The Common Good
February 2004

An Open Letter to Young Activists

by Duane Shank | February 2004

There are things in life worth being for--and things worth being against.

In November 2003, thousands of people traveled to Miami to protest the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. Among them were Celeste Kennel-Shank and other students from Goshen College in Indiana. Duane Shank, Celeste's father, spoke with the group before their departure.

While you're consumed with all the logistical details of your coming trip, I hope you take time to remember that you are in a long chain of people struggling for justice. In my lifetime alone, that chain has stretched from the civil rights movement to Vietnam to Central America to anti-apartheid to nuclear disarmament to Iraq Wars 1 and 2, and, for me now, the work to overcome domestic poverty.

I've learned a few things along the way. One important lesson is that there are things in life worth being for and things worth being against. And that sometimes to be for something, you have to be against something else.

Although it's called the "anti"-globalization movement, these protests are also "for" something very important. The movement says it in a wonderful slogan: "Another world is possible." The prophet Isaiah, nearly 3,000 years ago, described that world. If you compare his vision to the world these free trade agreements would create, you understand the reasons you are going to Miami:

We are for a world where "No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth." And so we are against a world where 35,000 children die each day and the life expectancy in many poor countries is only 30 to 40 years.

We are for a world where people "shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat." And so we are against a world where agricultural subsidies benefit U.S. agribusiness while farmers in the global South starve and indigenous people's land is stolen.

We are for a world where people "shall not labor in vain." And so we are against a world where U.S. corporations ship jobs around the world to places where they can exploit sweatshop workers with no labor rights and no environmental standards, taking jobs from U.S. workers while unemployment and the number of people in poverty continue to rise.

So, while many parents in the United States are sending their children off to war, I am very proud to be sending my child and all of you off to the struggle for justice. Whatever happens this week, remember that the struggle we are engaged in to make another world possible is changing history.

Go with my love, go with my blessings, go with my prayers.

The November FTAA negotiations ended abruptly a day earlier than scheduled, largely due to the U.S. failure to secure the agreement of the other countries involved. Rather than a comprehensive agreement, ministers proposed a process wherein governments can decide which aspects of the FTAA they wish to negotiate. In the streets of Miami, several thousand law-enforcement officers from more than 40 agencies used tear gas, pepper gas, rubber bullets, tasers, and armored cars against nonviolent demonstrators, journalists, and union members. In the months prior to the meetings, Miami police had received $8.5 million in federal Homeland Security funds for this equipment. An independent review panel of Miami-Dade County recently “strongly condemn[ed] and deplore[d] the unrestrained and disproportionate use of force by various police departments in Miami during the FTAA” meetings. Several lawsuits are pending.

Duane Shank is issues and policy adviser at Sojourners.

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