Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk of The Rules write in “Capitalism is Just a Story and Other Dangerous Thoughts” that our system of neo-liberal capitalism is one story that is told about the way the world works. In this story, natural resources are turned into commodities so they can be monetized. As in the feudal age, the wealthy few are taking more and more, cutting the rest of us off from the treasures we once shared and expanding the wealth divide so that more of us become ‘serfs’.
Ladha and Kirk go on to say, “our only absolute limitation is our collective imagination, expressed through our will to change the mythologies that hold this house of cards together.” For once we see neo-liberalism and its related “isms” of colonialism, imperialism and racism for what they are and what they do, we are closer to being free of their grip and creating a new story, a collective story of communities collaborating with compassion to live sustainably and peacefully with respect for the rights of all living things.
The Commons is disappearing and we must reverse this tide before it comes to its natural conclusion, ‘private affluence and public squalor’. Once this is understood, it becomes only natural that social movements all over the world ‘occupy’ to reclaim that Commons. As David Edwards writes, not only is the occupation of space a form of resistance but it is also a place to create the wold we want to live in right now.
Detroit on the Front Lines of Neo-liberal Assault
Detroit is a prime example of the neo-liberal capture of a city and the assault on democracy that the US has inflicted on the global south. Similar tactics are being enacted in other cities across the country, but Detroit really is the canary in the coal mine. As Thrasher explains, the state used a shock doctrine approach to create a financial crisis and then quietly displace elected bodies and put emergency financial managers in control. When the people passed a voter initiative to prohibit the installation of emergency managers, the state overturned it.
We spoke this week with Lamar Lemmons of the Detroit Public School Board ‘in exile’ who explained how the state went after the schools’ budget surplus and raided their $1.5 billion bond. Now the schools are failing and the community is looking for alternative ways to meet the needs of their students through Saturday Schools and Freedom Schools. We also spoke with Beulah Walker of the Detroit Water Brigade, a volunteer who works tirelessly to stem the tide of water shutoffs and bring water to the more than 30,000 homes who are going without access to water. Currently Detroit is negotiating with Veolia to privatize their water system. Be aware, Detroit is a testing ground for theft we expect to see, and in many cases are already seeing, in cities across the nation. Understand it, so you can fight it when it comes to your community.
Neo-liberal Assault on Our National Treasures
We are experiencing a similar pattern of looting at the national level with attacks on and privatization of self-funded institutions such as the US Postal Service, Social Security and Medicare. Congress imposed a requirement that the US Postal Service is required to fund 75 years of retirement benefits, a requirement that no other public institution or business would consider to be reasonable. As a result, the US Postal Service is having to make cuts which will undermine their service and drive customers to private entities like Staples stores. In response a group of organizations including all of the postal unions has formed a Grand Alliance to stop the attack. We encourage you to join this fight as we are.
Social Security and Medicare are the foundation of our social safety net for the elderly. David Lindorff writes that we need a similar coming together to not only save them, but also to expand them by doubling Social Security to lift seniors out of poverty and by expanding Medicare to everyone to solve the healthcare crisis.
Similar struggles are occurring all over the planet. This week there was a protest against the Gates Foundation, which is working in tandem with US AID to privatize seeds and agriculture in Africa. In Colombia, communities are organizing to stop privatization of their rivers. Local residents are prevented access to the rivers for fishing and the riverbanks for growing food by state and private military forces. Recently there have been massive protests in Montreal, Quebec and Madrid, Spain against the austerity measures that go hand in hand with privatization.
Of course, the international treaties currently being negotiated such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are massive tools for neo-liberalism. They will open the floodgates to waves of privatization, assaults on democracy and more economic hardship.
This week, Wikileaks released a recent version of the TPP’s Investment Chapter which includes the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals. Wikileaks described the tribunals as “supra-national courts” which create “a mechanism by which multinational corporations can force governments to pay compensation if the tribunal states that a country’s laws or policies affect the company’s claimed future profits.” Jack Rasmus explains why political and economic elites in the US are pushing for passage of the TPP.
The key to passing the TPP is Congress first passing legislation known as ‘fast track’ that would allow the president to sign the treaty before it goes to Congress where it would essentially be rushed through with limited time for review and no amendments. And one key to passing fast track is for Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to cosponsor the bill in the Senate Finance Committee with Orrin Hatch. Sen. Wyden is being pressured from both sides with the White House and trans-national corporations making promises to him in exchange for his support for fast track, and Oregonians and Democratic groups like Democracy for America, MoveOn and the Working Families Party threatening to work against his re-election if he doesn’t oppose fast track.
Popular Resistance has been very focused on Sen. Wyden and as more groups join in, we are having an impact. Sen. Hatch wanted to reach a deal with Wyden before Congress left for a recess this week, but we understand that didn’t happen. The Senate is expected to introduce fast track legislation when they return in mid-April. We can stop fast track and the TPP. Join the week of action April 1 to 8 by organizing actions in your home districts and using www.StopFastTrack.com to contact Wyden’s office and the Senate Finance Committee. And join the weekly National Fast Track Resistance calls on Wednesday nights.Click here for more information.
The truth is that people-power can stop fast track and the global neo-liberal assault. We can do this through both civil resistance to stop harmful policies such as emergency managers and international corporate treaties and by telling a new story and taking action to create a new societal structure for the economy and governance.
Jonathan Dawson of The Guardian tells us that the latter is taking place not in the centers of power but in our local communities where capitalism is being replaced with a commons-based approach. Instead of the neo-liberal public-private partnerships, which are really designed to shift public wealth into private hands, they are using public-commons partnerships.
Communities are standing up to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and winning. People in New York and New Jersey are stopping a fracked gas export terminal that was proposed in Port Ambrose. In Southwestern Virginia, a recent court decision will slow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Popular Resistance is a partner in Beyond Extreme Energy which organizes protests at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. We are trying to push them to stop rubberstamping oil and gas projects and support more renewable sources of energy. In France, they just passed a law requiring new businesses to have either green roofs or rooftop solar panels.
Communities are taking on militarism. A very creative campaign called “Tanks? No Thanks!” was launched in the Czech Republic to protest a US military convoy passing through. In Buenos Aires, Brazil a man named Raul Lemesoff went farther to transform a tank into a “Weapon of Mass Instruction” which passes out free books. In the Bronx, New York, communities are organizing to not only hold the police accountable but to create positive alternatives.
The World Social Forum is closing today in Tunis, Tunisia. It is a “‘plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party’ meeting of international social movements to counter the global forces of neoliberalism, austerity, and climate crisis. If you weren’t able to be there this year, we hope that you’ll make plans for next year when it will be held in Quebec.