Just thought I’d write a little report about my first protest rally. I’m guessing my readers will fall into two basic categories with respect to protests: Either you have attended them before and they’re no big deal to you, or you haven’t attended one before and they present awkward, uncharted territory. Until yesterday I was in the second category.
The rally was pretty cool and only took a little over an hour. It was held at noon next to the offices of our U.S. representative and senator, and protested the effort to “fast track” a new international trade agreement through congress. The agreement is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and comes along with the false promises “free” trade deals have carried in the past. According to the government site about it, it will “boost U.S. economic growth, support American jobs, and grow Made-in-America exports to some of the most dynamic and fastest growing countries in the world.” These claims are made despite the fact that “free” trade agreements have historically served only to increase the bottom line of multinational corporations. Trade agreements do this by allowing multinational corporations to operate “free” of democratically created laws and tariffs that are designed to support local economies, protect the environment, and prevent jobs and capital from being shipped overseas and given to the lowest bidder.
I’ve been working my way through Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, and one of the strongest take-home messages I’ve gotten from the book is that free trade agreements are one of the biggest obstacles to doing anything about climate change. The agreements actually allow corporations to sue governments over any kind of restrictions or legislation that they find to be “protectionist” or that in any way “restrict trade” (meaning, their ability to make maximum profits).
Then I find out that a new trade agreement is in the works? It’s daunting enough thinking of how existing agreements can be altered or dismantled. And then they are trying to “fast track” the agreement through congress, which means speeding up the process, minimizing review and debate, and forbidding any amendments. The development of the TPP has occurred in secret, with the full text of the agreement being withheld from the public and even the lawmakers who will be voting on it.
It felt great to be able to do something – to speak with my physical presence and my voice – rather than simply wait until the next election to vote for someone based on their promises. We held signs, chanted, marched in and out of our U.S. representative’s office, marched to the public space outside the senator’s office, and listened to speeches. The whole thing was well organized and easy to participate in. Our U.S. representative and senator will find out that people rallied next to their offices about this, and they’ll know their actions around this issue will not go unnoticed.
Being unused to protests and somewhat unfamiliar with this particular issue, I went to the rally as an individual citizen rather than as a Zen priest. Meaning I didn’t wear anything that could identify myself as a priest. In the future, I may consider doing so because of an example I encountered during this rally.
One of the speakers was Rev. Kate Lore, the “Minister of Social Justice” at our largest local Unitarian congregation. Wow – a Social Justice Minister? How cool is that? The Unitarians don’t just get involved and speak up about social and political issues, they even have a minister devoted to that activity! Although Rev. Lore wasn’t wearing any religious gear to identify her, she clearly identified herself and her faith in her speech. Here’s an excerpt (I asked her for her copy afterwards):
“Why, some may ask, would a minister be speaking at a rally to oppose a trade deal? What does trade policy have to do with church, after all? Well, let me tell you: People of faith are taught to care for – and stand up for – the poor and the exploited. If the TPP passes, we will have even MORE people living in poverty, and there will be even MORE exploitation of workers. People of faith are taught to see creation as a sacred gift of God. If the TPP passes, there will be even more fossil fuel use and pollution. People of faith uphold the inherent worth of every person, and yet, if the TPP passes, even more human rights abuses will go unchecked.”
I think I need to interview Rev. Lore about how the Unitarians do social justice!