In Sacramento, A Specter of Democracy
by Seth Sandronsky
June 21, 2003
In Sacramento, a specter may be haunting the corporate-government status quo. Protesters are poised to resist a privileged few meeting behind closed doors.
An invitation-only USDA-sponsored event for World Trade Organization ministers will focus on genetically altered food in California’s capital on June 23-25. Can such science and technology enlarge farm production and lessen human starvation?
Yes, say the U.S. officials running the ag expo. Their corporate paymasters agree.
The uninvited protesters take a different view. Some of them note that there are millions of hungry people in the U.S., the richest nation in the world.
In fact, there are many feeding programs for poor people within easy walking distance of the Sacramento expo. They are used by hungry folks such as the “working poor” and their kids.
Moreover, millions of Americans have been and are buying and eating genetically altered food without their knowledge. Is this the “free market” that gives consumers better and better choices?
That’s the claim of the Bush administration. Then why is the European Union rejecting genetically altered food from the U.S.?
Is the EU “anti-market?” What’s really going on with respect to trade relations between the EU and U.S.?
Well, many Europeans know that the USDA has helped to exempt genetically altered food that may have unsafe long-term effects from being labeled as such in America. This is a point of public education for Sacramento protesters.
They seek to teach their countrymen that Uncle Sam is letting this hoax happen to help corporations that increasingly control food production. Thus U.S. consumers can’t make informed food choices, but corporations can make more cash for investors, who, in turn, donate some of their lucre to politicians.
Yet food is either safe or it is unsafe. Accordingly, ag expo protesters know that food safety resonates in the “hearts and minds” of the U.S. public.
The protesters’ potential impact on public opinion in part poses perhaps the biggest challenge to U.S. government-corporate power. It needs legitimization, which social protests can and do weaken.
On a related note, the American anti-war movement and the anti-globalization struggles have blossomed as the wealth gap has widened between the many and the few. This trend has opened up a space for criticism of the U.S. political economy, fueled solidly by the anti-WTO protests in Seattle.
Meanwhile, struggles for gender, racial and sexual freedom continue, as politicians cut non-war spending. And the nation’s economy wobbles, requiring furious borrowing to stay afloat.
Thus as a cause and effect of this social inequality and financial fragility, many American people live precarious lives. “All that is solid melts into air” for millions of them under President George W. Bush.
To be sure, many on Main Street are a bit unclear about who are the “they” running the show, making their lives so unsteady. One opportunity to pull back the curtain to reveal the system’s planners will take place in Sacramento on June 23-25.
Protesters there will raise the specter of Americans talking with one another about how the system works and what can be done collectively to change it for the common good. This is real empowerment.
There’s a word for this process—democracy.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento/Yolo Peace Action, and an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org