WTO Protest in Chicago Targets Old Navy

--Kari Lydersen, Sandpaper Contributor

As the protests were rocking Seattle on the afternoon of November 30, about 300 people marched through the streets of downtown Chicago to the massive Old Navy store to deliver a message to the corporation (and the city as a whole) about people's resistance against the World Trade Organization.

The Chicago rally started at the Federal Plaza, where speakers from various activist, environmental, religious and human rights groups talked about the impact of WTO policies on workers, the economy and the environment. The speakers included Patrick Murphy of the Sierra Club's student coalition, Bob Rudner of the Chicago Greens, Daniel de la Pava of the Columbia Support Network, Gary Cozette of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, and other student, labor and religious leaders. Speakers explained how the WTO has overruled even the U.S.'s environmental protection and endangered species policies, allowing shrimping companies to use nets that kill endangered sea turtles. At the behest of international companies the WTO has also ruled that tuna fishing companies can go back to using the long nets that kill dolphins, speakers told the Chicago crowd. They noted that the WTO even ruled that the U.S. Clean Air Act "violated trade rules" as much as U.S. legislation already kowtows to corporate interests, the WTO decided it wasn't enough.

Many protesters carried signs depicting a huge octopus as a symbol of the WTO and its power over people's lives.

"We used the octopus as a metaphor for the way the WTO has its tentacle over everything," said Juanita Mangam-Vanham of Jubilee Economics Ministries, one of the organizers of the march.

The marchers attracted considerable attention, taking over the sidewalks just as downtown executives were leaving work, and drawing police harassment as they congregated outside Old Navy. While people chanted outside the glass and neon-covered store, activists Melinda Power, Margaret Power and Mary Kay Flanigan delivered a letter to Old Navy managers addressed to Donald Fisher, Old Navy CEO and founder of Gap, Inc. Gap and Old Navy are among the many corporations that used sweatshop labor enabled by the WTO. The letter called for a moratorium on any new agreements for the WTO and for a representative of civil society to review WTO policies and be involved in future WTO decisions.

"The exclusion of people from the meetings and plans has had devastating consequences for workers, child labor, and the environment," said the letter. "Government of the people, by the people, for the people is the history and rule of our country. Government of the people, by the transnationals, for the transnationals is not justice." While the letter asked for more democracy in the WTO, most of the protesters called for the actual destruction of the WTO and the global free trade economy it represents. Some wished more people had entered Old Navy or shown more volatile resistance, as the Seattle marchers did.

But Flanigan, who spent time in prison for protesting at the School of the Americas, said she thought the protesters got their point across.

"I was very happy with the energy and enthusiasm we had here," she said. "When we went to Old Navy they'd already heard about things happening in Seattle. I think they were frightened."

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