San Francisco’s Antonia Juhasz is in Reno this week to accept the Sentinel Award, given by Nevada’s Alliance for Workers Rights to those who have engaged in lifelong activism. The author (Alternatives to Economic Globalization) and project director of the International Forum on Globalization has marched in South Africa, written against the Iraq war, challenged the link created by the Bush administration between open markets and fighting the war on terror, served as a staffer to two members of Congress, and worked on the impact of NAFTA and other “free” trade practices on Nevada workers.
Why activism? Have you ever had anybody say to you, ‘Why don’t you get a real job?’
Activism because there hasn’t ever been any other choice in my mind. It’s a real job in that it makes a difference, and it makes me feel like I’m actually contributing something that creates change, and I’m able to support myself, which is a privilege in this country, so that’s a real job…Activism has been the route, and I never really considered anything else. Or I don’t know that if I did anything else that it wouldn’t still be activism. I mean, I think I could be a corporate CEO, and I would still be an activist. It wouldn’t really change my framework.
Why do you think you’re that way? Parents? Upbringing?
Yes, I’m sure it’s my parents. My father is an immigrant from Hungary who escaped at the end of World War II. He’s always thought of he United States as a place that is an immense contradiction, incredible potential but weighed down by serious corruption. Both of my parents are professors, and they always instilled in me a sense that my ideas mattered, that I had a responsibility to use those ideas, and that I could have influence—which, I think again, is an immense privilege, the feeling that you can believe something and then use that belief to make change and that you’re somehow a person that’s in a place to do that. I think a lot of people have the notion that they’d like to create change but don’t feel empowered to do it. And they just instilled that sense of empowerment in me.
How do you pick and choose among causes?
I would say that my trajectory has been trying to find the places where I would have the most influence on the larger issues as I see them, and that’s sort of grown. I started focusing on very specific local economic issues, issues of women and children, working, equality, child care, health care, that sort of thing. … I used to work for two members of Congress on those issues. It was through working on those issues that I learned essentially that corporations were using the government, our government, to jump over my ability to write laws that would help local communities, and jumping over that [lawmaking] process, moving into international trade agreements at institutions I’d never even really heard of to wipe out those laws. And then I shifted my attention to those international trade and investment agreements to try and eventually stop that process. In so doing, I’ve learned that not only can we stop that sort of jumping-over process, but we can actually highlight the immense alternatives in communities working together everywhere around the world that are actually doing the opposite, so it’s sort of resisting one path while highlighting the growth of the other path. And I’ve been a part of that resistance, both through policy making and action/organizing around the world.