Alliance for Democracy launched our TPP Free Zone Campaign in August of this year at the Democracy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. In workshops on trade and at the Anti-TPP rally on the Capitol steps, we challenged Madison to become the first TPP Free Zone in the country. Now Dane County, where Madison is located, has become the first TPP-Free Zone in the country and Madison has passed a very strong anti-TPP resolution. Other cities like Berkeley CA are considering taking similar action.
Our goal is to create a body of local law. Resolutions are an intermediate step, but an important one for public education about the local impacts of the TPP like banning “buy local” rules and for sending a strong message to Congress that they will face resistance if they attempt to adopt TPP. The resolutions lay the groundwork for passage of TPP Free Zone ordinances if the TPP is approved, over-riding local laws. The message is one of resistance: “We will not obey!”
A precedent: MAI-Free Zones
Our TPP Free Zone Campaign was inspired by “MAI-Free Zones.” These were resolutions passed by municipalities, primarily in the US and Canada, expressing their opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Like TPP, MAI was negotiated in secret. In the case of the MAI, the US Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s purported goal was to make sure that international investments were regulated in a uniform way across borders. In reality, MAI would have tipped the balance of power from sovereign states to financial institutions and corporations. The plan was for the “developed” countries in the OECD to adopt the MAI and then to require less developed countries to comply as a condition for investment.
But when MAI negotiations were almost complete, the MAI text was leaked. Objections to the agreement by civil society groups led to the first global campaign against corporate trade agreements. As part of that resistance, organizations and municipalities in the US and around the world passed anti-MAI resolutions. Many called for an end to negotiations, or for opening talks up to include representatives of “citizens’ interests in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, small business, and public health, equal to the level of participation granted corporate lobbyists….” (Texas Democratic Party). Others called for establishing MAI-Free Zones, where this pact would not preempt local laws or regulations.
Resolutions were passed by groups and municipalities, including
• The National Association of Counties
• The Western States Governors Association
• The California Democratic Party
• The Texas Democratic Party
• The Association of Washington Cities
• The American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table
• Berkeley and Oakland, California
• San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors
• Boulder, Colorado
• Olympia, Washington
• Metropolitan King County, Washington
Click here to learn more about anti-MAI resolutions passed by cities, towns and organizations.
An international call for public consultations led to a pause in MAI negotiations. When France held consultations they heard a resounding NO to the MAI. France pulled out of the negotiations and the secret agreement came tumbling down. The people had triumphed in the intricately constructed game of chess!
We the people vs. “settled law”
Here in the US, trade agreements like the TPP are replacing our own Constitution with a new Global Corporate Constitution. These agreements establish international laws that trample local, state and national laws. They are negotiated by corporations, not elected our representatives. And in the case of trade disputes, they rely on international trade tribunals, with no right to appeal to our judiciary system.
But building a democratic movement of resistance means taking on “settled law” as well as corporations. So what is settled law?
The U.S. Supreme Court creates “settled law” through its rulings. Over the years there have been many rulings giving corporations constitutional protections, as if they were people. One of the most famous is the 1886 Santa Clara decision establishing “corporate personhood” under the umbrella of the 14th amendment created to protect rights of freed slaves. The court did not actually rule on this. In a note to the case, the clerk stated that it was already understood that corporations are people under the 14th amendment. Since then, most court cases brought under this equal protection clause have been fights to protect corporate privilege, not the equal rights of real people.
If we fast forward to today, we shouldn’t be surprised that Supreme Court decisions help ensure that Congress is bought lock, stock and barrel by the corporations and monied interests. Consider Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, 2010, or the current case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which would remove limits to individual contributions.
Still, history also shows us that resistance movements can fight and win substantial changes: slavery and denying women the rights to vote were also, at one point, settled law. Both were constitutional until they were not, because of a movement of resistance. So too, we must resist, not just beg Congress to vote against fast track and the TPP.
Is there any precedent for defying “settled law”? Yes! Communities across the US are passing “rights based laws” to assert the right to local self-governance to protect residents and the environment from corporate harms such as fracking, factory farms, water mining, or sewage sludge. These laws deny corporations constitutional rights granted them by the US Supreme Court (“settled law”) and establish the right of nature to be protected as a flourishing ecosystem.
Taking on international “settled law”
The TPP and other trade agreements create international “settled law” which trumps our domestic laws. This settled law is enforced by international trade tribunals, and it is reaching its tendrils deep into our communities and our lives.
TPP Free Zones push back on this autocratic “settled law.” We can start right where we live and send a strong, clear message to Congress, President Obama, the US Trade Representative and the corporations sitting at the negotiating table: “If you, our unelected representatives, create this corporate-driven monstrosity and then go to Congress for a rubber stamp… WE WILL NOT OBEY.”
The Dane County resolution states:
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Dane County Board of Supervisors urges President Obama and US Trade Representative Michael Froman to respond to our demand that all text be made public and the TPP be re-written to promote the interests of workers, protect the environment and improve the quality of life in all participating countries.TPP-Free Zone: Model Legislation
Whereas the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated between the US and 12 or more Pacific Rim countries by the US Trade Representative in secret without any consultation with our local government either directly or through the National League of Cities or the US Conference of Mayors or the National Association of Counties; and
Whereas, the text is being drafted with transnational corporations which will benefit greatly from its rules;
Whereas, the TPP text has not been made available to the public or even to our local officials;
Whereas the TPP would have direct, potentially undesirable consequences for our municipality, its people, its local businesses, and its ecological systems on which all life depends;
Whereas the Investment Chapter of the TPP, which was leaked in 2012, would allow foreign corporations to sue the US and its states over any law or regulation violating TPP rules which could take away their “right” to future profits and therefore potentially rob our municipality of needed protections for our people, local businesses and environment;
Whereas TPP financial rules would prevent regulation of risky financial products such as “interest rate swaps” thereby threatening the financial stability of our government and more broadly the stability of our overall economy;
Whereas US, state and local food safety rules could be challenged by foreign corporations as “illegal trade barriers” if higher than standards in other TPP countries thus threatening the health of our residents;
Whereas the TPP would provide large pharmaceutical firms with new rights and powers to increase medicine prices and limit access to cheaper generic drugs which would impact our residents;
Whereas the US would agree to waive “Buy American” or “Buy Local” requirements aimed at enhancing our local economy and creating local jobs;
Whereas, we would have no right or ability to represent our interests before the foreign tribunals which would have the authority to hear cases brought by corporations under the TPP; and
Whereas such rulings might require taxpayer compensation which could impact the financial health of our municipality and its residents;
Therefore the City/Town Council of _______________ hereby declares as a matter of law that _______________ is a TPP-Free Zone where we will not recognize the secretly negotiated rules laid down without our consent nor any decisions by any secret tribunals which would in any way diminish our ability to act in the best interest of our residents and our local businesses and to protect our ecological systems on which all life is based.
Further, we will convey our ordinance to our Congressional delegation, to President Obama and to US Trade Representative Michael Froman, with our demand that all text be made public and that all further negotiations cease.
And finally, if despite the harm to our community and our nation, Congress approves the TPP, we will take all necessary measures to ensure that this ordinance is enforced.