Protesters Take Over Trade Building
On September 23, 2013, protesters concerned about the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) covered the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with banners calling for a democratic process and a release of the treaty’s text. The group, which included members of FlushTheTPP.org, Backbone Campaign, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK, and Earth First!, say that TPP will have vast consequences for U.S. laws, workers’ rights, the environment, and many other aspects of life.
The group decided to expose the secret negotiations by plastering the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with messages that let them and the public know what they were doing. They took over their office building today and plan to continue to escalate tactics in Congress and wherever we see opportunities to expose the TPP, stop the undermining of democracy through Fast Track, and have a real debate over whether the U.S. wants rigged trade for big transnational corporations or fair trade that puts people and the planet before profits.
So far, the TPP has been drafted with an unprecedented degree of secrecy. While information has been kept from the public, more than 600 corporate advisers have access to the treaty’s text—including companies such as Halliburton, Monsanto, Wal- mart, and Chevron. The Obama administration has kept the TPP classified, making it the first-ever classification of a trade agreement.
In addition to denying public access to its text, the president urged Congress to use Fast Track to pass the treaty. Fast Track would limit congressional consideration of the text to an up or down vote and give Obama the power to sign and negotiate the treaty. This turns the Constitution on its head as the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to “regulate commerce among nations”—not the president.
Seven advocates dressed as workers attached four massive banners to the front and side of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. The banners read:
“Transparency: Release the Text”
“Democracy, not Corporatocracy”
“Corporate Coup against the People and Planet”
“Flush The TPP.org”
Other activists at the front of the building held a large 15-foot sign that said: “Trading Away People’s Lives and the Planet’s Future.” They were able to cover the building in banners and hold an un-permitted protest and negotiate doing so without anyone getting arrested—one activist who had been held in handcuffs was released.
Margaret Flowers, who dressed as a worker to attach a sign to the front of the U.S. Trade Representative, said that, “The TPP will undermine health care systems, make pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices more expensive and, therefore, increase pain and suffering and even cost people their lives.”
Flowers, an advocate for a national health care plan that treats health care as a human right rather than a commodity, warned that “The TPP will undermine the excellent single payer health care systems in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand and make it more difficult for the United States to put in place a single payer system—which is what most Americans and doctors want to see.”
Earlier last summer, Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) stated that, “this, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system,” calling the treaty an “assault on democratic government.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted in her letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, “if transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”
People remember the negative impact of NAFTA and the TPP is NAFTA on steroids and will do great damage to working people all over the world, as well as to the environment.
A new report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research found that TPP will produce economic growth of only 1/10th of one percent per year, but it will hurt working Americans as 90 percent of workers will see their income reduced as a result of TPP. Unions, including the Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and Teamsters have raised concerns about TPP’s impact on working families.
Resistance is not limited to the U.S. alone. Other members of the treaty, including Japan and Malaysia, have seen significant public demonstrations in opposition to the agreement, while the lead negotiator from Chile, Rodrigo Contreras, resigned earlier this year citing concerns that the treaty would restrict Chile’s ability to shape public policies, control financial institutions, and address issues of health, education, and development.
One protester from FlushTheTPP. org, who locked himself on top of the building’s scaffolding, has firsthand experience with how transnational corporations control and design free trade agreements like these. Steven Bray decided to quit his job after his former employer, Caterpillar, sent the entire company a link to an automated message in support of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement. “When I learned how many of my coworkers responded without actually considering the text and its potential consequences, I couldn’t stand it. This made the voice of one CEO sound like the voice of 10,000.”
The Colombia trade agreement has had a serious negative effect on farmers and workers in Colombia and has resulted in massive nationwide protests. Protesters have promised to escalate their tactics if President Obama continues to undermine the Constitution, transparency, and democracy.
Kevin Zeese is a participant in Popular Resistance.org