This afternoon, she says high-profile people like herself and members of the NDP caucus must defy attempts to divide Quebec protestors between the good and the bad -- those who march peacefully and those who carry out direct action to try to disrupt the summit. But don't trust the NDP, she says. The party deserted protestors in the first free-trade fight in the late 80s.
If they behave true to form, "they will cave once the pressure is on," she warns.
"It's bullshit to say the NDP caved on NAFTA," Robinson replies, pointing out that fellow MP Bill Blaikie has been a tireless inquisitor of government ministers on trade issues.
Robinson also warns the 100 people in the room not to be co-opted by vague promises of environmental and labour standards in a new trade pact. "Throwing in a clause here and there won't mean a hell of a lot," says Robinson, the first choice of many NDPers to replace Alexa McDonough in the next 12 months.
"I don't believe we should be dealing with the FTAA at all," Robinson tells me later. "I think what we should be looking at is the devastating impact of existing trade deals" and rewriting the ones Canada has already signed onto.
Certainly, that view meshes with those held by many in the anti-FTAA movement. But not all. Many anti-globalizers see a chance to reform the trade pact by including eco and labour standards and thereby mitigating its worst effects.
Keeping these kind of activists onside will be harder after Robinson's absolutist warnings. After all, it's easier to know what you don't want than what you do. *
If you ever doubted that all those protests against globalization are having an effect, look at the front page of Monday's Globe and Mail's Report On Business. "Americas trade pact in doubt," it says. Among the indicators that point to the Free Trade Area of the Americas "coming unglued," Canada's premier business paper says, is that "there's a growing group of protestors opposed to a new free-trade deal." You betcha. And they'll be in Quebec City next month as the 34 presidents and PMs of North, Central and South America hunker down at what's shaping up to be a shit-throwing contest between countries that just can't get along as well as the corporate sector would like them to. It's one trade dispute after another, and the heads of state will be lucky to get through the Quebec summit without clawing each other's eyes out. Forget a free trade deal.
The forces of citizen power can take some satisfaction at this turn of events, but also a warning that the end of the beginning is near and the beginning of the second stage of the battle is about to begin.
I reflect about this Saturday afternoon at a workshop at U of T hosted by Rise Up, the student anti-FTAA group.
Among the attendees is Svend Robinson, the member of the federal NDP caucus who is most respected by this movement. While we wait for the meeting to begin, a guy in the row behind me describes with awe the courageous acts of the great Svend -- for example, his arrest during an anti-logging protest in BC.
But here, the radical MP is cast in the role of defender of his party. First, fellow panelist Judy Rebick asserts that you can't trust the NDP. She should know. In the referendum on changing the constitution a decade ago, the NDP sided with the Tory government of the day while Rebick and other citizen groups fought and defeated an attempt to gut the constitution that Pierre Trudeau gave us.March 8
Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke speak on their new book, Global Showdown, and on opposition to the FTAA. Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the Eaton Centre). 7:30 pm (doors open at 7).
Bolivian activist Monica Novillo speaks on resistance to the privatization of water in Bolivia. 3 to 4:30 pm, Metro Hall, room 308.
transACTION workshops and training in civil disobedience for the Quebec City protests. 416-324-0756, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Ottawa, April 1
Teach-in on the FTAA, panel on the criminalization of dissent and workshops on non-violent civil disobedience. All events being held in committee rooms on Parliament Hill. Space limited and pre-registration required. E-mail email@example.com for info.
Ottawa, April 1 and 2
Actions outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to demand government liberate the text of the FTAA. For info: www.alternatives.ca/salami.
Finance ministers of 34 FTAA countries meet at the Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto.
Quebec City, April 20-22:
Summit Of The Americas. Jean Chretien welcomes George W. Bush and other national leaders.