Respect Us! (or Else)

July 2, 2001 • Commentary

The trouble with anti‐​trade activism is, as you may have noticed, the anti‐​trade activists. They just can’t seem to shake the image of window‐​smashing radicalism that has dominated television coverage from Seattle to Quebec. Such pictures have led to a general public perception that the activists will go to any length to advance their menagerie of retrograde causes. No tactic — with the possible exception of careful analysis and reasoned discourse — is out‐​of‐​bounds.

“Doing whatever it takes,” as one prominent protestor in Quebec said, means that vandalism, violence, and harassment are acceptable behavior for the Black Blockheads and Ruckus‐​Societarians of the world.

But such nastiness, we’re always told, is limited to small groups of rascally anarchists. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks that people who embrace tariffs and an industrial policy haven’t fully grasped what the word “anarchist” means?) The “vast majority” of globalization’s critics are respectable, thoughtful, peace‐​loving pillars of society. They may understand the “frustration” that drives the actions of the fringe, but they certainly don’t condone their antics. “Kids will be kids,” they say, “We’d like to stop them, but there’s nothing we can do!”

Well, here’s a thought: the “respectable” groups might start by not actively encouraging criminal behavior. For example, an email from Margrete Strand Rangnes, the Field Director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, recently appeared in my in‐​box. Trade Watch is another fine organization brought to us by the left’s patron saint, Ralph Nader, and its goal is basically to dismantle the international economy. In furtherance of that goal, Ms. Rangnes decided to distribute the personal contact information for the steering committee members of USTrade, a business coalition that supports open trade and the passage of trade promotion authority for the president.

The names and contact information were collected by a member of the Sierra Student Coalition, the student‐​run arm of the Sierra Club — another supposedly reputable operation. A Sierra operative “disguising himself as an elite,” the email reports, “infiltrated the [USTrade] meeting and emerged with important documents.”

Public Citizen clearly has no qualm with embracing a “diversity of tactics” in its war against the freedom to trade. While the personal information in its email is offered “only as a public service,” the purpose of distributing it is spelled out for those who don’t take the hint: “A little birdie has told us that this list could be used to send large numbers of emails, faxes, and phone calls to these corporate free‐​traders.” The message concludes with a plea not to “let those wealthy white men from USTrade win this fight!” (Of course, over a third of the names appear to be women, and likely no one on the list is as wealthy as Nader himself.)

So, Public Citizen thinks it’s acceptable to distribute material encouraging the harassment of specific private individuals. Bravo. Very grown‐​up, very respectable.

Remember, we’re not talking about elected representatives here. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with Public Citizen and the Sierra Club exhorting their minions — uh, members — to harass congressmen with phone calls and faxes. Listening to complaints is a politician’s job. We pay them to take that kind of flak.

But prank‐​calling private citizens to punish them for their political views is another matter entirely. Not that prank‐​calling isn’t fun. I got a huge kick out of dialing random numbers from the phone book … when I was 10. (“Ima Hogg? You’ve just won a year’s supply of pork rinds!”) Obviously the anti‐​globalization folks have some maturing to do.

“We could tell who they were at the meeting,” jokes Caterpillar’s Bill Lane, a member of USTrade and one of the targets of the harassment campaign. “They were drinking Starbucks coffee and brought in their own McDonalds.”

Lane isn’t surprised by the email, and sees it as a desperation tactic. “I think they were a little overwhelmed at the number of people that were there,” he told me.

Desperation or not, the spectacle of supposedly responsible adults encouraging juvenile behavior is downright sad. But it’s to be expected, really, from people who think that tearing down traffic signs or chaining yourself to an oil tanker, as activists did during President Bush’s recent trip to Europe, is a good way to advance their agenda.

The anti‐​globalization left demands that people take it seriously, but that’s hard to do when confronted by a PR strategy that vacillates between tantrums and pranks. I suppose with no facts on their side, that’s the best the activists can do.

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