-type rules, because the rule-making is dominated by the big corporate lobbyists.
So, you’ve got a structural contradiction between your real pals, where you get your big fat checks for campaigning and you raise $200 million and all that, it’s from these big, transnational corporations. That’s the key word – transnational. They are not rooted in place. They are not patriotic to their geography. If they found workers on Mars that would work for a penny a year, our jobs on this planet would all be gone. They’d bring the shit back on the space shuttle, or however they could work it out.
Look at all the jobs going to China. The U.S. now imports more computer equipment and electronics from China than China buys from the United States. But it’s not about China. It’s about Compaq and Intel and Hewlett-Packard, all these companies that moved their factories. Wal-Mart’s main buying center is in China. They used to call it Communist China, but they don’t call it Communist China anymore…
In Cancun, the problem was obvious. [Robert] Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, could not give away anything to Third World farmers on the export subsidy issue because that would cost votes in the midwest. So, it wasn’t Zoellick that was running the U.S. delegation there, it was Karl Rove out of the White House, and the word was, “Do not give away anything that’s going to cost Bush votes.” So Zoellick was hamstrung. Now, they learned from that, and what they did in this case was to say, “Okay, look. We’ll slap together what looks like a success – something that we can have plausible credibility in saying, ‘Oh, yes, look! We got this agreement!’ – by just going to a minimalist position.” That allows you to deal with Brazil and Argentina and these other governments that have all these disagreements with the U.S., and at the same time, not get into trouble at home.
Now, where the repression comes in is, if you’re going to only have the elite, the billionaires, making the policy, how are you going to keep everyone else away from that table? Shoot ‘em. You shoot ‘em. So we’re seeing an undermining of democracy not just in the policymaking, because these agreements allow corporations to – you know, like Chapter 11 of NAFTA. It allows corporations to sue governments over environmental and human rights policy. They can say, “You’re cutting into our profits by forcing us to clean up our environmental pollution,” and then the taxpayers have to pay a penalty for trying to protect our environment. It’s ridiculous on the face it. The only way you’re going to get away with it is repression, by silencing people.
Pitney: The conclusion of Walden Bello’s analysis of the FTAA draft noted: “To cover its tactical retreat on the FTAA, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced on Wednesday that Washington would launch negotiations for bilateral free trade pacts with the Dominican Republic, Panama, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.” Explain the strategy there.
Danaher: Well, they’ll just pick them off one at a time. They don’t like these big settings where Third World countries can group up. That’s another thing they learned in Seattle and Cancun. You get in a multilateral setting – in the WTO, for example, it’s one country, one vote, and it’s supposed to be consensus, so they’ve got a problem. They can block and veto, but to get something through, it’s very tough. What they do instead is they go one-by-one and deal with each small country in turn.
We have a record of ten years of NAFTA. Just bracket Canada for a moment and take the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Did the Mexican people benefit from NAFTA? Shit no! The majority of people are getting a lower wage now than they were before. Their environment is wrecked, that whole northern industrial section along the border is a disaster. There are more people dying crossing the U.S.-Mexico border than died crossing the Berlin Wall under communism. That was a huge human rights violation, but nobody says anything about all these people dying crossing the U.S.-Mexico border because of that stupid fence. Let’s take down that fence. You want a free market? Take down that fence. Let’s have a free market in people, that’s the most important commodity there is – human labor. That’s the commodity that makes all the other commodities.
If you really believed in a free market, like they say they do, which they don’t – I mean, let’s face it, the U.S. is the mother country of protectionism. We wouldn’t have a computer industry or an airline industry or a railroad industry or an auto industry if it wasn’t for the government. Government – we, the taxpayers – subsidized all that stuff. Flat-panel displays, avionics, the Internet, pharmaceutical research – that’s all at taxpayers expense. The free market ideology is this bullshit that they put out there to pry open Third World countries and to keep people here stupid and think, “Oh, get the government out of the way. Let capital decide how the world will be run.” Well, duh. If you let capital decide how the world is going to run, they’ll cut down every tree, they’ll kill every fish, they’ll push our wages down to zero, they’ll pollute the shit out of everything, because all they care about is making money. It’s greed institutionalized.
Pitney: What if someone looks at the potentially catastrophic consequences of a new wave of U.S. bilateral investment agreements and questions whether shutting down the FTAA or the WTO is the best thing to do, in light of the alternative? What do you tell them?
Danaher: Yeah, but they’ll do that anyway. I mean, they were doing that anyway at the FTAA – a combination of fist and roses. They say, “I can either kick the shit out of you – I’ll cut your aid, and… or you can have a bilateral agreement! Wouldn’t you like that? Wouldn’t that be nice? We’ll make it real sweet for you…” They try and get [Third World countries] to go along with the U.S. position. They were doing the same thing in Cancun, they were wheelin’ and dealin’.
That’s how Clinton got NAFTA. Clinton got NAFTA by going around to these members of Congress and saying, “Hey, we’ll build bridges in your district. We’ll pump a bunch of federal money into your district,” and they just bought it. It was total pork, and that’s in the record. We have it in our new book, “Insurrection,” John McArthur’s book has it all detailed. They just purchased it. So it’s a combination of either bribes or threats or outright repression as we saw in the streets – which, of course, the corporate media does not cover. You’re not going to see displays of police violence on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN. You might get little flickers of it, but you’ll never have somebody like me come on and say, what does it say about any kind of international economic agreement that, in order to get it through, you have to shoot your own citizens with rubber bullets and use tazers and tear gas, and silence them, and suppress the Constitution of the United States.
This is what’s at stake, is the Constitution, is democracy, is government itself. Bush and these guys, they don’t believe in government. They don’t believe in government. They believe in the privatization of everything, except for those parts of the government like the Treasury [Dept.], Commerce [Dept.], the Federal Reserve, things that facilitate capital accumulation. That’s the only government they’re interested in. Stuff that does social welfare, mass transit, hospitals, schools – screw that. What do they need that for? They can afford to send their kids to private schools. They don’t care if the public schools fall apart. They say they care about it at election time in order to get enough votes to stay in office, but even when they don’t get enough votes, as we saw with Bush in Florida, you can steal it. You steal it. You just eliminate people from the rolls, you eliminate Democrats, you eliminate black and brown people.
Pitney: You mentioned your new book, “Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power,” co-authored with Jason Mark. Can you talk a bit about that?
Danaher: What we do is we go through the past two hundred years of U.S. history and look at the successful efforts by the citizens to reign in corporate power. You go back to 1802, Thomas Jefferson said, “We must crush in its birth the aristocracy of the moneyed corporations.” “…Crush at its birth…” – I never say anything that violent. I’m into nonviolence. Thomas Jefferson, the guy who authored the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest documents ever written, not just in this country but in world history, said we should “crush in its birth the aristocracy of the moneyed corporations.” It’s not the moneyed corporations. It’s the aristocracy of the moneyed corporations – that is, them having too much power.
Think – we have separation of church and state because for thousands of years, the Holy Roman Empire, the Church of England…there was all this horror because of the dominance of the state by one institution, the church. So, if you shouldn’t have domination of government by one institution, the church, you shouldn’t have domination of government by one institution, the corporation. We need separation of corporations and the state.
A firewall between governance, policy-making for the public – that is our property, the government is us! These right-wingers that have done this thing, “Government is bad” – government is us. If there’s anything wrong with government, that’s out fault, and it’s our responsibility to fix it. And you don’t fix it by saying, “Get rid of government.” The anarchists and the right-wingers agree on this. The Bushites and the anarchists agree: “Nah, get rid of government.” Yeah, get rid of government and you have chaos. Every good thing you have, in terms of being able to eat food without being poisoned, to be able to walk the streets safely, to be able to ride mass transit, fly on an airplane, any of that stuff is because of government. And for all its flaws, it provides many absolutely necessary services.
So, we have some really deep rethinking that needs to go on in this country. These guys are creating a secret global government – that’s what the WTO, World Bank, IMF, and the FTAA are, a secret global government. The public knows nothing about them. What we’re doing in the protest movement is, one, to draw attention to it – that’s the function of the protests – and then, two, to say, “No, you need a different global constitution. Not a money-values constitution, but a life-values constitution.”
And that already exists in the form of what’s called the Earth Charter – EarthCharter.org. They spent ten years going around merging the human rights and the environmental principles into one document. It’s there – it exists. And if we went out to the public and had them read the Earth Charter, and then look at what the WTO is doing in terms of their global, money-values constitution… we’ll win that vote. People will side with us, because people believe in saving the environment. They believe in fair wages and equal opportunity, and they don’t want to see the world taken over by corporations. So we’ve got the majority on our side, they’ve got the money and the guns. We’ve got the facts, the moral authority, and the potential to mobilize the majority of people. We’re going to win, it’s just a question of time.