Organizing against the Central America Free Trade Agreement in Grand Rapids

Last week we posted a story about people from Grand Rapids participating in the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protest in Quebec, Canada. This was part of the ongoing anti-Globalization movement, which had begun years earlier, primarily outside of the US.

However, after September 11, 2001, most of the anti-globalization organizing had vanished in the US, since people were now shifting gears and combating increased racial profiling and an expansion of US imperialism abroad, with the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It wasn’t until 2004, when the Central American Free Trade Agreement was proposed, a trade agreement that would virtually replicate NAFTA. Following the defeat of the FTAA, the US and other regional leaders sought to push a NAFTA-style trade policy for Central America. First proposed in 2004, CAFTA would test the anti-globalization movement that surfaced again to fight this most recent manifestation of global capitalism.

The anti-CAFTA campaign was organized primarily by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, a group that had formed around 2000 and organized against global capitalism and US imperialism.

The first step that the People’s Alliance took in their campaign to defeat CAFTA, was to get other groups to sign on to the campaigns. There were nearly 20 union locals that signed on to the campaign, two environmental groups and a few other entities like the Institute for Global Education. Once they had lots of organizational support, they put together their first action in March of 2004, by organizing what they called a NAFTA scavenger hunt.

The idea behind the NAFTA scavenger hunt was to send people out, like you would with any scavenger hunt, but in this case people were tasked with finding jobs in the area that were created by NAFTA. Everyone was provided a map, which of course had locations of businesses that had lost jobs because of NAFTA. In addition, members of the People’s Alliance created a video, using a character called the NAFTA Bunny, to dramatize the scavenger hunt.

The next action saw people handing out flyers at the Van Andel Arena, just prior to a hockey game, at an action that was called, a Slap Shot Against CAFTA.

In early August of 2004, Presidential Candidate John Kerry came to town, so members of the People’s Alliance decided to use that opportunity to hand out flyers to Kerry supporters about the need to move beyond a simple “Anybody but Bush” strategy. 350 “Demand More from Kerry!” flyers were distributed to Kerry supporters urging people to demand something from Kerry in exchange for their vote.

In addition to people leafleting, an appearance was made by the CAFTA Chicken and the NAFTA Bunny who distributed 500 pink slips containing information about neoliberal trade agreements and their connection to local job losses. In other CAFTA Chicken and NAFTA Bunny news, we have posted two zines explaining more about the origins of these legendary creatures. Both zines were created at yesterday’s Clamor Magazine/Hey Kidz! make your own media workshop. You can view The Adventures of the NAFTA Bunny and The Adventures of the CAFTA Chicken online.

The CAFTA Chicken and the NAFTA Bunny appeared several more times in Grand Rapids, by leafletting during Blues on the Mall several times in an attempt to engage the public through popular education.

While CAFTA ended up passing in Congress the following year, the type of organizing and creativity that was developed during this campaign reached tens of thousands of people and helped to create even more suspicion against any US trade policy that was proposed after 2005.

 

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