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Subject: Anti-corporate sentiment sparking renewed social activism
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 00:27:46 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
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   Anti-corporate sentiment sparking renewed social activism
By JAMES A. FUSSELL - The Kansas City Star
Date: 12/10/99 22:15
For several days last week, the trendy Seattle of the '90s resembled
the angry America of the '60s. Thousands of people in the streets. Tear
gas clouding the air. National Guard troops advancing in full riot

It's enough to make some want to stick a flower in the barrel of a
rifle and sing the old Buffalo Springfield anthem:

Everybody stop: Hey, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going

Just what is going down?

Protests and social activism. Lots of it. Even though there is
disagreement about the significance of the Seattle protests. Some say
it's an aberration. The World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings, they
argue, simply afforded disparate groups a one-time opportunity to make
a united stand on issues ranging from workers' rights to trade laws
affecting the environment.

"Whether or not this will have a long-term impact depends on whether
these core people are willing to keep on being arrested and beaten and
harassed long enough to get their point across," said Paul Johnson,
associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

"In the case of the World Trade Organization, I doubt it. (There was) a
special focal point in Seattle. It gave people a target. But after
this, there will not be an accessible target over which you can have
repeated protests."

Others disagree. They see the potential for a real rise in social
activism in America -- the kind of take-it-to-the-streets protests that
pushed through civil rights reforms and helped end the Vietnam War.

"There has clearly been an upsurge, particularly in the areas of
economic justice," said Randy Shaw, a longtime California activist and
author of a recent book on activism, Reclaiming America: Nike, Clean
Air and the New National Activism.

"A lot of this (activism) was going on before, but it took Seattle to
bring it into the public spotlight all in one place. There has been a
growing anti-corporate wave in America that finds expression in issues
ranging from attacks on logging to (boycotts) of big box stores. This
sentiment is particularly present on campuses, and explains the large
student turnout from throughout the nation."

One thing is clear: As issues of economic justice, human rights and
environmental concerns merged with fears of advancing globalism and
corporate control, the passions and social conscience many figured had
been lost more than a quarter-century ago resurfaced on the streets of

"At first I was sort of disturbed just looking at the chaos in an
American city," said Kansas City civil rights attorney Fred Slough.
"But then I realized that these people truly have an international
consciousness. And they care about the whole ecosystem and all things
in it, and I say `Right on! "

Whether the protests portend a rebirth in social activism or not, it
does seem to signal a sea change in the way protests are organized,
because the World Trade Organization demonstration reportedly was
organized over the Internet.

"A huge part of it is the Internet," said Cathy Connealy, a Kansas City
lawyer and activist who works with Slough. "Eleven months before (the
protests) was when I got my first e-mail about going to Seattle."

The Rev. Robert J. Mahoney, chairman of the sociology department at
Rockhurst University, agreed.

"We have the potential today for considerably stronger street action
and public social action than we did in the '50s and '60s," he said.
"One reason is the Internet. And another is cell phones. You can
orchestrate things very quickly, and move people and react much more

Mahoney said that and other factors pointed to at least "the potential
for an increase in social activism" in America.

"I don't think we're there yet," he said. "But there are a couple of
things I see.

"One, there is a real parallel here with the '50s and the '60s in that
in the '50s, we were going though a very affluent period as we are

And it seemed to develop in the '60s into a kind of guilt on the part
of many of the children of the affluent. It's a pretty key pattern, and
I think we are beginning to move in that direction again.

"I don't think we have reached a critical point as we did there. But it
doesn't mean that we won't."

Slough credited the seeming rise in activism to other factors.

"You have people who are developing an international kind of
consciousness," he said. "More of a global kind of consciousness.

Because they are worried about the working people of this country, but
also about the working people of the rest of the world. And at the same
time, they are worried about the environment, and they see all these
issues as interconnected."

According to Slough, one needs look no farther than multinational
corporations to understand why this activism is surfacing.

"You have tremendous concentration of power in these global
corporations over which people don't have any control," he said. "But
they are having tremendous impact on our lives. The message (the
protesters) were trying to (send) was that the people and the Earth are
not here just to serve the bottom line of these global

"We can't go to the polls and talk to these big conglomerates. So they
had to take to the streets and talk to them."

Connealy said: "It warms my heart. It just seemed like for a long time
people didn't care about social-justice issues."

Now there is evidence that many do, and that their concern -- and in
some cases their anger -- is aimed at corporations.

A few examples.

In the movie "Fight Club," the enigmatic Tyler Durden, played by Brad
Pitt, embodies Generation X's anger at what the character sees as the
increasingly soul-deadening and life-controlling influence wielded by
corporate America.

According to the November Billboard 200 album chart, the most popular
rock band in the country is Rage Against the Machine. In its third week
in stores, the group's third album, "The Battle of Los Angeles," sold
more than 400,000 copies. But the group didn't rocket to number one on
the back of vacuous love ballads. One of Rage's songs demands justice
for Mumia Abu Jamal, a black journalist on death row convicted of
killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

Rage's lead guitarist Tom Morello does more than just perform activist
rock. He was arrested and jailed once in California for civil
disobedience in a march against sweatshop labor.

In addition, rap and hip-hop music from artists such as Chuck D and the
late Tupac Shakur has strong political overtones. And country rocker
Steve Earle is against the death penalty, and has been involved in
campaigns against hunger and poverty in the United States.

Last year a St. John's University graduate assistant soccer coach quit
instead of agreeing to wear the Nike swoosh as part of an endorsement
deal. He subsequently hit the Jamaica, N.Y., college and Nike with an
$11 million lawsuit accusing them of forcing his resignation.

"It's a violation of free speech," Jim Keady, 28, has said in published
interviews. "I could not allow myself to become a billboard for a
company that has consistently chosen profit over human dignity."

Patricia Forkan, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the
United States, protested on the streets of Seattle. And she says she
knows why all this is happening.

"People respond when the situation or their lives are affected in a
serious way," she said. "This is the most broad coalition I have seen
since the '60s, and I was in the '60s. It is starting to dawn on people
that corporation are replacing duly elected government in making
decisions about our life."

Howard Brick, professor of U.S. history at Washington University in

Louis, said the Seattle protests were significant for two reasons. For
one, he said, they come after a lull of at least 10 years.

Second, "It's the first time there's been any challenge to the idea
that utterly unregulated markets are the best policy....They
(protesters) are saying that unregulated markets have destructive
results on workers' livelihoods, on the integrity of neighborhoods and
communities and on the sustainability of the environment."

Mark Lichbach, a political science professor from the University of
California-Riverside, said such global issues were harder to stick with
than those in the '60s.

"It's one thing if you are in the U.S. and are protesting civil rights
abuses," he said. "You can take your complaints to Congress or your
mayor. But when you protest the WTO, who exactly do you expect to
redress your grievances?"

But in the end, said Brick, the protesters accomplished their mission
of forcing issues onto the public agenda and compelling public figures
to address them.

"I hope it would also accomplish the other impact of such
demonstrations," he said, "which is to show the power of people in
numbers, and encourage further and growing campaigns of protest and
demands for social change. But only time will tell."

To reach James Fussell, call (816) 234-4460 or send e-mail to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] All content  1999 The Kansas City Star

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine 
of international copyright law.
           Tsonkwadiyonrat (We are ONE Spirit)

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