Call It Home | Editorial by Eric Francis

Printable Edition

The streets of Washington, DC were not the only thing that was a bit volatile on Friday, April 14, as those people now known as "world banking ministers" skidded into Dulles International Airport for their big conference.

In case you missed the connection, this was also the day that stock markets took a little nosedive after one of the worst weeks in Wall Street history. Between April 10-14, about $1.9 trillion in wealth evaporated... went away... based on tumbling stock values. No doubt the ministers of the religion known as capitalism were feeling a little edgy as they followed the news from their cellphones, laptops and pagers, adding up the damages to their personal and corporate financial portfolios. And then, to spend days contending with the tactics of thousands of pierced, drumming, pink-haired and puppet-bearing protestors accusing them of murder. What a moment.

So anyway, how much is $1.9 trillion, also known as $1.9 thousand billion? In financial terms, it comes out to about $7000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Or, the cost of a hundred thousand people working for 9,130 years at the rate of 10 cents an hour, a generous wage in the poor and starving nations which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank "sustain" with their loaned capital. Or, a whole lot of eggs, wheat, broccoli and fresh water to feed people now suffering from famine in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda -- indeed, enough to feed everyone in those countries an eternity or two. And all of it lost in one little week.

With all this money flying, it surely is possible to feed the starving of the world. There's just one business concern: it can't be done for a profit (or so they say). And though, as it's known here in Cyberia, likes to sell itself as some kind of charitable institution, telling us that its agenda includes "Investing in people, particularly through basic health and education, protecting the environment, focusing on social development, inclusion, governance, and institution-building as key elements of poverty reduction," there is a reality behind the PR package.

The World Bank, in actuality, is the financial arm of the development project that includes a variety of "free trade" agreements, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It's what George Bush used to call the New World Order (as he bombed Iraq in the Gulf Oil War), and what conspiracy theorists used to call the Trilateral Commission: all being more or less casual phrases for the idea that the world itself is the property of the United States and its multinational corporations; that governments play second fiddle to business; and that the banks conduct the whole concert.

The Grateful Dead play at an August 1977 benefit
for Greenpeace. Photo by Greg Garr, Deadshots

Speaking of concerts. My favorite quote of the whole IMF story comes from the mind of Michael Hirsch of Newsweek, who enlightened us in his online coverage with the observation that anti-IMF protesters didn't really understand the issues: "So many of them seem confused about exactly what they don't like that their sheer numbers give rise to a suspicious coincidence: these anti-trade protests really picked up strength only after the Grateful Dead stopped holding concerts. Think about the care and feeding of thousands of unemployed Deadheads -- mixed with a smattering of union hardhats -- and you have an image of what Washington is like just about now."

But wait: protesters know just fine that international banking policies are sucking the blood and squeezing the breath out of poor nations, while coincidentally providing the Western World with an infinite supply of labor, resources and a few good markets where at least some people have credit cards. And what a concept: Deadheads taking to the streets. That idea should be enough to require the priests and deacons of the banks to change their underwear. Deadheads show up for the fun, again, and again, and again. There are a lot of them. And they can all get anywhere from anywhere else, on time for the show, with no money: as the bumper sticker said, "We're Everywhere."

And why not? When the Dead were playing, they made an effort to keep their fans informed that there was a bigger world, of rainforests being destroyed and Greenpeace vessels being sunk by the military. U2, Sting and other well-loved performers sparked what are clearly the origins of the current, in reality, highly-diverse social awareness movements back in the mid-80s with their Conspiracy of Hope benefits for Amnesty International, helping turn rock music back into the political institution it rightfully is.

Goddess knows, it's good somebody is teaching young people. All through the late 80s and 90s, higher education opportunity for the middle-class and poor vanished like a distant galaxy, as student loans, grants and subsidy to public universities were slashed, shrunken and eliminated. They expect us to spout macroeconomic theory?

At the time, we knew this was part of a deliberate plan to dumb down America, a kind of social program. That program also included glorifying boredom (The Gap), packaging heroin addiction as glamourous (high fashion ads in the New York Times) and numbing out an entire generation of children with Ritalin, produced by the train-carload and dosed out daily in the cafeteria. That people are showing up for the Seattles and the Washingtons and the Mumia rallies is, in my view, a miracle -- but then, the stars are pretty hot these days, and people are, after all, bored. Boredom is pure potential; a powerful resource. The empty cup, as the Buddha said.

Do these protests work? If you look at history, it's clear that may be the only thing that does. A message about the IMF and World Bank surely reverberated around the global networks these past days, with the faces of demonstrators appearing on newspapers in every city on the planet. Protest leaders are figuring out that it's rather easy to stage an effective event, following the advice of Abbie Hoffman that if you want attention for an issue, don't hold a press conference; take your puppets and drums to where there are already skatey-eight satellite dishes, TV cameras, and a regimen of journalists hanging out at a dull meeting.

It is, in the end, the Spirit of life that is relayed by these protests to those people who are their targets. It is the sense of fearlessness, of awareness and, more than anything, of the delicacy of life that is beamed into the minds of those whose decisions affect so many on our one and only world we call home.++


Throwing Stones | by The Grateful Dead

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