Here in Santa Barbara, movements for a living wage, tenants’ rights, “Get Oil Out!” and hundreds of other movements around the world have been heating up in the last 18 months. For example, the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 was the first American “debut” of a movement challenging the exploitation of people around the world with its resultant poverty and environmental destruction (often called globalization).
But why here and now, in a usually numbed-out America? Why do they care so much about these issues? Well, the future of the world is looking bleak in terms of the environment and democracy. Folks are trying to resist the brazen attacks of corporate domination of society and fight for their own ideals. Danny Sheehan will speak about his ideals and perspective at a teach-in on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center, before speaking at the I.V. Theater at 7 p.m. Danny Sheehan prosecuted Oliver North for his crimes against the people of Nicaragua, Iran and Iraq in the Iran-Contra trial in the mid-1980s. He also participated in the prosecution of the Watergate “plumbers” of Nixon’s shame, as well as the KKK and other right-wing criminals. He will have interesting input on current movements for justice.
One topic that will come up is that globalization seems to be just the latest edition of an old ideology. The names “structural adjustment” or “privatization” are supposed to explain the exploitative economic policies practiced by the First World — rather than more traditional names like “Manifest Destiny” — to explain why BILLIONS of people must suffer in poverty around the world. This process is being challenged by hundreds of thousands of North Americans and Europeans who are awakening to and joining the struggle, which the Third World has been fighting for more than half a millennium. Many First World peoples’ eyes are opening as the fog of TV consumer culture lifts and we notice that the crumbs from the tables of the rich are no longer enough to support us in content middle-class numbness.
Over the past 30 years, wages have stagnated or decreased for the bottom 80 percent of people in the U.S., forcing everyone to work more hours and give up any hope of restfulness and time with loved ones. Conditions are worsening in the Third World and in similar enclaves here in America, like the urban ghettos and sweatshops of L.A. and the fields of the Central Valley where farm workers live and work in fear. In Oxnard, mushroom pickers have to go on strike for a 4-cent raise. In Isla Vista, poor tenants have to cram several wage earners into one apartment to afford the rents. In Bolivia, hundreds of thousands of people had to risk their lives by revolting in order to prevent a water privatization plan that would have made drinking water too expensive for the poor.
What does any of this have to do with you? As the living and working conditions of Third World people are degraded, Third World people are pitted against us in the First World. Corporations would rather locate their production in the nations that offer the lowest wages and fewest environmental protections. And since most Third World nations are in debt that they have to pay off as soon as possible, they gladly suppress labor organizing and eliminate environmental protections; pimping out their people as cheap labor for First World businesses or their Third World contractors. That is why there are no manufacturing or heavy industry jobs left in America, and the fastest growing jobs are retail salespeople and temp workers of all kinds. Manpower Inc. is the largest private employer in the country. This affects your parents, who probably both have to work if you are a student now, and it will affect you as you look for work.
Is this sort of economic “development” in the U.S. and in the debt-ridden Third World OK with you? Don’t look so surprised! Hasn’t anybody ever asked you that before? You work hard, and so did your parents, and so do the rest of us. Shouldn’t we be able to have input on how our economy is shaped? Most Americans view politics as total crap (our voter turnout is the lowest in the industrialized world) and almost all Americans view economics as a force of nature and the exclusive domain of economists.
But the economists and corporate executives have different values from most people. To them, a sweatshop is just the most efficient use of their money in their cutthroat search for profits. A cleared forest is a sign of progress and efficiency, and the environment can be damned. In this political and economic system, it is those who speak loudest through their radio and TV that we stare at in drooling passivity, itching to go buy their cheap plastic crap.
The only way regular people ever made their voices heard was to organize politically. We no longer have Jim Crow segregation and we do have civil rights legislation to fight racial discrimination thanks to the Civil Rights Movement. Women can vote and fight discrimination thanks to the women’s movement and feminism. We have public education and weekends because of the labor movement. We have an Endangered Species Act and a vision of sustainability thanks to the environmental movement. The Democrats and Republicans didn’t give us these things; they told us no, so we had to make them ourselves.
People are organizing around the world to demand the power to determine their futures, so on Wednesday, Feb. 28 in the MCC Theater at 4 p.m., come see Danny Sheehan. He will be continuing these discussions before speaking at I.V. Theater at 7 p.m.
Brian Helmle is a senior sociology major.