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Mike Davis Speaks Out Against FTAA

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Mike Davis, author and activist, and a former meat cutter and long-distance truck driver, now teaches at SUNY Stony Brook. The author of “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles” and the forthcoming “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño, Famine, and the Making of the Third World,” he spoke in New York at a rally at Judson Memorial Church.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with a speech given at a recent teach-in on the Free Trade Area of the Americas in New York by Mike Davis, who’s now a professor in the History Department at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

MIKE DAVIS: I spent the spring break in Montreal eating, drinking, demonstrating, eating, drinking. When I arrived, La Presse, which is the major French-language paper in Montreal, predicted that 5,000 people would demonstrate at Quebec City. When I left eight days earlier, La Presse was talking about over 25,000 people.

And this is a dramatic index of the growing rage and anger in Quebec, first of all, against the secrecy of the whole process; secondly, against what many people feel in Quebec will be the outcome of FTAA for Quebec’s system of public education and public health, if it’s put in competition with things like the University of Phoenix and American HMOs; but, above all, popular revulsion against the militarization of Quebec City, where a fence some four meters high has been — going to be erected around the whole center of the city, and the majority of citizens of Quebec City will be excluded from it. Only people who live in the area with proper passes will be admitted.

More than 5,000 police will be mobilized, backed up by the Canadian forces. Nothing like this has been seen in Quebec since the so-called emergency of 1970 and the struggle by the Front for the Liberation of Quebec. The police have been going around to all the bus companies in Quebec and also in Ontario, trying to discourage them from providing transportation or leasing any buses to demonstrators, saying they’re all going to be anarchists and rioters. And, of course, as you well know, the premier Chrétien’s government has taken the position that entry into Canada is a privilege, not a right, particularly to be denied to protesters.

So, what we have here is what a Quebecois friend of mine characterized as, he said, “C’est très NAFTA.” It’s the most dramatic refutation possible of the claim that the United States has made, first by the Clinton administration and now by the Bush administration, that hemispheric free trade and unregulated capitalism is the keystone of preserving parliamentary democracy in the Western Hemisphere. But what we see clearly around Quebec City is that free trade is not about eliminating borders and tearing down, you know, barriers. It’s quite the inverse. This is about imposing new borders. It’s about a proliferation of borders. It’s about putting up barriers against ideas, against the expression of dissent, and against movement of people.

This is an old conceit. In the 19th century, the British ideologues of free trade argued that a world of free trade would be a world of peace, you know, a world of internationalism and solidarity amongst nations. Free trade, in fact, meant a world constructed by, you know, gunboats and opium, famines that have killed tens of millions of people, colonial genocides — you know, the whole heart of darkness that we know so well.

In the case of the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century, which has witnessed one of the most sustained, long-term experiments with unregulated capitalism and free trade, the result is that at the end of the 20th century, incomes in Latin America, as a proportion of U.S. incomes, are considerably less than they were at the beginning of the 20th century, and that inequalities of wealth in many of the countries of Latin America — above all, in Colombia and Brazil — were greater than they were at the beginning of the 20th century. If there’s a huge new middle class in Brazil and elements of it in Mexico and other countries, it’s more than balanced by the cities in misery, by the tens of millions of people who live in absolute poverty, by the mothers in Northeast Brazil who can’t afford to cry when their children die, because infant mortality is a daily fact. This has been the reality of the Western Hemisphere’s experience with unregulated capitalism in the 20th century. And indeed, it would probably be easier to argue that there’s a direct contradiction between capitalism and democracy in Latin American history than any kind of equation.

Now, I’ve been asked to make some suggestions about an alternative hemispheric order to that proposed by the Quebec summiteers. And I must confess to you, in all honesty, that I believe — as I did when I attended a meeting in this church in late 1964 to help organize the first march on Washington against the Vietnam War — that socialism is the true and only hope of the world. And I believe that today.

But I’m not going to offer you any blueprint for that; only make two suggestions of a practical kind to people headed toward Quebec City. First, use this opportunity to talk to and meet and establish some relationship with your sisters and brothers in Quebec. I think probably most of us don’t realize that Montreal in the 1960s and ’70s had the largest urban left, the most progressive grassroots politics of any big North American city. The Quebec labor movement and social movements, women movements have moved mountains in the last 20, 30 years. And it was very exciting to be in Montreal last week with demonstrations breaking out at undeclared times and places, you know, all over the east side, the working-class, French-speaking east side of Montreal. So this is a wonderful opportunity to begin to familiarize yourself with this great other nation, French-speaking nation in North America, that few of us know about.

Even more practically, I would suggest to those of you who were in the direct action networks that you might want to consult Francis Parkman’s great work, his multivolume history of the struggle between the English and French empires over North America, particularly volume three, Montcalm and Wolfe. Now, the Chrétien government has been arguing that its security measures in Quebec City are absolutely invulnerable. This was the same position taken by Viscount and General Montcalm in 1759. One of the reasons, of course, Quebec City was picked for this meeting is that it’s the only walled city in North America. And in 1759, Montcalm said, you know, “The city is invulnerable. The British have no chance of taking it.” But Francis Parkman gives you detailed instructions on how you can follow the same path that the Gordon Highlanders of General Wolfe used to successfully break into Quebec City in 1759.

All power to the Mohawk people. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Mike Davis, a professor in the History Department at SUNY Stony Brook and longtime activist, also author of many books, including City of Quartz.

And that does it for today’s program. If you’d like to order a cassette copy, call 1-800-735-0230. That’s 1-800-735-0230. You can write to us by email at mail@democracynow.org. That’s mail@democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is produced by Terry Allen and Kris Abrams. Anthony Sloan is our engineer; Errol Maitland, our technical director. Special thanks to Brother Shine. From the embattled studios of WBAI, from the studios of the banned and the fired, from the studios of our listeners, I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening to another edition of Democracy Now!

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