A Cast of Thousands

In <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Hollywood's glory days, studios peppered movie posters with the words “cast of thousands” in bold type.  That phrase does not appear on the cover of Insurrection, a new book on the rise of the anti-globalization movement—but it wouldn't be out of place.  Almost every radical non-profit organization and pressure group conceivable makes an appearance in its pages.  Everyone from the AFL-CIO and National Labor Council, to Friends of the Earth, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club and the Ruckus Society, to Public Citizen, the Environmental Defense Fund, George Soros' Open Society Institute, the Institute for Policy Studies and the National Lawyers Guild garners at least one mention.  The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has a supporting role—it “provided financial support for the research and writing of this book.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


Authors Keith Danaher (of the far-left anti-market group Global Exchange) and Jason Mark (a journalist-turned-activist), believe a new political movement will soon be marching down Main Street USA.  It's made up of “environmental activists, human rights groups, trade unionists, and countless other citizens of conscience,” who are “demanding that corporations be held accountable to the public.  Insurrection says this movement has three main objectives—“to limit or revoke all powers of the modern corporation”; to “revolt against corporate rule [of political institutions]”; and “to re-establish the principle that sovereignty…rests with we, the people, not with corporations.”


Insurrection traces the development of this unlikely coalition through five separate case studies in modern day activism.  They are the anti-sweatshop campaigns of the late 1980s and early 1990s; the fight for “dolphin-free” tuna; the push for a national anti-Burma (Myanmar) economic boycott; activists' efforts to clamp down on overseas advertising by U.S. tobacco companies; and the “battle in Seattle” to shut down the World Trade Organization's 1999 meeting.


Each is well worth the read, as they reveal how different sections of the anti-globalization coalition divide up their labors as activists.  We get a clear picture of how an alliance between unions and anti-capitalist non-profits initially propelled the anti-sweat-shop movement.  This essentially protectionist alliance radicalized large numbers of campus activists, enlisting them into a hard-fought campaign against clothing manufacturers and retailers.


Insurrection also provides examples of how the left uses new technologies like email and cell phones to coordinate its campaigns.  For instance, Ralph Nader's Public Citizen used email to plan that massive anti-WTO protest in Seattle almost a year before the summit.  Insurrection also gives a good summary of Public Citizen's role in mobilizing anti-free-trade forces in other recent policy battles.


Danaher and Mark write revisionist history by portraying a number of familiar figures from America's past as anti-corporate-globalization activists.  Take Insurrection's view of Tom Paine, the Revolutionary War pamphleteer.  He may be remembered for arguing against hereditary monarchy as the “most insolent of tyrannies.”  But Insurrection finds Paine's suspicion of monarchs is comparable to the left's suspicion of large corporations.  Rather than attack Paine as a “dead white male,” the left co-opts him.  Here is a definite break with the politically correct jihads of recent years.


Insurrection echoes the demands for corporate “transparency” and “accountability” that regularly issue from labor unions and leftist advocacy groups.  But we would be wise to ask just how transparent and accountable are the organizations making the demands?


All students of the left's legions of non-profit organizations will want to peruse this book.  Unlikely many a tedious tome that claims an insider's view of the far left these days, Insurrection is crisply written and, for a book of barely 300 pages, remarkably comprehensive. This goldmine of information will repay close reading of its fascinating insights into the whys and hows of the American left.