As Trans-Pacific Partnership Falters, Opponents Go After Fence-Sitting Lawmakers

Volunteers with the Backbone Campaign deliver a "provisional spineless citation" to the staff of House Democrat Suzan DelBene, who has not taken a public position on fast-track legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Photo by Jeff Dunnicliffe / Backbone Campaign.

Eric Ross spent much of the morning on Friday, January 31 standing on an overpass above highway I-90 in Bellevue, Wash., hanging a 30-foot-wide banner over the side that read: "Stop Reichert’s NAFTA. Flush the TPP. Vote No on Fast Track."

The "Reichert" called out by Ross’ sign is Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and at issue is his active support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sprawling deal that would change the way international trade is conducted in 12 countries of the Pacific Rim, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Australia, and Japan.

Volunteers with the Backbone Campaign hold a banner urging opposition to the TPP over Insterstate 90 in Bellevue, Wash. Photo by Jeff Dunnicliffe / Backbone Campaign.

As opponents of the TPP frequently point out, the deal isn’t just about trade: leaked sections of the text, which is not available to the public, reveal that the TPP would also make significant changes to policy areas like intellectual property rights on the Internet, the creation and enforcement of environmental protections, and the labeling and marketing of agricultural products.

Opponents of the deal say that the TPP would roll back the gains of almost every people’s movement, especially those concerned with labor and the environment.
Ross says he received wide support for his message, judging by the number of honks from vehicles passing beneath. An organizer with the Vashon Island-based organization Backbone Campaign, he says that’s an indication that the work he and others have done over the last few years to educate the public about the TPP is starting to pay off.

"For four years, it was negotiated with essentially no media coverage, and activists had to teach their own representatives what the TPP was," Ross said. "But it isn’t as secret as it used to be."

All eyes on fast track
On Friday, the secrecy of the deal took another hit as opponents gathered in more than 50 cities across North America as part of a noisy, colorful, continent-wide day of rallies, marches, and teach-ins. Events were held in New York, Toronto, and Mexico City, but smaller towns turned out as well. People marched and rallied in Red Deer, Alberta, held a press conference in Fresno, Calif., and protested in the downtown office of Republican Congressman Charlie Dent in Allentown, Pa.

Ross said he saw Friday’s gathering in Seattle as more of a celebration than a protest.
The Allentown rally was intended to put pressure on Mr. Dent not to support Trade Promotion Authority. Also known as "fast track," this is special legislation that would allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership to move more quickly through the United States House and Senate. Lawmakers would get to vote yes or no on the deal after it is approved by the trade representatives of the 12 negotiating countries, but would not be prevented from altering any of the deal’s specific language.

Critics of fast-track say that it undermines democracy by putting unelected trade negotiators and corporate advisers in charge of policy and specifically excludes input from elected representatives.
Events on Friday showed a new focus on demanding that elected representatives commit to opposing fast-track legislation. The march and rally in San Francisco, for example, criticized California Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who has refused to state her position on the fast-track bill since it was introduced by Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Jan. 9.

In Washington state, volunteers with the Backbone Campaign entered the offices of four legislators to deliver "spineless citations" for supporting fast-track legislation. House Democrat Suzan DelBene, who like Pelosi has not come forward with a position on fast track, received a provisional citation, while fellow House Dem Jim McDermott received a thank-you letter. McDermott has pledged to oppose fast track.

Lynne Dodson, secretary-treasurer for the Washington State Labor Council, told the crowd gathered in Seattle on Friday that the TPP would almost certainly be approved if Senator Baucus’ fast-track bill passes.
"No trade deal has ever been defeated once it got to fast track," she said.
Cause for celebration
Eric Ross told YES! that he saw Friday’s gathering in Seattle’s Westlake Center as more of a celebration than a protest because, after years of hard work, the TPP’s momentum appears to be breaking down.
This vibrant movement seems likely to build on the victories it’s already earned.
Two major chapters of the document’s text were published by Wikileaks in December and January, resulting in renewed and largely critical media coverage of the deal.
Next, right on the heels of the second leak, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Jan. 29 that he opposes fast-track legislation and might refuse to bring the bill to a vote.
That led writer David Cay Johnston to wonder whether the TPP was now "dead:" "If Reid stands firm," he wrote in Al Jazeera, "it means new trade deals are likely to be worked out in the open, where the people and their elected politicians can debate the merits."

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The TPP is also suffering from problems internal to its negotiations, which failed to meet the December 2013 deadline set for them by President Barack Obama. Talks in Singapore last December were bogged down over disputes about protections for agricultural products, among other issues, and no final agreement emerged.

In the wake of that failure, Japanese Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari told reporters that negotiators should meet again this month.
"The upcoming meeting is very important," Amari said, "as it will be held before U.S. midterm congressional elections in November."
Amari’s statements indicate that Japanese negotiators will for a deal to be hammered out before stateside electioneering begins in the summer.
For opponents of the TPP, that means that the time to act is now. If Friday’s events were any indication, this vibrant movement seems likely to build on the victories it’s already earned.

A woman holds a sign at Seattle’s rally against the TPP at Westlake Center. Photo by Alex Garland Photography.

James Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. James is web editor at YES! and you can follow him @JamesTrimarco.

Nur Lalji and Molly Rusk provided additional reporting for this story.
Read more:

TPP Protestors to Foreign Negotiators: "Don’t Let U.S. Bully You"
The TPP Is Another Job Killing Trade Deal—So Why Are Both Parties Supporting It?
Can a "Dracula Strategy" Bring Trans-Pacific Partnership into the Sunlight?

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