Last week, I and two other Penn students led a teach-in on the issues surrounding the IMF and World Bank demonstrations in Prague. A student inquired about the effects of globalization and IMF/Bank policies in the U.S. We gave the usual answers: Lower wages and working conditions overseas negatively affect workers here; the loss of jobs to the Third World leaves Americans out of work. But in retrospect, the best response might have been to point out the parallels between the behavior of the West toward Third World peoples and "internal colonialism" in communities across the U.S. Coined in the 1960s to describe the political and economic disempowerment under which poor and nonwhite peoples in the U.S. live, this term has disappeared in favor of the overused "globalization." Yet internal colonialism is alive and well, and examples are not hard to find. Take West Philadelphia. Last week, a DP columnist described the disputes between Penn and community organizers over the Clark Park Funtabulous Fall Festival, scheduled for the weekend of September 23. From what I understand, the University -- by far the largest economic power west of the Schuylkill -- promised to contribute $1,500 to the 30-year-old neighborhood tradition. This move would have strengthened Penn's image as a "good neighbor" in the eyes of University City residents. Penn, however, made the donation contingent upon certain demands. Among them, President Judith Rodin would have to be allowed to give a speech boosting Penn's very own "neighborhood" to the freshman class. The organizers said no, and the University withdrew its money. However much that principled decision may have hurt the festival financially, I'm sure many citizens of West Philly would agree that they did the right thing. Now let's move just a few blocks north, to 43rd and Locust streets. A vacant lot, once the site of an Acme supermarket, had been a festering eyesore to local residents for years. The owner of Varsity Pizza told me last spring how much he would like to see, say, a 24-hour diner that would brighten up the 4300 block of Locust and bring together locals and Penn students. Last month, I noticed some workers renovating the building. Was his dream being realized? No, a friend told me. They were building a new CVS. Since I already pass a Rite Aid almost every day -- near 43rd and Walnut, a full one block away -- I'm likely not the only one who feels another drugstore won't enhance the quality of life in University City. Together, these developments represent the domestic face of corporate rule, one that has as much of a negative effect on the quality of life as decreased wages and soaring costs of medical care and housing have on the quality of living. We've all heard stories of McDonald's and Wal-Marts springing up in small towns across the U.S. and displacing independent stores, so what's happening now in West Philly is hardly shocking. Blaming only "corporate power," however, misses the larger picture. For globalization, whether in the West Indies, West Philadelphia or western Pennsylvania, is ultimately about homogeneity: the suffocation of small, distinctively local businesses and traditions and time-honored, respected, locally based forms of social organization by behemoth outside forces with no interest other than profit. Time and again, small businesses have been refused tax breaks that would allow them to survive against a Barnes & Noble or Starbucks, just as the World Trade Organization has denied poor nations the ability to protect their economies through tariffs. Firms are given "corporate welfare" to expand their profits, just as multinational banks are backed by the wealthy governments that control the IMF and World Bank. And just as globalization destroys traditional agricultural practices and deters the creation of self-sufficient economies, internal colonialism threatens the livelihood of vulnerable communities. Seen from this perspective, Penn's intervention in Clark Park and the erection of yet another chain store in University City are part of the same phenomenon. Globalization, so often associated with the far-off Third World, is all around us, and this, up close, is its blunt reality.Comments powered by Disqus
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