Boulderites unite with Prague protesters

Aron Uchitelle, a member of the South Central Rocky Mountain Bioregional Anti-Fascist Marching Band, plays his tuba during a gathering of nearly 50 protesters on the Pearl Street Mall Saturday.

Boulderites unite with Prague protesters

Denver demonstration slated for Tuesday


Colorado Daily Staff Writer

An estimated 50 activists gathered on the Pearl Street Mall on an overcast, drizzly Saturday to show solidarity with the tens of thousands of world economic policy protesters that convened in Prague, Czech Republic this week.

Amber Lamb, a member of WAAKE-UP!, keeps the drum beat going as protesters pause at the Gap store on the Pearl Street Mall Saturday.

It was the first of two major metro area demonstrations in solidarity with protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group in Prague. Organizers expect hundreds of demonstrators to be in Denver on Tuesday.

Activists rallied at the Boulder courthouse an hour before embarking on a peaceful, but rambunctious tour of businesses on Pearl Street.

The Gap, Banana Republic Women, Ambercrombie and Fitch, Starbucks and the construction site of Borders bookstore at 16th and Pearl streets all saw brief demonstrations urging shoppers to support locally owned businesses. Customers and store employees were within earshot of chants such as "Take your crap back to the Gap" and "Human need, not corporate greed."

During the tour up and down the Pearl Street Mall, the Radical Cheerleaders -- a group of mostly male CU students dressed in black and red skirts -- entertained the crowd with a series of cheers and skits. Vox Femina, a group of political poets, was armed with large cardboard scissors.

"We're here to cut the corporate crap," one member said.

Nell Geiser, a 16-year-old New Vista High School student, spoke to demonstrators at the Gap. She said young people should find alternatives to shopping there.

"As you know, the Gap Inc. is a garment industry leader, the Fisher family owns the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy as well," Geiser said. "They are child labor law violators and it's basically the uniform for trendy young people in this country."

Geiser said that the San Francisco-based Gap Inc. is a multibillion dollar company run by a multimillion dollar CEO -- Millard Drexler.

"Drexler is making millions of dollars each year. Workers in Mexico are making less than $2 an hour. There have been reports of workers in Russia making $.11 an hour," Geiser said. "Workers are not allowed to unionize. And in the United States territory of Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands), there are many Asian women working for less than U.S. minimum wage -- a fraction of U.S. minimum wage. They are in indentured servitude conditions -- they live in squalid conditions in factory housing and are not allowed to take bathroom breaks. Do we know when we go into the store that is what we are supporting?"

Gap Inc. does not own any manufacturing facilities, but contracts orders out to third-party manufacturers.

Gap Inc. was named in a class-action lawsuit in 1999 filed over working conditions in Saipan, but company officials have issued a statement that the case lacks merit.

Two Gap Inc. business managers on Saturday, including one at Banana Republic Women, offered no comment. The Colorado Daily was directed to call a 1-800 number with a pre-recorded message. Officials at Gap Inc. could not be reached to comment on the rally.

Eric Lofton, a member of the World Action and Awareness Coalition of Equal United Progressives (WAAKE-UP!) spoke out against the CU administration for its sudden recent decision to join the controversial Fair Labor Association, which is responsible for monitoring university apparel manufacturers to ensure fair labor practices.

Anti-sweatshop activists call the FLA ineffective and wanted to see CU-Boulder Chancellor Richard Byyny enroll CU in the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring group deemed more effective in monitoring working conditions.

"What we're trying to do is reform and change the University of Colorado," Lofton said.

He added that WAAKE-UP! wants the community and students to hold the university accountable and said that Byyny has betrayed the trust of the students in his failure to include them in the decision.

Carolyn Bninski of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center was among those leading the tour. She said Boulderites should support local businesses such as the Boulder Bookstore because it is more responsive to its customers and it recycles money back into the community.

"It's democracy in this country, it's taking back our power so corporations can't go all over the world pillaging people, pillaging their environment, destroying their lives, destroying their livelihoods," Bninski said at the courthouse. "We in this country have to take back our democracy. One-hundred-and-eighty-seven of the largest corporations are based in the United States, so this is really the people's uprising for democracy."

The RMPJC also issued a statement calling for the abolition or radical transformation of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization. The statement also said there is a need for enforceable labor rights and environmental standards. This should be coupled with the right of countries to independently determine their economic policies and development, the statement said.

Green Party candidate for U.S. Congress, Ron Forthofer, told the crowd that efforts to change the current path of globalization are important. He pointed out that the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment and a Department of Agriculture proposal to reduce organic standards were derailed because of the outcry against them.

Forthofer blasted the World Bank and IMF for its structural adjustment policy, stating that the policy perpetuates the gap between rich and poor countries and creates economic dependence. He said health care and education in poor countries is reduced in order to pay large debts back in U.S. currency. Forthofer also said that small-scale unique farming communities around the world suffer after conversions are made to modern, large export-style farms.

"We need to change these things," Forthofer said. "We need to change the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO -- we have to do away with them. The idea that you can reform them is not very accurate."

He called for a new leadership at the global economic and political level by activists and teachers and said there is a need for a broader representation of concerns, including human rights, labor and the environment.

Many at Saturday's rally are anticipating large crowds in Denver, which will convene at the NikeTown in the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall. Much of the Denver protests will be in unity with Justice for Janitors, demonstrators predicted.

IMF meetings in Prague on Tuesday have been dubbed the "S26" Day of Global Action.

Colorado Daily, September 25, 2000