Pharaoh Comes to Miami

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 10/13/2003

This week, trade ministers of all the Western Hemisphere countries meet in Miami - and with them, tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The ministers are meeting to plan a "free trade" area for all the Americas.

The protesters are gathering to say that such an expansion of the North Ameruican free trade zone will damage both the well-off and the poor of this hemisphere: propelling all wages and salaries down, further polluting the environment, weakening labor unions in both north and south, benefitting only giant corporation

How might the various religious traditions in America deal with globalization? We could draw on several different strands of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought to weave a religious approach to the question: Business ethics. The rights of workers. Defense of the poor. Protection of the earth.

Still another approach — I think the most profound - is to look at corporate globalization not as a bundle of different issues but as the underlying issue of power. What happens when the decisions that affect the entire world are made by people who are not accountable to any public?

The central thread of Jewish memory and practice about Power, and an important thread of Christian and Muslim thought as well, is the danger of Pharaoh:

A top-down centralized power that turned the farmers of ancient Egypt into serfs and sharecroppers, enslaved workers, demonized immigrants, brought about massive eco-disasters, gave power to a great imperial army, and erected itself as a god.

The longer Pharaoh continued in power, the worse the disasters this top-down pyramidal policy brought upon the Egyptian people as a whole.

Our sacred memories remind us that against all "reasonable" calculations, the deepest energies of the universe — God — took sides, often slowly and painfully but ultimately, with the grass-roots energy that toppled Pharaoh and shaped a more accountable, more decentralized, more free, more just society.

This is not merely an ancient tale. As the Passover Haggadah reminds us, in every generation a new Pharaoh arises; in every generation we must struggle for our freedom.

Today "Pharaoh" is the close alliance between the present US government that is so arrogant, and so addicted to military power, that it lied us into the quagmire of Iraq; and the top-down global corporations (including Big Oil) that the present US government supports in every way from gutting environmental protections, to handing hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the richest people and the biggest corporations, to pushing "free trade."

It is possible to resist this modern Pharaoh and prevent more disastrous damage to America and the world in both these areas:

1. Demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq that is bleeding US lives and costing many billions of dollars; handing over to the UN the process of swiftly calling free and fair Iraqi elections; shifting our wealth from huge military budgets to meeting urgent domestic civilian needs.

2. Ending the policy of "free trade" that benefits global corporations while hurting workers, the earth, and democracy - and moving toward a new world-wide emphasis on protecting the earth and sharing the planet's resources - FAIR trade.

Does this mean going back to old forms? - No. We must RENEW, not restore, the democratic path.

Why is a new path necessary? - Because there are new dangers of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, war crimes, genocide — no question. Will these dangers be dealt with by one Super-power's use of top-down military force to shatter whole countries and peoples, or by many countries joining to change people's lives and create new ways of meting out justice to specific criminals?

And there are profound new economic realities, as well. There is a global economy, no question; but will it be run from the top down, or shaped by all the peoples and the needs of all the life-forms who live here?

Trade ministers from 34 countries will meet in Miami from November 19-21 to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an agreement that would extend the destructive NAFTA model of top-down corporate globalization throughout the Western Hemisphere.

This so-called "free trade" policy has undermined wages and the rights of workers in the US and overseas, has helped cause the disappearance of millions of US jobs, and is one of the main reasons for the jobless "recovery" in which corporate profits are rising while workers continue to lose their jobs.

This "free trade" policy has canceled hard-won environmental regulations that protect the earth and human health from corporate pollution.

And this "free trade" policy strengthens unaccountable corporations (like Big Oil) that weaken democracy and gain billions from military spending while public schools, health care, the electric grid, bridges, etc. fall apart.

So this is not just a faraway theoretical issue. Will you suffer from breast cancer, or asthma, because the "free trade" rules tore up the environmental protections? Will you lose your job because a computer programmer in a desperately poor country will be hired at one-tenth the pay? Will your local school be filled with forty kids to a class because the biggest corporations and the richest people have been given hundreds of billions in tax breaks?

FTAA and the Miami meetings are another wing of the same destructive approach to the world that was tried at Cancun, where the focus was the domination of world agriculture by huge global corporations subsidized by rich governments, ruining small farmers in the rich and poor worlds alike.
At Cancun, the demonstrations in the streets and the determination of the poorer countries to stick together in protection of their own small farmers stymied the efforts of the US government especially, to benefit corporate farming.

Now local and national groups - especially the labor movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement — across the hemisphere are mobilizing for a massive showing of opposition to FTAA and a demonstration that Another World is Possible.

What You Can Do:

1. If you are in or near Miami and are planning to organize public demonstrations against FTAA, PLEASE LET US KNOW RIGHT AWAY so we can put others in touch with you.

2. Wherever you are, educate, organize, fundraise and mobilize within your community to: send people to Miami, bring representatives from the global south, hold teach-ins with local experts in these matters, and do home support and solidarity actions in your own communities.

For background on the FTAA and how it would impact your life and the world you live in, see —

For information on the Miami demonstrations, see —