[sixties-l] Fwd: Corporate Globalization Is Giving Rise To a New Wave of Campus Activism

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/19/00

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    >Monday 16 October 2000
    >To change a world
    >Corporate globalization is giving rise to a new wave of
    >campus activism
    >The [Montreal] Gazette
    >In a hot, humid third-floor room, a dozen bodies were
    >squeezed together in a circle of chairs to discuss "a
    >necessary evil" that's "out of control" and "is trying to
    >take control of the world" - corporate globalization.
    >Gathered in those steamy quarters at a Concordia University
    >building on Mackay St. were CEGEP students, university
    >undergraduates, artists, teachers and longtime activists.
    >"We're not against globalization per se," said activist
    >Jaggi Singh, part of Montreal's Anti-Capitalist Convergence,
    >as the workshop he was leading picked up speed. "Our group
    >is talking about corporate globalization. It's a vision that
    >sees everything as having a dollar value - people, the
    >environment, the air. We need our own positive vision of
    >what the world should be."
    >However you define it, globalization is doing more than
    >expanding the reach of industry around the world. It also
    >has the potential to bring together some of the
    >long-fractured elements of activism, and do so more
    >powerfully than any other cause has in decades.
    >The issue of corporate globalism is broad enough to bring
    >together a diverse range of critics, from environmentalists
    >to peace activists, from consumer-rights lobbyists to trade
    >unionists to those concerned with the treatment of women,
    >minorities and the populations of developing nations.
    >The movement brings with it critiques of governments and of
    >powerful world bodies. And it carries visions of an
    >alternative way of doing things. But this same movement is
    >sometimes accompanied by images of anger, destruction and
    >clashes between protesters and police.
    >That face of the new activism was apparent in street
    >protests that disrupted the World Trade Organization
    >conference in Seattle last fall and the World Bank and
    >International Monetary Fund meetings in Prague last month.
    >We might see that kind of activism in the streets of
    >Montreal this month, when federal Finance Minister Paul
    >Martin meets representatives of the "G20" developed and
    >emerging nations to discuss global financial reforms Oct.
    >The protesters promise to be out in even greater force in
    >April in Quebec City, when the heads of 34 governments of
    >the western hemisphere meet for the third Summit of the
    >But this umbrella protest movement has many sides to it,
    >almost as many as there are individual activists.
    >University students, most of whom are young and starting to
    >think about what kind of world they want to live in, often
    >fill the ranks as foot soldiers of social movements.
    >Helen Hudson, a co-ordinator at Concordia's branch of the
    >Quebec Public Interest Research Group, sees dozens of
    >students hungry for social justice arrive at her office
    >every year.
    >"They're trying to figure out how they want to fit in in the
    >world, how they want to change the world and make it a
    >better place, and we can act as a springboard for that," she
    >Students might end up gathering books for prisoners,
    >recycling old bicycles for community groups or holding
    >workshops on genetically modified food.
    >Hudson was active in environmental causes when she an
    >undergrad at Ontario's University of Guelph in the
    >mid-1990s. Today's students, she said, are making
    >connections between their concerns in a way that didn't
    >happen even six or seven years ago.
    >"It definitely feels more like a movement now," she said.
    >"It was really easy to feel isolated when I first got
    >involved, and there's definitely still times when that's
    >still the case.
    >"But now it feels like I'm working in a wider context with
    >other people who aren't necessarily working on the same
    >specific issue, but it feels like we're working toward the
    >same larger goal."
    >The anti-globalization movement has helped, Hudson said, but
    >globalism itself has also contributed to shaping locals into
    >activists with a sense of connection to people around the
    >world. For instance, activists have set up alternative
    >information centres on the Internet, where they can find out
    >what's happening on the other side of the globe, and
    >exchange tips on protest tactics or herbal remedies for
    >pepper spray.
    >Last fall's events in Seattle showed how technology has
    >widened possibilities for social change, said Louise
    >Gauthier, a Concordia sociology professor.
    >"This was the first instance where the new forms of
    >communication became useful tools for potential social
    >criticism and political activism on a relatively broad
    >scale," she said.
    >Gauthier argued that the phenomenon is failing in that it
    >occurs in fits and starts, focused on big demonstrations.
    >"There is no sustained energy," she said.
    >But for Rachel Faucher, an executive of the Universite du
    >Quebec a Montreal's main student union, the message of the
    >recent protests has real meaning. She believes the state of
    >our post-secondary education system is clearly linked to
    >Growing corporate power in a time of government spending
    >cuts means companies have increasing influence on campus,
    >she argued. As a result, our universities are in danger of
    >becoming merely tools for industry to compete in a
    >knowledge-based global marketplace.
    >She said she often finds it frustrating to deal with
    >baby-boomers who now make business-minded decisions about
    >the education system even though many of them, in their
    >youth, rebelled against such values.
    >"The university is a place of learning, but they have
    >management and big-business people to run things," Faucher
    >"But it's not just a question of cash. They forget at times
    >the principles at stake, the students, the moral side, and
    >think only about money.
    >"Many baby-boomers have forgotten what it was like for them.
    >Back then, students were in revolt."
    >Indeed, scorn for the anti-globalization forces has come
    >fast and furious from many quarters. Activists have been
    >dismissed as naive, destructive, retrograde. New York Times
    >columnist Thomas Friedman dubbed the Seattle protesters
    >"flat-Earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and
    >yuppies looking for their 1960s fix."
    >"We're the regressives," Singh remarked, his voice tinged
    >with sarcasm. To counter negative images of the
    >anti-globalists, an adopt-an-activist campaign will run in
    >Quebec City during the Summit of the Americas, asking
    >residents to billet protesters in their homes during the
    >counter-conference activities.
    >"We're not all scary people," Singh said.
    >Students contributing to the movement aren't just in
    >political science, social work, the arts and humanities.
    >Sebastien Grenier, a McGill University management student,
    >said he first started thinking about social problems when he
    >took a CEGEP class in environmental ethics.
    >"From there, you either say, 'Well, it's too big,' and you
    >don't do anything, or you think, 'I'm powerless, it will
    >still happen even if I do my small part,' " Grenier said.
    >"But I said, 'No, I want to know more.' "
    >After he arrived at McGill, Grenier was part of the first
    >group of students to take a new class on the social context
    >of business. It got students talking about issues like child
    >labour, Third World debt, sweatshops, advertising and the
    >environment, in a faculty where the prevailing attitude is
    >that the market will solve everything.
    >Grenier and some other students decided they wanted to
    >continue exploring the questions raised in the class on
    >their own, forming a group called McGill Business Watch.
    >Besides organizing speeches and workshops, the group is
    >making it their mission to research corporations, especially
    >those that are recruiting, sponsoring events or funding
    >research in their faculty.
    >"We'll try to go beyond the image that big corporations are
    >all OK, that you just fit into it, you go work for them and
    >then everything is fine," he said.
    >Ahmed Abou Chaker says that to go through university
    >thinking only about a job at the end of the line is to get a
    >second-rate education. The Palestinian physiology student,
    >who is trying to raise awareness at McGill about human
    >rights in his homeland, feels university provides people
    >with an opportunity to stretch their minds with new ideas
    >and experiences.
    >"There's much more to life than just studying, just books,"
    >he said. "If that's all you do, you won't survive out there
    >in the world."
    >But for others, their concern over social issues often
    >remains just that, because they don't have the time to
    >devote to anything but their studies.
    >And others have no use at all for organized political
    >Brendan Gunther, a second-year biochemistry student, said he
    >prefers to try to change things through his actions and by
    >influencing the lives of those around him.
    >"I'm consciously inactive," he said. "I think
    >person-to-person is the way to do things."
    >While Gauthier sees potential for the movement to bring
    >about real change, she said the stumbling block lies in the
    >conflict between our personal needs and our sense of
    >connection to others.
    >"I think we're still living in the era of acute
    >individualism," she said. "If you combine that acute
    >individualism with this tendency to develop a social
    >consciousness, this duality is not going to mix well."
    >Gauthier said she often sees mass culture's me-centred
    >message winning out over lofty ideas of equality and rights
    >in her own students.
    >"They may understand social stratification and status and
    >class, but they may also think, 'I understand this for my
    >course, but it's not what I really want to live out in my
    >day-to-day life because I want the Lexus.'"
    >While Gauthier says she hasn't seen protests on the scale of
    >Seattle since the fall of communism in the late 1980s, she
    >adds that she doesn't see the same congealing of forces that
    >occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. The issues have, in
    >some ways, become much more complicated since that era
    >because the targets were more tangible, like discriminatory
    >laws or the Vietnam War.
    >"It's much more fluid now," she said. "We're not working
    >with clear-cut categories any more."
    >The challenge for this movement is to create unity in
    >diversity. There's a double-edged danger: anti-globalism
    >could become an unfocused protest against everything, or a
    >simplistic critique that fails to acknowledge the subtle
    >dynamics of global economics.
    >Pauline Hwang began on her route to activism in high school,
    >when she did a lot of volunteer work at food banks and other
    >organizations. But she began thinking seriously about
    >globalization in 1998 when she attended a speech about the
    >proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment by Maude
    >Barlow of the Council of Canadians.
    >Hwang was an organizer of a protest last semester that put a
    >stop to McGill's planned exclusivity contract with
    >This year, she plans to work on projects that link global
    >issues to local ones; she mentioned police brutality,
    >immigration and women in the workplace.
    >While Hwang is encouraged to see more people getting
    >involved, she also worries that this new student movement is
    >in danger of becoming too focused on the concerns of the new
    >"A lot of the dialogue is about, 'We're losing our power,
    >our governments don't have the same power,' which is rather
    >middle-class, because they are the ones who used to have
    >political clout," she said.
    >"I think a lot of those arguments really draw in some of the
    >younger, more wealthy folks."
    >Hwang sometimes senses a resistance to talk about how race,
    >gender and class issues play into the scenario, a backlash
    >of sorts to the identity-based politics of the late 1980s
    >and early 1990s.
    >But the fact coalitions are forming gives her hope that
    >there is room for a change in those attitudes.
    >"Some days I'm more cynical than others, but I think there
    >is potential," Hwang said.
    >"I think this is an exciting time. We bought a bit of space,
    >by surprising everyone at Seattle, to really throw a lot of
    >things into question. That means pushing the boundaries of
    >what we're debating and not just limiting it to,
    >'Corporations, give us back our power.' Because who had the
    >power to begin with?"
    >Karen Herland attended Concordia in the mid-1980s, when the
    >issues that Hwang is talking about were coming to centre
    >stage in the student movement. While she doesn't often find
    >herself on the front line at demonstrations with a megaphone
    >these days, she has remained committed to the questions she
    >grappled with in university.
    >These days, Herland is working to create a dialogue on
    >prostitution in the centre-south area of Montreal, after a
    >pilot project to suspend prostitution arrests in the
    >district was canceled this spring in the face of vocal
    >opposition by local residents.
    >"If you're still interested, you're still involved, but it's
    >not necessarily with a placard," Herland said.
    >She doesn't see the current philosophy of the activist
    >community as all that different from the discussion of
    >racism, sexism and homophobia that proceeded it.
    >"For me, it was ultimately about a question of respecting
    >difference - recognizing that not respecting difference gave
    >people unequal access to self-determination," Herland said.
    >"I think that looking at these issues on a global scale
    >takes up that same point and extends it."
    >Herland contends the anti-globalization forces have the
    >potential to effect some real change - concessions in laws
    >and regulations, amended banking practices, a boost of
    >consumers' power and, perhaps, an acknowledgment that
    >sweatshops are not ethical.
    >"I think this, like every kind of movement before it, will
    >evolve into a certain recognition of some of the issues,"
    >she said.
    >"But that's not going to happen overnight."

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