On Monday, Nov. 16, as part of the Flush the TPP days of action, hundreds of people marched to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on 17th Street NW to protest and shut it down. The demonstration was planned to occur during protests in Manila, Philippines over the Asian Pacific Economic Coordination (APEC) meetings. The leaders and trade ministers from countries participating in the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) were present in Manila.
The theme of the march and action in Washington was that the TPP betrays all that the people hold dear. Large images displayed family farmers, patients, youth installing solar panels and workers. The TPP will drive the loss of more small and medium sized farms, will reduce access to life-saving medicines and treatments, will drive more fracking and other extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction and will lower wages and worker protections around the world.
The USTR overstepped their authority by negotiating the TPP in secret for 5 years without authorization by or guidance from Congress. In fact, Congress members were prevented from seeing the full text of the TPP although lawyers from over 500 corporations were able to see and comment on the text. The provisions within the TPP will require that US laws be “harmonized” with them. This means that Congress will be required to pass implementing legislation after the President signs the TPP, which is expected to occur on February 4, 2016 in New Zealand. The implementing legislation will change existing US law to conform with the TPP. For example, the TPP bans the federal government from giving preference to US companies and requires equal treatment of foreign companies when purchasing goods and services. This Buy American ban will extend to state and local governments within three years.
Most civil society advocates view the TPP as a corporate power grab that forces changes to US law that would not happen through a democratic and transparent process. The TPP puts corporate profits over protecting people and the planet. The TPP also grants greater legal powers to transnational corporations to sue governments in an international trade tribunal if laws interfere with profits. This tribunal exists outside the US judicial system and its decisions, which are made by corporate lawyers on leave from their corporate jobs, supersede even the US Supreme Court.
Early Monday morning, demonstrators gathered in a nearby park to assemble giant props and banners. They then marched a few blocks down 17th Street and blockaded the four entrances to the USTR building. The protest lasted for hours as demonstrators drummed and chanted in the streets and made speeches about the ways the TPP would personally impact them.
Speakers included Zahara Heckcher, a mother and advanced cancer patient who would not be able to afford the medications she needs if agreements like the TPP become law, Jim Goodman, of Family Farm Defenders, an organic dairy farmer from Wisconsin, Alison Case, a medical student and representative of the American Medical Student Association, and Carol Gay,President of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council.
In a statement prepared for the protest, Jim Goodman wrote, “Trade is good, but but “free trade” doesn’t work for farmers or workers or most everyone else. Free trade does, however, work spectacularly well for corporations who have over 600 advisers to the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations— we have no access to the negotiations, corporations have plenty.
From a practical point of view it would make more sense if we made our own shoes and computers. We should grow less grain for European (and American) livestock and more food for ourselves. We could actually pay workers here a fair wage and US workers could afford to buy US goods and perhaps own a home and send their kids to college.”
Department of Homeland Security officers were present, but they did not interfere with the protest. On the march back to the park, demonstrators stopped at the White House to protest Obama’s role in the TPP.
Flush the TPP, a campaign of PopularResistance.org, with the support of more than 60 organizations representing a diversity of issues, organized two days of training and three days of action in DC to build resistance to the TPP and other transnational corporate treaties. The campaign demands that Congress reject the TPP and instead put in place trade agreements that are restricted to legitimate issues of trade and that prioritize the health and safety of the public and protection of the planet over unlimited corporate profit.