(Nov. 1,2006) Shortly after Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) began his address at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, three local activists took turns standing up to loudly deliver messages to the WTO.
The three activists wore bright red headbands inscribed with the words, NO WTO. Each read a portion from a statement charging the WTO with putting profits before people and destroying the lives, ecosystems, and communities of billions of people around the world. All three were quickly and forcibly dragged from of the building by Harvard security and Cambridge police.
The message the three activists delivered to the Director-General included a list of demands, compiled from numerous organizations leading the struggle in the Global South, such as Third World Network and Focus on the Global South. The demands include no more top down and non-transparent negotiations; that agriculture and food be taken out of the WTO; a total end to the patenting of essential life saving medications, especially HIV/AIDS drugs; and no corporate control over natural resources and environment.
When asked about the reasons for the disruption Mike Borucke, one of the activists involved, responded “The time for polite talk has long since passed, we don’t want to hear any more excuses from the WTO and its powerful backers while people’s lives are devastated from Indonesia to Colombia. I mean, the people of the world have been making their opposition loud and clear for years and years. Today we are just reiterating their rejection of the WTO, in person, to it’s director.”
Though some may try to frame this action as interfering with free speech, the activists assert otherwise. “We have no problem with free speech”, said Jonathan McIntosh, one of the three involved, “what we take issue with is these policies being granted a large platform and ‘megaphone’. The billions of people around the world directly affected by the atrocious policies of the WTO are not afforded any such platform for their opposition. If Harvard University were to give each of the billions of farmers, workers and fisher folk whose lives are destroyed by WTO policies the same forum space, we would have no problem with Lamy’s talk tonight.”
Jonathan continued “I’d say that for every event, like this one, held at elite western universities, Lamy should hold an open forum in a five thousand fishing villages and farming communities around Asia, Africa and Latin America. Tonight’s event with it’s brief questions and answer sessions for mainly privileged students who are in no way directly impacted by WTO policy, has nothing to do with accountability and everything to do with shoring up support for the institution among future global elite, while continuing to ignore the opposition of the majority of the planet.”
In reaction to Lamy’s topic of accountability Jason Lydon, another participant explained, “The topic of Lamy’s presentation, ‘Is the WTO Accountable?’ is absurd. To have the figurehead of a powerful institution discuss accountability without the voices of those directly affected is impossible. There is no structure or mechanism at all for Farmers in the global south to have a voice in shaping the trade policies that will affect the survival of their community. But there has to be, before we can talk about any form of accountability.”
Three additional people, who were in no way part of the planned disruption, were shortly thereafter forcibly dragged out of the building, in an apparent pre-emptive action by Harvard officials to shield Mr. Lamy from further criticism. The three observers had not made any disruptions. They protested their removal and demanding to know on what grounds they were being thrown out, but were informed by uniformed officers only that they were not welcome.
Several other onlookers, also having nothing to do with the planned disruption, reported being intimidated or ordered to leave by uniformed officers
Resistance to the World Trade Organization is vibrant and worldwide. The negotiations at the most recent ministerial meetings in Hong Kong collapsed, due in part to the tens of thousands of protesters in the streets during the entirety of the meetings. As impacted communities across the Global South lead the opposition to the WTO, activists here in Boston take that struggle into Lamy’s ivory towered address.
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NOTE: The video of the event is up on the Harvard’s Kennedy School web site. While activists cannot be seen in the video, they can be heard. Interruptions take place at minute 12, minute 16 and minute 18 of the video.
URL link to video: