There is no doubt that international trade agreements are difficult to digest. Even more so when they are crafted behind closed doors and the public and our elected Congressional representatives are kept at bay. Nonetheless, some members of the Greater Oak Park chapter of Democratic Socialists of America wrote a referendum calling for Oak Park to declare itself a Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Zone.
After the polls closed on Nov. 4 and the votes were tallied, the referendum passed 12,139 to 4,376. Over 73% of the votes cast supported the referendum.
The primary goal of getting the referendum on the ballot was to allow for public education, even if only in Oak Park. More than one person questioned how the citizens of Oak Park and/or the village board could impact TPP. The board can do little more than pass a symbolic resolution. Should the U.S. pass the TPP or any of the other massive deals being fashioned outside the view of the public, the stand taken by the board would be moot.
What can make a difference is stopping Fast Track, a procedure where our elected representatives cede their traditional authority over international trade deals to the Executive Branch. This process only goes back to the time of President Nixon when trade deals focused on tariffs and quotas. TPP is far more expansive. Few of our representatives were around before Fast Track authorization existed. They may have no other point of reference.
Unfortunately, the recent election makes stopping Fast Track and TPP more difficult. There was concern that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner would try to push Fast Track authorization through the House during the lame-duck session. While there is much Congressional opposition to Fast Track, it is possible that enough Republican and Democratic representatives would vote to grant Fast Track authorization to the President. Especially if Boehner attached Fast Track to a spending bill, many representatives would be loathe to oppose it.
Senate President Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had previously announced that he would not call for a vote on Fast Track authorization in the Senate. With Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) likely to assume leadership of the Senate in the next session, stopping Fast Track and TPP is in jeopardy. Immediately after the elections, Sen. McConnell, Rep. Boehner and President Obama were each talking about how Congress and the White House could work together.
Fast Track authorization and the neo-liberal TPP are anti-democratic. They are focused on enhancing the wealth and power of an elite segment of the global society. This is something they all can agree on.
Something to consider: In 2004, the state of Maine created the Maine Jobs, Trade and Democracy Act. The act created the Citizen Trade Policy Commission with a mission “to assess and monitor the legal and economic impacts of trade agreements on our state and local laws, working conditions and the business environment; to provide a mechanism for citizens and legislators to voice their concerns and recommendations; and to make policy recommendations designed to protect Maine’s jobs, business environment and laws from any negative impact of trade agreements.”
Seems a lot more democratic than Fast Track and TPP.
Tom Broderick is co-chair of Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America.