And Justice for All

“A New Age of Activism” (Spring 2002) perhaps inadvertently makes an important point about the relative effectiveness of different types of social activism by Oberlin alums. The most successful efforts are those that connect directly with local issues; the goals and the impact are clear, and the theory, as the article states, is good, even if the results often get little public attention. The “carnival against capitalism” in Seattle was something altogether different. This media event was all about puerile slogans, street theater, and street violence—with television cameras to record the spectacle. No one in your article was able to articulate a coherent agenda of social justice based on the dismantling of trade liberalization. Instead we read mumbo jumbo about the World Trade Organization as the “corporate-military-government-oppressive power.” Oberlin students and alums who participated in this event may want to ponder the fact that it received clandestine support from the likes of textile magnate and union-basher Roger Milliken, as well as ultranationalist Pat Buchanan and other proponents of protectionist corporate welfare. The simple truth is that these political opportunists and the corporations they represent stand to benefit greatly from the trade restrictions that would result from a weakened WTO. Where is the social justice in that proposition? On the other hand, did the Seattle protesters seriously believe that Third-World workers would benefit from “social chapter” tariffs against their exports? Or how about the millions of poor and working-class Americans who pay higher prices for everything from clothing to cars to food when corporate lobbyists succeed in getting the government to defy WTO rules? On this point, the activist “theory” was deficient. But it is on the theory that I would expect Oberlin students to rise above the Seattle crowd.

Kent Jones ’76
Franklin, Massachusetts

There is a wide gap between seeking to protect Third-World workers from dangerous and exploitative working conditions and pure, old-fashioned protectionism, seeking to keep out of U.S. stores goods at prices that poor people can afford made by Third-World workers who are delighted to have the opportunity for factory employment. Unfortunately, the anti-globalization activists have joined the textile industry bigwigs and their union allies firmly on the latter side of the gap. The interviews with Liz Guy and Josh Raisler-Cohn would have been more interesting if author Sara Marcus had asked them how they felt when it was revealed that their vegan meals were being paid for by South Carolina textile magnate Roger Milliken. Milliken is not known for his devotion to empowering the poor, but he does have a faithful habit of using whatever political means are available to prevent an increase in exports to the U.S. of textiles and textile products manufactured by Third-World workers, since this might hurt his profits. Most recently, textile lobby pressure caused the administration to back away from proposals to allow increased textile imports from Pakistan, an action that cost an estimated 48,000 Pakistanis their jobs. For this, Oberlin alums get arrested?

Russell Pittman ’73
Takoma Park, Maryland

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