Global Self -Organization
By Jeremy Brecher and
As globalization from above
has grown more destructive, the constructive achievements of globalization
from below in the two years since the Battle of Seattle have been impressive.
An incredible range of movements and concerns that once seemed unrelated
or even antagonistic have learned to cooperate in the face of corporate-led
globalization from above.
Activists around the world
have forged a new internationalism with a global vision. They have developed
organizational formsranging from global advocacy networks and
temporary affinity groups to global forumsto share ideas and coordinate
actions over vast areas with a minimum of hierarchy.
They have rediscovered the
hidden power of people to force change by withdrawing their consent
from established institutions. They have educated hundreds of millions
of people around the world about the problems of globalization.
They have established themselves
as a global opposition and replaced the nationalist right as the leading
critics of globalization. They have put the advocates of globalization
from above on the defensive and forced a major change in the rhetoric,
if not yet the reality, of global institutions.
The most dramatic expressions
of globalization from below have been the demonstrations challenging
international elite gatherings from Melbourne to Prague, from Quebec
to Manila, and from Washington, DC, to Genoa. But these demonstrations
are only the visible tip of a movement composed primarily of grassroots
organizing and people-to-people cooperation across national borders.
The World Social Forum (WSF)
in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has emerged as a global assembly for globalization
from belows discussion and networking. In 2002, the second WSF
brought together 51,300 participants, including 15,230 delegates representing
4,909 organizations from 131 countries.
The program for its workshops,
demonstrations, and other events ran 151 tabloid pages. Its slogan,
Another World Is Possible, has flung open the discussion
of global alternatives. While some complain that the WSF has not produced
a blueprint for global social reform, its emphasis on pluralism and
diversity manifests the spirit of a movement that seeks a future based
on open global dialogue, not decisions imposed by a new elite.
The Lilliput Strategy, in
which grassroots groups cooperate across national borders to outflank
corporations and other centers of power, remains at the core of globalization
from below. The campaign to make drugs for AIDS patients available at
a reasonable price in poor countries continues to provide a leading
Writer Esther Kaplan describes
a packed meeting in a stultifying room in a former church in North Philadelphia,
an area of falling-down porches and abandoned storefronts,
for a group that might be expected to find the global economy a rather
remote concernrecovering drug addicts.
But John Bell of ACT UP/Philadelphia,
a former war veteran with AIDS, was recruiting for a Stop Global
AIDS march. He began, Hi. My name is John, and Im
an addict and an alcoholic. According to Kaplan, As he went
on to talk about his gratitude for his lifesaving med[icine]s, it seemed
only natural that hed invite the 100 or so assembled to stand
up for HIVers worldwide who dont have access to the same meds.
A few weeks later, 12 packed
buses from Philadelphia rolled up in front of the United Nations, turning
the march into an energetic African-American protest rally.
According to Bell, they were making the connections between local
and global in terms of health care and AIDS. We have been preparing
people to be not only US citizens, but citizens of the world.
An international coalition
including Doctors Without Borders and religious networks around the
world generated thousands of letters to drug companies and the US government
demanding they stop trying to use patent laws to keep people from getting
AIDS drugs in poor countries. And there were some results.
An April 2001 article in
the Christian Science Monitor headlined Drug Firms Yield to Cry
of the Poor reported, 39 international pharmaceutical companies
unconditionally withdrew a lawsuit against the South African government
aimed at barring the country from importing cheap anti-AIDS drugs.
And in June 2001, the Financial
Times reported, The US government
dropped its complaint
against Brazils patent law at the World Trade Organisation, dealing
a fresh blow to the leading global pharmaceutical companies business
in the developing world.
Before the November 2001
meetings of the WTO in Doha, Qatar, AIDS activists, NGO representatives,
and third world officials met and drew up a declaration stating that
nothing in the WTO rules covering patents could prevent governments
from safeguarding public health. Daniel Berman of Doctors Without Borders
reported the results from Doha:
Since Seattle there has been
a seismic shift. Two years ago many developing countries felt they were
powerless against the will of the wealthy countries and their drug companies.
Here in Doha more than 80 countries came together and negotiated in
It was this solidarity that
led to a strong affirmation that TRIPS [Trade Related Intellectual Property
Rights] can and should be interpreted in a manner to protect public
health. In practical terms, this means that countries are not
at the mercy of multinationals when they practice price gouging.
New Forms of Grassroots Self-Organization
Popular resistance to the
devastation caused by neoliberal policies in Argentina has revealed
new possibilities for mass direct action against globalization from
above. With 35 percent of workers unemployed and underemployed, a militant
movement known as the piqueteros, a large proportion of them unemployed
women, began blocking highways and then negotiating with the authorities
for subsistence programs and public works employment.
They dont delegate
any leaders to go downtown. They make the government come to the highways,
and the people there discuss what they should demand and what they should
The example of the piqueteros
spread to a more and more disgruntled population. Discontent came to
a head as the government accepted even greater austerity demands from
the IMF and imposed a state of siege to suppress popular protest.
On the night of December
19, 2001, people from all over the capital had taken to the streets
to bang pots and pans, a traditional symbol of protest in Latin America,
and to march on Congress and the presidential palace. The next
day, spontaneous street demonstrations forced Fernando de
la Rúa to resign the presidency.
That in turn led to the emergence
of a new organizational form. A bunch of us who met during the
march that night decided that what we were doing should become a permanent,
directed effort and not just a one-time thing, a participant recalled.
We wanted the fall of de la Rúa to mark the beginning of
something, not the end.
Out of the demonstrations
grew a new and increasingly assertive civic movement known as
the self-convened neighborhood assemblies. Argentines
are now meeting after work and on weekends not just to vent their
wrath at politicians but to organize and debate solutions to the countrys
Most neighborhoods in cities
and towns across the country have their own assembly. The movement
is largely unstructured, with individual units communicating through
Web sites, and deliberately informal, with members ranging from middle-aged
professionals in Lacoste shirts to students with spiked hair and nose
A nationwide outdoor assembly
brought groups together from all over the country. They decided they
would continue to sponsor weekly protest meetings [at] the presidential
The convergence of the unemployed
picketers and the newly-impoverished middle class cacerolazo pot-and-pan
bangers has been embodied in the slogan Piquete y cacerola, la
lucha es una solapickets and pans, same struggle.
A leading newspaper editorialized
that a country cannot work in a state of permanent popular deliberation
and warned that such mechanisms of popular deliberation
as the neighborhood assemblies present a danger, since because
of their very nature they can develop into something like that sinister
model of power, the soviets.
The people of Argentina have
shown that popular movements can force even repressive and neoliberal
governments to halt ruinous debt servicing. But when the government
of one country abandons neoliberal policies, it faces devastating reprisalsas
are already being planned against Argentina.
A possible next step might
be the kind of international solidarity sometimes referred to as a debtors
cartel, debtors union, or debtors
united front. If a number of debtor countries threatened to stop
servicing their debts simultaneously, they would pose a devastating
threat to global financial stability and thereby change the global balance
Such a strategy could become
a prime weapon of popular movements demanding that the third world be
freed from the chain of debt slavery.
Isolating US Unilateralism
The unilateralism of the
Bush administration poses a barrier to nearly every initiative attempted
by the global justice movement, from global warming agreements and protection
of human rights to affordable AIDS treatment and sustainable development
for poor countries.
But that unilateralism is
provoking a reaction. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman,
Europeans have embraced President Bushs formulation that
an axis of evil threatens world peace. Theres only
one small problem. President Bush thinks the axis of evil is Iran, Iraq
and North Korea, and the Europeans think its Donald Rumsfeld,
Dick Cheney and Condi [Condoleezza] Rice.
European Union (EU) officials
warn of a rift opening up between Europe and the United States wider
than at any time for half a century. Chris Patten, the EU commissioner
for international relations, said it is time that European governments
spoke up and stopped Washington before it goes into unilateralist
He adds, Gulliver cant
go it alone, and I dont think its helpful if we regard ourselves
as so Lilliputian that we cant speak up and say it. Patten
called on Europes 15 member states to put aside their traditional
wariness of angering the United States and to speak up, forging an international
stance of their own on issues ranging from the Middle East to global
Such a responseat both
the governmental and grassroots levelscan begin to isolate the
Bush administrations ideological agenda. For example, immediately
after the United States rejected a modified version of the Kyoto climate
accord, 178 countries went ahead and accepted it. The city of Seattle
announced that it would unilaterally abide by the accord and cut its
carbon emissions by more than the required percentage.
The many strands that came
together to form globalization from below were initially united by little
beyond their opposition to globalization from above. But their common
interests go far deeper than that. They share a common interest in putting
the world on a safer, saner, and less destructive path than global elites
from below is less and less presenting itself as a movement against
globalization. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen observed at the WSF that
calling the movement anti-global only plays into the hands
of the corporate elites. Better we say what we are for. We are
for democracy, diversity, and equity.
At a simultaneous Another
World Is Possible rally in New York, Columbia University student
Yvonne Liu of Students for Global Justice met cheers when she said,
We are not an antiglobalization movement. We are against corporate-led
globalization. We are a global justice movement.
Globalization from above
is certainly doing its part to encourage a worldwide backlash in favor
of globalization from below. A survey sponsored by the World Economic
Forum found that nearly one in two citizens and majorities in half of
the 25 countries surveyed support people who take part in peaceful
demonstrations against globalization because they are supporting my
Globalization from above
is leading millions of people around the world to organize on their
own and others behalf. While globalization from above may self-destruct
through its own internal contradictions, its failure does not guarantee
that another, better world can be realized. That depends on the commitment,
integrity, wisdom, and unity of those who are forging globalization
*Based on material from the
new Second Edition of Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith,
GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW: THE POWER OF SOLIDARITY (South End Press,
2002). Visit the authors web site at www.villageorpillage.org.