The Year We Build Power Together
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Occupy
In 2014 we saw tremendous growth of the movement across numerous fronts of struggle – worker rights and wages, racism and policing, climate, the environment and extreme energy extraction, building a new economy and so much more. We also saw how uniting and working in solidarity is essential for success.
“Building power together” means working together as a movement of movements to build on the progress of 2014 when people created a larger and bolder movement. We build together because our issues are all connected and unified power is when we are strongest.
We have an immediate challenge in 2015 that threatens our progress. Obama and Congress are pushing to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If we don’t stop it, our struggles will be set back and social, economic and environmental justice will be more difficult to achieve. But we can defeat the corporate powers that exploit our communities if we unite and work together and doing so will strengthen us greatly.
Our Struggles Are Connected
The #BlackLivesMatter movement, while focused on the urgent issues of police abuse and institutional racism, is also recognizing that economic injustice in black communities is pervasive. The wealth divide between the top .1% and the rest of us is stark enough; but the wealth divide between African Americans and Caucasian Americans is extreme and growing rather than shrinking.
Whites have much greater wealth, with white median wealth at $142,000 to blacks at $13,700. Black unemployment has been double white unemployment for 50 years, throughout that time black unemployment rates have averaged recession levels, 11.5%. Also, during that time whites Americans have earned $20,000 per year more than blacks. Poverty has been rising in the black community for 15 years. Police are needed to keep unfairly treated communities in check.
When the bottom drops out of the economy or when wages are lowered, it is communities of color who feel the impact first and deepest. That is why issues like global trade rigged for big business interests will most adversely impact these poorer communities. Global trade seems distant but it has impacts at the local level.
Communities will experience lost jobs and lower income, an expanding wealth and income divide. They will find themselves competing with people in Vietnam where the average annual income is under $2,000 per year or Peru where it is $6,000. How can the campaign for a living wage succeed with this reality? How can already poor and impoverished communities lift themselves up when big business seeks cheap labor abroad?
In St. Louis some are recognizing the need for a new economy where focus is put on black-owned businesses, cooperative businesses owned by workers and putting in place a solidarity economy. However, trade pacts will make it more difficult for local governments to put in place a new economy. Transnational corporations will be required to be given greater access to local markets. Practices like purchasing local or buying green will be seen as trade barriers and will be prevented.
The same is true for the climate justice movement. It will become impossible to ban extreme energy extraction in our communities because this will be a threat to corporate profits. The global corporate trade agreements are pushing for more fracked gas and off-shore oil. Europeans want the U.S. to be exporting these climate-destroying fuels to lower their energy costs and diversify from their reliance on Russia to isolate it further.
We Can Win the First Big Challenge of 2015
President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress have made it clear – their top priority is passing fast track trade promotion authority early this year. Fast track is essentially Congress giving up its constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” It gives almost all of their power to the president.
Obama will be able to sign trade agreements without Congress ever seeing them, and then Congress has to quickly vote – up or down, with no amendments – on these agreements that contain thousands of pages of complex legal language. This is the only way that horrendous agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, known as TAFTA) can become law.
When you see the first sentence above – Obama and the Republican leadership making this a priority – do not assume we cannot stop them. We can. There is widespread opposition in both the Senate and House against fast track. Democrats realize that these trade agreements will hurt their base.
And, Republicans, like Democrats, oppose fast track for several reasons. First, they know that it undermines their constitutional responsibility to regulate trade. Second, these agreements undermine the sovereignty of the U.S. government as well as state and local governments by giving corporations veto power over laws they pass. Third, they recognize that these trade agreements do not confront a critical issue – how countries manipulate the value of currency.
Finally, Republicans do not trust President Obama with that much power, while they give up their power. More Democrats are agreeing with Republicans even on this issue as he continues to sell-out to corporations on issues like banking regulation and student debt.
The Congress is right not to trust the President on corporate trade agreements. Leaks have shown that the Obama administration is extremely pro-corporate when it comes to their proposals. Documents show the main reason why countries have been unable to reach agreement is because the administration’s positions are distant from those of every other country who do not support such broad corporate power. Further, the leaks also show that enforcement of environmental protections is even weaker in these agreements than they were in Bush-era trade agreements.
All of the big Washington business lobbies are ready to push corporate trade. They see billions in profits as well as a swelling of their power. They know they will become more powerful than governments if these trade agreements become law.
The fight over fast track is shaping up to be a fight between people power and transnational corporate power. This is going to be a huge battle. Opposition in Congress cracks open a door for the people, but if we do not force it open, corporate lobbyists will easily close it.
Stopping fast track will require all of us. There is a path to victory but it will require the people – from all fronts of struggle – to mobilize, show our unity and stop the corporations. You can join that fight by taking the solidarity, action pledge and sharing it.
We should all engage in this fight because the stakes are high. Every issue people are working on will be hurt by these agreements. But, on the other side, if the people mobilize and stop fast track, corporate trade will be dead for the remainder of President Obama’s term in office.
If the people defeat transnational corporate power in the first big confrontation of 2015, we will be on our way to making 2015 the year we built our power together. We will be freed to create the world in which we want to live and one that increases the chances of a livable future.