At Large

Will Global Trade Deals Kill Grassroots Activism?

The air was hazy from distant wildfires on August 29 when a gift arrived on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeast Montana. Carvers from the Lummi Tribe in Washington state brought a totem pole as a sign of support for those fighting the Otter Creek project, a proposed strip mine and rail spur on the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s traditional lands.

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is co-founder of YES! Magazine. Follow the Edge of Change Road Trip here, and connect with Sarah on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

At a ceremony marking the pole’s arrival, ranchers, whose families have been on the land for generations, and tribal members, whose families go back even further, joined together to speak of the sacredness of the land and water, and of their duty to protect this inheritance for generations to come.

The new mine would extract around 1.3 billion tons of coal. Arch Coal and its partners would blast a new rail spur through hills, across ranches, and along the Tongue River to connect the mine to the Burlington Northern main line. Open train cars would carry coal to a proposed export terminal to be built on the Lummi Tribe’s traditional lands. From there, the coal could be shipped to Asia; burning it would emit billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although some welcome the jobs associated with this project, thousands­ — from southeast Montana to the Pacific coast — have expressed opposition, citing concerns about pollution, noise, impacts on fisheries, and climate change.

But local leaders who resist mining, fracking, and pipelines face a gauntlet of challenges. The people of Denton, Texas, for example, overwhelmingly adopted a fracking ban, even though opponents outspent them nearly 10 to 1. But then the Texas legislature overturned their ban with a law that preempts local ordinances like Denton’s.

Even when local leaders get state and national support, corporations can still have the last word. Provisions in many trade agreements, including NAFTA, allow foreign corporations to sue governments for lost profits. According to Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, these investor-state dispute settlement provisions are increasingly pitting governments against foreign mining or drilling companies in front of trade panels made up of three attorneys empowered to make decisions that supersede local, state, and federal law.

Here’s one example: In 2009, the Canadian-based Pacific Rim mining company (now owned by Australian-based OceanaGold) sued El Salvador for refusing to allow the company to mine for gold. El Salvador had banned the project due to widespread water contamination. The lawsuit demands $300 million from the small, impoverished country. Even if El Salvador prevails, it will be out millions of dollars in legal costs, according to Pérez-Rocha.

Although we don’t yet know the details, because the final agreement remains secret, we do know that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would extend this sort of investor-state provision to countries that represent 40 percent of the global economy.

How would this apply to the Otter Creek dispute? Because Arch Coal is a U.S. corporation, Pérez-Rocha told me, it could not sue under investor-state provisions, unless the company sold out to a foreign company based in one of the countries covered by one of these trade agreements. As shown by the El Salvador case, that kind of buyout is not unusual, Pérez-Rocha says.

The TPP and other global trade pacts take away the power of governments to protect the environment. As I’ve traveled across the United States, visiting reservations, hollowed-out rust belt cities, and farming towns, I’ve met people working to combat climate change and racial exclusion, and to rebuild local food systems and economies. I believe that work represents our best shot at navigating the crises now unfolding around us. Instead of making global laws that increase the power of giant corporations, our policies should support people in communities everywhere who are building a better world.

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is co-founder of YES! Magazine. Follow the Edge of Change Road Trip here, and connect with Sarah on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

More of the Story

Updates and Responses

Debt issue

Student debt strike idea strikes a chord

“Me, Refuse to Pay?” Debt Issue, Fall 2015

I must admit I’m fascinated by this idea. Yet very torn. And probably ultimately unwilling to sacrifice my FICO score.

I must admit I’m fascinated by this idea. Yet very torn. And probably ultimately unwilling to sacrifice my FICO score.

This article does [not] say to never pay back your student loans; they are calling for students to skip three to five payments. The reason is because colleges have increased their tuition so much it is hard to attend even a [community] college [nowadays], and yes, even with a job. The second reason [is] the amount of interest is the highest amount over every other type of loan in this country, making it almost impossible for the student just starting his career to pay it back, and solely for the federal government, who is using taxation, to be the sole beneficiary. We do not charge the government interest to hold our taxation [through] the year until it is time to give us a refund, so they shouldn’t be going crazy on charging the students upwards of 23 percent interest on a student loan.

Is it the people who loan the money who are at fault, or the schools for charging so much for an education, or a society which encourages everyone to get a college degree and then provides very few jobs that make enough to pay [loans] back?

Make It Right issue

Another Poem to Heal a Relationship

“One Poem That Saved a Forest,” Make It Right, Summer 2015

The article by Jacqueline Suskin, “One Poem That Saved a Forest,” inspired me to hire a young friend to create a poem for my husband and I regarding the cutting down of seven beautiful trees between our home and Pewaukee Lake.

Twenty years ago, we planted six maple trees to join a very old oak tree on our property between the lake and our home. The thinking was, in addition to being beautiful they would offer shade, and eventually we could trim them up to be majestic old trees with a canopy that would shade the lawn and still allow us to view the lake.

Twenty years later, the trees have thrived and are 30 feet high; however, they are too young to trim up to provide an uninterrupted view of the lake. This spring my husband wanted to cut all seven of the trees down so nothing would impede his view. I was aghast at the prospect, and we could not figure out how to agree on a solution. It affected our relationship for months, and we decided to go to counseling. The day before our counseling session, I asked Anja to write the poem. As part of my sharing during our session, I read the poem. I am not sure how much the poem played into allowing my husband to understand how important the trees were to me, but we have since come to an agreement, and five of the trees will be saved.

Thank you for inspiring your readers to be creative, thoughtful, and ready to humbly dialogue with those of a different worldview.

Send your responses to [email protected]. Or mail to 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.


Building a Culture of Good Health

Dr. Gabor Maté

Dr. Gabor Maté

Mind + Body + Community = A Better Health Equation

Maté recently retired from clinical practice after decades as a family physician, palliative care provider, and addiction specialist. He is the author of four best-selling books, including When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. He is an adjunct professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University. As a public speaker, he regularly addresses lay and professional audiences internationally. His next book, What Ails Us: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture, will be published in 2017. drgabormate.com

Leela Corman

Leela Corman

Healing From Trauma Changes Us Forever

Corman is an illustrator, dancer, and teacher. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, cartoonist and educator Tom Hart, and their daughter Molly Rose. Together, they are the co-founders of the Sequential Artists Workshop, a school for comics and illustration. In 2011, shortly after moving to Gainesville from Brooklyn, New York, their then-only child, Rosalie Lightning, died suddenly of SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child).

Jasmine Aguilera

Jasmine Aguilera

Who Lives Longest — and Why?

Aguilera is a reporter from El Paso, Texas, a border city that nurtured her interests in social justice. In this issue, she writes about the immigrant advantage — a paradox where immigrants, particularly Hispanic ones, tend to outlive other groups despite many economic disadvantages. Aguilera is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and for this story she was almost too close to see the complete picture, which challenged her. She had to look from the outside in to get a story that reminded her of the importance of preserving one’s roots. She is a social justice correspondent for YES!

yes! logo

Editorial Staff

Editor at Large: Sarah van Gelder

Editorial Director: Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn

Senior Editor: Doug Pibel

Senior Editor: Stephen Miller

Associate Editor: Erin Sagen

Associate Editor: Kim Eckart

Assistant Editor: Yessenia Funes

Editors, yesmagazine.org: Christa Hillstrom, James Trimarco

Reporting Fellow: Marcus Harrison Green

Social Justice Correspondent: Jasmine Aguilera

Assistant Web Editor: Liz Pleasant

Editorial Assistants: Araz Hachadourian, Jennifer Luxton, Tony Manno

Editorial Intern: Joe Scott

Contributing Editors

Adrienne Maree Brown, Pamela O’Malley Chang, Mark Engler, Lisa Gale Garrigues, Robert Jensen, Peter Kalmus, Winona LaDuke, Frances Moore Lappé, Annie Leonard, Penn Loh, Bill McKibben, Madeline Ostrander, Madhu Suri Prakash, Nathan Schneider, Vandana Shiva, Jay Walljasper

Positive Futures Network Staff

Executive Director, Publisher: Frances F. Korten

Education Outreach Manager: Jing Fong

Education Outreach Intern: Cara Thompson

Development Manager: Robin Simons

Development Coordinator: Rebecca Nyamidie

Inside YES! Program Manager: Kassia Sing

Finance and Operations Director: Audrey Watson

Office Manager: Clo Copass

IT Manager: Michael Winter

Software Developer: Miles Johnson

Fulfillment Manager: Paula Murphy

Customer Service Manager: Yvonne Rivera

Mail Assistant: Adam Jay Lee

Audience Development Director: Rod Arakaki

Media and Outreach Manager: Susan Gleason

Audience Development Coordinator: Natalie Lubsen

Bookkeeper: Martha Brandon


Barbara Bolles, Susan Callan, Carolyn Eden, Kat Gjovik, Katrina Godshalk, Barry Hoonan, Barbara Kowalski, Channie Peters, Robert Shetterly, Connie Walton, Richard Wilson, Sally Wilson

YES! (ISSN 1089-6651) is published quarterly for $24 per year by the Positive Futures Network at 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-2870. Periodicals postage paid at Seattle, WA, and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: send address changes to YES! 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-2870. Subscriptions: $24 per year. Call: 800/937-4451; 206/842-0216 Fax: 206/842-5208 Website: www.yesmagazine.org Email: [email protected]

YES! is part of the Creative Commons movement.

We don’t use standard copyright licensing on our work because we want you to pass along our stories of hope and positive change. See our online Reprints Page for easy steps to take when sharing our content: www.yesmagazine.org/reprints

Newsstand circulation: Disticor Magazine Distribution Services, Attn: Melanie Raucci, 631/587-1160, [email protected]