Published on Sunday, April 29, 2001 in the Observer of London
The New Protest Movement
It's About Demanding a Say in the Future of the Planet
by Kevin Danaher
When it comes to rebellion on the streets, I must confess a prejudice. In a pitched battle between children armed with banners and spray paint against highly trained police and military personnel with a large array of deadly weapons, I tend to side with the kids.
As a child, I was taught about an instance of property destruction known as the Boston Tea Party and it made a positive impression on me.
At recent street protests in Quebec and in the late-1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation, this 50-year-old was out on the streets with the young people. I was very impressed by their analysis, their courage, their creativity and their heartfelt desire to protect other species from the human onslaught.
Why would these young people be rebellious? Maybe it's due to things such as seeing the major biological systems of the planet collapsing while an oil company cowboy in the White House pulls the US government out of the mild Kyoto Accords because it might disrupt the profits of his benefactors. Contrary to media suggestion, the youth-led movement for global economic transformation is not 'anti-globalisation'.
There are really two varieties of globalisation: élite globalisation (which we oppose) and grassroots globalisation (which we promote). The top-down globalisation is characterised by a constant drive to maximise profits for globe-spanning corporations. It forces countries to 'open up' their national economies to large corporations, reduce social services, privatise state functions, deregulate the economy, be 'efficient' and competitive, and submit everything and everyone to the rule of 'market forces'. Because markets move resources only in the direction of those with money, social inequality has reached grotesque levels.
The United Nations Development Programme reports that the richest 20 per cent of the world's people account for 86 per cent of global consumption and the poorest 80 per cent of the world's population struggle to survive on just 14 per cent of total consumption spending. This is why tens of thousands of children die needlessly every day, because resources distributed by market forces automatically bypass the poor.
But there is another kind of globalisation that centres on life values: protecting human rights and the environment. Grassroots globalisation comprises many large and growing movements: the fair trade movement, micro-enterprise lending networks, the movement for social and ecological labelling, sister cities and sister schools, citizen diplomacy, trade union solidarity across borders, worker-owned co-ops, international family farm networks, and many others.
While these constituents of grassroots globalisation lack the money and government influence possessed by the corporations, they showed at the WTO protests in Seattle that they are able to mobilise enough people to halt the corporate agenda in its tracks, at least, temporarily.
There is a big question confronting us as we enter the twenty-first century, which is: will money values dominate life values or will the life cycle dominate the money cycle? The great spiritual leaders of all cultures have been clear that the best path in life does not consist of amassing material goods. Jesus used violence only once, against a specific occupation - not Roman soldiers or tax collectors - but bankers. Paul of Tarsus said: 'The love of money is the root of all evil.' Confucius said: 'The superior person knows what is right; the inferior person knows what will sell.' Even George Soros, the billionaire financier, admits: 'Markets basically are amoral.'
Here in the United States, large sections of the public are increasingly critical of corporate rule and its consequences. A recent business magazine survey revealed that 74 per cent of the public believe big corporations have too much power, and 73 per cent believe top executives get paid too much; 95 per cent of those polled agreed with the following statement: 'US corporations should have more than one purpose. They also owe something to their workers and the communities in which they operate, and they should sometimes sacrifice some profit for the sake of making things better for their workers and communities.'
Let's be clear about the 'free market'. It is an ideological construct that does not exist in reality. All the countries that successfully industrialised did so through state intervention, with government playing an active role in directing investment, managing trade and subsidising chosen sectors of the economy.
The temple of democracy has been taken over in recent decades by the transnational money-changers. Large corporations dominate national governments and they dominate the secret global government (the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund etc) that is being constructed behind the backs of citizens. This explains why the rulers need to hide their rule-making procedures: if less than 1 per cent of the population (millionaire corporate lawyers) monopolise the rule-making process, they can't let the public know the details.
Would the policies of these global bodies be kept so secret if they were really in the public interest. Wouldn't the corporate lawyers want to debate openly with us opponents of corporate globalisation and prove their claims that we don't know what we're talking about? Yet getting these global financial bodies to debate in public is like pulling teeth.
We are now experiencing 'a constitutional moment'. Corporate interests are writing a global constitution that elevates corporate profit-making above the rights of citizens to protect their jobs and the environment. Whether the rule-making takes place in the WTO, the IMF or in planning the coming free-trade area of the Americas, the only people with a seat at the table represent transnational corporate interests.
If workers, small businesses, non-profit groups and environmentalists are not represented when the rules get written, then their interests will be subordinated to those of corporate profit-making. Look around and you will see mounting symptoms. The world economy produces more food per capita than ever before, yet we have more hungry people than ever before.
The environmental crisis is evident in eroding topsoil, poisoned ground water, melting glaciers, receding icecaps at the poles, a depleted ozone layer, the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and unsustainable patterns of resource consumption. In turn, these crises are producing a moral crisis in which the affluent avert their eyes and pretend there is no crisis.
In the cities of rich countries around the world, in Seattle, Quebec, London, protesters rage against an economy that turns every living thing into dead money. These protests are the beginning of a movement that puts love of life above love of money. If it is true that 'nature always bats last', then the world view that seeks to ride with nature will outlast the world view that seeks to dominate it and turn it into money.
Find details of the author's work on globalism at www.globalexchange.org
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001