Networking the Night Away: on the eve of the WTO

The following is part of a series of commentaries by people associated with YES! Magazine and Positive Futures Network on the events unfolding in Seattle at the time of the World Trade Organization's meeting.

The Positive Futures Network's Reception on Sunday, November 28, on the eve of the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle.

The evening was dark and cool, making the wood and brick-lined Elliott Bay Bookstore especially warm and inviting. The crowd--which grew to some 500 people--was abuzz with the sense of the historic week unfolding before them.

Our goal in putting on the reception (which we cosponsored with the International Forum on Globalization) was to create a space where YES! subscribers who had come to Seattle could join the network of international activists to mingle, network, and share the excitement of their commonality in working to create a world that works for people and the living planet. And did it ever work!

The buzz of conversation was intense; bursts of laughter constantly erupted from all corners of the store; and everywhere people hugged old friends encountered and new friends discovered.

We had some short speeches. Ron Sher, whose Third Place Company owns the bookstore, shared his delight that we were using the bookstore as our gathering place.

Our Positive Futures Network board member and Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin reminded the group There Ain't No Such Thing as Free Trade (TANSTAFT's the acronym--use it, he recommends, the next time you run into a "free trader".) There are always rules to trade -- the only question is whether those rules support the things we care about -- our communities, our health, our environment, our safety--or they don't. The WTO's rules don' t, and he welcomed the stimulus to the debate that this crowd and thousands of others were igniting in Seattle. (Oh that all city council people would have such enlightened views!)

Jerry Mander honored the staff of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) who had just completed the extraordinary Teach-In that packed the 2,500 seat Benaroya Hall Friday evening and Saturday (see Sarah van Gelder's write-ups of that event).

IFG'ers Vandana Shiva (powerful advocate for the rural poor in India) and Martin Kohr (Malaysian leader of the Third World Network) gave a tribute to Chakarvarti Ragavan, who understood the importance of the GATT/WTO before most of us had ever heard of it and has fed "insider" news on trade rules to citizen groups for 15 years. They also honored Jerry, who in 1994 saw the need for a international network of the foremost critics of the global economy and founded the IFG.

Woody Debris (also known as David Simpson) gave a rousing rendition of his singing parody of the ecowarrior so tied to his computer that his "trees are and he never gets outside".

Sarah van Gelder (our executive editor of YES!) and Paul Hawken (author of the Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism) both spoke movingly of the profound influence of Dave Korten's thinking on their lives and thought--and wished him well. Dave was one frustrated guy, lying in a hospital in South Carolina suffering from a nosebleed that wouldn' t stop (probably due to too many hours in the dry air of airplanes!).

In my remarks, I honored the energy that each person in the room represented in their communities and nations--and the extraordinary convergence of that energy as people joined in their common interest in turning around a set of trade rules and corporate power that are so damaging to all that we care about.

I then noted a lesson of history. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that there are several important times in this century when civil society has pulled together--just as we are now witnessing in Seattle. The very success of these movements brings forth a big response. After all, literally trillions of dollars are at stake in the rules that may be developed in this "Millennium Round" of trade negotiations. Those vested interests don't take lightly to having their plans set askew by the actions of people in the streets, in the forums, and in the Teach-Ins. And they have billions of dollars to pour into the PR industry to put the proper spin on what is happening.

Chomsky notes that history tells us there are likely to be two main messages to the PR spin. One is to paint those that protest and present alternatives as representing "special interests" that undermine the "national interest." The people representing labor, environment, women, peace, human rights, family farmers, independent businesses, sustainable agriculture, democracy--these are the "special interests;" the corporations, the banks, the financial institutions, the trade ministers, they represent the "national interest." The interests of the living world are the special interests and the interests of the money world are the national interest.

A second message is what Chomsky calls the "doctrine of futility." You can't change the system, There Is No Alternative, so just do your work, watch TV, and shop. These two messages get played out in many forms, but listen carefully--you'll be hearing them repeatedly. The more successful we are in Seattle, the louder will be the volume on these messages.

Our job? To stay the course; to keep organizing, keep educating, keep working to improve our communities. Build awareness of ways in which so many rules, trade rules among them, have implications deep into our lives (be sure to see David Morris's "Whose Rules" article in the latest issue of YES!). And above all hold onto the positive vision of the world we want. See the possibilities for making the money world serve the living world rather than the reverse. And keep proving the utter falseness of the doctrine of futility--a falseness so evident in Seattle as ordinary people foil the best laid plans of the rich and powerful.

It was a fabulous evening. I was so happy to meet YES! subscribers from all across the country and reconnect with old friends. I wish all of our subscribers and the wonderful committed people at all levels working for a just, sustainable, and compassionate world could have joined us. You were all there in spirit

Fran Korten
Executive Director, YES! magazine

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