Think locally, organize globally
Published in the Brookline
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
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
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 http://www.onelist.com/community/globalaction).
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.
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