Block Bush's War

As Slingshot goes to press, all indications are that Bush is planning to invade Iraq in March or sooner — with or without international partners, with or without evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or has aided Al Qaeda and probably without giving UN inspectors the time they say is necessary to complete their work. If the war hasn’t started yet by the time you read this article, no matter how inevitable war looks, it’s still worth it to do what you can to stop the war. Bush is counting on all his tough talk to create a sense of inevitability and resignation in order to bring both people in this country and parts of the international community along for the ride.

It’s up to us to make it clear to folks in the US and the rest of the world that people in the US are not united behind Bush’s preemptive war of aggression. The more people here and in the rest of the world sense that this is Bush’s war, not America’s war, the more people and countries will feel comfortable publicly breaking ranks with Bush. If Bush is going to make Iraq the first example of his new doctrine of military preemption, it’s up to us to make sure it’s his last example of this horrendous policy. It’s up to us to make it clear for the whole world that Bush is isolated — isolated in his own country and isolated around the world!

The media has been pushing the idea that “war is now inevitable.” But just because Bush has the power to order a military attack doesn’t mean the war will necessarily be easy for Bush. It’s our job to make it as difficult and costly for him as possible. Maybe this can prevent the war, but even if it can’t — even if it’s too late to actually stop a war against Iraq — we can limit Bush’s victory in crucial ways.

Bush is going out on a limb on this one, straining international relations even with many US “allies” who are very uncomfortable at the idea of a nuclear armed America with a policy of preemptive strikes. By the time the bombing started during the Gulf war, Bush’s Dad had assembled a coalition that had agreed to pay all of the costs of the war. That is highly unlikely to happen this time. There is a real question as to whether other permanent members of the UN security council — France, Russia, China — might veto a US war resolution. Such a veto would be almost unprecedented.

This is to say nothing of the regular people in the rest of the world — people around the world now understand that the US is the greatest threat to world peace. Even if ultimately Bush has the power to make war, he’ll be doing it against the opinion of the rest of the world — regular people, ruling class elites and governments alike.

All of which indicates that — far from domestic attempts at protesting a war before it starts being futile and doomed — they are absolutely crucial . When the rest of the world looks at the US and sees it vocally split down the middle over the prospect of war, they can see Bush for the wannabe emperor he is — one with no clothes, and a small, shriveled dick Chenney running the show. Bush can talk like a Texas cowboy, but everyone knows he’s a cokehead fratboy born with a silver spoon in his mouth who ducked out of military service in Vietnam.

There are opportunities to protest the war all around us all the time — some organized by others, and some you can do yourself. The key is to do something at every opportunity before the war can begin.

If you’re reading this and a US war against Iraq is starting or is ongoing, it’s still crucial to express your protest and outrage against Bush’s preemptive war of aggression — and better yet, to stop business as usual in any way you can. Are we going to just lie back and let Bush do it — Hell No!

There are a wealth of actions already planned during the first few hours and days of a military invasion of Iraq. Check out the list at the end of this article. There will likely be protests in every big city and small town across the land. But disruption and protest shouldn’t stop after the first few days of a Bush war. It is crucial that we create increasing levels of chaos and disruption during the duration of the war.

Bush is counting on fighting the war on his terms, far away, using vastly superior high tech weapons against a population no one can see. He’s not counting on having to fight on two fronts at once — one of them right here at home. For a lot of us, it’s clear that we must stand with the people of the rest of the world against war and murder, not with Bush’s empire. Living here in the belly of the country making the war, we’re in the best position of all to fight this war.

All of Bush’s high tech weapons out in the desert depend on a vast industrial infrastructure functioning smoothly here at home. The home front is a soft target. A few hundred people can shut down transportation and disrupt the ability of workers to be productive. A few thousand people could play hide and seek at key military installations and prevent their normal functioning. A few tens of thousands of people could require Bush to reassigned troops from Iraq back to the home front. It’s up to us to increase the cost of war as much as possible. Act with bravery, take to the streets, stay away from your job, strike in secret under cover of darkness — but don’t let business as usual continue while the US carries out its war of aggression.

Actions planned once the war starts:

  • Mass nonviolent direct action is planned in San Francisco at 7 am at Market and Main (Embarcadero BART) on the 1st business day after war starts. (Check out the cool flyer reproduced in this issue.) 415-820-9649
  • Mass rally at 5 p.m. on the day the war starts (next day at 5 p.m. if the war begins at night) at Market and Powell Streets, followed by a march through city neighborhoods. 415-821-6545. There will be an anarchist Black Bloc at the 5 pm demo.
  • The Morning After the War Starts —Walk Out/Stay Away! Organize Walkouts From School, Work, etc. Spend the morning leafleting for people to join the anti-war movement. In San Francisco converge at noon at Civic Center Plaza to protest the war.
  • Saturday after a war starts there will be a mass rally and marches at 7th and Market St at noon.
  • East Bay demonstration the day war starts at 5 p.m. in Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland (12th St. BART).
  • For information about protests outside the Bay Area, check United for Peace, which is nationwide and lists events in large cities and small towns alike.
  • The regular March 8th Global Women’s Strike may be at a crucial time. Check
  • Other places to check for actions (of course highly incomplete):,

Shut Down the WTO

With the US mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops to assert its unilateral military dominance over the world community, it’s easy to forget about the other game in town: the continued campaign for world dominance by corporations and the capitalist system. But these two forms of dominance are like two faces of the same coin. If people around the globe really want to fight the US military machine, we’re ultimately going to have to fight global economic structures like the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO exists to concentrate wealth and power into western corporate hands. The United States military exists to serve those corporate hands — and eats out of them.

The best chance in years to fight the WTO is coming this September 10-14, 2003 in Cancún, México, when the WTO will conduct its Fifth Ministerial Summit. Grassroots organizations around the Western Hemisphere and around the world are already raising a powerful call: Shut Down the World Trade Organization. Whether you can travel to Cancún to fight in the streets or whether you stay in your local community to disrupt business as usual between September 10-14, it’s high time for a global uprising to challenge corporate globalization and the WTO.

It seems like ages ago when tens of thousands of regular people brought the WTO to its knees in Seattle in November, 1999. In only four short years, we’ve gone from a people’s offensive against the corporate monster, to a state of apprehension in the face of attacks on freedom and peace at home and abroad. The attack on September 11 has been used as an excuse for the greatest expansion of US military, intelligence and police power in memory. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to forget how to set the agenda, rather than just reacting to each new Bush administration attack. It’s absolutely crucial that we fight for something. It’s time to attack Bush’s attempts to create fear by raising some very important questions:

Who really benefits from the war on terrorism? Who really benefits from the World Trade Organization and corporate globalization? Are these things making us “safer” or are they creating a world of decreased equality, increased violence and decreased freedom? Are they creating a world in which the earth’s natural life-support systems have been irreparably damaged? Will our grandchildren be born into a world without wilderness, without clean water and air — into a life of fear, with no privacy, no freedom, no hope, and no happiness?

It’s not too late to stop the forces that seek to concentrate power in the hands of the few. The real purpose of the WTO and the war on terrorism is the concentration of power. The WTO seeks to strip local communities and individuals of self-determination over how we feed ourselves and provide for our other human needs.

People all over the hemisphere are organizing to stop the WTO. In México, hundreds of people have attended planning meetings, resulting in a global call for action and education against the Cancún WTO meeting. An organizational meeting in November included 89 Mexican and 53 foreign non-governmental organizations representing 16 countries from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. In the United States, thousands of people are making plans to travel to Cancún for the WTO summit. People are discussing the idea of organizing educational caravans which could wind across the continent and end up in Cancún. It’s likely September 10-14 will see coordinated local actions in hundreds of cities and town across the world to denounce the WTO.

Now is the time to start organizing WTO related events and actions. Form your own ad hoc planning group, or contact some of the folks already working on this campaign. (See end of article for contact list.)

The ABCs of the WTO

The WTO is just one institution created to promote economic globalization — the merging of the whole world into a single huge market with “free trade” rules designed to increase the power of huge corporations at the expense or workers, local populations and the environment.

The WTO’s job is to impose trade sanctions against any signatory country which “maintains barriers to trade.” These “barriers” can mean almost anything, including laws that impose labor or environmental standards on industrial production. For instance US laws that prohibit the sale of shrimp caught in nets that endanger sea turtles are considered “barriers to trade” by the WTO.

Any country which is a member of the WTO can request that the WTO take action against another member-country which has laws that are allegedly “barriers to trade.” WTO trade experts who are drawn from big business and who are not elected by any government meet in secret to decide if the challenged law is a “barrier to trade.” The WTO’s decisions are not subject to appeal and an “offending” nation must decide between repealing its law or suffering crippling trade restrictions.

Free trade means freedom for huge corporations to produce and sell products without regard for the welfare of people or the environment. Under free trade, transnational corporations are free to search the world find the cheapest labor available, and then move their factories to that area to exploit the cheap labor. Interestingly enough, while the WTO meets in México, many factories in México along the US/Mexican border are now closing down so the jobs can be moved to China. In a global economy, even the labor of low paid workers in México is considered “too expensive” by transnational corporations.

Labor is cheaper in less developed countries in large part because of the actions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which operate hand-in-hand with the WTO. The IMF/WB keep developing countries in an endless cycle of debt — forcing them to export raw materials and agricultural products. These activities remove subsistence farmers from their land, creating a large pool of very cheap displaced labor.

The alleged goal of the globalization process is to foster development in the third world and economic growth in the developed nations. However, it is far from clear that either development or economic growth actually benefits the population of the world. Both are certainly essential to maintaining profits for transnational corporations.

Market-based capitalism requires that the economy grow every year. Any company that doesn’t grow is deserted by its stockholders (who seek short-term returns on their investments), bought up by its competitors, or forced out of business. Constant competition enforces the rule: grow or die. This process operates regardless of whether this growth benefits or hurts human beings or the environment. For example, in “developed” countries, the use of oil and cars expands every year — an indicator of economic growth. But does this make life better? More time spent in traffic, more noise, more pollution, more illness. More are people moving from place to place, to be sure, but does this help people live more fulfilling lives? All of this growth has terrible environmental costs which are totally disregarded by the free trade system, corporations and the WTO.

The WTO seeks to force a doomed economic system on everyone on earth. Economic globalization means a dramatic increase in economic inequality and environmental destruction, all to benefit a tiny group of corporations. People everywhere are increasingly resisting free trade and corporate globalization. In the name of freedom, self-determination and the Earth, it’s time to shut down the WTO in Cancún!

Get involved

As of this writing, concrete plans are at an early stage. Try getting on this email list:ún-l.

Or, try contacting some of the following: Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano
(Ceccam) Vito Alessio Robles No. 76 casa 7 Col. Florida. Mxico, D.F. 01030 tel: 525 6 61 19 25 and 525 6 61 53 98. Public Citizen 1600 20th St. NW Washington, DC. 20009 (202) 588-1000,

Slingshot Box

Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical, newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

OK, so war is on the horizon, or maybe even happening as you read this. This issue is being done before actual bombardment has commenced, and let’s hope that somehow we can keep the US war machine from steamrolling over Iraq and our liberties (not that having the state guarantee anything is worth the paper it is written on). But if not, let’s do our damnedest to stop life as usual from proceeding here in the belly of the beast. Since Slingshot publishes quarterly, some of what is in this issue may not be the most current, given that things are changing rapidly on the global scene. Bear with us.

This issue we celebrated Slingshot’s 15th birthday by having one of the easiest internal processes for putting the paper together ever. Shout outs to the outside authors who turned in good articles on time, as well as to Will who fixed all our technological issues that have been plaguing us for years.

We’re still looking to find someone born on March 9, 1988 (our birthday) who can act as our mascot. If you know anyone like that, please send us their picture and bio-information. Wait, that’s just creepy!

We are always on the lookout for writers, artists, editors, photographers, distributors and independent thinkers to help us put out this paper. If you have such skills and would like to contribute we’d greatly appreciate it. Photos of demos or of cool reworkings of the cultural landscape are especially welcome.

Editorial decisions about Slingshot are made by the collective, but not all articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate, constructive criticism and discussion.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can see what all the fuss is about on April 6th at 3p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article deadline and Next Issue date

Submit your articles for issue 78 by May 9, 2003. We expect the issue out in mid May.

Volume 1, Number 77 Circulation 12,000

Printed February 13, 2003

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Ave Berkeley Ca 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751

By the way, we receive many questions as to why we are still only at volume 1, even after 15 years. Please note: We will change to volume 2 AFTER the revolution!

Circulation Information

Slingshot is free in the Bay Area and is available at Long Haul and Bound Together Books (SF), plus lots of other places. Contact us or come by if you want to distribute Slingshot for free in the Bay Area

Subscriptions to Slingshot are $1 (until the state is toppled) per issue (bulk mail pre-paid) or $2 for First Class Mail after the issue comes out. International is $2.50 per issue. Back issues are also available. Amazing national free distribution program: Outside of the Bay Area, we’ll mail a stack of free copies of Slingshot to distributors, infoshops, bookstores and random friendly individuals for FREE in the US if they give ‘em out for free.

If you purchased a 2003 Slingshot organizer via mail order, you’ve been sent this copy for free. Send us $1 for a one year subscription.

Cover and page 1 art by imprisoned artist Kevin (Rashid) Johnson #185492, Wallens Ridge State Prison, PO Box 759, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219.


We completely sold out of the 2003 Organizer in January, the earliest we’ve ever run out. We’ve had to send back orders for hundreds of copies, which is a big bummer. But, we’re already thinking about the 2004 edition, which should be out in September. If you have suggestions, historical dates, radical contacts, or art work, send it to us by the end of June.

One of the most rewarding parts of working on the Organizer is all the amazing letters we’ve received containing orders. People write us poems, send CDs of their favorite bands, include stickers, glitter, photographs of their dogs and roommates and other things too strange to discuss publicly. We got a banana flavored condom, and a glow in the dark one. (In case you can’t find it in the dark?) This year someone sent us what appeared to be homemade lollipops cast into the shape of skulls. We were too afraid it was poisoned to eat it; although the possibility that it contains some excellent hallucinogen we’ve never tried might overcome our fear, if we get bored some evening. People sent so many envelopes full of glitter this year that the area around our computer is impossible to clean. Thanks to all of you for your creativity and passion — it helps us to keep going.

Fall Internship

Slingshot is looking for a Fall intern (or volunteers in general) to help us distribute the 2004 Slingshot Organizer. We’re looking for folks who will participate with us as full and equal member of our collective, sharing all decision making, etc. We figured that some people have to do an internship for school, etc., and might want to do their time with a radical project, instead of some liberal non-profit, etc. We are an all volunteer collective, so this is unpaid. We would like to find folks any time between September – December. If this sounds cool, contact us:

Slingshot Collective

3124 Shattuck Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94705

510 540-0751 x. 3

Mail Bag

Dear Slingshot,

I have managed to wade my way through another year of material existence. I was content with the mass insanity: sell my days away for money, so that I can spend it back for the necessities of life such as food and shelter. But I can no longer live out that lie.

I quit my job. I am shedding my material possessions. We are planning a communal greenhouse. I am transitioning to cheaper rent, hopefully to become rent-free. I have turned the one small clock in my home face-down.

On New Year’s Day, two friends and I were in Atlanta at the mercy of a consumerist family with which we traveled. As they spent money we turned a 20 foot section of broken sidewalk into a non-commissioned series of rock sculptures.

The voice of freedom whispers in our ears, occasionally licking the lobes seductively. Yet the sirens of oppression blare incessantly. I believe that the whispers will be heard.



Asheville, NC

BASTARD Conference on Anarchist Economics

The third annual BASTARD (Berkeley Anarchist Students of Theory And Research & Development) Anarchist Conference will be Sunday, March 30, 2003, the day after the SF anarchist book fair. This year it will be held at New College, 766 Valencia St., San Francisco, California.

This year BASTARD has decided to try a theme for the conference; anarchist economics. An entire track will be dedicated to analysis of economics today, visions of future economics and theories of anarchist economics that differentiate it from market, utopian and Marxist theories of economics. Other topics will also be considered. If you would like to submit a proposal for the conference you can do so one of two ways. First, go to and click on the conference proposal link. Or you can mail a proposal to BASTARD c/o Long Haul, 3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705.

David McKinney, Homeless Activist, Dead

“The body of a man burned beyond recognition is still being examined to determine identity and cause of death after the body was found in a homeless encampment near Ashby Avenue and Interstate 80 on Wednesday night.” So read the Oakland Tribune of Friday, Dec. 13, 2002. The man was homeless. The body could not be immediately identified. His kerosene heater had somehow ignited his makeshift shelter.

The man was identified as David McKinney. He was a Bay Area activist, active especially in issues in regard to the Homeless. Homeless himself, he had finally been approved for treatment of a mental disorder. Before that could happen, with who knows what positive results, he died in this horrible way. His case makes us wonder, in our wealthy society, why are people sleeping on the streets? There are those who think the homeless “deserve” to be homeless. They are not like you and me. Knowing some details of David’s life, people who think like that may be surprised.

He has a family that mourns him; he had a degree in religion from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. He had studied to be a teacher, attending San Francisco State. He worked as a substitute teacher in East Bay public schools, and taught as a student teacher for a while in the 1980s. He was involved with Slingshot, the Long Haul, Food not Bombs, and could be counted on to participate in protests or actions involving progressive issues.

I would like to quote from his sister Lauren’s eulogy, delivered Jan. 11, 2003 at Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, PA. :

“My brother David was a gifted and passionate person. How ironic that with his commitment to the marginalized and dispossessed people in our society, having even written a novel about the homeless, that he became homeless himself. His own demons made him quarrelsome and disorganized, making it hard for him to give and receive love, make constructive decisions, and just live day to day. Given his disability, what a gift that he lived as long as he did, and as well as he did. He never hurt anyone, and never lost his ideals.

“The world needs more people like David. How can we receive David’s unworldliness and deep empathy into our spirits? David never blamed or labeled the powerless. When we use a label to define ourselves against others, we close off the connection, we lose compassion, we kill. Sometimes we do that to stay sane in this world, to feel separate from chaos and darkness. But the chaos and the darkness are part of us, as all great literature reminds us. We cannot undo what happened to David, but if we see the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill, the dispossessed, as fully human, then we carry on his legacy.”

A memorial service will be given in the East Bay for David and information should be available from Steve Weiss at the Homeless Action Center.

Anti-FTAA Protests in Quito

An Eyewitness Account

The seventh summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) took place in Quito, Ecuador on October 31. The FTAA is an international trade agreement that would create the world’s largest free market zone-affecting 650 million people and $9 trillion in capital. It is a different name for the expansion of NAFTA to every country in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, excluding Cuba. Negotiations began immediately after the completion of NAFTA in 1994 and are to be completed by 2005. The FTAA will make it easier for corporations to bypass environmental or worker protection laws and will increase corporate control over our schools, water, electricity and food. Justin Ruben, a graduate student at Yale has been active in educating and organizing against the FTAA for several years in Connecticut and was one of thousands who came from around the world to protest the most recent meeting in Quito.

Justin Ruben

October 31, 2002

During the first day of demonstrations I found myself 20km south of Quito with maybe 300 indígenas in one of two protest caravans that had crossed the country spreading the word about the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quito. As we crowded into buses to head north, I called the other caravan, who reported that they had 80 people. I feared weak numbers but soon after we got off the buses and began a 15km trek to Quito, the number of people seemed to mysteriously increase, as buses from the South caught up with us and disgorged fresh groups of protesters.

The procession was a riot of color, filled with red and blue ponchos and hundreds of rainbow flags (the symbol of the Andean indigenous and campesino movements). People lined the street to watch as we passed by. One shopkeeper explained to me that the indigenous people were like burros, dragging along the rest of the country, who were also opposed to the FTAA because it would devastate the Ecuadorian economy, but who let the indigenous movement carry the torch for their opposition. Old women chanted ceaselessly for four hours, “No queremos, y no nos da la gana, ser una colonia, norteamericana,” (We don’t want, and it doesn’t do us any good, to be a North American colony). One group of Bolivians, led by Evo Morales, the coca-grower who almost became president there, marched with coca leaves taped to their foreheads.

When we finally reached our destination in Quito, we rounded the corner and found not 80 but somewhere around 4,000 people waiting. As the two groups approached each other, people on each side were visibly stirred, and some began to run. At this point, I realized that after 4 months of frantic organizing, the mobilization was a reality, that whatever happened we had already won, that thousands of campesinos and indigenas had come to Quito to unequivocally reject U.S.-style “free” trade. And I simply began to bawl.

Our group didn’t pause, but continued straight toward the Marriott Hotel, where the 34 trade ministers from North and South America were arriving to negotiate a treaty that promises to wipe out small farmers, to hand corporations a sweeping new set of tools to evade environmental, consumer and labor laws, to force the privatization of water, health care, education, culture, and biodiversity.

As we headed north we were joined by large groups of campesinos, students, trade unionists, and international activists who had already been fighting running battles with the police, who were attempting to turn everyone back several kilometers from the Summit. The march was led by a line of campesino and indigenous leaders (“dirigentes”), walking arm-in-arm, preceded by a Shaman conducting rites to improve the success of our efforts. Soon we were stopped by several hundred riot police. The dirigentes asked to send a delegation of civil society groups in to the summit to present a giant letter made up of the proposals and demands of thousands of people who had joined the caravans along their route. They were soundly refused

So the dirigentes deliberated and decided to head west toward the Volcan Pichincha. As we rounded the corner we saw a thousand or more people ahead of us. More groups drifted in from the sides, and soon la Avenida Colon, one of Quito’s widest streets, was packed for perhaps 8 or 10 blocks, with more people out of sight. There must have been between 8 -15,000 people. There were giant puppets, a smattering of black-clad anarchists, a surprising number of international activists and lots and lots of campesinos: 75 year-old women, small children, 20 year olds who wanted nothing to do with traditional dress, mothers and teenage sons marching together. And they were all psyched.

As the most important social movement, dirigente, approached the Avenida Amazonas, the police opened fire with a LOT of tear gas. They shot it at the crowd and over the crowd, so that as people ran away, they ran into more gas. I walked until I couldn’t see or breathe, then began to run, then someone grabbed my hand and led me away. (Why do I never carry goggles to these things?) The president of the National Judicial Workers Union was hit with three tear gas canisters and taken to the hospital. Several young kids passed out and almost asphyxiated. One woman fell on her baby, who was injured and taken to the hospital. A reminder that “free” trade can only proceed via brutal repression, which is now so commonplace at trade summits that it hardly elicits comment.

And so people retreated to the south to regroup, and I retreated to the communications center to try to get the word out about the success of the mobilization, and its repression.

Soon after, 2000 people marched up to police barricades, where they demanded that a much larger delegation be allowed in to deliver the letter. Clearly hoping to avoid the kind of confrontations that have occurred in past uprisings here, the government allowed 40 people from across the hemisphere to come in and meet with the ministers.

Later, in an auditorium where 25 trade ministers sat uncomfortably on stage, 40 campesinos chanted that they had no desire to be a U.S. colony. Peter Rossett of Food First stood up, his arm in a rainbow colored sling thanks to a protest injury. He yelled to Bob Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, that he should be ashamed for pushing an agreement that would impoverish Latin Americans, not to mention many U.S. citizens. Zoellick stared fixedly at his shoe. It was a scene that is, I think, pretty much unprecedented in the history of trade negotiations.

Soon the civil society presentations began. A line of people fanned out in front of the ministers (and TV cameras) holding signs that said “Sí a la vida, No al ALCA” (Yes to life, No to the FTAA). Behind the podium stood an indigenous representative holding a beautifully painted Inca sun with North America and South America, and the words “Si Una Integración Solidaria Con Respeco a la Soberanía de los Naciones”(Yes to an integration based on solidarity, with respect for the sovereignty of nations).

Finally, the social movement representatives spoke. Leonidas Iza, the President of the CONAIE (the Ecuadorian indigenous federation), stated the social movements’ clear rejection of the FTAA and of neoliberalism in general. “We are in desperate shape,” he told the ministers. “You couldn’t possibly understand, you who were born in golden cradles and have never suffered” (at this the ministers looked even more uncomfortable). “But we don’t have food to feed our children. Our markets are flooded with cheap imports. Imported milk is dumped in Ecuador for half of what it costs to produce it, but transnationals [mostly Nestle] sell it back to us at $1.80 per litre. We have no way to live, and the FTAA will only make it worse. When we complain, the U.S. government calls us terrorists. We are not threatening anything, but we are hungr
y and tired and things have to change.” In the wake of widening protest throughout Latin America, the message was not lost on anyone.

Then a woman worker from Nicaragua spoke powerfully of the details of the FTAA, of the privatization and poverty and social exclusion it would bring, particularly for women. “Don’t think you can simply take your picture with us and push forward,” she told the ministers. “We will stop the FTAA.”

The meeting ended and, unable to contain myself, I stood up and shouted in English and then in Spanish that never again could Bob Zoellick claim that the people of Latin America were clamoring for free trade, because today they had unequivocally rejected it. Then Peter Rossett chimed in that polls consistently showed that the majority of U.S citizens oppose free trade, and that the Bush administration had no right and no mandate to push forward with the FTAA. There were loud cheers, and the moderator hurriedly announced that the ministers were leaving and could we please sit down so they could leave. “NO!” screamed the civil society folks in unison, and they pushed out the door, leaving the ministers sitting on stage.

And, at that moment, I felt something shift. I realized that (unless the media bury this entirely despite our best efforts to get the word out, which is always possible) the FTAA has in 24 hours gone from something whose praises its proponents sing, to something they have to defend. Like the WTO before it, the FTAA has become the treaty that has to be sold to an America that doesn’t want it. Or so I hope. I hope I hope I hope. This is how it feels here. But it may be different elsewhere.

We marched out of the Suissotel, reached the police barricades and were greeted by hundreds of cheering protesters, who had been dancing to traditional Kichwa music while we were inside. Then the partying began, I just said good-bye to a compañera from one of the rural provinces of the Sierra, I asked her what she thought of the day’s events, and she said, “I am happy. Very happy. This was the first time I have ever done this, and I think today we achieved something important, something that will improve our lives. And now I can go back to my children.”

I am so proud, so proud and amazed by the incredible work people have done here over the last few months, so moved by their commitment to this struggle, so humbled by the generosity, patience, tolerance, and trust they have shown me. I am so honored to be part of this fast-coalescing hemispheric movement for a new economic and political order, one based on reciprocity and social justice, on true democracy and respect for human and natural diversity And I’m so happy to be going to sleep.

Hey, There's a Federal Agent In My Book!

If you’re at all like me, hearing the word “patriot” lately makes you stop listening, reactively clench your fists, or recall that grand old phrase “I love my country, I just hate my government.” However, there is one patriot that is worth paying close attention to and that is the USA PATRIOT Act [USAPA]. This forced and awkward acronym stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism [Act] a 342 page forced and awkward piece of legislation passed in a hurry a month after September 11 by a scared and vengeful Congress who barely read it. “Appropriate tools” in this case, means expanded surveillance and monitoring abilities as well as significantly reduced checks and balances surrounding how these tools are used. And “terrorism” means, well, almost anything.

You should care about the PATRIOT Act if you frequent libraries or bookstores, use pay phones, use an Internet service provider, go to school, go to the doctor, use credit cards or banks, have a lawyer, leave the country, go to jail, belong to an activist organization, read alternative publications [like this one] or know anyone who is contemplating any of the above activities, or maybe if you’re just a fan of freedom or the Bill of Rights. Why? Because the assumptions you may be making about your privacy, and your right to it, may be all wrong. Your rights to do all of these things, or do them free of surveillance and/or harassment, have changed in the past two years.

One of the most talked about implications of these new powers is the privacy of library and bookstore patrons, or lack thereof. Previously, a government or police official that wanted patron information [such as lists of books checked out, Internet habits, or home addresses and phone numbers] had to have a subpoena issued by a court of law. Now they usually need a search warrant, and the warrant, which can be issued almost immediately, does not need to have a specific name on it. In other words, the FBI can go on snooping missions in libraries or bookstores, and go there solely for the purposes of “gathering intelligence” on everyone who may use the library, not necessarily to track down a particular suspected criminal. They can also install monitoring software on library computers without telling anyone it’s there.

The worst part of this new legislation is the associated gag order. If the FBI does come to your library, your librarian is forbidden by law to tell you or anyone else that they have been there, or what they did. If they installed surveillance equipment on the computers, they can’t tell you. If they asked for the list of the last 50 books you or everyone who uses the library checked out or purchased, they can’t tell you. The same is true for bookstore owners and employees. The USAPA creates an entirely new class of prosecutable criminal: librarians who tell the truth.

Many libraries have written privacy policies that spell out what information they will or will not share [see link below] that are themselves offshoots of state laws regarding privacy of library information — all states but Kentucky and Hawaii have laws making library records confidential.

In fact many of these state privacy laws are themselves a reaction to another misguided program, the FBI’s so-called Library Awareness Program in effect during the 1980’s. During this period, agents went to libraries and asked for information on patrons it considered “suspicious.” Backlash by librarians and resultant heightened visibility of the program itself brought an early demise to the FBI’s activities and more codified assertions of public library patron privacy.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has offered legal assistance to libraries who are facing, or have faced, federal investigators in their libraries [as long as the librarians don’t tell the OIF they have been served with a search warrant]. The USAPA has created a series of conflicting laws where state laws contradict the USAPA which itself contradicts the Bill of Rights. What’s a librarian to do?

While this is all chilling information, the next question is: are these dreaded visits actually happening? While no accurate count of federal agents’ visits to libraries can be made due to the [insane and illegal] gag order, a recent survey of 906 libraries done by the Library Research Center at the UIUC [see link below] found that nearly half the libraries surveyed reported a visit by state or local law enforcement or the INS, in the year following 9/11/01, as compared to less than 15% reporting similar visits in the previous year.

Libraries who have been visited by the FBI can’t mention that fact AFTER the visit, but many libraries and library systems are becoming pro-active and getting ready in case the feds do come to the door. To this end they have begun making staff and patrons aware of the Act and its implications. Some of them have begun tweaking their systems for greater patron privacy: tossing out Internet terminal sign-up lists at the end of the day; not requiring a card number or allowing pseudonymous Internet signups; removing patron borrowing records once a book has been returned; and in some cases, working within their communities to pass resolutions against the PATRIOT Act and pledging non-compliance in advance.

At this writing, San Francisco, Oakland, Arcata, West Hollywood, Yolo County, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Fairfax and Sebastopol California as well as Boulder CO, Madison WI, Ann Arbor and Detroit MI, Burlington and Montpelier VT, Eugene OR, Fairbanks AK, Mansfield and New Haven CT, Flagstaff AZ, Cambridge, Amherst, Leverett & Northampton MA, Takoma Park MD Alachua County FL and Santa Fe, NM have passed some form of resolution condemning the USAPA. Almost all of these resolutions were the result of grass roots and/or library agitation by the general public fed up with infringements on their rights. If your town or city isn’t on this list, perhaps you could help it get there.

Other organizations have been fighting back as well. In August 2002, the ACLU, the Freedom to Read Foundation, The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the Justice Department to disclose how it has been using the USAPA since its inception. They had gotten no response by October, so they filed a lawsuit with the US District Court for the District of Columbia demanding a response. In November, a judge ordered the government to respond to the request by January 15th of this year. In January, the government’s response was widely reported in the media:

“On that date, the government supplied 200 pages, most heavily redacted or blacked out so nothing can be read. None of the documents contained any of the information that had been requested. In the letter accompanying the released pages, the Justice Department made it clear that it would not supply any further information based upon the August FOIA request without further litigation.”

Clearly the US government isn’t too happy about sharing information about its program to force other agencies to share information.

The next big question is what can we all do to prevent, thwart, ridicule and generally combat intrusive government surveillance and intimidation in our lives? There are many levels of involvement, all of which are useful and like most activism, doing anything at all is preferable to staying home and waiting for a knock on the door. Here is a short list of things you can do that will help expose the USA PATRIOT Act as the total unconstitutional violation of our civil liberties that it really is:

  1. Inform yourself, follow these links below and learn what the USAPA is and what it is not. Make a point of telling people about it every day. Be aware of the many public places you go where you could be being s
    pied on just for crossing the path of a “suspected terrorist.”

  2. Go to your library and talk to your librarians and library staff about the PATRIOT Act. Ask if they have a plan in case the FBI comes to their library. Ask them what privacy policies they have put in place. Remind them that it’s okay to tell people if the FBI *hasn’t* been in the library. Check out every book on Afghanistan and militias you can, and fill up the library computers’ Internet cache with articles on home made weaponry and drugs. Then, if the FBI comes to your door, tell everyone you know.
  3. If your community hasn’t yet passed a resolution against the PATRIOT Act, see if you can get one passed. Check out the sample resolutions online, or craft your own. Have community meetings and talk with people about their rights, and their privacy, and what should or shouldn’t be allowed in a free society. Get people’s honest opinions on the new legislation and its effectiveness in fighting terrorism.
  4. Write letters to elected officials. They passed it, they should deal with the repercussions. Tell them you are unhappy that they have sold out your freedoms for the sake of appearing “tough on crime.”
  5. Resist, in whatever form you think is appropriate, government’s attempts to silence or oversee you.

Further reading