Of Teamsters and Turtles

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On November 30, 1999, on the rainy grounds of Seattle's Memorial Stadium,hundreds of yellow-slickered Teamsters listenedintently as eco-feminist Vandana Shiva delivered a speech condemning thecorporate piracy of Earth's life-forms.

That historical event defined the day for me, more than the tear-gas and police mayhem later on. It symbolized the panoply of diverse social elements coalescing against corporate globalization, a union soon labelled "Teamsters and Turtles," species both considered threatened by the ravages of callous trade rules.

Corporate globalists, in turn, dismissed the protesters as a fractious assemblage of miscreants protesting a dog's breakfast of useless causes. And since then, a great rattling of keyboards has gone on, brainstorming the great post-Seattle question: how to preserve and build on the fragileSeattle Consensus.

Many new Websites have sprung up to monitor and advance the cause of resistance to plutocratic rule. Online magazine rabble.ca is one of them. Recently, on rabble.ca, Canadian writer Murray Dobbin dismissed British Columbia's Green Party - formed before the recent election - as "a group of environmental zealots." Ouch! says Ms. Turtle.

Dobbin is right on one count. Some of the province's environmental leaders need a crash-course in trade matters. I've troed to launch a discussion on the threat to forests and jobs posed by the World Trade Organization's accelerated tariff-liberalization rules. The subject has elicited yawns from B.C.'s environmental community. Same with the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada.

But how does Dobbin's petulant broadside encourage engagement? How does his insult help to convince Greens they should pay attention to trade tribunals and deals that threaten every natural resource and environmental law left in the Commons?

This spring, I phoned an old acquaintance, Digby McLaren, former RoyalSociety of Canada president and signatory to the 1992World Scientists' Warning toHumanity, a declaration of dire emergency for our planet's ecosystems, endorsed by1,700 scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences.

"Give me an update." I asked, almost a decade after the release of the document and the publication of Planet Under tress, co-edited by McLaren, that compiled leading-edge data on the health of critical Earth systems. "We are now," he said gravely, "on a very steep downward slope towardutterdamnation." This reserved octogenarian, I might remind, is no zealot; he'sone of many concerned senior scientists who have told me the same thingoverthe course of recent interviews.

Betty Krawczyk is not a scientist, but an elder regarded with deserved respect among eco-advocates. At seventy years, she is a front line activist, willing to serve jail timefor her principles, as she did prior to becoming a Green Party candidate to challenge former-New Democrat Premier Ujjal Dossanjh in his Vancouver riding.

During an Ancient Forest Rally in April that disrupted ceremonies at the last NDP convening of the legislature in Victoria, Krawczyk denounced the NDP's Working Forest Proposal. The secretive pre-election scheme (withdrawn that day) would have locked vast Crown forests into industrial management, including a "no net-loss" provision, guaranteeing land or cash to corporations for every hectare alienated from future logging. Krawczyk explained forests do not "work" -to exchange our air, filter our water, feed our animals, nurture fish, anchor the life-giving mantle of our soils, or sustain jobs, for that matter - once they have been liquidated to meet the short-term interests of markets,governments and unions. Some zealot.

The same rainbow of humanity that flew its flag in Seattle gathered in Quebec City in April - albeit with aheightened sense of urgency. Up at the fence, between volleys of tear-gas, most conversations focused on the environmental and social costs of the neo-liberal juggernaut.

Enviros have pointed out that there are "no jobs on a dead planet." Do they have a point, or are they crackpots? Perhaps endorsers of the New Politics Initiative (that includes Dobbin), promoted recently as a kind of Viagra for limp NDP ambitions, will examine these questions, as well as threats to solidarity on the left, as they attempt to chart a new course for the federal party.

Are we talking about - or are we not? - the need for a fundamentalreorganization of society on a life-affirming, humane and sustainablefoundation? What if some sectors of what we call the economy are just toodestructive to preserve?

Let's say, for instance, the automobile-centred society, even retooled to runon less polluting fuels, turns out to be a dead end. Some well-informedenvironmentalists and scientists say it is. What would be the response ofthe powerful Canadian Autoworkers Union? Would they jump offthe bandwagon? Would they bail and take the wheels with them? Or, would theyhang in, as citizens, to nurture a new paradigm, one that will likelyrequire the kind of economic sacrifices shouldered by manyenvironmentalists?

So my question to Dobbin is: Why unleash an attack on the only seriousattempt in Canada - however unpolished - to build an environmentallyrelevant political party?

If the "Turtles and Teamsters" coalition, built in Seattle andstrengthened in Quebec, is to survive, it will have to - as Jungian analysts might say - "reintegrate its rejected shadow." What, after all, does the traditional left have to show the world, if its ranks are splinteredshards reflecting only its own inner contradictions?

Raymond Parker writes on outdoor adventure, politics and environmentalissues from Nanaimo, B.C. His articles have appeared in such magazines asNature Canada and Beautiful B.C. Traveller. His causticdispatches to mainstream Canadian newspapers are now routinelyignored.

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