Cover Story: A World of Hurt

Protesters say World Bank is your enemy, too

Sep 13, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Susan Knight has been fighting globalization and racism in CIncinnati.

All of a sudden certain words and concepts have taken on an ominous tone: World Trade. Global Marketplace. Olympics in Cincinnati. International Airport.

What had been opportunity now sounds like hazard. By a damnable irony, the destruction of the World Trade Center makes clear — in a way that teach-ins and protests never could — the proximity of seemingly distant crises and the relevance of drab economic decisions.

For years the anti-globalization freaks have been using such words as "death" and "suffering" to describe the impact of trade policies made by the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and other international behemoths.

Whoever caused the carnage at the World Trade Center, the symbolism is inescapable, teaching us the hard lesson that decisions in the Most Powerful Country in the World have consequences for people in other countries — and also for our relatives and business associates who happen to live in Manhattan.

The movement against globalization of the economy is all about choices involving profits, people and principles.

Supporting famine
Freshmen at Northern Kentucky University last week got to make a choice: Do they want to be sorority girls or radical cheerleaders?

Molly Seifert, a senior, manned a booth at the meet-and-greet, hoping the new students would be less worried about Cover Girl makeup and more concerned about government cover-ups.

Seifert is part of a campus group protesting the annual joint meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, D.C. at the end of the month. The IMF and World Bank are the two biggest players in the globalization of the economy, a movement that concerns social activists from around the world.

Seifert will join students and activists trekking to Washington by bus to protest Sept. 28 through Oct.1.

"Basically we say the IMF and the World Bank are financial institutions that are controlled by the seven richest countries in the world," Seifert says.

The two organizations make decisions that affect the quality of life for billions of people — without public input.

"These economic policies are being made behind closed doors and we have no voice," Seifert says.

The World Bank and the IMF make loans to developing countries that are already in debt. As part of the agreement, the World Bank and the IMF usually put demands on those countries to cut spending on social services and create higher price tags for such basics as education and housing. Environmental and labor regulations also usually suffer from the process.

"People that are already poor — they have a harder time getting access to the services everybody needs," Seifert says.

Growing up in Erlanger, in what she describes as a working class neighborhood, fostered Seifert's passion for human rights, she says.

"I've seen how all my neighbors had to struggle to support their children making $8 an hour," she says. "I've always been concerned about social justice."

Today she lives in Cincinnati — a place hardly isolated from issues of poverty, disregard for the poor and social injustice. Seifert points out that Cincinnati is willing to spend money to construct new stadiums, but is slow to spend money to ensure that public schools have the resources they need to succeed.

"The problems happening in Cincinnati are part of a much larger problem," she says.

University of Cincinnati sophomore Tony Walls, who has been active in social issues since high school, says he felt powerless to make a change until he started college. He's been to a few demonstrations against globalization, but nothing on the scale of those planed in Washington.

People everywhere should actively fight against globalization, according to Walls.

"Most of where the World Bank and the IMF gets money is from our tax dollars," he says. "If you're a citizen of a Western country, your tax dollars, I believe, are going to support famine in the Third World."

D.J. Carter, co-president of Students Together Against Racism at NKU, sees globalization as a worldwide threat, something Cincinnatians should not ignore.

"Today globalization is the new racism," Carter says. "The United States and the other wealthy countries are exploiting these countries, using foreign workers at amazingly low wages."

Carter calls the IMF "the ultimate representation of globalization."

Solidarity with African Americans
Protesters need to be prepared for a police backlash against their efforts to be heard, according to Seifert.

"No matter if you are a peaceful protester or you go to a permitted march, to the police all protesters are criminals," she says. "Their goal is to protect the status quo and we're challenging them with a different idea. We pose a threat to what they've been paid to protect."

The threat, Seifert says, is changing the status quo to a system that serves more than just those high in financial status.

While the police work to protect institutions in order to maintain the way things are, Seifert says, the protesters' goal is to see the World Bank and IMF made into something that better models democracy.

Susan Knight, a member of Coalition for a Humane Economy (CHE), has been organizing the bus trip to Washington. CHE organized protests in Cincinnati last year against globalization (See "Who's Afraid of the TABD?" issue of Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2000).

The protests in Washington are important to Cincinnati because of the city's recent history, according to Knight. In April, CHE had organized a series of protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, but cancelled them in solidarity with African Americans protesting police violence and racism.

Now at least three black ministers will return the support, joining the protesters in Washington and talking at prayer services, rallies and marches about the problems in Cincinnati.

"I'm very excited about the black community getting on board," Knight says. "As a result of the unrest in the city, black activists and white globalization activists are coming together in the city."

Knight is glad to see Cincinnati residents looking at issues from a global perspective.

"What's happening in Cincinnati is happening in developing nations all over the world- the idea that you have larger numbers of people who are without opportunity and who are facing repression because of their race and economic background," she says.

Knight says organizers chose NKU as their starting point for Washington D.C. in observance of the Cincinnati boycott and as a way to educate students on the negative impact of globalization.

Taking part in the protests is an important step for those who will be making the journey from Kentucky to Washington, according to Knight

"I think it's imperative that we be there," she says.

Attacking Capitalism's Symbol
Until this week, the World Trade Center used to be the symbol of U.S capitalism, just as the Pentagon was the symbol of impenetrable U.S. military might. But the Sept. 11 attacks may force people to start to think in a new way — from a global perspective.

"This attack was made against the symbol of American arrogance and American military using tools bearing symbolic names," says Gwen Marshall, convener of the Southwest Ohio Green Party. "If the attack was a military attack, then G.E. Evendale could have been hit. If the attack was against the worst of the multinational corporations, then downtown Cincinnati's Fifth Street could have been hit."

Marshall is concerned that some reactions to the attacks might be missing a larger point.

"I am not surprised that people like President Bush and Congressman Steve Chabot are comparing this to Pearl Harbor and an act of war, since they don't understand the concerns most of us in the Green Party have with the war on the people and the environment being waged by the multinationals through corporate globalization," she says.

Kim Burden, a community organizer in Cincinnati, says the United States could be experiencing backlash from people upset with the U.S. government's handling of important issues and its disregard for human rights.

"What we're seeing in our homeland is actions that the U.S. government has done to other countries," Burden says. "There's lots of reasons why other countries would be angry with the U.S."

While she says Americans should be outraged and disgusted with what happened Sept. 11, they also must realize that anger against the United States did not emerge overnight.

"We have to recognize that these actions did not come out of a vacuum," she says.

Now more than ever change through peaceful means is needed to make the United States conscious of the needs of the entire world, according to Burden.

"We need to create revolution in this country — and we cannot do it through violence," she says.

Sister Alice Gerdeman says the people who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are obviously enraged, but they do not have the right to take act violently.

"Nothing happens isolated from everything else," she says. "I would hope that we would find ways to deal with this situation that will not create more pain and more killing."

Gerdeman believes Americans have a right to be upset and saddened by what happened Tuesday. She feels they should express their sorrow and search their souls. But people must realize that we're not the only people in the world who feel pain as a result of violence.

"We're not used to seeing this kind of destruction in our own land," she says. "Most of the peoples of the world have lived in war zones." ©