Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 7, 2001
Summit protest: A witness to truth
Demonstrators want to continue resistance to world order that excludes the poor
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
When Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" the answer was silence. Many would claim that silence is no answer. But Jesus' very presence challenged everything Pilate stood for. Jesus himself - his body and spirit, his whole life - was the answer. On the weekend of April 20-22 at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, I joined people from all over the world to testify to the truth.
I spent six days on the train, three days each way, travelling with 35 other people from across western Canada. I am a 52-year-old member of St. Theresa's Parish in Edmonton.
I went on this pilgrimage because the summit's free trade agenda directly opposed the message of Jesus as it is spelled out in Catholic social teaching. In Quebec, thousands of people of all ages passionately witnessed to the truth of that teaching, even though a great many of them are probably not even Christian.
"What is truth?" Farmers' incomes in Canada have dropped by 25 per cent under free trade, and the number of children in families with incomes less than $20,000 has grown by 65 per cent.
While the number of Canada's millionaires has tripled in the 1990s, workers' wages have risen less than inflation. During the seven years of NAFTA so far, average wages in Mexico have declined by 75 per cent once inflation is figured in.
Will eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade bring prosperity to poorer countries, as the summit leaders claim? Our own experience shows that free trade creates more wealth, but only a few benefit and life gets worse for the rest.
When government leaders talk about non-tariff barriers, they mean such things as labour and environmental laws and social programs that give one country an "unfair advantage" over another when it comes to trade.
In fact, as the Canadian bishops point out, under NAFTA our government has already given up much of its own power to provide legal protection for workers and the environment and to maintain social programs. And the government wants more of the same for everybody in the Americas. Trade agreements of this type guarantee corporate rights at the expense of human rights.
In their April 4 statement, the Canadian bishops took a stand against further economic integration of the Americas if that simply means more of the same: more wealth for the wealthy, more poverty for everybody else, more suffering for women and children, and more damage to the earth.
Yet that is exactly what our own government is championing. They tell us that if only we would all get out of the way, free market principles will save the world.
The mass media, of course, paint a rosy picture of life in the Americas under an expanded free trade regime. Why wouldn't they? They are in business to make as much money as they can. And they tried to convince us that the 34 summit leaders were working hard on our behalf to improve life for everyone in the hemisphere and that protesters and others opposed to the free trade deal are simply misguided or that they came to participate in a great big street party.
What I saw in Quebec was a four-kilometre-long fence encircling an area reserved for heads of state, their entourages, and corporate leaders who could afford the admission price of up to half a million dollars. Outside the fence were 70,000 protesters, most of them well informed about the ramifications of free trade, excluded from a process that bargains away to corporations the democratic power of people.
I saw, close up, dozens of police officers in riot gear - gas masks, armour, Plexiglas shields - many of them sweating heavily and visibly unhappy about their orders to intimidate, tear gas, and otherwise inflict violence on groups of peaceful protesters.
I witnessed protesters, supported by Quebec residents, singing, dancing, performing street theatre, and washing the burning gas out of each other's eyes.
People of all ages and all walks of life worked toward the common goal of regaining real democratic rights even as the summit leaders congratulated themselves for adding a hollow democracy clause to the as yet unpublicized draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
On the way back on the train, all of us were eager to continue protesting. Our next protest started the day we arrived home. It consists of this: to love one another, even those who gassed us; to share the joys and sufferings of this experience and the reasons for it with others; and every day to oppose the powers of this world which misinform, dehumanize, impoverish and destroy.
People of all faiths as well as people who profess no faith are all encouraged to participate.
(For more information please contact Gary Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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