Protesters made their voices heard outside the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during TPP talks early this week, from a light brigade on Sunday evening to a march by hundreds opposing Fast Track and unjust trade.
This Monday, members of Popular Resistance held a ‘Sit-in to End the Secrecy’ on the front steps of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office in Washington, DC. As Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators arrived for their first day of meetings this week, demonstrators demanded that they stop hiding the text of the trade agreement and instead make it available to the public for scrutiny.
Activists tried twice to deliver an open letter signed by 1,000 people to the trade ambassador. 76 year old Richard Ochs, a former steelworker from Baltimore, was pulled down the stairs and ejected from the building. Ochs said, “I thought that as citizens we had the right to petition the government. This shows how afraid they are of transparency.”
Cassidy Regan, trade organizer for Popular Resistance, remarked that after public pressure the European Union agreed recently to release its negotiating proposals for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to the public. The E.U. wanted to release the full text of the agreement, but was blocked by the U.S. “The trade agreements being drafted in secret threaten everything from worker rights and wages to public health and access to medicines. The negotiators keep texts hidden because these agreements aren’t made with the public in mind — instead, they give transnational corporations further means of exploiting people and the planet for the sake of profit. The unprecedented lack of transparency denies communities’ right to know policies that could impact so many aspects of our lives, for generations to come.”
After several hours of blocking the front entrance and disrupting business by chanting and singing, the protestors were joined by 200 marchers from groups including Public Citizen, Citizens Trade Campaign, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, National Family Farm Coalition, the Teamsters, CWA, IBEW, United Students Against Sweatshops, and more.
The crowd held a spirited march around the block, letting negotiators know that they would do whatever it takes to prevent Congress from passing fast track legislation. Fast track, which would allow the President to sign the agreement before approval by Congress and would restrict Congress’ power to review it, has been stalled for several years due to public opposition.
“We are fighting against old trade policy that literally guarantees corporate profits at the expense of working families in all nations,” said George Kohl, senior director of Communications Workers of America. “In the weeks ahead, we will mobilize like never before against Fast Track authorizing legislation and the TPP, and for 21st century trade that gives workers’ rights, environmental issues and other concerns the same standing as corporate profits.”
This is the first of several days of negotiations. More actions are expected throughout the week. Online actions are being organized through ReleasetheText.com.