Globalization

Living on Bananas

"Come Mr. Tally Mon, tally me banana...." As I watched Life and Debt, a new documentary about the effects of international economic policies on Jamaica, the words of Harry Belafonte's classic "The Banana Boat Song" went through my head as the music played during the segment about Jamaica's beleaguered banana industry. It seemed cliché to use the song during that segment, and I braced myself when I heard the first notes begin.

But now I listened to the words, and they made sense for the first time. The lyrics struck me with their poignancy, and I realized that Belafonte's song was one of protest. I had never really heard them before, and rather than adding a trite touch to the film, the song revealed, through the understated display of the lyrics, one of the ways in which people of privilege have chosen to ignore the reality of Caribbean poverty.

Life and Debt, produced and directed by Stephanie Black, is a powerful indictment of the economic policies of the international financial institutions. The almost-90-minute film, which premiered at the 2001 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, focuses on the tragic inability of the island nation—granted independence in 1962 from Great Britain, but remaining within the commonwealth—to maintain a functional economy for its people.

In 1999-2000, according to Jubilee USA, the Jamaican government estimated that 66 percent of its revenue was being used for debt service. To raise more money, the government suggested increasing fuel taxes, which led to riots in the streets. The fuel tax option was withdrawn, and the country continues to deal with severe debt problems.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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From Conquistadors to Corporations

If we are to talk about "globablization" today, we must first talk about death. What happened in New York and Washington, D.C., last Sept. 11 has squarely put before us the true scale of the moral and human issues this process called "globalization" entails. Let me share with you some simple facts:

Over the course of this coming year, more than 50 million—50,000,000—people will die of preventable disease or malnutrition, human beings the United Nations estimates needn't have died had someone been willing to spend just a dollar or two per person for food or medicine.

To give some perspective, 50 million dead is greater than the total casualties of World War II. It is eight times greater than the Holocaust, about which we all rightly insist "Never Again." It amounts each year to 13,000 World Trade Centers, which must also never be forgotten. And yet—year after year—this loss of life goes on not merely forgotten but unknown to all but a tiny fraction of Americans.

Of those 50 million who will die, there is an even more painful fact: More than 12 million will be children under the age of 5. That's 1 million children needlessly dying every month, a quarter million every week, nearly 40,000 children every day.

 

THE WORD "GLOBALIZATION" is a perfectly modern term, unpoetic, efficiently neutral and technical, a description of what many even now believe is a natural, and therefore inescapable, process going on around the planet—a "golden straightjacket," as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls it, that only the foolish and malign refuse to accept. Globalization is also often described as new, the consequence of amazing technological, informational, and market advances unknown even a quarter-century ago.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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Speaking in Tongues

The faith-based anti-globalization movement is learning some new words. At a recent international consultation held in Fiji by the World Council of Churches and the Pacific Conference of Churches, representatives from 29 countries laid out their vision for a just international economy. In meetings dubbed "Islands of Hope," churches brought their contributions for resisting a destructive global economy. The Africans brought ubuntu-an Africa-based movement of renaissance and reconstruction. The Indonesian church spoke of gatong, the principle of "togetherness." From the Philippines there was bayanihan-change through collective living. The Indian church presented panchasila, "great solidarity," and the Koreans discussed daedong yundae-unity. Regional meetings in Budapest and Bangkok and an international youth consultation in the Pacific preceded the Fiji conference.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2001
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Free Trade for Whom?

Protesters anywhere have a legitimate case to make, as long as it’s not made with violence. But I can tell you that the issues that they’re raising in terms of the global economy, how countries treat each other, the gap between the rich and the poor, those are very much the issues that will be dealt with in Quebec." —Paul Martin, Canadian finance minister

Hundreds of thousands will benefit from this trade agreement, but millions more will not. And those who are the losers will be forced into regional and inter-generational poverty with governments largely removed as actors on their behalf." —Gerry Barr, Canadian Council for International Cooperation

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Hemispheric NAFTA-Shocks

On the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, the Zapatista movement began—a rebellion, they said, against the forces of globalization on behalf of the rights of indigenous Mexicans. Seven years later, as Zapatistas continued their struggle by peacefully marching this spring from Chiapas to Mexico City, trade ministers from 34 North and South American countries headed to Quebec City to hammer out a NAFTA of the Western hemisphere: The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).

Though 500 corporate representatives were invited to attend the FTAA conference, civil society's invitations were apparently lost in the mail, leaving critics to assert that the FTAA is fundamentally undemocratic and that its goals of privatization and deregulation will pad corporate wallets at the expense of workers, the poor, and the environment. Opponents cite sweatshop conditions, heavy pollution, and the migration of U.S. jobs to the South as evidence that the NAFTA-fication of the Americas will enrich a few and open borders to exploitation and injustice.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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Just Stop It

It might be going too far to say that Naomi Klein makes globalization fun. But the Canadian journalist does make highly engaging reading out of such nonsexy topics as how transnational corporations' marketing and money came to dominate our public life. Her 1999 book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies even dares to be hopeful. Klein sees a grassroots global movement forming-in the streets, yes, but also in shareholders' meetings, workplaces, universities, even sweatshops-to demand "a citizen-centered alternative to the international rule of the brands."

Klein is as careful to note the excesses and co-option of some anti-corporate activism as she is to detail the dire conditions of a sweatshop or deflate corporate image-mongering. But she is certain that anti-corporate efforts are a vital part of achieving human rights and just government around the world, and that such efforts are on the increase. She talked in December 2000 with Sojourners' Julie Polter about the challenges and potential in building a movement that refuses to be branded.

JULIE Polter: Some people dismiss anti-globalization protests such as those in Seattle in November 1999 as just kids breaking windows. Is part of your work to help build credibility for this movement?

NAOMI Klein: Everybody who's involved in this movement spends a lot of time just correcting misconceptions, not just about tactics but about why people are protesting. This is a much bigger concern to me-the fact that a lot of the media coverage presents the protests as narrowly protectionist and nostalgic.

The main challenge for the movement in general is to communicate the goals of the movement better. Not just to the media, but to friends, colleagues, in organizing in general. I've been trying to do my part.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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That Sucking Sound

I don't think it's just post-Boomer nostalgia and those Toy Story movies that make me fond of the Etch A Sketch. It is low-tech, nonviolent, portable, and bears theological wisdom as few toys do. A friend remembers the first time he etched away enough of the silver stuff so he could see the mechanism inside-how cool it was, and what a bummer, and how there's a parable in there somewhere. An Etch A Sketch teaches about the fragility of life, that what you create will rarely last forever. And something about forgiveness and grace: They are readily available, but we don't always want to accept them; they usually involve being shaken up, but the result is a fresh, blank slate.

When toy company Ohio Art announced late last year that they were moving production of the Etch A Sketch from their headquarters in Bryan, Ohio, to China, several friends offered me their condolences. I grew up a few miles from Bryan, in a rural county that might be close to nowhere. To explain where I'm from, I give a rote set of coordinates: "50 miles west of Toledo, 10 miles south of Michigan, 17 miles east of Indiana." In response to the blank stares I usually get at this point, I cite the area's famous products, both made in Bryan: The Dum Dum suckers that my late father made at the end of his 40 years as a cook at Spangler Candy Co., and, of course, the Etch A Sketch.

I have snapshots of myself posing with the giant plywood Etch A Sketch that is part of the annual Bryan town square Christmas decoration. Indeed, a company spokesperson noted that they might well have moved production out of Bryan sooner, but they took seriously the deep community connections the toy represented.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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When Profit Is the Driver

"Today the worker is not only the engine of production but also the consumer. She sells her labor cheap and buys at full price." In his brief but rousing new book, Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History, Walter Mosley questions both the ends and means of triumphal capitalism. He calls on working Americans of all ethnicities to ask themselves what they deserve for a lifetime of labor. Air that doesn't make them asthmatic? Exemplary education for their children? Renumeration for childrearing? A "medical bill of rights?" Make a list, counsels Mosley, and see how closely it coincides with "the rather small and insignificant goals of the few who own (or control) almost everything." If at least 10 percent of us articulate and answer this question, if we carry our lists around, consult them often, argue their merits, vote by them, the year 2000 might represent a genuine turning point in our history.

Christian readers committed to serving others may object to Mosley's insistence that we consult our own interests—but not if they are familiar with Mosley's fiction. Author of the popular Easy Rawlins detective novels and creator of Socrates Fortlow, the deeply wise ex-con hero of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, Mosley shows how inextricably linked are self-regard and compassion. "The goals of revolution," says Mosley in his new book, "are realized by personal enlightenment." To this end, he advises us to suspend the influence of the "spectacles and illusions" that hypnotize us by spending 90 days without TV, movies, or professional sports.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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Resistance Is Not Futile

Anti-globalization folk hero and sheep farmer Jose Bove has inspired a T-shirt that’s all the rage in Europe. It shows the globe open in the form of a huge jaw; from it emerges the handcuffed wrists of Bove, keeping the teeth from snapping shut. The slogan reads: "The world is not merchandise, and neither am I."

Bove is one of the "Millau Ten," members of the Peasant Confederation recently charged with "a festive dismantling with collateral damage" of an unfinished McDonald’s outlet in the small French town of Auch. They singled out the Golden Arches to protest the U.S. government’s recent tariffs on French specialty products, such as mustard and Roquefort cheese. The tariffs were in retaliation for Europe banning hormone-treated U.S. beef. Bove’s sheep milk is used to make Roquefort. His demonstration was nonviolent, local, personal, and specific.

How can you keep the maw of McWorld from snapping shut on you? We came up with a few ideas. Tell us yours by dropping us an e-mail at sojourners@sojo.net. (Come back to this page to see what other readers suggest.)

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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Branded for Life

"The battle in Seattle" stirred worldwide concern about the impact of the new global economy on our poorest neighbors and the environment. An international coalition of environmentalists, labor union leaders, citizen activists, and church leaders has come together (with the help of the Internet) to challenge the agendas of the World Trade Organization.

But many peace and justice Christians who are a part of this new coalition are still focused on the issues of the 1970s and ’80s. In the ’90s we moved into a new neighborhood, and few in the church seemed to have noticed.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded, virtually every nation on earth joined the free-market race to the top. Overnight we have become a part of a one-world economic order. This global boom economy raises issues regarding its impact on workers, sweatshops, and escalating environmental damage, but also a host of new issues that will require imaginative responses.

Money Central. A review of our history books reminds us of the dangers we have faced from those intent on political centralization. But we have never been a part of a global economic order before. In economic centralization, domination is the name of the game. As Michael Quinlan, chairman of the board of McDonald’s, declares, "I am open to any course that helps McDonald’s dominate every market."

Through aggressive expansion and mergers, transnational corporations are achieving domination of their global markets. Power is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer global corporations as these behemoths mate and merge. This is likely to seriously undercut the future of representational government.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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