Seattle & Juarez kick the cohones of Wall Street


Expanded from the 12-5-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune


Tiananmen Square gave us the unknown hero with the shopping bags singlehandedly stopping a column of tanks. The Battle of Seattle's Kodak moment was captured by a cameraman from Oakland's KTVU TV-2. He caught a cop first kicking a retreating kid in the balls, then shooting him in the chest with what I hope was a rubber bullet.

It was payback time. Last week, Generation X (people aged roughly 18 to 30) kicked both the establishment and the future in the cohones.

The young man wasn't threatening the officer physically. The chief of police apologized the next day and resigned soon thereafter. The street demonstrations graphically expressed the disconnect between the rulers and ruled.

Back in the '60s, legendary cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said we had reached a point unique in history. For the first time, adults would have to learn from the young. With change accelerating at an increasing rate, the children live much closer to the future, Mead rightly reasoned.

The kids in Seattle debunked decades of glowing government PR which had echoed President Herbert Hoover's "you never had it so good." Hoover's heir, Ronald Reagan, promised "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Reagan proved correct, as demonstrated on the streets of Seattle.

Nonetheless, the corporate PR machine rambled on. Even veteran Time-Warner/CNN correspondent Brooks Jackson produced a "you never had it so good" economic report. According to the conservative corporate think tank talking heads he used as sources, everybody's making more money so we should all be happy.

In reality, U.S. workers started the '90s so far back they will never catch up.

"A worker earning $25,000 today would have made about $3,400 more in 1973, adjusted for inflation," author Holly Sklar wrote recently in Z Magazine.

"According to the AFL-CIO, workers who earned $25,000 in 1994 would earn $138,350 today if their pay had grown as fast as the average CEO. Too bad they're still trying to catch up with 1973," Sklar noted.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, net (after tax) annual income for our richest one percent (about 2.7 million people) has risen 115 percent since 1977. In the same 22 years, middle-income workers have gained only eight percent in real (adjusted for inflation) net income, about a third of a penny per year on every dollar.

Those in the top one percent take home more money than 100 million of their fellow Americans combined. As a result, the Numero Unos also own about 40 percent of the nation's assets, more than double the paltry possessions of the bottom 80 percent.

"At a very basic level, (Generation Xers) recognize that the political system is rigged against their interests," Ted Halstead recently wrote in the Atlantic Monthly.*

As the disaffected young have done so often in the past, the kids rioted in Seattle. The New York Times and KTVU carried stories about a group of acne-faced Portland anarchists who journeyed north to express their desperation. A minority of them broke some windows on the likes of Nike stores.

They were met with a "police riot," to use the term coined by the Kerner Commission in its report on the mayhem surrounding the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention.

I guess it's best to learn while you're young the awful price you'll pay for screwing with the sensibilities of your corporate betters.

Read More About It:

Locals understand reason for protest but not the violence
by Steve Smith, Reno Gazette-Journal

Danny Thompson, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Nevada AFL-CIO, comments on
what he saw in Seattle.

The protestors of Seattle were successful. Unions received an unexpected surprise from President Clinton. Proving once again that wishy-washy Charlie Brown resides in the oval office, Clinton astounded his corporate handlers by backing trade sanctions against countries abusing worker rights.

White House staff spent the next 24 hours saying the president didn't mean what he actually said. It all worked. The World Trade Organization accomplished nothing. The next meeting will probably be held in a friendlier place, like Beijing.

Wall Street took it all in stride. With the stink of tear gas still in the streets and protestors still in jail, the stock market set new records last Friday.

Meanwhile, the corporate media ignored reporting the connection that tied it all together. Just as the Seattle protests were getting underway, the FBI announced its dispatch of 200 agents to search for mass graves near Juarez, Mexico, allegedly the work of drug gangs.

The reality of Juarez is directly related to the purported wonders of world trade. A few years ago, author Charles Bowden wrote "Juarez is an exhibit of the fabled New World Order in which capital moves easily and labor is trapped by borders." **

The major media chose to ignore the macabre relationship between the WTO demonstrations and the mass graves. Many of the unsolved deaths have come as a direct result of those preying on young people, especially girls, who work in the maquiladora factories built by U.S. companies to exploit the labor of the poor.

The factory trade is so lucrative that some of the drug lords themselves have invested to make legal goods for the U.S. market!

After centuries of exploitation, Mexican rebels started shooting in Chiapas. Revolution has already crossed the border as the bloodiest economic protest we've seen recently: the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.

How dry a tinderbox is the growing disparity and unfairness in this country? Seattle almost brought that answer, too. At the height of the rioting, a man was caught on video drawing a .45 automatic pistol from his belt to return fire at the police. He put it away.

How long will it stay there?

Be well. Raise hell.

* Halstead, Ted, "A Politics for Generation X," Atlantic Monthly, August, 1999.

** Bowden, Charles, "While You Were Sleeping," Harper's Magazine, December, 1996. See also Bowden's article "Someone's Killing the Girls of Juarez" in the premiere edition of Tina Brown's new monthly, Talk (the September '99 edition with Hillary Clinton on the cover). The Tucson resident is author of 14 books, including "Juarez, the Laboratory of Our Future." Neither magazine article is available online. Should you obtain a copy of the Harper's piece, please do not let small children look at the pictures.


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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 12/5/99.

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