[Marxism] RE: Kevin Danaher on the Organizational Question

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 13 09:42:57 MST 2004


Paul Bunyan wrote:
>Having read Danaher's remarks at the 40th anniversary of the Free Speech 
>Movement in Berkeley, the only conclusion I can draw, is that there is no 
>there, there (apologies to the late Gertrude Stein).
>
>Danaher has replaced " to the barricades!" with "to the coops!"  If anyone 
>knows what he was on when giving this talk, please contact me personally 
>as I am interested in purchasing a pound/gallon, as the case may be. Thank you.

The San Francisco Chronicle
NOVEMBER 5, 2003, WEDNESDAY, FINAL EDITION

Kevin Danaher: Part activist and part businessman

BYLINE: Tom Abate

Kevin Danaher, co-founder of the San Francisco nonprofit group Global 
Exchange, thinks political progressives can teach global capitalists a 
thing or two about trade and commerce.

In contrast to the free trade ideology of the World Trade Organization, 
Danaher has helped Global Exchange popularize the notion of fair trade. In 
short, he wants consumers to pay a bit more for coffee, chocolates and 
crafts as long as this extra markup flows to farmers or artisans in the 
developing world.

"We're talking about the pennies stuck in your couch that you wouldn't even 
clean up," said Danaher, who believes these tiny actions will eventually 
spur profit-driven corporations to pay higher wages, raise environmental 
standards and enact other reforms sought by anti-global protestors.

"We're trying to shift capital because when capital starts to shift, 
everything goes along with it -- the government, the ideology, the values," 
said Danaher.

It was with this goal in mind that Danaher co-founded Global Exchange in 
1988 with his wife, political activist Medea Benjamin, and her friend, 
Kirsten Moller, the organization's executive director.

During the past 15 years, Global Exchange has become a novel blend of 
charitable organization and commercial enterprise. In 2002, it earned about 
two-thirds of its $7.14 million budget by selling goods and services -- 
notably reality tours that take politically inclined travelers beyond the 
beaches and bazaars of the developing world.

Global Exchange's entrepreneurial zeal and political fervor -- it played a 
prominent role in the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle -- owe a great deal to 
the character of Danaher. He and Benjamin were working at another Bay Area 
nonprofit advocacy group, Food First, when they decided to spin off in 1988 
to form Global Exchange.

"Kevin is a very effective advocate because he combines a blue-collar style 
of populism and charisma with a Ph.D. education and an analytical mind," 
said Food First co-director Peter Rosset. "He has what some people might 
call an almost macho style of charisma."

The youngest of three children born to an Irish Catholic family in New 
Jersey, Danaher, 53, learned political activism from his father. A bus 
driver and immigrant, the elder Danaher had a gift for gab and a passion 
for politics -- especially when regaling his children with tales of how he 
had been a messenger for the Irish Republican Army.

"Those stories he told me as a kid are part of what I am today," Danaher said.

The football coach in his New Jersey town taught him teamwork and 
toughness. To this day his speech is peppered with phrases like, "Don't be 
a finger, be a fist," and "You've got to be able to take the hit."

But as a high school graduate in 1968, Danaher says, he flunked his 
physical and avoided the draft. While many of his peers were digging fox 
holes in South Vietnam, Danaher was driving trucks, laying bricks and 
working factory jobs by day -- leaving his nights free to play bass in a 
band that made the rounds of strip joints and topless bars.

In the early 1970s, Danaher drifted West. "I met this beautiful blonde in 
Los Gatos," he recalled, and he decided to stay. In California he 
reinvented himself. He started taking classes at De Anza College in 
Cupertino, then transferred to Sonoma State University, where he earned his 
undergraduate degree in sociology. Driven, he undertook a Ph.D. at UC Santa 
Cruz and wrote his sociology dissertation on the boycott movement against 
South Africa's apartheid.

"I was thinking on a career track," said Danaher, who was an adjunct 
professor at American University in Washington, D.C., from 1979 to 1983.

But this roustabout-turned-intellectual soon tired of academic life. In 
1984 he returned to the Bay Area to work for Food First, writing and 
lecturing on global inequality. It was there that he met -- and later 
married -- Benjamin, an activist with her own storied past. They have a 
teenage daughter named Maya.

Meanwhile, at Food First, Danaher said he and Benjamin wanted to do more 
than publish books and papers.

So in 1988, Danaher, Benjamin and Moller, who was then Benjamin's intern, 
came up with the idea for reality tours.

"We had all traveled in Third World countries and we were astonished by 
what U.S. foreign policy was doing," Danaher said. They reasoned that by 
bringing other Americans face-to-face with injustice, they could inspire 
them to become agents of change.

With this idea -- plus a $30,000 grant -- they founded Global Exchange. 
Within a year, they borrowed $20,000 to buy a store in San Francisco's Noe 
Valley that sold Central American craftwork.

Fifteen years later, Global Exchange is still funded by this same mix of 
sources -- reality tours, tax-deductible grants and gifts, and retail sales 
of crafts and other products. Danaher is proud of the group's 
diversification, likening Global Exchange to a centipede that can keep 
going even if it loses a leg.

At the organization's Mission Street offices, Danaher showed off Global 
Exchange's current pride: an online store started in October 1999 that he 
predicts will rack up $350,000 in sales this year. Tex Dworkin, the 
company's 33-year-old marketing manager, makes no apologies for selling 
hand-crafted items at more than department store cost -- as long as they 
aren't too pricey and the quality is good.

"You're not going to change the world by asking people to go around in 
burlap sacks," she said.

But while Global Exchange often behaves like a business, it has earned a 
reputation for political toughness by persuading firms like Starbucks to 
offer fair-trade products.

"Within the nonprofit slice of the global social justice movement, they're 
thought of as a very activist organization with a strong appeal to young 
people," said Rosset at Food First.

But the 15-year-old group faces challenges. Excursions to Cuba have long 
been Global Exchange's most popular reality tour, but the Bush 
administration recently changed the rules under which the trips were 
conducted -- threatening it with the imminent loss of a healthy chunk of 
the $3.4 million its tour business earned in 2002.

Global Exchange is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service for the 
first time. Moller said the audit involves questions the IRS has about 
grants Global Exchange made to other groups -- a sort of nonprofit version 
of subcontracting. She said she hopes the organization's accounting passes 
muster and sought to dampen any speculations that the group was being 
targeted for its political activity.

Tax-exempt advocacy groups like Global Exchange -- or the conservative 
Heritage Foundation, for that matter -- can engage in certain types of 
politics, such as arguing for or against trade policies. But there are 
limits on how much they can spend to influence specific legislation. And 
they are not allowed to support or oppose any elected official.

Moller said the IRS audit of Global Exchange is not connected to these issues.

If any of these things worry Danaher, he doesn't let it show. In keeping 
with his thinking on diversification, Global Exchange has started new 
activities that blend anti-corporate politics with product marketing.

This weekend, for instance, it will co-sponsor its second Green Festival at 
the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. Visitors will be able to 
listen to progressive speakers like Arianna Huffington or Jim Hightower 
while munching organic goodies or perusing solar energy cells for a $15 
admission charge.

Likening this New Age trade show to the Old World art of matchmaking, 
Danaher said it's good politics and good business to charge visitors and 
vendors alike for staging this alternative event.

"We make people happy by putting them together," he said.

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