On September 9th, I attended a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement being negotiated in secret without concern for welfare of God’s people and Creation. The rally was held outside of a country club in Leesburg, Virginia where those managing the agreement were entering their fourteenth round of negotiations. The treaty affects countries with Columban missions including Australia, Chile, New Zealand, the United States, and Peru.
According to a public statement , negotiators of the TPP celebrate that the partnership “lifts restrictions on services, investment, and government procurement.” Additionally, they praised that they were moving forward in addressing apparent issues “including [those] related to goods, industrial and agricultural standards that increasingly are the major barriers that companies face in gaining access to foreign markets.” Yet it is these very barriers, these very restrictions which in fact translate to our social justice. These are the laws that have been passed in order to protect the environment and the people of these countries from exploitation, yet we easily notice they are neglected in this trade partnership. For example, the “government procurement” that they are encouraging would give these countries, some of whose governments disrespect indigenous peoples, more power to oppress and exploit those who don’t fit into their economic tyranny.
The rally itself was successful at highlighting some of the numerous other issues that the treaty could cause if it goes forward. We enthusiastically called for transparency in the treaty negotiations so that we could know the injustices proposed and thus campaign to stop them. Others explained how pharmaceutical lobbying will lead to difficulty in getting AIDs medicines to the countries of the trade agreement. Some repeated the past flaws that have been found in other trade agreements, and even some protestors came all the way from Mexico with the Caravan for Peace to explain how Mexico’s possible inclusion in this partnership would further hurt farmers and other workers beyond what NAFTA had already done in the past. Finally, many organizations emphasized that this treaty would threaten God’s environment, including the rainforests, in these countries, allowing businesses to develop wherever they please.
This rally, however, was a new experience for me. The past experience I have in activism involved me in other pro-life issues. This rally and my work so far at the CCAO in general has expanded my involvement in areas I had never considered as issues of life. Economic justice seeks to preserves the dignity of all people by ensuring that people are provided the sustenance to live.
The fellow protesters at the rally had an unmatched energy to guarantee just status to the poor and marginalized by seeking to avoid the damage this partnership would cause. The partnership is also worldwide, and suddenly my activism in Leesberg was joyfully connected to people all across the Pacific Rim. Thus standing up against the TPP was truly a Catholic action. The word “catholic” is Greek for “universal,” and through the social justice work of the CCAO I have learned the spirituality of solidarity.
Many who came to speak out and witness against the trade partnership had registered as “shareholders” in order to be able to meet with negotiators and emphasize to them the damage the TPP has the potential to cause. Yet, in a way, we are all “shareholders” of each other, and we must be thrift in representing the causes of all social justice, like those servants in the parable who invest their talents, and thus impress God who seeks His work to increase. Those servants knew the responsibility their master had required of them: they make a profit from the bounty he initially gave them. What the negotiators of the TPP fail to realize is that this bounty is one of love and generosity, which can be only increased if we follow God’s call to stand up for the needy and vulnerable through our work of universal social justice. Thus, I am proud to have stood against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and joyfully look forward to defending all people around the world, especially those with whom the Columban missions are proud to serve.