The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


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Date: Sun, 31 Dec 2006 23:50:44 -0500
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
To: PORTSIDE@LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: The 2006 You Didn't Hear About

The 2006 You Didn't Hear About

By Rebecca Solnit, AlterNet.
Posted December 29, 2006.
http://www.alternet.org/story/46015/

While many of the big stories in 2006 were bad news,
there were hundreds of activist successes in 2006 that
permanently changed the world.

The big news is usually the bad news, and this year the
biggest stories weren't even news -- climate change and
the war in Iraq were trouble that had begun well before
2006. But dozens of small stories set another tone --
the tone of that graffiti in Seattle during the
shutdown of the World Trade Organization there in 1999:
"We are winning" -- not the same as "we have won" and
can stop; "we are winning" is a call to action.
Activists won dozens of small and not-so-small
victories for human rights and the environment in 2006.
The fabric of the world is woven out of small gestures;
the large ones mostly just rend it and leave more to
mend. And the small gestures continue. Here are some of
them.

On December 31, 2005, Black Mesa Coal shut down its
mine on indigenous land in Arizona because that mine
fed all its coal -- as water-depleting slurry pumped
300 miles across the desert -- to the Mojave Power
Station that cranked out obscene quantities of
particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and all manner of
other nasty things during the decades of its operation.
The mainstream media played it as a jobs story; the
alternative media mostly missed what had a decade
earlier been a big environmental cause.

In February indigenous leaders, forest activists and
logging companies reached a historic deal that
protected five million acres outright and limited
logging on another 10 million acres of the Great Bear
Wilderness in north-coast British Columbia. That's an
area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National
Park wholly preserved with another four or so
Yellowstones protected -- and not just set aside as
national parks are, but put under the joint
jurisdiction of the First Nations people from the
region and of the provincial government.

Indigenous peoples won victories all over the world in
2006, perhaps beginning with the inauguration of labor
leader Evo Morales as president of Bolivia on January
22nd, the first indigenous president of the largely
indigenous nation since the Spanish invasion almost
five centuries before. He made good on his campaign
promises to nationalize energy resources and negotiated
contracts giving the impoverished nation far higher
percentages of profits from natural-gas extraction. In
November, the Achuar people of the Peru-Ecuador
rainforest blockaded a major oil producer and forced it
and the Peruvian government to implement environmental
reforms.

Similarly, on July 20th, the Nigerian courts ordered
Shell Corporation to pay $1.5 billion to the Ijaw
people of the Niger Delta, who had been fighting the
oil company for compensation for environmental
devastation since 2000. In December, in Botswana, the
San people -- sometimes called the Bushmen -- won the
court case over their eviction from their homeland. The
decision restored their right to live, hunt, and travel
on their ancestral lands.

While the Navajo still fight an attempt to site a new
power plant on their reservation, there were other
victories against the environmental destructiveness of
energy production when Congress banned all new oil,
gas, and mineral drilling leases on the Rocky Mountain
Front region of Montana, one portion of the west chewed
up by the Bush-era extraction stampede.

There were domestic victories on other fronts. One
major U.S. citizen achievement was the October defeat
of attempts to privatize and jack up usage fees on the
Internet, despite $200 million in corporate spending on
the issue. A new grassroots movement defeated the
telecom industry's attempt to take over this major new
zone of global communication for its own profit. A
minor but sweet victory for independent thinking and
bold opposition was Stephen Colbert's April dressing
down of the Bush Administration, to the president's
face, at the White House Press Corps dinner. The
mainstream media, also excoriated by the bold Colbert,
ignored the spectacular verbal attack until the
alternative media made the story impossible to ignore.
Such trajectories -- major stories investigated,
exposed and explained by the alternative media until
the mainstream can no longer ignore the news -- are one
of the reasons why net neutrality matters.

Another grassroots groundswell that mattered was the
immigrants' rights marches of last spring, which were
launched with the surprising turnout in Los Angeles --
not the easiest city for walking and marching -- of
more than a million Latinos and others defiant of
crackdowns against immigrants. Similarly huge and
passionate demonstrations, many organized by text
messaging, Spanish-language radio, and other means,
swept the nation. They demonstrated that immigrants
were not going to be so easy to bully; the force of
their numbers and passion left Republican plans to
repress and to demonize immigrants, undocumented and
otherwise, in disarray. The marches were jubilant and
powerful, one of those no-going-back moments when a
group decides never to be a silent victim again. The
culminating marches on May Day were the first time in
many decades that the U.S. had adequately joined the
rest of the world in commemorating this worker's
holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the
Chicago labor march and rally in 1886.

Mexicans rose up in 2006, and the country seems to be
on the brink of revolution, if citizen discontent is
any measure. The city of Oaxaca was seized by its
citizens and for many months functioned as an
autonomous zone akin to the Paris Commune of 1871,
until violent repression in November. After the stolen
presidential election in the summer, millions of
Mexicans took up residence in the streets of the
capital to protest the corruption and model an
alternative -- the huge occupation of the central
zocalo (or plaza) and surrounding area experimented
with mass democracy meetings in the open air, while
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Mexico-City mayor who
probably actually won the election, set up a shadow
government. The Zapatistas, a dozen years after their
appearance on the world stage, continued to play a role
in Mexican politics.

The Bush Administration continued its slide into
ignominy as even the craven politicians who had waved
flags and followed orders during the long patriotic
nightmare after 9/11 found it safe and useful to attack
the administration. Many Republican candidates declined
to appear with the president, and Cheney made his mark
this year largely by shooting a major campaign
contributor in the face while attempting to shoot birds
just released from cages for the purpose -- perhaps an
allegory for the voting public. Though some good
candidates won election and Congress and the Senate
went to the Democrats, the Democrats as a whole will at
best endorse victories won elsewhere, which is why the
grassroots matter so much.

It was a lousy year to be a Republican president,
though not nearly as bad as being a U.S. soldier or an
Iraqi citizen. A number of highly visible defections
from the war in Iraq made a difference in 2006, notably
that of Lieutenant Ehren Watada, a Japanese-American
officer from Hawaii who refused to serve in what he
called "an illegal and immoral war." Recruiting kids to
serve in the military became harder than ever, and
recruiters fought back with ever-lowering standards,
ballooning bonuses and, according to many sources,
packs of lies.

Five central Asian nations -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan -- signed a
treaty foreswearing nuclear weapons anywhere on their
considerable territory in September, further upsetting
the Bush Administration which hoped to reserve the
option of siting a few nukes there. Donald Rumsfeld was
obliged to resign after the 2006 elections, and he may
join Henry Kissinger as thugs who don't like to travel
abroad -- the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional
Rights filed a lawsuit against the former Secretary of
Defense in Germany, on behalf of torture victims from
Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This picked up where the
lawsuits against Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet
-- hounded by justice the last eight years of his life,
until his death earlier this month -- left off.

It wasn't such a great year to be a free-trade
advocate, either. The United States's most fervent
advocate, Thomas Friedman, was outed by independent
journalist Norman Solomon as a person so insanely rich
-- through marriage into one of the wealthiest families
in the country -- that his opinions are deeply
contaminated by membership in the ultra-elite that
prospers by policies that bankrupt the rest of us. The
Free Trade Area of the Americas was already sabotaged
by left-wing leaders in South America in 2005; in 2006,
Ecuador canceled a contract with Occidental Petroleum,
so annoying the Bush Administration that it broke off
trade talks with the country. The World Trade
Organization continued to falter -- some activists
pronounced the once-fearsome organization dead this
summer, when the long-floundering Doha round of
negotiations fell apart.

Though binational trade agreements -- such as the U.S.-
Peru agreement signed earlier this month -- continue to
threaten local power, labor and the environment, the
failure of the WTO to become the world's economic
superpower is evidence of the power of resistance. Hugo
Chavez's Bolivarian revolution continued to evolve,
most notably with the early December meeting at which
South American leaders looked at forming an economic
bloc along the lines of the European Union -- an
alternative not just to corporate "free trade," but to
the colonialism that has long drained the wealth of the
region.

Wal-Mart too met with major setbacks, starting with an
ever-increasing bad image around the world, thanks to
activist exposes. Domestic sales slumped in the US by
November; South Korean sales were so dismal that Wal-
Mart sold its 16 stores to a Koran discount chain; the
world's largest corporation also announced last July
that it would pull out of Germany. In January, Maryland
legislators overrode the corporation's pressure and
their own Republican governor to force Wal-Mart to
spend more on healthcare for workers in the state.

Halliburton was so besieged by citizen-opponents in
Texas that it held its annual shareholder's meeting in
Duncan, Oklahoma, and was even there surrounded by
people chanting "shame!" Bechtel, driven to move its
headquarters out of San Francisco by frequent protest,
withdrew from Iraq in ignominy this year, its contracts
canceled and its reputation sullied. The children's
hospital in Basra that Bechtel was supposed to build
and Laura Bush loudly championed as evidence of
American virtue was put "on hold" in July far behind
schedule and far over budget.

Late this year, even the European Union struck a blow
against the reign of the corporations when it adapted
the Reach Regulation, a set of laws that essentially
implements the precautionary principle: corporations
will have to prove that their chemicals are safe,
rather than requiring government agencies to prove they
are dangerous. Austria banned Monsanto's genetically
engineered canola and genetically modified corn;
Romania banned genetically modified soy.

Meanwhile, in the United States, cities, regions, and
states continue their withdrawal from the federal
scheme of things. The Supreme Court is still out on
whether the Environmental Protection Agency can and
must, as Massachusetts argues, regulate greenhouse
gases, but the September passage of the Global Warming
Solutions Act in California is a landmark in states
doing what the federales refuse to do: address the
obscenely disproportionate American contribution to
climate change.

And forest activists didn't just protect the Great Bear
Wilderness in British Columbia. They won a huge Canada-
based victory over Victoria's Secret, which this month
caved in after a long campaign and agreed to use
recycled and sustainable paper in its 350 million
catalogues per year. The catalogues had been produced
from paper made from trees logged in Canada's
endangered boreal forests; the activist group
ForestEthics led the campaign.

What all these victories add up to is a message that
the grim superpowers of militaries and corporations can
be resisted, and that the power of small activist
groups, of workers, of citizens, of indigenous tribes,
of people of conscience matters. 2007 will be a very
interesting year.

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