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Singing for the Global Community
Published on Tuesday, July 9, 2002 in the Bangor Daily News
Singing for the Global Community
by Bjorn Skorpen Claeson

Imagine 50 children from across the globe, arm in arm, singing out: “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” That promises to be a highlight of the Concert for Our Future, Thursday, July 11, at the Bangor City Waterfront Park.

Eleven-year-olds from Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy and India living together in an international month-long children’s summer village in Old Town will join members of the St. Mary’s youth choir to open the concert with Pete Seeger’s latest song, “Take it From Doctor King.” Written in response to Sept. 11 and intended for children to teach adults, the song carries an important message: Let’s expand our sense of community across boundaries of nation, language, race and class for, surely, a semi-permanent state of war is not a solution with which most people can live.

We hard-to-convince hardened adults might do well to memorize the song’s refrain: “Don’t say it can’t be done. The battle’s just begun. Take it from Doctor King. You too can learn to sing!”

The children, the concert and the immediately preceding Clean Clothes Fair speak to us of international community, a notion that is increasingly rare in the versions of the globalization story that most of us today are living to some extent.

In one such version there are two main sorts of characters. First there are the consumers who are painted as passive, atomized and disengaged from workers by complicated corporate chains of production. They are more or less economically secure but feel powerless to make change since the market, rather than human beings, is in control. Confined into an artificially safe and insulated universe, consumers’ ability to do good rests on their ability to buy. According to this version of globalization, consumers might even be called upon to make a sacrifice by buying products made in poor countries: the more we buy, the better for them.

The other main set of characters are the disposables: the anonymous, the nobodies, the forgotten, the excluded. They are not only in the Southern Hemisphere, or in poor, developing countries. In Bangor, they are, for example, laid-off shoe workers who receive a fraction of what they need to survive in unemployment insurance, while the companies that once employed them now make the very same shoes in China for a fraction of Maine wages and higher profits. “To be considered disposable by the country we so dearly love is intolerable,” says one.

In China, they are, for example, the shoe workers who toil 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, in an environment of intense heat and stinging odor. They are an expendable, short-term source of labor to be used until worn out. These are the people whom Thomas Friedman, in his celebrated telling of this story of globalization, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” calls “turtles”: They simply don’t run fast enough in the fast world and are desperately trying to avoid becoming road kill. In this fashion the gap between the consumers and the disposables grows ever wider.

In another now often-told version of this globalization story this gap has become charged with hostility and danger. It’s a world of “us and them,” people lumped into mutually exclusive categories who are for or against, good or evil, black or white.

Differences, middle grounds and alternatives have gone the way of dialogue, diplomacy and understanding. Believing “it can’t be done” we suspend ourselves in a state of “yellow alert,” a never-ending conflict without borders.

The Concert for Our Future and the Clean Clothes Fair help us break the artificial isolation imposed by consumerism and the new go-at-it-alone mentality. At the fair the workers behind the labels are real human beings whose lives are woven into the very clothes we wear. Come and meet Hathaway shirt workers from Waterville selling the products they make. Come and hear the stories of immigrant Mexican workers in Los Angeles who have found respect and dignity as union workers making the new Sweat X label. Learn about artisans in West Africa, Nepal, Thailand, El Salvador and Peru from local small businesses committed to fair trade without middle-men. Meet local Native American artisans who tell the stories of their lives and histories in their crafts. Hear music from West Africa, the Andes and local indigenous people. The people without voice will be speaking loud and clear.

Perhaps because either-or choices don’t come naturally to children, or because their curiosity and imagination defy the artificial limits of consumerism, our children can teach us a story of globalization where our sense of community is as a global as our economy. We should be all ears.

The Concert for Our Future is a tribute to Pete Seeger and a benefit for Peace through Interamerican Community Action (PICA) featuring Arlo Guthrie and Inca Son. It starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 11, at the Bangor City Waterfront Park. The Clean Clothes Fair precedes the concert from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Bjorn Skorpen Claeson is an organizer with PICA.


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