Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials



Brookline Newcomer

Think locally, organize globally

Published in the Brookline TAB

January 6, 2000

As the protests in Seattle raged against the World Trade Organization a few weeks ago, I walked through Coolidge Corner thinking about chain stores, the kind targeted by some of the demonstrators as symbols of our increasingly corporatized society. As a newcomer to Brookline, I have no memory of what existed before the chains moved in. But what we've got now are Starbucks, McDonald's, and K. B. Toys, Barnes & Noble, C.V.S., and the Gap, all of them following corporate policies set somewhere outside Brookline.

Unlike many other places, we're lucky enough to still have a healthy set of holdouts. Independent restaurants and craft shops and ethnic groceries abound, still fighting the good fight against the corporate tide. Brookline Booksmith more than holds its own. The rejuvenated Coolidge Corner Theatre offers the best show in town and beyond.

But we've also got half a dozen or so empty storefronts, no doubt waiting for some other chains with deep pockets to move in, since no one else can afford the unconscionable rents.

The corporate onslaught overwhelms beyond the brick stores, and even beyond those corporate websites where more and more of us shop, sending our dollars to places unknown. Corporate takeovers, bank mergers, big development projects--the daily news is grim for those of us who'd prefer our world, and especially our own town, to become more human in the new millennium rather than less.

The truth is, as a long-time anti-corporate academic and activist, I've been pretty bummed out by world trends. But the action in Seattle has gotten my burned-out juices flowing again. Seeing so many political groups with different agendas converging on exactly the right issue--the role of the corporation in modern society, and in everyone's own town--is truly exciting.

At a mid-December Cambridge meeting focused on how Boston-area activists might build on the movement's momentum, a dozen people who had been in Seattle described the week's events to the 50 or 60 who showed up. I was pleased to see that this wasn't just a student movement, and not just a nostalgic Boomer movement either, trying to relive the sixties anti-war days or the seventies assaults on Seabrook. There were students in attendances, of course, building on campus anti-sweatshop work and other recent causes. But there were also union members and teachers, social workers and retirees, people from all walks of life who understood that global structures like the WTO threaten many of the gains that progressives have made in the last half of the twentieth century.

I had been curious to see who might show up from Brookline, since so many in town agree with much of the movement's pro-labor, environmentalist, human rights agenda. But only one other person listed Brookline on the sign-in sheet. The majority, not surprisingly given the meeting's location, were from Cambridge and Somerville, but others came from Brighton, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Dedham, Waverly, and elsewhere.

More events are scheduled. There'll be a "WTO for Beginners" session on February 8th at the Cambridge Central Square library, 45 Pearl Street, 6:30 to 9. There's also a new email discussion list open to anyone interested in planning future activities (sign on at As I discovered while following the Seattle protest on the Internet, dozens of websites offer eyewitness accounts of the protest and the kind of analysis missing from more mainstream news sources. (And yes, I do appreciate the irony of trying to use the global Internet to fight corporate globalism. Perhaps that's a losing tactic in the end, but we might as well use it while we can.)

The struggle is global, but here in Brookline we can also begin brainstorming about chain-store expansion right here in town. How can zoning and other regulations help preserve what's left of Brookline's independently owned businesses and independently managed cultural resources? Could the town simply ban stores owned by huge corporations? What else might work? What else needs to be done?

In any case, let's not let the need for more development and tax dollars transform the town into something indistinguishable from thousands of other shopping strips and malls and Restaurant Rows. Let's start the new millennium by resisting, not by caving in. I'd be interested in hearing directly from other Brookline residents who couldn't make the Cambridge meeting but who'd like to get involved.

And if we meet for coffee, let's not do it at Starbucks.

Up to top   

Long article on corporate society

More columns on the WTO and corporations

Web links: Corporate issues

Newcomer Columns List

up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated September 30, 2007