Global Policy Forum

Getting Serious About


by Matthew Schlobohm

March 6, 2002

This piece is intended to spark discussion and planning to develop a more serious, multi-year strategy to defeat the FTAA. Since the Quebec City mobilizations, in April 2001, as a movement, we've done very little to develop an integrated, multifaceted, tactically diverse strategy to stop the FTAA. With the proposed FTAA implementation date of 2005 not that far off, it is critical that we act now to develop a 3 - 4 year game plan.

This is written to encourage conversation, analysis, and action-so please engage it, respond, share thoughts, and put forth ideas/proposals for creating an oppositional strategy to win.

Context: A Rapidly Approaching Deadline and the Need for an Integrated Strategy of Escalating Resistance

In April 2001, thousands of people poured into the streets of Quebec City and other cities and borders throughout the hemisphere to protest the creation of the FTAA. These actions exposed and delegitimized the proposed agreement, educated and radicalized thousands, and strengthened anti-capitalist and anti-corporate resistance movements. Yet, just as the real work of creating the FTAA does not happen at these major summits--it happens in the numerous negotiations that take place between summits-- the real work of defeating the FTAA does not happen in mass mobilizations alone. It happens by developing long term strategies and struggles and by committing to long term education, organizing, and action to build mass popular power, opposition, and alternatives.

In the roughly ten months since the Quebec City protests, not nearly enough has been done to develop a coherent 3-4 year organizing plan to defeat the FTAA. The opposition, with the power of the state, media, and money on its side, has a well worked out game plan to implement the FTAA by 2005. We do not have such a well worked out game plan to counter the neoliberal offensive and defeat the proposed agreement. The bottom line is that to win this fight, our resistance needs to become much more sophisticated, integrated, and strategically savvy. We need a strategy. Regardless of how the current fast track fight ends, if our efforts between now and 2005 consist only of mobilizing for mass protests--around the October 2002 Ministerial in Ecuador and the next Summit of the Americas--and trying to win legislative voting battles in 2005, there is a very real chance that we will lose this fight and the FTAA will be implemented. 2005 is not that far off! Now is the time to develop an integrated strategy of escalating opposition to defeat the FTAA. What is our game plan for 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005? What are the best targets to focus on? What kind of plan do we have in place to get stronger each year and to steadily escalate our resistance? We need much better answers to such questions. Below are some questions to think about in shaping long term strategy, a few thoughts of my own, and a time line of important dates for anti-FTAA work. The questions, thoughts, and time line are just a starting point meant to facilitate much greater discussion, analysis, and strategic planning and action. As a quick note, there is, of course, the possibility that the FTAA may crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. A host of factors could contribute to this--Argentina's economic collapse; skepticism and reluctance from certain Latin American countries, notably Venezuela and Brazil; increased Latin American irritation with the protectionist deals Bush cut in order to pass Fast Track in the house; the potential election of Workers' Party candidate, Lula, in the upcoming Brazilian presidential election, etc. These factors and many others are crucial to be aware of and to incorporate into our strategy, but we obviously would be very foolish to rely on them.

A Few Questions: Assuming that our short term goal is to defeat the FTAA, we need to look at a time line between now (March 2002) and 2005 (see below for such a time line) and develop a plan of action. Essentially, we should be asking ourselves what do we need to do between now and 2005 to stop this agreement, what is the best way to go about that, and what else do we want to accomplish in the process? In trying to create such a plan a number of questions are useful. Here are a few:

1. Where is our real power currently? Who's on board? Who isn't? What constituencies should we focus our energy on targeting and organizing? What are the most effective issues/talking points and where?

2. How do we shape a 3-4 year struggle so that we're getting stronger each year? How do we shape a multi-year struggle in such a way that it does not stop and start, but consistently builds momentum and ever greater power? What is our plan for 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005?

3. In developing an anti-FTAA organizing strategy what are the best targets to focus on? What kinds of actions and targets will consistently pull the FTAA into the public eye, expose and delegitimate it, and ultimately defeat it? How do we make the FTAA a household word in the US? What kind of actions and large scale educational efforts are necessary to do so?

4. How do we most effectively shape a long term anti-FTAA struggle so that it connects with local struggles, strengthens local efforts, and makes clear connections between global institutions and processes and local effects? What is the most effective way to shape and articulate local struggles so that they simultaneously address local needs and build ever greater opposition to the FTAA and neoliberalism?

5. How do we shape our anti-FTAA work so that in the process of challenging, delegitimating, and ultimately defeating the FTAA we are also most effectively challenging, delegitimating, and defeating the neoliberal economic structure and logic the FTAA is founded upon?

6. How do we most effectively put an "inside - outside" organizing approach into practice? By "inside - outside" I mean combining the "inside" realm of lobbying/legislative work, alternative policy analysis, electoral work, etc and the "outside" realm of direct action, mass protest, the creation of viable alternatives, popular education, economic disruption, etc in a way that maximizes our power and effectiveness.

7. How do we shape our strategy so that it leads towards ever greater future gains and opens ever more space for local, non-capitalist alternatives?

A Few Thoughts: 1. There are 3 primary scenarios by which the FTAA could be defeated. A. The agreement could collapse due to internal contradictions and disagreements or with certain countries pulling out. B. The agreement could be voted against by the US Congress or other countries' legislative bodies. C. Through intense organizing, education, and action, the level of popular dissent could become so great that it becomes socially unacceptable and unaffordable for elites to try to implement the agreement in 2005.

Our strategy, instead of focusing solely on one of these realms, should incorporate all 3 scenarios. That is to say we should develop an integrated, multifaceted strategy that links a militant commitment to direct action, popular education and grassroots mobilization with serious legislative and lobbying work and a vital sense of international solidarity. Such an integrated, "inside-outside" strategy is essential if we are to maximize our collective power, win real victories, and radically transform society.

2. Our 3-4 year plan of action must aim to steadily increase our power and escalate our resistance. We need to be getting stronger each year and in the process wielding our collective power so that it builds upon itself, ever more vigorously deligitimates neoliberalism, and raises the social costs for elites so that they cannot afford to implement agreements like the FTAA. This might mean that in 2002 we focus on widespread popular education and consciousness raising-through teach-ins, worker/community exchanges, local ordinances, media work, sign-on letters, direct action, public debates, and unprecedented, large scale, decentralized solidarity actions for the October 2002 FTAA ministerial meeting in Ecuador-as well as developing our infrastructure, alliances, and organizational/mobilization capacity; in 2003/2004 we move towards some form of popular referendum on the FTAA in the US and in 2004/2005, if necessary, we mobilize for a hemispheric wide general strike, sectoral strike, or general economic disruption. Though this may seem a bit daunting and far reaching at the present moment, with enough time, planning, and commitment it is certainly possible. In developing long term strategies with sizable goals, we must, of course, be realistic about our resources and capacity, but we must also be realistic about what it really takes to win and just how much is at stake-we're talking about life and death here. In some ways, we need to take ourselves and our potential power more seriously, for if we do not develop an escalating oppositional plan there is no reason for elites to not implement the FTAA.

3. As part of our immediate resistance strategy (in the US), we must work vigorously to defeat Fast Track, which will likely be coming up for another vote in the House in late March or perhaps later (Fast Track passed by one vote in the House in December, but it will have to pass the House again to be enacted). Having Fast Track authority is an essential component of the adversaries' strategy. Without such negotiating authority it becomes extremely difficult to pass implementation legislation. Therefore, we must defeat Fast Track. 4. We must carefully track the maneuvering of the other side. What is their plan? What tactics are they employing? How is their strategy evolving? For example, the recently announced US government effort to create a US - Central America free trade treaty is particularly important to pay close attention to-both in terms of opposing it and assessing the implications for the creation of the FTAA. In addition to tracking the other side, we must develop the capacity to predict and be prepared for events well in the future. For example, in efforts to educate about the FTAA, we should be prepared to mobilize quite quickly when the verdict comes down in the pending Methanex NAFTA chapter 11 case. Methanex is currently suing the US for $970 million because California banned MTBE. If this case rules in favor of Methanex, we have an incredible opportunity to educate and greatly increase opposition to the FTAA. We will only succeed in doing so if we are prepared to take action when the ruling comes down.

5. Much has been said of late about the need to adapt to the post September 11 context. Certainly we need to adapt, but we cannot confuse adapting with retreating. We must always adapt our actions and tactics to the particular context and ask ourselves what actions increase our power, build a mass base of popular participation and support, open political space for alternatives, and move us in the direction we want to go, but we cannot forget that much of our recent success, as Canadian Auto Workers union researcher and activist Gerard Greenfield has pointed out, has come through "being dangerous." Much of the struggle against NAFTA, the WTO, the FTAA and neoliberalism in general is a struggle over legitimacy. We are dangerous when we are deligitimizing these institutions and ultimately defeating them and replacing them with liberatory, democratic alternatives. To quote Greenfield, "We can only be effective if we continue what it is that makes us dangerous-and do it better." In the current context, what makes us dangerous and how can we do it better?

6.We must shape our organizing strategy so that it leads to more victories and more space for the creation of alternatives and so that it capitalizes on the necessity of hemispheric wide resistance to develop stronger hemispheric wide networks, relationships, and alternative infrastructure.

7. In crafting our resistance, we would be wise to heed Sun Tzu's 2,400 year old advice, "Do not do what you would most like to do. Do what you adversary would least like you to do." We do not ask ourselves what our adversary would least like us to do nearly enough.

8. We need to develop long term strategy and vision not just with the FTAA, but with all of the struggles we're engaged in. What is our long term plan to eliminate and replace or radically transform the WTO, IMF/World Bank, NAFTA, etc? What is our long term plan to create widespread economic alternatives? As a movement we need to develop more of a culture of long term strategic thinking, planning, and action.

Timeline: Some critical dates, past & future, for anti-FTAA work (please add anything not included)

Dec. 1994 - 1st Summit of the Americas, Miami, Florida; effort launched to create the FTAA

April 1998 - 2nd Summit of the Americas, Santiago, Chile; FTAA Negotiations "formally launched."

May 1998 - February 2001 - 1st Phase Ongoing FTAA negotiations, Miami, Florida.

Nov. 1999 - 5th Ministerial Meeting, Toronto, Canada. Mandate given to 9 negotiating groups to prepare a draft text of respective chapters to be presented at 6th ministerial in Argentina, April 2001.

March 2001 - February 2003 - 2nd Phase ongoing FTAA negotiations, Panama City, Panama

April 6, 2001 - 6th Ministerial Meeting, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Negotiating groups present & discuss draft text; thousands protest outside.

April 20-22, 2001 - 3rd Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, Canada. Deadlines set to complete FTAA negotiations and implementation by 2005. Hundreds of thousands protest against the FTAA in Quebec City and cities and towns throughout the hemisphere.

July 3, 2001 - FTAA draft text released.

November 2001 - Hemispheric Conference to Fight Against the FTAA held in Cuba

December 2001 - Argentine economic collapse; popular revolts.

December 2001 - Fast Track passes US House by one vote.

March 2002 (or later) - Fast Track is scheduled to be voted on in the US Senate and to be voted on again in the US House, where it has the best chance of being defeated.

October 2002 - 7th Ministerial Meeting to be held in Ecuador; a second version of the draft FTAA text will be presented and discussed with the aim being to reach agreement on areas of contention. Mass protests scheduled.

October 2002 - significant presidential elections in Ecuador & Brazil; in Brazil, if Lula, the Workers' Party (PT) candidate, wins this could significantly strengthen efforts to defeat the FTAA.

November 2002 - US Congressional elections

November 2002 - Proposed hemispheric wide general student strike against the FTAA (being organized by Canadian student unions and OCLAE (Organizacion Continental Latino Americano de Estudiantes), a Latin American student organization; this idea came out of the Hemispheric Conference to Fight Against the FTAA held in Cuba. To contact organizers email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

2002/ 2003 ?? Proposed referendum on the FTAA/ALCA in various Latin American countries (I'm not sure of dates or where exactly this stands in different countries; perhaps someone w/ more information could pass it along.)

March 2003 - December 2004 - 3rd Phase ongoing FTAA negotiations, Mexico City, Mexico.

November 2004 - US presidential election.

January 2005 - Scheduled deadline for conclusion of FTAA negotiations

December 2005 - "Absolute deadline" to implement FTAA

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.