Social Enterprise in North Carolina: Building Local Communities

Real Value

Directed by Jesse Borkowski (2013)

Film Review

Real Value is about the reform potential of “social enterprise” – a business model in which local entrepreneurs pursue profit while delivering tangible benefits that strengthen their local communities.

The film profiles four North Carolina businesses:

TS Designs – an organic T-shirt manufacturer that morphed out of a vibrant textile industry destroyed by the North American Free Trade Act. In addition to growing organic cotton an manufacturing T-shirts, TS Designs, which is entirely solar powered, grows organic vegetables to ensure their employees have access to healthy local feed.

Sow True Seeds – an heirloom seed company dedicated to preserving crop diversity (in contrast to companies like Monsanto and Cargill that aim to increase profits by promoting monopoly ownership of monoculture* crops). Sow True Seeds donates leftover seed to schools and community gardens and allows local residents to trade their labor for free seeds.

Piedmont Biofuels – a cooperative that produces biofuels from locally sourced food waste.

Redwoods Group – an insurance company working to keep kids safe by gathering actuarial data and educating local businesses how they can reduce their insurance costs.

The film also explores the general theory of social enterprise (as taught by Harvard Business School). The model challenges the conventional wisdom that big and centralized is always better for the economy. They give the energy industry as an example – how the consolidation of control among a handful of corporate CEOs has resulted in a system of energy production that is enormously inefficient and environmentally destructive – mainly because the end users have no voice in how it operates.

It also explores one of the major hurdles social enterprises face at present, namely educating consumers about their purchasing habits, eg the value of paying slightly more for a T-shirt that doesn’t fall apart after three months or purchasing biofuel that doesn’t result from the destruction of Indonesian rainforests.


*Although they are extremely profitable for Food Inc, the major drawbacks of monoculture crops are their need for massive inputs of synthetic fertilizers that destroy the soil and their heightened susceptibility to pests.

** In Indonesia, thousands of acres of rainforest are destroyed every year to plant palm oil plantations for biofuel. This wholesale rainforest destruction is a major factor in creasing atmospheric CO2 levels.

Latin America: Wall Street’s Worse Nightmare

Eyes Wide Open: A Journey Through Today’s South America

Pascal Dupont (2009)

Spanish with English subtitles

Film Review

Eyes Wide Open was intended as a sequel to the late (deceased April 13, 2015) Eduardo Galeano’s 1973 book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. It was Galeano’s book that former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez presented to newly elected president Barack Obama in 2009. According to Galeano, the entire history of Latin American is based on the stripping of the continent’s resources by Europe and the US. It started with gold and silver, followed by tin, copper, rubber, sugar, salt peter, cocoa, coffee, guano and bananas. This grotesque asset stripping was accomplished mainly through the brutal suppression and exploitation of its (majority) indigenous population.

Eyes Wide Open mainly concerns Latin America’s rejection of US neoliberalism and neo-colonialism, with the recent election of “leftist” leaders in eight countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay). The filmmakers visit four of them (Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador), to ascertain whether their new presidents have kept their promise to bring about true economic democracy. Interviews with grassroots leaders are interspersed with with a variety of media footage and commentary by Galeano.

The documentary also discusses the Bolivarian Alliance of the America’s the eight countries formed and its defeat, in 2005, of the Free Trade of the Americas treaty George W Bush tried to foist on them.

Lula Sells Out to Cargill

The filmmakers are highly critical of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) for reneging on his promise to redistribute elite land holdings to landless peasants. Instead he sold out to the giant agrobusiness Cargill, authorizing generous government subsidies to help them establish vast GMO soy plantations in Brazil’s Amazon basin.

Evo Nationalizes Bolivia’s Oil and Gas Industry

Bolivia’s first indigenous president Evo Morales, who came to power in 2006 as a direct result of Bolivia’s water wars,* has a far better track record. The documentary details his decision to nationalize Bolivia’s oil and gas industry and use the income to fund government pensions for the elderly, free education and safer working conditions for Bolivian tin miners. Evo also re-nationalized the tin mines, which had been privatized, and rehired all the miners who had been laid off.

Multinational oil companies (mainly Exxon, Shell and Total) owned 60% of Bolivia’s fossil fuel industry, and the US ambassador (ie CIA) colluded with the Bolivian opposition to block Evo’s land reforms in the rich eastern provinces. In 2008, provincial police gunned down a peaceful peasant protest demanding the land they had been promised. Evo responded by expelling the US ambassador.

Bureaucracy and Corruption in Venezuela

The segment on Venezuela begins with the massive popular protest that defeated the attempted US coup against Chavez in 2002. It also includes a lengthy segment on Chavez’s housing reforms, profiling one of the female housing activists he put in charge of overseeing the replacement of a barrio full of tin shacks with a modern apartment complex.

Venezuela’s land reform efforts weren’t nearly as successful as Bolivia’s, which filmmakers blame on bureaucracy and corruption within the Chavez government.

Constituent Assembly Writes New Constitution in Ecuador

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa is presented in a much more favorable light. Eyes Wide Open focuses mainly on his decision to call a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. The latter would recognize, for the first time, the multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural basis of Ecuadorean society. This new constitution would also be the first in the world to recognize the rights of nature.


*Bolivia’s water wars were a series of protests that took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1999-2000, over the privatization (resulting in massive price hikes) of the city’s municipal water supply. In 2003-2005, similar protests broke out over the privatization of Bolivia’s natural gas supply. The protests eventually led President Sánchez de Lozada to step down and flee to Miami.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.

Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*

Organizing Began in January 1999

I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.

The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.

With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.

The IFG Teach-In

The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.

Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio

On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.

Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.

Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law

All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.

Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.

The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.

Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties

Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.

Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA

Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.


*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.