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A multidimensional view of WTO


by Vicki Robin, co-author of the bestseller YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE ( and a leader in the voluntary simplicity movement.





This was no picnic, and not because I got tear gassed or
faced down by the police (which I did). The battle in
Seattle happened inside me as well as around and through me.
The week was a constant encounter with my conscience.
Courage and bravery are important to me. My "fear style" is
to step as far as I can into the center of every terrifying
unknown and let my gut lead me to the next truth that sets
one free. It's really a coping mechanism. Being anywhere
less than on "the front lines" leaves me uncomfortably
messing around in moral ambiguity. I am also slow to anger
and quick to inquire into the human being behind the point
of view. Every time I was attracted to joining the direct
action, I looked down and saw that for me no line in the
sand had yet been drawn. I wasn't convinced that I
personally was at war with the WTO. Not until I'd seen the
whites of its eyes and smelled its breath and found what
made it tick. But the passions of the week kept challenging
me to ask, "What is MY demonstration? Where DO I take a

So I spent the week in the center of marches and rallies and
workshops, but on the sidelines of the major conflagration.
I didn't plan to do civil disobedience. I took a
non-violence training in case the marches stumbled into
violence but I didn't plan to get arrested. I have not been
a political activist. Ever. I've been a cultural activist.
I've been a consciousness activist. I've stepped over the
line of many friends' comfort zones to speak the truth as I
saw it. But this was the first time I was taking to the
streets for anything. My most incendiary act was to carry a
huge sign on a march through a boarded-up downtown that
day after the WTO left Seattle I did go downtown dressed as
Mrs. Claus with a sign on my red coat saying "MRS. CLAUS
the merchants trying to get back to the buying bacchanalia
stoned me. So, you get the picture, I wasn't directly part
of the story most of you read.)


For an excellent summary of the WTO, please go to
Making Sense out of the WTO (Rachel's #679). An
interesting factual account of the command chain that led to
the police action can be found at
Beyond this, you're on your own. I'm sure you have your own
sources and are forming your own opinions. Rather than offer
another personal account of events I want to make three
simple observations.

The WTO thrives on selling the idea that there are no
alternatives to globalization. It's an ideology nicknamed
TINA - There Is No Alternative (Trekkies, sounds like the
Borg, doesn't it?). It's ironic that the acronym turns out
to be a woman's name. Most women I know are much more
inclusive of a range of opinions than TINA is. The world I
live in, however, could be called TATA (There Are Thousands
of Alternatives - a term used at the IFG teach-in). I like
that. It sounds like a kindly grandmother. And it is.

I admire and participate in a myriad of successful, common
sense design strategies for a world that works for all of
life. I'll name a few to indicate my meaning, but the list
only points a finger to a rich, diverse and densely
populated territory. The Natural Step. Ecological Footprint.
Non-violent Communication. Barter Networks. Indigenous
wisdom. Meditation. Engaged Buddhism. Appropriate
Technology. Results. Mindful Markets. The Universe Story.
Beyond War. Holistic everything. Natural foods. Community
Supported Agriculture. Biointensive Gardening. Permaculture.
Citizen Juries. Consensus. Home Schooling. Ecological
Economics. Town Meetings. The Genuine Progress Indicator.
Ballot Initiatives. Boycotts. The Ceres Principles. The
Earth Charter. And yes, Your Money or Your Life. You get the

Globalized free trade could be seen as putting the economy
on steroids and amphetamines. TINA is having delusions of
grandeur and is in the midst of a serious psychotic break.
If "she" were a person, we'd institutionalize "her". The
lock-out of the WTO in Seattle was the beginning of her lock
up by the citizens of the world. TATA is respectful, humble,
curious, sincere, ethical, devoted to the common good - in
other words, sane.

The teach-ins, marches, rallies, workshops and NGO meetings
in Seattle marked the beginning of the many alternatives
finding one another and making common cause and commons
sense. Hallelujah! Every place I went I met wonderful
people, heartened to know one another. We listened to each
other's views, learned, shared stories, exchanged email and
web site addresses and generally shifted from the loneliness
of the long time-frame critic to the knowledge that we are
legion and we aren't gonna let TINA run the world by
default. There is every indication and reason to hope that a
new global grassroots citizens movement was born at the end
of the second millennium.

So shoot me. I'm in favor of globalization. First of all,
communications and travel have woven our world together to
such a degree that I don't have to believe in quantum
physics or metaphysics to know that when a butterfly flaps
its wings in China my world changes. I'd personally like to
globalize quite a lot of things: Non-violent conflict
resolution. Tolerance. The world's religions in dialogue and
functioning as wise elders. Ethics. Awareness of our common
heritage in the heart of the Universe. Preservation of
indigenous wisdom. Ecosystem protection. Equity - the fair
distribution of wealth. Freedom from want, from tyranny,
from hate crimes, from abuse. Freedom to protect from harm
one's own body, one's own community or tribe, one's own
bioregion, one's own nation. Reconciliation between the
sexes, the races, the nations, and people and nature.
Celebration of non-material forms of wealth. For starters.
What's your list?

The WTO's version of globalization is a fantasy of material
progress. It has its good points. Free trade certainly is
effective at stimulating the production and distribution of
more, better and different stuff - just like the
free-traders claim. I am grateful for many goods and
services the global economy has made available to me and I
do want others to have access to them. But it's pitifully
insufficient as a Utopian ideal for humanity. We need to
fold in our perennial aspirations to have it make any sense
at all. The people in the streets, by and large, were not
against trade, but want the "goods" of globalization to make
room for "goods" like clean water, fresh air, intact
ecosystems, respect for non-human life, wholesome foods and
sharing the benefits of prosperity more universally.

Given this perspective, I came to wonder why the WTO isn't
just another UN agency. I'm not dumb. I know the UN has been
rendered impotent and irrelevant in many ways. But it's what
we have, along with the World Court, to embody global
ethics, global decency and global decision making.
Underfunded and with few binding powers, the UN cannot put
any teeth to the hard-won agreements that emerged from the
series of conferences in the 1990's. Rio. Cairo. Copenhagen.
Beijing. Istanbul. These events could be guiding our future
- and regulating the activities of the WTO. That would be
putting money in service of our values, rather than having
our values be distant side rails in a vicious bumper car
carnival game where everyone is trying to get the best of
everyone else. A German microbiologist who has been
involved for decades in international negotiations explained
to me that the WTO is an attempt to actually create a
supra-agency beyond the reach of and with control over the
UN. I intend to investigate why the necessary global trade
agreements can't happen within the United Nations. Are we so
far gone in assuming the dominance of corporations in our
lives that we can't imagine a world in which "we, the
people" call the shots? Remember, both the UN Charter and
the US Constitution start with "We, the people"



One of my favorite teaching tales:
Two monks sat in contemplation by a river. Suddenly they
heard the cries of a baby and saw the infant struggling for
breath as it floated by. They waded in, brought the child to
shore and revived it. Satisfied, they returned to their
peaceful state. Again they heard cries, saw a struggling
infant, fished it out, revived it and settled down for
meditation. But the tempo of drowning babies increased. Both
men shuttled from river to shore, saving babies as fast as
they could. Soon they were soaked and exhausted and totally
out of peace. Suddenly one monk ran away. Now the other was
REALLY out of peace, angry at being abandoned. Hours later
the stream of babies stopped as mysteriously as it had
started. Then the second monk returned. "Where were you,"
cried the first monk, "when I really needed you!" "I went
upstream to see who was throwing babies into the river," the
absent monk replied.

Fishing out babies is a front lines holding action,
necessary for immediate survival. Such actions take courage,
commitment and a willingness to get waist deep in the
torrent of the times. A great deal of activism is just this
sort of heroics. Shutting down the ministerial meeting was,
among other things, a holding action. It was like lying down
in front of a tank or climbing a tree in a threatened
forest. As I said, many times during the week I felt the tug
to this moral high ground, but I was there on another

For years I've "battled" the blindness and manipulation at
the heart of overconsumption. It's as far upstream as I
could go. I have been deeply distressed by the whole tempo
of trashing the planet to fill the pockets and presumed
needs of those who already have more than enough. Yet
"overconsumption" seems to be a many headed beast - lop off
one and 10 other brains seem to kick in to keep it going. So
I've been searching for its lair and its source of
nourishment. I've been searching for its heart. (More on
this later.) The WTO, for me, is extremely dangerous, but it
isn't the problem. The mindset it stands for is. I spent my
week deepening my understanding of the WTO worldview and
learning as much as I could from the full range of activists
present how to reveal its assumptions so stunningly that it
might melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.

The WTO is merely the handmaiden of a worldview that is:
1. materialistic (profit is our most important product,
economic growth = well being)
2. undemocratic (of, by and for the people with wealth)
3. cut-throat (do what you have to do to compete
successfully today - even at the cost of compromising the
future - or you're history)
4. cynical (purporting to be for the poor - a rising tide
lifts all ships, y'know - but actually fueling the
increasing rich/poor gap) and
5. sociopathic (greed is good; altruism is suspect; cynicism
is de-rigeur).
It is a self-organizing system that would, from its own
point of view, work better without the constraints being
placed on it by worry warts. It has removed as many natural
and artificial controls to its ascendancy as possible,
against all good sense. Money isn't tied to any form of
natural wealth. The natural world is a subset of the economy
and, if any natural limits are transgressed, technology is
called in to fix it. The ability to overturn national laws
that limit free trade is a completely coherent demand of
such a worldview. Never mind that global warming, water
shortages, loss of topsoil, overpopulation, rising inequity,
collapse of fisheries are flashing "red alert". The
worldview cannot let this in without cracking its internal
logic. My favorite recent example is that Clorox, the
leading global manufacturer of dioxins, has purportedly
bought out Britta, the counter-top water filtration system
to make our drinking water pure again. Do I hear double
speak? Hate is love. War is peace. Instead of "polluters
paying" (a sensible principle of ecological economics),
polluters can profit from both ecological destruction and
remediation. We need this world view like we need another
hole in the head. But, as Seattle demonstrated, worldviews
die hard.

Think of it this way. If you are a farmer and your farmland
is taken away, you don't only lose your land and your
livelihood - you lose your identity. Even if you are given a
job in the new prison facility built nearby or given a
pension for the rest of your life, a hole in the center of
your being has opened up. And if you are a rich person
profiting from the Industrial paradigm you will be hard
pressed to change. Even if you have no time for your
family. Even if you have had to do things that violate your
original sense of fairness. Even if your doctor says you
have to slow down. Even if you learn that your company's
product is doing harm.

In fact, I suspect that the faithful followers of the
dominant economic paradigm are as much its victims as are
the voiceless. The managerial class is being milked for its
productivity like forests for their logs and chickens for
their eggs and sweat-shop workers for their labor - and they
know it. Perhaps this is why YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE appeals
to people in every income bracket - it's a defector's
manual. Yet, if you are a winner in the casino where the
future of the biosphere is being gambled away, it's still
hard to push away from the table. Aside from people
influenced by compelling moral figures like Mohandas Gandhi
or Jesus, few privileged individuals in history have
voluntarily given up their advantage.

So, in my view, the materialistic mindset is what's throwing
the babies (living systems) in the drink. The WTO is just a
visible representation of a mindset that puts profits over
people and the planet.

The emergent worldview, in my opinion, has it all over that
old one. It starts in the vastness of the unfolding story of
the Universe, cracks open the future by showing that
evolution is still going on. It affirms that spiritual
values are as determinative of outcome as material ones. It
lifts up the non-economic side of life (laughter,
generosity, dance, intimacy, caring, art, music, philosophy,
inquiry) and embraces the economic side of life like a
cherished younger brother. It wants the economy to do what
economies do well - meet real material needs. And it wants
the rest of life to flourish. It honors democracy, decency,
civility and law as part of what it takes for humans to live
together. It honors the earth as the home of all life, the
only home we have. It is practical, sane, common sensible.

In terms of worldview activism, I believe that my recent
choice to devote more time to writing will be my primary
form of demonstration. But I'm not sure. Is the keyboard
mightier than the sword? Or, for that matter, than the
commercial culture



One anarchist and a couple of wise women associated with the
International Forum on Globalization (Anita Roddick and
Helen Norberg Hodge) were the lone voices of the obvious. If
we want to really get globalization where it lives, we need
to look at our consumption. We don't buy... they can't sell.

Of course, there's more to it than that. There always is.
But being simplistic helps sort things out. We are in a
condition globally of overshoot - we are living beyond the
means (the productive capacity) of the earth. Like any
family digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, we've
got to stop, yet we've built a lifestyle based on excess. So
many habits, preferences and conflicts would need
reconsideration that denial sounds like a better
alternative. Rather than share (TV's, bathrooms, phones,
cars, parks, public transportation) we consume. And
externalize the costs onto the future (credit) or others
(our creditors, the poor, ecosystems, the privilege of
polluting the biosphere).

One of my favorite TOLES cartoons has a guy watching TV. The
announcer is saying, "The Worldwatch Institute says we have
to stop consuming or die". Several panels go by as the guy
absorbs the message. Then he says, "Decisions, decisions."
The subtitle says, "How long am I going to personally need
the planet, anyway." So within decades we will enter a time
of paying the piper for over-production and
over-consumption. Livelihoods will disappear. Families will
be hurt. Land will become unproductive. Water will be used
more efficiently and then, I fear, run out - especially for
those who are stranded in rural areas with no political
clout. Floods and droughts and other by-products global
warming will come. Who needs an angry God when we've got
human blindness to visit such pestilence?

As we face this as a culture, I imagine we'll indulge in
blame ball for a while. Blame ball? That's when everyone
will want to shed the full weight of responsibility and toss
blame to another party. The rich. The poor. The government.
Advertising. The corporations. Inflation. Truly, since
over-consumption comes out of a paradigm that's dying
(there's always more where that came from) we're all
innocent and we're all to blame. The question is: Who will
have the strength and sanity to say, "the buck - literally
- stops here." Will it take breaking the eco-bank before we
face our predicament?

If I fault myself seriously for anything, it was not seeing
how necessary this point of view was to the whole challenge
to the WTO and at least passing out some printed jeremiad on
street corners. Because at one level, it doesn't take a
rocket scientist to see that as people and as a planet, we
need to live within the means of our productive capacity.
And it's obvious (to me, at least - what about you?) that
the less dependent we are on the economy, the more we can
challenge its core premises.

Remember, no matter how much we criticize the global
economy, we are tied to it. Fans of Monty Python may
remember the scene in THE LIFE OF BRIAN, set in the time of
Jesus, when the small political cabal is stoking their
revolutionary ire. "What have the Romans done for US
anyway???" one cries defiantly. "The aqueducts?" another
tenders, sheepishly "Yes, but besides the aqueducts?"
"Sanitation" "Yes, but" "Education" "The roads" "Yes, but
besides, aqueducts, sanitation, education, the road, what
HAVE the Romans done for us."

What HAS the global economy done for us, anyway? It turns
out it's done a lot, and not just for us but for many people
in the two-thirds world as well. We need and appreciate some
commerce to support ourselves and meet our needs. But what
needs is the economy - global or local - good at filling and
for what needs is it just gross and clumsy? For some things
I need money. I won't bore you with an accounting of how I
spend my $850 a month income. I know that even if I were
more of a gleaner or gatherer than I am, I would need
aspects of the money economy to survive in today's world.

Many other needs, however, are met by my own
self-responsibility, creativity, struggle to learn,
willingness to feel, and, of course, by my relationships.
Once basic needs are met, most real human emotion is
centered on the joys and sorrows of living itself. Birth.
Marriage. Death. Overcoming challenges. Missing out.
Achieving. It's more about love than a Lexus, no matter how
much advertising tries to sell the latter with the former.

In YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE, a daily practice is established
of distinguishing between purchasing to meet real, tangible
needs and buying to try to fill non-material needs. Quantity
is differentiated from quality. Calculating real hourly wage
and the fulfillment curve (simple analytic tools used in
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE) illuminate the true cost of the
product-intensive American way of living. That's why
people's expenses drop like a rock. What if we could
energize such a process globally? What if we put serious
restraints on advertising (c'mon folks, that ain't free
speech!)? And what if we taught media literacy so that even
toddlers could differentiate between commercially stoked
needs and a wet diaper? What if we reclaimed some of the
air waves from commercial interests, used them to inspire,
inform and empower, and made citizenship a better game than
"more" (consumerism)? What if we established a really
progressive income tax again, just like in the good old
post-war days when the poor were getting richer faster than
the rich were? And what if we actually started a national
and international dialogue about the big "R" word -
redistribution of wealth? What if we overturned the Supreme
Court ruling that gave corporations the rights of personhood
to corporations? Initiatives in all these areas are already
underway. So this isn't idle chatter.

Now, what about the two thirds world where basic needs are
still not met for billions and those that are entering the
middle class are clearly better off. Am I advocating
voluntary simplicity for the poor of the world who've had
their appetite for consumption whetted by our media? Am I
saying that the billions of poor shouldn't have their crack
at the good life? Fortunately, a great deal of research has
been done about how to provide room for the poor to expand
their consumption while the rich moderate theirs. Studies by
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, among many others, reveal
that consumption fairness can be achieved while still giving
the wealthy (us) as high a standard of living as we had,
say, in the 1950's. Implementing such a system, of course,
will take much political will and courage, but in times of
real need people have shown a remarkable willingness to pull
together for the common good. Do you think polluting our
scant water supply, for example, might be a crisis worthy of
making some adjustments?



My favorite chant in the marches was, "This is what
democracy looks like!" Free speech. Right of free assembly.
Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Of course
democracy is more than marching in solidarity against the
WTO alongside people who might disagree with you on a host
of other things. But there was a whiff of citizenship in the
air - especially heartening during the Christmas shopping
season in a country where consumerism has all but supplanted
the quaint virtue of civic participation.

Then the Empire struck back. Conservatives, shoppers,
shop-keepers, business people, downtown workers and the
Federal government that insisted on a show of force might
all think that all police actions were justified -
necessitated and provoked by the actions in the streets. But
there were hundreds if not thousands who were brutally
treated by the police, assaulted, injured, and some in jail
tortured and denied basic rights to food, water, legal
representation, etc. The police wore riot gear. The
protesters wore sweat shirts, rain gear and sported a few
signs. Sure, if this had been elsewhere in the world, there
would have been real bullets, so in a sense we got off easy.
But real damage, psychic and physical, was done to some
pretty harmless people.

To me, the show of force was a show of something much more
troubling. Those of us who are white, polite and off the
streets don't know what many others in America do know -
that the police are the friends of the dominant paradigm.
Our government gains power and legitimacy not by the consent
of the governed (democracy) but by the consent of the
governed who have money and other forms of clout. Most of us
don't see the chain link fence that surrounds us because we
rarely get anywhere near it. Whether or not we were hurt on
the streets or in the jails, even if we just watched it all
on TV along with the rest of the horrified world, our noses
hit the fence and our sense of freedom and justice was
bruised. We have the illusion of choice - but within the
chain link compound. It's chilling.

I was also troubled by how easily I and many others adapted
to the tear gas, curfews and police blockades. "Oh, tear gas
on 7th Avenue, let's head over the freeway and down Marion."
It only took minutes for my reptilian brain to develop
survival strategies for current conditions. All but the most
devoted protesters exercised their incongruous option of
dropping in and out of the action at will - to grab a quick
bite to eat, take a walk, go to a workshop or catch a nap.
Human adaptability can absorb horror and get on with daily
life. It's like stepping over or routing yourself around
street people. How much have I already adapted to? How much
will I adapt to before I draw my own line in the sand?

The police and National Guard, in their frightening array of
force, was the old paradigm baring her teeth. The temporary
loss of democratic rights in Seattle demonstrated vividly
the undemocratic nature of the world order the WTO is
designed to enforce. It was the WTO's version of "This is
what democracy looks like." Of, by and for the people who
have the wealth (and want more of it). I've designed a test
for WTO supporters (up to and including Michael Moore) who
tell me they're doing it all for the poor, who still believe
in the trickle down theory. Let's have a lottery, monitored
by the likes of Vaclav Havel, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh
or other respected moral voices. Every child between the
ages of 10 and 13, say, will draw the name of a family
somewhere in the world and go live with them for a year.
Suburban jocks could end up in a barrio in Mexico City.
Indian farm kids might join city sophisticates in Paris. And
maybe some of the millions of kids who die daily of
malnutrition diseases could end up dining for a year at
tables heaped with luscious, plentiful food. The kids might
all love it. But what adjustments might the well-heeled
parents in the North make if their own children were the
recipients of their corporate policies?

The problems weren't specific bad cops or "anarchists". The
problem is that we thought we had a democracy and we may
not. Worse, I think many of us have forgotten how. I've not
thought much about democracy, just like I hadn't thought
much about the economy until 10 years ago. I learned in 7th
grade that we have one and left it at that. Now, I'm
reassigning myself to Poli Sci 101 (I actually never took
that class in the first place). The beauty and hope from all
this is that there are, I believe, millions like me who have
been rudely awakened from a civic laziness. My guess is that
once I catch hold of what democracy really is, I will be in
awe of its beauty and proud to be part of the species that
invented it.


Luckily I had a couple of anarchist friends staying with me
or I might have dismissed their cause as incoherent at best
and counter productive at worst. We stayed up late into the
night talking. Amber saw in anarchy a utopian ideal - self
responsible, aware people making considered choices that
benefit the whole. She was quite aware that pulling off a
functioning anarchist society would take a level of maturity
that humanity might never achieve, or only after some
profound growth at a species level. Mike saw anarchy as an
appropriate response to an insane world. "I don't have to
understand the phonebook-fat trade regulations to know they
don't work. Just look around. Injustice. Unhappiness.
Uncaring corporate power." For him, crimes against property
aren't like crimes against people. Only those corporate
outlets that exploit people and nature had been targeted.
Their property, in his view, was ill-gotten. Those plate
glass facades literally come out of the hide of underpaid
workers and abused ecosystems.

I thought of my own sentimental affinity for Luddites and
Monkey Wrenchers. If I believed that smashing things would
actually work, I might do it. But I'm just far enough along
in life to know that in some perverse way such acts are good
for the GDP (the clean up and repair WILL happen) and
ultimately bad for the natural world (more resource
consumption to tidy up the mess). But what struck me about
Mike's argument was the fact that the world he's expected to
inherit and uphold makes no sense to him. He doesn't want
it. And he's no "trust fund hippie." He rides the rails,
dumpster dives and plants trees for money - embracing a
marginal existence as the only thing that's consistent with
his stark view of reality. While the ones who did the
tagging and window smashing were few, I suspect there are
many Mike's out there, and this is as much a by-product of
the consumer society as deforestation.

Before leaving the anarchists, I want to tell one more
story. At the end of the final big march on Friday, the
labor contingent had chalked DEMOCRACY in large letters down
a whole city block. They had us arrange ourselves along the
lines so a media chopper could take our photo for the
evening news. Perhaps to say, THIS is what democracy looks
like. I was on the spine of the E. Behind me, a young man,
standing precisely on the curve of the D, shouted until he
was hoarse: "Don't cooperate. If we are peaceful, they win.
Go back to the jail. Protest. Don't just do what you are
told." All the while his feet never budged from the line.
He could have broken rank. He could have run around every
letter, fomenting revolution among the obedient. Instead he
protested as he complied. I thought about those two forces
in me - the one who thinks "outside the box" and the one who
counts on the box to maintain an orderly world. I don't
think that anyone really wanted it all to collapse - however
much we might fantasize about the demise of western
civilization in moments of disgust with crass materialism
and gross injustice.


A dear friend of mine - a man enamored of truth and beauty
who happens to be a Republican - wrote me last week saying:
"The worst thing about highly contentious situations is that
they can come between friends." People I cherish are strung
out along much of the spectrum of opinion about the WTO. I
wonder who might feel required to distance themselves from
me because I haven't taken quite the right stance.

During the year I lived in Spain, I remember long,
eye-opening conversations with an older friend over
Galoise-like cigarettes. She told me about her recollections
of the Spanish Civil War. There was no electricity, much
less telephones, in rural Spain at that time. News of the
war filtered into the hinterlands via word of mouth. And
people, who'd harbored ancient enmities, having nothing to
do with the issues of the war, grabbed the occasion and
started killing each other. That image of war releasing the
beast of hatred has always stayed with me.

Listen to the rhetoric. The Battle of Seattle. The war being
waged by the global corporate and financial institutions.
These are fighting words.

So skirmishes began on the streets of Seattle. The beginning
of a global citizen revolution? Time will tell. But if war
it is, then war means sides, fathers against sons, brother
against brother. Lines get drawn. The metaphor of war
justifies behavior that in peace would just not happen. And
war means people get hurt. Some, like those who choose to
join the army (even the civil disobedience army), are
choosing personal pain over turning a blind eye to evil.
Civil disobedience IS disobedience and WILL be punished. It
is breaking the law. That's the point. So it's no surprise
that people were met with force. Much as we might like the
Empire's army to have been trained in nonviolence rather
than violence, their behavior was predictable. In war, too,
bystanders are hurt, as were the shoppers and coffee
drinkers, the street people and the folks doing their
laundry at the wrong time. So declaring war, even righteous
war, has profound costs and need be done with full awareness
of the narrowing options war brings.

Perhaps, for me, the luxury of empathy with all the humans I
met that week will be sorely challenged.

I recall now the young policewoman with braces who was part
of a three deep blockade of a small group of middle-aged
women carrying a non-threatening banner and chanting peace
songs. She stood at attention but whispered to us
conspiratorially "Hey, if you'd just roll up the banner
there would be no problem." She was much less inclined to
fight than some of the feisty old activists in our group.

I recall the girls in anarchist garb joining me in trying to
give a small dog a drink of water from the bottle they were
carrying to wash tear gas from their eyes. The dog, one said
behind her bandana, was "the only person who'd been nice to
me all week."

I recall distributing fruit to the people in vigil at the
King County Jail. One girl declined, saying she'd not been
so well fed in her whole life. People were coming by
non-stop with food. "There was a pizza a protester," she

I recall the calm of the peace keepers, their tense good
cheer as they shepherded thousands through incendiary

I recall the tireless work and patient repetition of
explanations on the part of intellectuals in the Third World
Network and the International Forum on Globalization.

I recall the exasperated woman who came out of her shop on
Friday, took one look at yet another rag-tag throng of
protesters marching up 4th Avenue and angrily said to no one
in particular, "They should put them all on a bus and send
them home." ("They ARE home", I thought, but would it serve
this woman to say it?) She wanted normal life back.

I recall the woman in a "WTO for Beginners" workshop with me
who on Monday hadn't even heard of the WTO. She'd been at a
bus stop and struck up a conversation with someone who gave
her an earful. By Tuesday she was at every teach-in she
could find. By Friday she was in the March. By the next
Wednesday she was front row center with her tape recorder at
the first City Council hearing. She'd gotten radicalized -
along with many other people on the streets and in front of
their TV's that week.

And I recall an old folk song about the civil war: "Which
side are you on? Which side are you on?" If lines get drawn
and sides picked, which way will all the people I know and
those I met on the streets go?

Something in me wants to stand up for the perfection of the
whole pageant and all of the passion and outrage and courage
that flushed the old paradigm out of hiding. I want to stand
up for the camaraderie and bridge building I saw happening
outside the "war zone." I want to have those who were
locked down give respect to the people for whom the greatest
act of courage was just to show up at a rally. I want us to
celebrate those who were disobedient and got arrested, to
remember what we learned dutifully in American History books
- it was the SHOT heard round the world, not the teach-in or
march. At the same time, I want all of us who protested to
remember the humanity of the delegates and ministers. I want
us to heed people like Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel and
playwright Anna Devere Smith who have had the patience and
vision to tell the whole stories of horrors like the
Holocaust and the LA riots. I want the precious possibility
of new alliances to flourish and not get beaten down by
ideological hair splitting. If "Turtles and Teamsters" are
going to have more than a fling, they will need all the
courtesy and respect they can muster to deal with their real

I'm not just being nice in this call for respect. I'm being
practical and fierce. And true to my own conviction that all
elements have information that will lead to unheard of
solutions - if we will listen deeply. Demonizing is running
rampant now, filling column inches and email boxes globally.
It won't help. Having trained in many forms of Aikido, on
and off the mat, I am deeply concerned by my colleagues
demonizing the WTO and what it stands for. I was especially
troubled when this attitude spilled over into subtle and
not-so-subtle put downs among the broad range of citizens
and NGO's who formed common cause for a few glorious days. A
few folks engaged in direct action seemed to be wearing a
bit of "You Wimp" cologne that the rest of us could smell.
Any choice short of battle mode was capitulation. But there
was other polite sniping going on. I literally fear that
after years of careful work we will arrive at the crest of
the hill, see the "whites of the eyes" of the old paradigm,
stand up and turn our guns on one another for some obscure
differences of analysis and strategy. (Monty Python could do
this skit up good.) The battle lines need to be drawn
between paradigms, not between people or preferred tactics
for change. We are choosing the rules for the future. Let's
do it eyes wide open. In a way, the ideology of greed and
growth thrives because it is simple-minded and single-
minded. How can we, diverse as we are, be of one mind too?

Some of the people who impressed me most for their inter-NGO
bridge building were representatives of Alliance for
Democracy, United for a Fair Economy and Sustainable
America. They said We need to watch out for the turf and
leadership and funding wars that break us apart in petty
ways. We need to take reflective time to scout upstream for
the source of drowning babies so we don't repeatedly solve
the same problem. And we need to keep our eye on the prize -
healthy people on a healthy planet - and not just the next
phone call or campaign. Can we do these few simple things?


I have annoyed my enviro friends by asserting that the
future belongs to the press agents. Surely science, public
policy analysis or ethical debates should guide our cultural
conversations. But they don't. Publicizing YOUR MONEY OR
YOUR LIFE taught me that the media mediates reality and
bestows validity much as the church or royalty did in bygone
eras. If it's on TV, in the papers, in a book, well, it must
be true - or at least worthy of forking over some my limited
attention span to consider.

Sound bites. Photo ops. Conflict. Sex, violence, scandal and
celebrity. Face it, we eat that stuff for breakfast, lunch
and dinner. So isn't it pitifully predictable that the
stunning show of outrage and concern about what the WTO
represents made headlines thanks to our much maligned
anarchist compadres? They knew how to make news, and, in
making news, they made all of our concerns a bit more
newsworthy. It's not their "fault" that they upstaged
everyone else except, ultimately, the police. Those two
factions, with the direct action folks playing the Greek
Chorus role of highlighting the morality of the moment,
captured the media's attention and thus the attention of the
world. That's how the media environment makes us make news.
In a way, the media fosters the very misbehavior society is
bound to condemn. Could it be that our capitalist epidemic
of busyness and distraction are making us all into the
cartoon yuppie parents. Civil society has to throw a tantrum
of major proportions to get any attention. Ironically, the
media makes money reporting on the very insanity it fosters.
Oh well, who said the world isn't weird and getting weirder.

The media isn't recognized as a player in these pageants,
but it's got the central role. In this century's
revolutions, guerrillas have learned that they must capture
the media if they want to capture the state. Campaign
finance reform is really media manipulation reform -
politicians use soft money to capture the minds the media is
adept at delivering. How can activists for the "new
paradigm" capture at least their fair share of the media?
How can we cut through the palaver and trivia that the media
churns out? "Alternative" media is marginalized and serves
only the already converted. Mainstream media seems to be
such a huge fortress with commercial interests in every gun
turret (as well holding a pistol to the heads of Station and
Program Managers). So part of a measured, coordinated
strategy post WTO Ministerial meeting has to be, dare I say
it, a good media strategy.

YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE was, in a way, a media strategy. A
life free of financial constraints yet strangely dismissive
of traditional wealth and status symbols had enough
curiosity to capture media attention. It irked and attracted
people all at once. And I got hundreds of hours of air time
- very frugally I might add. Then I used my thousand hours
of fame to educate people in a new way of thinking about
money, success, savings, status, freedom, purpose and stuff.
Ironically, I would gently use the sponsor's ads on
interview programs to enhance the points I was making.
Somehow, no one recognized this work as subversive. And
somehow I have a feeling that this experience has educated
me in as yet untapped ways for the kind of transformation I
believe we all yearn for. Many friends call me when they
want media contacts (especially Oprah!). But that 's not
what I am talking about. Rather than getting our messages
out singly, we need a two-prong media strategy. We need the
grit and moxie to reclaim some rightful space on the media
for the leading cultural edge. AND we need to Aikido the
current sick set-up to give us power (air time) using the
very tools (shock, celebrity, style, sound and video bites)
they use to make news. We can change the rules by playing
their game better than they can. I know we can. I already
know people who are doing it.


Say what? Where's the link? I only bring it up because I
am determined to integrate my devotional side and my
activist side. And, as I do that, to seek this
reconciliation in outer events. We all look with dismay on
how religion and war have made common cause with every side
claiming God is with them. Result: a lot of suffering. So
what is the role of spirit? I am not a contemplative; I
don't believe that prayer alone is sufficient to change the
course of events. I am also not a materialist; I distrust
any process conducted in the absence of the sacred. Perhaps
it is with the natural love of a mother for a newborn that
we need to hold the affairs of the world. His Holiness the
Dalai Lama, when asked about evil in the world, spoke about
the centrality of teaching happiness. Everyone wants it, yet
to achieve it ultimately requires that everyone's happiness
be assured. Peace Pilgrim, our American "saint", said,
"Overcome evil with good." Saint Paul said love was the
greatest force. So perhaps along with all our strategizing,
we need to just love the shit out of the WTO. Here's a
wonderful story I recently got over email:
In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts
irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the
village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every
man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large
circle around the accused individual. Then each person in
the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all
the good things the person in the center of the circle has
done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that
can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted.
All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and
kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal
ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal
circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the
person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the

I can see the faint outlines of Direct Spiritual Action.
Blockade the entrance. Form a human chain. Then praise the
WTO functionaries for all the good the global economy has
given us and for all their hard work in making it happen.
Thank them for the cell phones and computers that make our
civil society hum. For the planes that brought us to the
demonstrations. For donations to Universities where we got
the training in law and medicine that allowed people to be
protected and defended and healed on the streets. For the
factories that make the bricks and mortar that make our
homes. For our cars and trains and televisions, because we
use them to bring us together and bring our message to the
world. For providing some of the food we cannot grow
ourselves anymore. For their good intentions. For being
parents who want the best for their children. For standing
up for their belief that they are doing the arduous work of
stitching together the world economically so it doesn't fall
apart politically. For every unknown act of kindness and
courage they have ever done. For

Too improbable. Too idealistic. Every religion teaches such
love. I suspect it will take incredible courage for me and
everyone else to be boldly wise and fiercely loving in the
face of all that needs repair in this world.



I am famous for poor wind-ups to my public talks. Sorry,
there's no summation for this story. It's unfolding in front
of all our eyes. I am grateful to be part of it. I am
grateful for every disturbing aspect of that week. I am
grateful to the WTO for having given us a visible target for
our distress; so many friends now are saying, " When I
thought about the WTO I realized I needed to change a habit
or a plan or a point of view." I am grateful to know more
about the world I live in and know it's going to require
more of me than I've ever given. Never before has the simple
intention to be a responsible and compassionate human being
meant stretching one's awareness to encompass all natural
and human systems. Ouch. As hard as it is, the alternative
of living in a plastic world or a comfortable bubble no
longer cuts it. I'm going to need my sense of humor big
time. And kindness, because I'm going to fall down a lot of
times on the road to real global citizenship. And
discipline. Discipline to use my time really well, which
means knowing when to stare out the window and think as well
as which meeting to attend, which project to start, which
essay to write, which friend to join for an intense
discussion over tea, which book to read. Discipline to
strengthen my spirit, deepen my reflection. To learn those
tools and skills that will provide comfort and encouragement
for everyone on the journey with me - including me. And I'll
need all the help I can get.

With love,