Many Americans may be wondering what led to the massive demonstrations at the economic summit in Genoa, Italy. The answer: The protesters are convinced that the managers of globalization are taking our world in the wrong direction.
As President Jacques Chirac of France noted during the summit, "One hundred thousand people don't get upset unless there is a problem in their hearts and spirits."
Trade unionists, environmentalists, human-rights advocates, AIDS activists and proponents of Third World debt cancellation fear that corporate globalization is leading to greater inequality, increasing job insecurity, the destruction of our environment and, perhaps most frighteningly, the weakening of our democracies.
In Genoa, eight men gathered to make decisions about how the world would address some of the most critical global problems - the AIDS pandemic, the staggering debt of Third World countries and the massive poverty in developing nations.
These leaders insisted they were democratically elected. True, but they represent a total population of about 800 million out of the world's more than 6 billion people.
Africa was allowed only token representation, even though its problems were high on the agenda.
The summit in Genoa was a meeting of the global rulemakers - a country club world government. The rulemakers' globalization, with its twin banners of unfettered free trade and unmanaged free markets, is a new colonialism that has had devastating effects, both in the Third World and in the industrialized countries.
Each day that these presidents and prime ministers posed for group photos and dined on fine meals in Genoa, more than 19,000 children died worldwide from the effects of the poor countries' debt crises, and 8,000 people died of AIDS, according to Christian Aid and Doctors Without Borders.
In the last decade, deaths from preventable disease have risen, not decreased. And the gap between the rich and the poor has grown larger, according to the U.N. Development Program.
From South-Central Los Angeles to Soweto, South Africa, a huge number of the world's people are not benefiting from a global economy that caters to investors and bankers.
The demonstrations grow out of a deep, abiding sense that the global rulemakers, for all their talk, just don't get it. It is unacceptable that our leaders give mere lip service to the desperate plight of the estimated 1.2 billion people who survive on less than $1 day per capita and the nearly 3 billion who survive on less than $2 a day, according to the U.N. Development Program.
The economic policies the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have imposed on more than 80 countries during the last two decades have required severe cutbacks in government spending on health service, education, and wage and farm subsidies. As a result, living standards have often plummeted.
President Bush has repeatedly said that the demonstrators are condemning the poor to continued poverty. The facts show the opposite. Take the example of our neighbor, Mexico. According to the Mexican government, wages in Mexico's manufacturing sector have dropped 10 percent since NAFTA began. And the World Bank reports that inequality in that country has not decreased since Mexico began its market liberalization 15 years ago.
What Genoa made startlingly clear is that democracy has reached a new low when communication between leaders and their citizens must happen through steel grates, police lines and noxious clouds of tear gas. And the death of a 23-year-old Italian demonstrator, Carlo Giuliani, should give us all pause.
The vast majority of demonstrators want a dialogue. But they want real action, too. Without it, the basic needs of billions of people will go unmet.
Ted Lewis directs the political and civil-rights program at Global Exchange.