How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a global health epicenter | 

Tom Paulson

Global health geographer Matt Sparke

How did Seattle get to be a world epicenter for global health?

Most people would say that it’s due to the simple fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropy with an endowment the size of a middle-income country, happens to be located here and has made fighting diseases of poverty its primary mission.

True, but Matt Sparke would say it’s a bit more complicated than that. To some extent, he says it’s also a reaction to some violent street protests the world knew as the Battle in Seattle.

Sparke is a geographer and professor of international studies at the University of Washington and also director of the new UW global health undergraduate minor.

As a co-author of a fascinating new book called Seattle Geographies, he’s been studying how Seattle has been altered by assuming a leadership role in global health — and, in turn, how this has worked to put a happy face on a word that once sparked (sorry Matt) world-class rioting in the streets here.


Flickr, djbones

WTO Seattle protests

In 1999, Seattle gained worldwide attention when the World Trade Organization (WTO) came to town. Protesters converged on the meeting to argue that “globalization” as conceived by the WTO, World Bank and others served corporate interests at the expense of poor farmers, labor laws and the environment (to name a few).

See the movie Battle in Seattle if your memory doesn’t serve.

So what do the WTO riots and globalization have to do with global health? 

“Lots,” said Sparke, who noted that geographers do much more than make maps. He studies human geography — the study of how people shape, and are shaped by, place.

And Seattle is a very outward-looking, globalized place. Always has been. Washington was the first state to normalize trade relations with China. We’ve always depended heavily upon international trade. Microsoft, Starbucks and are just a few examples of our entrepreneurial track record. On the humanitarian side of things, we put out more Peace Corps volunteers per capita than any other region. Continue reading

Happy Globalized Labor Day | 

Flickr, Steve Snodgrass

Labor Day Impression

What in the world does Labor Day have to do with global poverty and inequity?

At Humanosphere, we focus on various efforts aimed at reducing poverty or inequity — mostly in the developing world — which include fighting impoverishing diseases, increasing economic productivity, improving human rights and so on.

Today is Labor Day, which the U.S. Department of Labor says was created by the American labor movement and is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

That’s not quite accurate. It was actually a holiday created by President Grover Cleveland to try to make peace with the American labor movement after Cleveland, in 1894, sent the military and U.S. marshals to break up the Pullman Strike — which resulted in 13 deaths, dozens wounded and a massive retaliatory riot by workers.

This year, of course, Labor Day is mostly occasion to pay tribute to our nation’s massive problem of unemployment caused by the economic slowdown. Obama gave a “jobs speech” today in Detroit.

So why, given our domestic problems, should we be paying attention to the rest of the world on Labor Day? The answer, in short, is that our economic well-being and future is increasingly dependent upon recognizing that the economy today is a global organism.

As the U.S. State Department’s representative of International Labor Affairs, Barbara Shailor, noted on its website devoted to human rights issues, the current upheaval in many Arab nations was prompted by the global economic slowdown and joblessness:

We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies… And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.

This is why our efforts to promote labor diplomacy are focused on ensuring that the global economy is working for everyone. This includes advocating for dignity at work and recognizing that honest labor, fairly compensated, gives meaning and structure to people’s lives and enables every family and all children to rise as far as their talents will take them.

Promoting jobs worldwide and thinking globally isn’t just the right thing to do, says Michael Clemens, with the Center for Global Development.  Writing in The Guardian, Clemens says it is clearly the smart thing to do. And the first thing he says we should do is stop trying to protect American jobs by restricting immigration:

The world impoverishes itself much more through blocking international migration than any other single class of international policy. A modest relaxation of barriers to human mobility between countries would bring more global economic prosperity than the total elimination of all remaining policy barriers to goods trade – every tariff, every quota – plus the elimination of every last restriction on the free movement of capital ….

Many people fear that even a minor increase in international migration will wreck their own economies and societies. Those fears deserve a hearing. They are old fears, of the kind that filled US newspapers a century ago. The US population subsequently quadrupled, largely through immigration to already-settled areas. Today, even in crisis, America is the richest country in the world. History, too, deserves a hearing.

Yeah, sometimes it does help to know a little history.

On this day that many traditionally think of more as the official end of summer, let’s not forget to give tribute in these difficult times to American labor — and to all the workers who have made our nation what it is today, here and abroad.