Activist Report on how the San Francisco Free-Zone Resolution passed
A small, dedicated group followed the tenets of effective organizing: educate, advocate and activate.
The resolution process got started when two people marched down to the city hall one day and started talking to staff members of the Board of Supervisors. The key to getting the attention of the elected officials was doing homework to determine the local laws and policies that would be threatened by the MAI.
Our initial co-sponsor, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, was so incensed that the MAI would endanger San Francisco's selective purchasing ordinance against Burma and a law requiring corporations to pay domestic partners equal benefits that he introduced the resolution that very same day. Identifying the local impacts makes the MAI hit home.
Once the resolution was introduced, we started a broader education process and sent out a press release, followed up with calls to the media to explain what this treaty was about, and reached out to other groups- including small business owners- to enlist their support in getting the resolution passed.
One of the most important things we did was to focus on educating the city attorney's office. City lawyers attended our public forum, we talked on the phone, and followed up by sending a big packet of information to them. A city attorney provided the testimony at a committee meeting that was quoted extensively by the media (see article below) and helped rewrite the resolution to cite the particularly harmful MAI provisions and any future economic agreements that contains these elements, which is what makes this resolution so far-reaching.
At the third meeting of our MAI task force held a week before the vote, only a few people showed up. But these four people helped generate enough pressure (phone calls from constituents, letters/faxes, visits) that all of the Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the resolution. By Friday before the vote, we had nailed down enough co-sponsors to ensure passage.
On the day it passed, we held a press conference with people holding 'Make San Francisco a MAI Free Zone' and 'MAI will Handcuff Democracy' signs and stickers. Some of our local coalition partners - Victor Menotti from the International Forum on Globalization, Henry Holmes of Sustainable Alternatives to the Global Economy, and representatives from Global Exchange, Alliance for Democracy, Sierra Club, San Francisco Labor Council and other labor unions, and San Franciscans for Tax Justice were all there to voice support. We didn't have much press, but later on inside the city chambers, we spoke with the press and helped them craft their stories.
During the supervisors' meeting, the vote took place with no debate. Supervisor Ammiano thanked the local coalition for bringing this important issue to bare and then one by one, all of the others chimed in their support for the resolution. The unanimous vote signifies that even the most pro-business elected officials realized that the MAI and the trend of giving international investors more "rights without responsibilities" could hamper local economic development.
All in all, this was a tremendously rewarding endeavor in grassroots democracy and moved our city one more step along the path of economic justice.