In a time of unprecedented economic growth, many are wondering why thousands of young Americans would join a movement to denounce the status quo. The past week's Mobilization for Global Justice raises the question: economic boom for whom?
When 43 million people in the United States lack health care insurance, 250 million children worldwide go to work rather than school each day and 24,000 people die daily of hunger, it is easy to recognize that this boom is only skin deep.
The World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last fall brought together more than 50,000 people to protest this secretive, undemocratic global rulemaking body. The Battle in Seattle made headline news when nonviolent protesters successfully blocked the entrances to the opening ceremony, at which the WTO had hoped to launch a new round of global trade talks.
This protest may go down in history as the watershed event that sparked an unprecedented global revolution against unmitigated corporate power. The spirit of Seattle has spread like wildfire and inspired grassroots activists to clearly identify how corporate globalization affects all of our efforts, from ending sweatshops to saving endangered sea turtles to stopping global warming.
Activists are now shining the light of public scrutiny on the other two architects of the global economy: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Our goal is to debunk the myth that these taxpayer-funded institutions alleviate poverty and "develop" poor countries. In fact, over the past 50 years World Bank projects have destroyed the environment and caused immeasurable human suffering, while IMF policies have exacerbated poverty by requiring social service cuts.
These institutions have turned countries in the global South into the "colonies" of multinational corporations that want access to cheap labor and natural resources. Corporate profits are soaring to new heights, but so is income inequality. Where's the trickle-down?
Many young people are awakening to the reality that the widespread social, ecological and spiritual crises we've inherited are caused by living in a capitalist society that teaches us to buy without thinking and consume without caring.
Our overconsumption is fueling this economic boom, but at a heavy cost to the environment. Every major ecosystem is in decline. Fishery stocks, fertile topsoil, biodiversity, virgin forests and a stable atmosphere are disappearing and cannot sustain the more than 6 billion people on the planet.
Rather than shy away from these global problems, young people are tackling the root causes with myriad strategies and a groundswell of optimism. More than ever, people are thinking globally, acting locally, thinking systemically and acting strategically. Young people are rejecting corporate control over all aspects of life, from Monsanto's monopoly patents on seeds to the conglomeration of media to the privatization of water.
There is no shortage of alternatives to the "Washington consensus" on economic matters. One example is the fair trade movement. Consumers in the United States can now purchase fair-trade-certified coffee grown by farmers in the global south who receive a fair price and have access to credit. Fair trade is a humane and environmentally sustainable alternative to free trade and exemplifies the type of people-centered development strategies that polls show Americans want.
Just as past revolutions have fought for political democracy, this movement aims to democratize economic decision-making at all levels so that the people who are most affected by economic policies have a voice in designing them.
Decisions made by Washington and Wall Street will never eliminate poverty. The question is not whether to have a closed or open trading system, but rather whose values are being enshrined in the global rulemaking. Is the goal to maximize corporate profits for the few or to meet all basic human needs and protect the Earth?
As citizens of a global society, we recognize that our freedom comes with responsibility. At the dawn of a new millennium, we are reclaiming our power to rebuild communities and restore the Earth. The time to act is now.
The writer, coordinator of the Global Democracy Project for the human-rights group Global Exchange, is one of the organizers of the World Bank-IMF protests.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company