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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 30, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 80




Dennis Coday This is what democracy looks like

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

You must have seen news reports of those crazy protesters in Montreal. Demonstrations there against the World Trade Organization turned violent on Monday: 238 arrested for smashing up Burger King and The Gap.

According to Canadian Press reports, 140 protesters spent Monday night in jail and 200 appeared in municipal court Tuesday morning on charges of unlawful assembly, while another 300 continued street demonstrations.

Tuesday's demonstrations were reportedly peaceful and rather orderly. They chanted things like: "Whose Streets? Our Streets" and "This is what democracy looks like." I really like that last chant. Its kind of short hand for the complete thought, which I imagine goes something like this: We are educated people. We studied your books, our heritage, political philosophy, and we bought the whole concept. You said, the power is in the people. Well, we're the people. Let's see how this plays out."

But anyway, what exactly are they protesting? WTO rules? Can you imagine anything drier?

The WTO has gotten hung up on agriculture subsidies, and the body must have some kind of agreement all 146 members can live with before its big meeting Sept. 10-14 in Cancun, Mexico. Twenty-five trade ministers trying to cobble together some kind of an agreement.

Truth be told, the delegates may look on the demonstrations as a welcome distraction. Then again, may be not.

I have a lot of sympathy for the protests' cause. I don't endorse their property destruction. I do wish they could be more effective.

I know a man who tried to establish a dialogue between his group and World Bank officers by marching up to World Bank headquarters in Washington and asking to see the World Bank executives. He never made it past the security guards; I think the Kermit the Frog costume he was wearing put them off.

Eventually -- years later -- the guy made contact with the World Bank officials, and he continues visiting them regularly, along with representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the WTO, chiding, challenging prodding them into policies that are more friendly to the world's poor and marginalized.

Some of you may know the story. Walden Bello was the man in the frog suit. Today he co-directs a Bangkok-based organization called Focus on the Global South, a small group that has done yeoman's work on trade and international finance issues for years.

Another man and organization deeply committed to these issues is Martin Khor of the Third World Network, based in Penang, Malaysia.

Another very interesting group to watch is the International Gender and Trade Network, which is a truly global network of women involved in research on issues of trade and development from a grassroots, women's perspective.

What impresses me about these groups is that they translate the feistiness of their counterparts in the streets of Montreal into language, research and documentation that bureaucrats, functionaries and officials understand and find hard to ignore.

The next major global trade event will be in the WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico Sept. 10 -14. I will try to keep you posted.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His email address is

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