The Power Off-Stage: Jonny 5 on Why Flobots Teamed Up With Tom Morello for Rock Against the TPP

Editorial Note: This is a guest column by Jonny 5 of Denver-based hip-hop group Flobots. 

In an election year, it is easy to lose sight of where the power lies. With public conversation fixated on who will be our next President, it’s tempting to assume that leadership flows from the top down. The billions of dollars spent to influence the election would seem to underscore this notion.

As a musician, I know something different.

The most powerful force in any room is not the person standing on stage, but the mass of people in the audience: the crowd.

A skeptical crowd can intimidate. A angry crowd can terrify. An ecstatic crowd can elevate.

In a democracy, the crowd is the electorate. An uninformed electorate can be duped. A disengaged electorate can be ignored. But an engaged, informed electorate can determine the path that its leaders must take.

It is for this reason that (fellow Flobot) Brer Rabbit and I will join Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, actress Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit, Ant-Man), punk rock legends Anti-Flag, Downtown Boys, and a formidable cast of experts and activists at Summit Music Hall this Saturday, July 23, for a free concert called Rock Against the TPP, kicking off a nationwide protest for an essential, winnable cause: defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP, which is a massive and dangerous corporate power-grab.

The movement to stop TPP is the perfect illustration of the ability of ordinary people to wield and exert political power. It is a global deal with massive implications. Many elected officials are still on the fence, including Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado. Those who favor it are lobbying both Democrats and Republicans behind closed doors while banking on the public to remain complacent. Yet the stakes are incredibly high. If Congress ratifies it, it would be the largest deal of its kind in history.

Let me explain.

The TPP is a global deal, being negotiated behind closed doors with 600 official corporate advisors, which would lock in massive new rights and powers for transnational corporations that make it easier to offshore jobs, attack workers' rights, trash the environment, poison our food and water, and restrict free speech and Internet freedom.

The TPP would hand multinational corporations like Monsanto, Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs the power to set the terms of the global economy and undermine democratically passed local and national laws.

The so-called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” section of the TPP grants new rights to thousands of multinationals to sue the government in front of a panel of three corporate lawyers. These lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by taxpayers, including for the loss of “expected future profits.”

Corporations need only convince the lawyers that a basic law protecting workers or an environmental regulation violates their new TPP rights. Their decisions are not subject to appeal and there is no limit to the amount we taxpayers can be ordered to pay the corporations.

Through similar kinds of rules in other trade agreements, big polluters and powerful companies have been able to push for the repeal of crucial environmental and health laws as well as regulations that protect open airwaves and freedom of speech. The passage of the TPP would lead to a massive expansion of these kinds of cases—making it incredibly hard to take on the challenges of climate change, public health and corporate accountability.

The TPP can only become reality if the U.S. Congress approves it. The corporations pushing the deal want a vote after the election, when retired and fired members of Congress can come back and vote one last time, with even less accountability than usual. They want this done quietly.

That’s why it’s time to get loud. That’s why we’re proud to be teaming up with well known artists from across the nation to drag this vampire-deal out into the sunlight. Because of the extreme secrecy surrounding the TPP, too many people still don’t know what it is or how it would affect them.

That’s where you come in.

You can inform yourself about the TPP (the video above is a great start). You can help make sure enough people know about TPP and tell your members of Congress to vocally oppose it. You can stop the small cabal in Congress that’s scheming to pass the TPP in a rushed vote after the election this fall.

Lobbyists and bureaucrats in Washington, DC are watching nervously as this tour kicks off in Denver. They know that the more people talk about the TPP, the more people oppose it — because no one wants an economic system that puts the interests of Wall Street and Big Oil above the needs of people and the planet.

Even the presidential candidates have turned against the TPP due to its unpopularity amongst voters across the political spectrum.

This is a fight we can win.

So when you come out to see us rock with an all-star lineup at Summit on Saturday, come ready to enjoy the music. Come ready to have a good time. But most importantly, come ready to recognize your own power.

Jonny 5 is a member of Denver band the Flobots. They will serve as emcees for a free concert for the Rock Against the TPP tour kick-off at Summit Music Hall this Saturday, July 23, with Tom Morello, actress Evangeline Lilly, Anti-Flag, Downtown Boys and more. There will be a rally outside the venue at 5 p.m. 

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