News: Global Gathering

Students organize conference on resisting corporate power

Jymi Bolden

Organizing the conference on globalization are (clockwise, L-R) Eira Tansey, Ryan Donohue, Nathan Schneider, Ya-Sin Southall and Greg Riestenberg.

The six University of Cincinnati students organizing "Global: A Conference on the World Economy" are only half-joking when they talk about stashing out-of-towners in their basements.

After all, they expect between 250 to 600 people to attend.

The organizers of the conference Friday through Sunday come from all ends of the political spectrum. Some are anarchists, others are Green Party supporters and one even confesses she's a Democrat. The group practices a distinctly anti-authoritarian mindset, one that shows during a March 16 planning session.

"We need contact info for if someone gets arrested," says Ryan Donohue, one of the organizers.

The conversation then turns toward food. Donohue offers his entire family's coffeepots. Like the conference and lodging, lunch Saturday and Sunday will be provided at no charge. The group also discusses how they'll justify the presence of rib tips during the mostly vegetarian lunch.

"Let's say it's road kill," Donohue suggests.

"Let's say we raised the cow," says organizer Eira Tansey.

Joking aside, the organizers are serious about countering the negative effects of corporate globalization.

Trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) have deregulated the import and export of goods and jobs. While this can result in lower prices for consumers and higher incomes for corporations, opponents say the negative effects of NAFTA outweigh the advantages. The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and Canada grew from $9 billion in 1994, when NAFTA took effect, to $87 billion in 2002.

Moreover, there are ethical concerns about globalization, namely its effect on the working class and the environment. Real wages in Mexico's manufacturing sector dropped 13.5 percent in the six years following NAFTA's implementation, while air pollution has nearly doubled.

Representatives from 34 countries now are working to expand NAFTA to Central America, South America and the Caribbean through the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. FTAA negotiations are scheduled for completion next year.

Ongoing efforts to expand the global economy worry the conference organizers, who call NAFTA a disaster and the FTAA another attempt at a global "race to the bottom." They hope their conference will motivate and train average citizens in the ways of grassroots activism.

"We need more things in Cincinnati that bring people from different organizations and groups together, so people aren't operating in a vacuum," Tansey says. "We really want 'Global' to be open to everyone from curious people who've never really done any kind of activism in their life to people who've been doing it for decades."

This is the group's second conference. A similar conference in October drew about 100 people. Cincinnati last saw large-scale anti-globalization activity in 2000, during protests against the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (see "The 12-Second Warning," issue of Nov. 22-28, 2000). But the "Global" crew says the movement is stronger today.

Some of the organizers joined thousands of protesters in Miami to protest an FTAA summit last November. Such efforts convinced them that the movement is gaining strength. They hope to capitalize on that energy this weekend.

The "Global" organizers secured funds for the conference through UC thanks to their status as a student group, though they only grudgingly accept handouts from what they call a huge bureaucracy.

The group has also secured nearly all of UC's McMicken Hall, creating what Donohue calls "a temporary autonomous college."

"Global" will include workshops throughout Saturday and Sunday, with speakers ranging from students to union organizers to nuns.

UC history professor Elizabeth Frierson will address globalization in the Middle East, while down the hall Dana Textoris of the American Civil Liberties Union will discuss legal matters for activists.

Donohue will lead a workshop on surviving street demonstrations.

"We're going to be talking about how to protect yourself from rubber bullets and tear gas," he says. "If you're planning any street actions, we're going to teach you how to make rubber-bullet-proof vests — like take CityBeats and duct tape them together."

Other hands-on workshops include radical instrument making, a class designed to make you loud at the next rally and street art propaganda, a workshop in which you can learn to stencil anti-war banners or make George Bush masks from papier mache.

Most workshops, though, will focus on organizing tactics and education about globalization.

Victoria Straughn, coordinator of Concerned Citizens for Justice, will lead a workshop on community organizing. She says she'll emphasize the importance of helping average citizens understand how issues affect their everyday life.

Sister Alice Gerdeman, director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, will lead a workshop called "People of Faith."

"We're going to look at some faith-based traditions and how the way in which globalization is presently being worked out contradicts that tradition," she says. "It creates a larger divide between the rich and the poor, both between and within countries, and that can lead to violence."

United Students Against Sweatshops sponsors a Sweat-Free Fashion Show to kick off the conference Friday. Saturday night includes a concert at Rohs Street Cafe, a nearby coffeehouse that serves only Fair Trade coffee.

For more information or to register for "Global: A Conference on the World Economy," visit

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.