In his epic book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman advises “Resist Much. Obey Little.” But when it comes to corporations trampling on local rights, the city of Madison, Wis., advises other cities and counties to do what it has done: Resist much. Obey not.
In October, the Madison City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring the city a “TPP-Free Zone,” and promising that if Congress passes the Trans Pacific Partnership, a global trade agreement, “We will not obey” it.
The TPP is the largest global trade pact to be negotiated since the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most of the details of the deal remain a mystery. Negotiations are being conducted in secret. But we know, from some of the drafts that have been leaked, that the TPP would hand transnational corporations the power to “protect their future profit potential” by suing countries, states, counties or cities in order to wipe out existing laws—laws specifically designed to protect communities’ best interests.
Those interests could include everything from internet freedom and banking and finance regulation, to the passing of bans on growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“Call it a sovereignty issue, or local control, or threat of lowering local standards with regard to government procurement (elimination of any “buy local” ordinances), food safety ordinances, living wage ordinances, environmental requirements, prevailing wage requirements on construction, etc.—[Madison City Council members] saw all these as threats to their authority and the job they had been elected to do,” said David Newby of the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition. Newby played a key role in passing the “TPP-Free Zone” resolution in Madison, and another in Dane County, Wis.
The “TPP-Free Zone” concept is modeled after the successful grassroots strategy that helped defeat a similar trade agreement in 1998, called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). The basic premise was to convince elected officials, city by city, county by county, of the need to refuse to obey the MAI if it became law. The anti-MAI grassroots effort succeeded by exposing the dark side of the MAI, and by proving its unpopularity with the public.