Saying No to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement
On July 11th, over 200 people converged in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. All were there to raise their voices to President Obama to say “NO” to the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA). With all of the budget and debt negotiations on Capitol Hill, including a deadlock on approving the TAA, President Obama is yet to send the CFTA to Congress.
At the urging of our international church partners and with the underpinning of our Presbyterian Church (USA) polity, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) has been helping lead the way for people of faith to not only speak out against the CFTA but also offering to them concrete ways to oppose it while remaining nonviolent and inviting others to the movement of solidarity:
- A national call-in day to the White House and President Obama to urge him not to send the flawed and dangerous CFTA to Congress. We also strategized using social media.
- A week long Ramadan-style fast of resistance to the CFTA in both the United States and in Colombia. Over 50 people participated in the fast in the United States, with over 100 in Colombia. During the week-long fast, PPF held nightly phone check-in calls where we shared stories, discussed how our day was going, built solidarity with each other, and prayed. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence offered to us a video presentation about fasting. Stories about the fast were featured in national church publications, and our spirit of nonviolence reached out into many congregations in the United States and in Colombia. Many fasters wore signs to explain why they were fasting, others invited their home congregations to pray for them at the beginning and end of the fast in Sunday worship, and still others held nightly meals in their homes as they broke the fast, inviting friends and family to join them as they told the story about the CFTA and Colombia. One faster organized nightly events in her home congregation throughout the week of fasting, building solidarity and teaching others about the human rights situation in Colombia. As one faster said at the end of the week, “I am no longer hungry for food, but hungry for justice.”
- Offering through our anti-CFTA website numerous resources and links to information about the CFTA and other ways to take action, including partner links and resources.
As the CFTA resistance enters the legislative recess in August and then Congress’s return to session in the fall, PPF is preparing to extend our actions to encourage engagement of Congressional representatives in their home districts. Stay tuned to PPF for more information, or sign onto our advocacy e-news to keep up-to-date. We’ll be rolling out more information about direct ways to participate in the next few days.
July 2011 White House CFTA protestGetting back to Lafayette Park in DC … we knew we had to be a part of a large-scale public action, and take our voices directly to the White House. PPF helped to co-organize the rally along with a host of other groups. We heard from union leaders who have been threatened with death in Colombia, who continue to risk it all to speak out courageously for justice in their home country. We heard from environmental leaders, union leaders in the United States, and from Rick Ufford-Chase who led the PPF delegation. After the rally, four members of PPF: Rick Ufford-Chase, Rev. Sally Juarez, Katie Rains, and Kevin Moran were arrested in front of the White House.
These are some of the words of those who came to DC and offered us their voices of solidarity:
At the PC(USA) General Assembly in Richmond in 2004, I heard the head of the Presbyterian Church in Colombia speak — he talked of the courage and risks that the peace community in Colombia has. He talked of the actions our government makes that contribute to the risks. As a member of PPF, I’m aware of the accompaniment program and hear of the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Colombia that is made greater by the U.S. government’s actions. In trying to live out the commandment to ‘do unto others’, I do my very little bit to stand in solidarity with the people in Colombia as I would want them to do for me (but my little bit doesn’t go very far). Peace and blessings for your work in this area — Sandy Irving (Sandy and three others traveled by Greyhound bus to D.C. to be with us)
I heard John Dear speak at the Wild Goose Festival on the Nonviolent Jesus and I decided I want to live a more nonviolent lifestyle. I also heard several speakers (Jim Wallis, William Barber, and others) speak on the importance of being part of a movement. Movements are the force that change political reality and make the politically impossible possible. I also heard Jim Forbes preach on how budgets are moral documents and how God has an attitude regarding our budget. Well, along the same lines, I believe trade agreements are moral documents too and God has an attitude about our trade agreements. If I want to live a more nonviolent lifestyle and avoid death in all its forms, then I want to ensure my nation enters into moral trade agreements and I want to be part of the movement that is working to make that happen. By choosing not to participate in this action, I would be choosing to participate in a trade agreement that brings death to my brothers and sisters in Colombia. — Joette Steger
At the Presbyterian Peacemaking Fellowship Convocation in April, I was fortunate to meet with representatives of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC). Their faith stories of courageous commitment to millions of forcibly displaced, impoverished people who have endured generations of violet armed conflict opened my eyes to the meaning of the believer’s calling. I realized I had much to learn from their faithful witness. I was inspired to join the PPF Accompaniment Program to spend a month with the Presbyterian faithful in Colombia later this year. In June I participated in a PPF inspired public fast in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia to end the violation of Colombian human rights that are assured if the US/Colombia Free Trade Agreement becomes law. While working with the Presbyterian Washington Office and my Congressman Hank Johnson to urge President Obama not to submit the US/Colombia Free Trade Agreement to congress I felt called to direct action. After prayerful discernment and obtaining the loving support of my wife I have chosen to engage in a nonviolent direct action of civil disobedience in front of the White House. I have concluded this action is an appropriate response to remedy an unjust situation. — Kevin Moran (Kevin was one of the four PPF members arrested on July 11th in an act of civil disobedience against the CFTA.)
I am protesting, and prepared to engage in non-violent civil disobedience, because the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is wrong. We need fair trade, not “free” trade. Given the long history of exploitative trade relations with the South and Central America, we need to be extremely careful in our relations going forward. American jobs are not an excuse for selling cheap goods to Colombians. Rather we need to help Colombia develop their own industries and jobs, with fair labor and environmental practices. We need to help our brothers and sisters in Christ, with what they say they need, rather than what we think they need. — Jim Hayes
July 2011 DC CFTA signPPF also produced a video of Katie Rains who participated in the civil disobedience who tells of her journey (and hesitations) towards becoming a peacemaker and an activist, and her own life story of time in Peru and engagement with fair trade that led her to her prayerful action on July 11th at the White House on behalf of the people of Colombia. This video was produced to help tell the story of civil disobedience and nonviolence to those who want to understand more behind why a person of faith would participate in such an action.
For me personally, I have been moved to tears numerous times these last few months as I have thought about the terrible effects the CFTA would have on my beloved Colombia, or as I meditate on the things in Colombia I have already seen and heard during my travels or from my family. But even more than this, I have been moved to tears of joy these last few months as have watched others take bold and prophetic steps, living into their call as the nonviolent followers of Jesus Christ in solidarity with the people of Colombia. Being a part of movement building is not just an honor or a privilege, but it is a labor of love. It has become spiritual energy, borne out of love that comes from the relationships with our sisters and brothers in Colombia that PPF has continued to be so privileged to be a part of. Movement building offers us the opportunity to participate in life, rather than death.
Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo serves at pastor of the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church in North Plainfield, New Jersey, and director of Colombia Programs for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship where she has been helping lead the anti-CFTA effort along with a team from PPF, the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia, and the PC(USA). Her husband, Juan Gabriel, is a native of Bogotá, Colombia, and together they are raising a budding eight-year old activist, Sofia Elena. Sofia accompanied her mom to the DC action, proudly wearing her PPF “Kid’s Corps” t-shirt. Right now, Sofia is most concerned about the rainforests of Colombia and her family when she thinks about the CFTA.