U of C students back from WTO protests in Seattle

By Cameron Baughen

Students who attended the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle last weekend do not want the issues to be lost in a fog of tear gas and a hailstorm of rubber bullets.

"The reason why this happened was to protest the fundamental issues of the WTO," said Development Studies student Marcel Anderson. "These need to be in the forefront."

The students spent the first two days attending workshops and seminars conducted by speakers from around the world on issues related to the WTO. Seminars concentrated on issues such as fair trade based on human rights and environmental issues, and then showed how these ideas conflict with the WTO’s agenda.

"It was incredibly eye opening," said Development Studies student Peggy Holroyd. "The issues have been so separated, but this protest showed that labour groups, environmentalists, human rights and animal activists groups are related. They might seem to conflict, but in this context they were united against one group, the WTO, and it showed that there are ways that these groups can work together."

The fact that the proposed Millennium Round of discussions did not take place at the summit is attributed to the effectiveness of the protesters. However, Holroyd suspects the protest prompted WTO members sympathetic to the issues to finally stand up and say they can no longer be ignored.

"The WTO is incredibly undemocratic and operates in secret," said Holroyd, who added the WTO has power over anything that may restrict trade, including existing laws in member countries.

Protesters faced tear gas, rubber bullets and potential arrests, but, recent coverage aside, those present felt the protest was peaceful and many respected the police actions.

"The police were fine," said Anderson. "They let us protest for a big part of the day and they let us build a human chain [around the Sheraton Hotel]. No violence or vandalism occurred until they [the protesters] were tear gassed."

Eight Development Studies Club members attended the protests in Seattle and they plan to make a presentation about their trip in January.

Holroyd finished with a word of advice for those who find the issues relating to the WTO overwhelming: "The power and change needs to come from the consumer. People can promote fair trade in small ways. Finding one company to boycott is a huge thing."

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