Economic Blowback

Along with anti-war marches, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, spontaneous boycotts against U.S. and British goods are taking place in cities throughout the world, from South Africa to Pakistan.

A coalition of anti-war groups in Pakistan, where fast foods are popular, launched a boycott against McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Australia, Not in Our Name activists called for an international shutdown of U.S. business. One spokesperson said: "As the Anglo-American blitzkrieg is now under way, all those people worldwide who are opposed to the invasion have been asked to boycott all trade with the aggressor countries. Select products and services from countries that are in favor of peace."

South African protesters in Cape Town called for a boycott of all American and British goods. Demonstrators also demanded that Denel, a South African contractor, cancel all contracts that supply military components to the U.K. and the U.S. Similar calls for economic action have been issued in Egypt, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Chile and the U.K.

Like Ghandi's historic boycott of British textiles, when the people of India manufactured their own clothing, today's boycotts are promoting creativity and self-reliance in the Mideast. Sales of Pepsi and Coca-Cola are plummeting as Islamic nations create alternative cola drinks called Zam Zam and Mecca Cola. Local manufacturers cannot keep pace with the demand from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Mecca Colas have already turned up in Britain. Recently peace groups distributed 36,000 bottles of Mecca Cola at Hyde Park in London. The Iranian government has banned ads for U.S.-manufactured goods.

Fermiamo La Guerre, a huge coalition of peace groups in Italy, has called for a boycott of "American interests," targeting corporations that stand to gain from the war. The boycott began against Esso (Exxon in the U.S.) and will be extended to other oil companies -- Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco. Greenpeace has already launched a boycott against Exxon-Esso and Mobil.

The economic boycott is based on the view that U.S. and Britain should be denied the spoils of war. Bechtel, a corporate Goliath that did business with Saddam Hussein when he was committing war crimes against Iranians and Iraqis, recently accepted a contract for the post-war reconstruction. As a result, Bechtel became the object of militant demonstrations at its headquarters in San Francisco.

A boycott is a common way to harness popular energy before it dissipates, a way to broaden mass participation in the peace movement. The American revolution began with a boycott -- the Boston Tea Party. The non-violent movement that brought down the British empire included Ghandi's boycott against British textiles. The Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the civil rights movement. Led by Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers were unionized through arduous national boycotts of lettuce and grapes.

Millions of people seek non-violent ways to express their abhorrence of war and empire. The boycott is the widest gateway to the peace movement. Even those who lack purchasing power willingly join pickets and lend support.

A boycott can become an early form of economic empowerment. CEOs who treat world opinion with contempt go berserk when their profits shrink. The current boycott is a grassroots movement, and the targets and strategies are diverse. Some groups refuse to purchase any U.S. and British goods. Others target the companies that profit from conquest and war. All over the world, symbols of U.S. culture are under attack: Coca Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, the big oil companies.

Leaders of the peace movement already realize that, in absence of economic action, it may be impossible to reverse the march of empire. In the end, it is the U.S. that really depends on the people of the world -- on their land, their oil and water, their resources, their labor and ingenuity, and on their buying power -- not the people of the world who depend on the U.S.

In the midst of the hardship of the Montgomery Bus boycott against U.S. segregation, when the days of civil rights were still dark, Dr. King said: "The arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice."

Time is on the side of the people. Let the boycott begin.

Paul Rockwell is a writer based in Oakland, Calif.

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