Part of the tourist ritual of traipsing through Italy in August is marvelling at how the locals have mastered the art of living—and then complaining bitterly about how everything is closed.
"So civilized," you can hear North Americans remarking over four-course lunches. "Now somebody open up that store and sell me some Pradas NOW!" This year, August in Italy was a little different. Many of the southern beach towns where Italians hide from tourists were half-empty, and the cities never paused. When I arrived two weeks ago, journalists, politicians and activists all reported that it was the first summer of their lives when they didn't take a single day off.
How could they? First, there was Genoa, then: After Genoa.
When Rio hosted the first Earth Summit in 1992, there was so much goodwill surrounding the event that it was nicknamed, without irony, the Summit to Save the World. This week in Johannesburg, at the follow-up conference known as Rio + 10, nobody is claiming that the World Summit on Sustainable Development can save the world—the question is whether the summit can even save itself.
"This conference is not like other conferences."
That's what all the speakers at "Re-Imagining Politics and Society" were told before we arrived at New York's Riverside Church. When we addressed the delegates (there were about 1,000, over three days in May), we were to try to solve a very specific problem: the lack of "unity of vision and strategy" guiding the movement against global corporatism.
This was a very serious problem, we were advised. The young activists who went to Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization and to Washington, DC, to protest the World Bank and the IMF had been getting hammered in the press as tree-wearing, lamb-costumed, drumbeating bubble brains. Our mission, according to the conference organizers at the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, was to whip that chaos on the streets into some kind of structured, media-friendly shape. This wasn't just another talk shop. We were going to "give birth to a unified movement for holistic social, economic and political change."
In the aisles of Loblaws, between bottles of President’s Choice Memories of Kobe Sauce and Memories of Singapore noodles, there is a new in-store special: blacked out labels on organic foods. These boxes used to say “Free of Genetically Modified Organisms” but then Canada’s largest grocery chain sent down an edict that such labels were no longer permitted.
At first glance, Loblaws’ decision doesn't seem to make market sense. When the first frankenfoods protests came to Europe, chains like Tesco and Safeway scrambled to satisfy consumer demand by labeling their own lines “GMO-Free.” And when Loblaws entered the health food market with its line of President's Choice Organics, it seemed to be going the same route. In advertisements, the company proudly pointed out that certified organic products “must be free of genetically modified organisms.”
Then, the about-face, made public last week: not only won't Loblaws make the GM-free claim on its own packages, it won't allow anyone else to make the claim either. Company executives claim there is just no way of knowing what is genuinely GM free – apparently, it’s too confusing.
I've never joined a political party, never even been to a political convention. Last election, after being dragged by the hair to the ballot box, I was overcome by a wave of ennui more acute than the pain suffered by my friends who simply ingested their ballots.
Does this mean I'm a no-brain, knee-jerk anarchist, as many a Globe letter writer has claimed? Perhaps. But then why do I find myself agreeing that we need a new left political alliance, maybe even a new party?
What's clear is that the left as it is currently constituted—a weakened NDP, and an endless series of street protests—is a recipe for fighting like crazy to make things not quite as bad as they would be otherwise. A revolutionary goal for the left would be to actually make things better.
Is the New Politics Initiative the answer? It could be.