BANGOR, Maine — In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Seattle to protest economic globalization. The event shut down a ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization, but more important, helped launch a crusade advocating for fair trade practices.
Ten years later, that crusade continues, and a coalition from Maine is helping to lead the charge.
Representatives from the Maine Fair Trade Campaign held a rally Monday in Bangor’s West Market Square to mark the 10th anniversary of the Seattle protest and to push a piece of federal legislation aimed at reforming trade.
“We need to renegotiate the rules of a global economy,” said Sarah Bigney, organizer of the Maine Fair Trade Campaign. “This is an amazing moment of opportunity.”
A group of about 30 activists rallied downtown, huddled under umbrellas. Bigney said the rain was fitting because it also rained in Seattle 10 years ago this week.
From downtown, they marched to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s local offices to thank him for his support of the Trade Reform Accountability, Development and Employment, or TRADE, Act, pending legislation that he has sponsored. They then marched to Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office to urge her support of the bill. Snowe has been critical of free trade agreements in the past and has hinted that she might be willing to support legislation for trade reform.
Michaud and Snowe were not at their Bangor offices on Monday.
Daphne Loring, coordinator of the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, said the Seattle protests helped shine light on the perils of trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The local coalition fighting for reform includes labor, environmental and farmers’ groups, a sign that the issue affects everyone, Loring said.
Among the speakers at Monday’s rally was Debbie Leighton, who participated in the 1999 protest in Seattle against the WTO, the world’s biggest proponent of free trade. The 86-year-old now lives in Bath and is part of the local campaign.
“In Seattle, we marched with hope in peaceful protest for workers’ rights, human rights and the environment,” she said. “I’m here today because we are still working together as we did in Seattle.”
Bigney said grass-roots efforts like the Maine Fair Trade Campaign have worked. Since 1999, a handful of trade agreements have been proposed but have failed to get the support of the U.S. House or Senate. The TRADE Act would take the next step by reviewing all existing federal trade pacts and perhaps addressing what many feel are fundamental flaws with the WTO and NAFTA.