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The Worldwide Citizen’s Movement

Sunday 12 March 2006, by Gustave MASSIAH

A huge citizen’s movement has been mobilized to question globalization and the path it is taking. This movement draws on forms and thinking that characterized the mobilizations of past times and, at the same time, it renews them. Because of the convergence of resistance, one can rightly talk about a worldwide mobilization of citizens and this became clear at Seattle, where there was a convergence of waged workers, peasant movements, ecological movements and movements for international solidarity. The turning-point of Seattle was not the failure of the negotiations but what this failure revealed.

It showed the positions of the movements which, from the protests against the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) to those against the World Trade Organization, from the demonstration in Washington to the encounters in Porto Alegre (Brazil), have been questioning the dominant thrust of globalization, although not necessarily globalization in itself. The citizen’s movement has legitimized the search after alternatives, given a new wind to the mobilization of people and increased the confidence of the movements, who are taking initiatives and putting forward proposals.

This worldwide movement already has some results to its credit. It has enabled people to see more clearly what globalization is all about. At first its pernicious effects were emphasized and those who claimed to be the heralds of this new modernity were put on the defensive. Then, through tough debate, it began to sort out, in the globalization process, which were the results of an evolutionary tendency, portentous and contradictory, and which were the consequences of the dominant ideology, neoliberal and malevolent, which was typical of the present phase of this globalization. Finally the movement has promoted a critical public debate at the international level on the systems and mechanisms that are structuring the world, economically, socially, politically, militarily, culturally and ideologically. By stressing those responsible the mobilization has recreated an enormous movement of hope. It has given new wind to the idea that another world is possible. This can be seen by the proliferation of ideas and proposals.

The campaign against the debt has put forward proposals to cancel it, totally or partially and it has recognized the illegitimacy and co-responsibility for the debt. It suggests the limitation of debt servicing to a certain proportion of exports and reconversion of the debt under people’s supervision, etc. The ATTAC campaign emphasizes the need for a tax on speculative financial transactions and on the utilization of the proceeds to give access to services at the grassroot level. It has also called for the abolition of fiscal havens and a war against financial criminality, etc. The campaign on the international financial institutions has stressed the need for democratic control and transparency and the need for an independent evaluation to be carried out by the United Nations system on the activities of the international financial institutions. It has rejected the structural adjustment programmes and the strategic frameworks for poverty reduction, as well as the conditionalities and economic and social policies imposed from outside and above. It has also called for a radical reform of the international financial institutions. The campaign against the World Trade Organization has above all stressed the superiority of human rights over commercial law, the need to reject the supremacy of commerce, rejection of the tribunal for regulating disagreements, the need for an appeals court, with the right of citizens to submit their case, etc. This ability to make proposals shows the importance of the movement, its inventiveness and its social, political, intellectual and citizen-oriented capacities. However a multitude of proposals do not constitute a programme and are not enough for sketching out an alternative. It is in this sense that the movement had to pass from Seattle to Porto Alegre, which represents the desire to create an international space for all mobilizations to work together and elaborate such an alternative.

The proposals are designed neither to absorb dissenting opinion nor to be revolutionary in themselves: their relevance is to be decided according to the different situations. What is significant is that they form part of an overall strategy. Discussion on these proposals should be a political debate, not a theological one. Reactions to them are reflected internationally. The proposals are recycled by the dominant institutions, after having been purged of their subversive content and they help to make development policies evolve and adapt. However, these hijackings of the proposals, while they help to sharpen policies, can weaken the coherence of the model and legitimize the search for alternative conceptions.

The worldwide citizens’ movement is building an alternative around the guiding principle of respect for people’s rights. In each mobilization, the reference to rights is becoming increasingly central. It has to be so once it is recognized that the aim of these mobilizations is not to define ideal policies and institutions - to imitate power, when they do not have it. It is to call attention to values and principles, to demand guarantees, to monitor implementation. It is also to take initiatives and to protect the autonomy of movements and of people’s practices. The mobilization of societies to defend themselves and to demand guarantees for their economic, social and cultural rights is the first form of mobilization for development. The universality of rights is recognized. Ensuring respect for economic, social and cultural rights begins by guaranteeing, to everybody, equality of access to collective grassroot services. This means that the different levels - local, national and global - have to be taken into account. The discussion is not so much on the importance and existence of collective services, which is recognized by everyone. It is about the policies to ensure access, forms of organization, linkages with the market and the role of different actors, the financing of grassroot services all based on the principle of equality of access.
The events since 11 September 2001 have however created a new situation, marked by uncertainties. What will be the consequences for the worldwide citizen’s movement and, by the same token, what can the worldwide citizen’s movement bring to this new situation?

The movement brings with it a vision that is in opposition to the binary and death oriented presentation of a war of civilizations. It can only reject the prospect of closed worlds that are homogeneous and standardized for it believes in the wealth of civilizations, the diversity of the peoples in the world and their cultures, the complexity of situations, geographies and histories. From a geopolitical viewpoint, this battle is not lost in advance. It can command the interest of Europe and the large countries of the South.

The movement believes in law rather than force, domination and injustice, which can be surmounted by law in each society and at the international level. The international campaigns which bring together North and South propose alternatives, the relevance of which are today evident. The options depend on the mobilization of citizens and their capacity to form part of the international movement, to take up these questions in debate, to structure resistance to the neoliberal course of globalization and the construction of a social project. What is difficult for the citizen’s movement is to recognize where it actually stands, at the level of issues and at world level. For this reason it is necessary to build a new relationship between public institutions and social movements and to take responsibility for world peace and reconstructing it. The mobilizations over the last few years have helped people become more aware of world realities and have shown up all the inequalities and injustices. They have helped to open up new prospects and hopes. People believe that other solutions are possible and there is increasing distrust of those who desperately solicit them. The mobilizations have also weakened the legitimacy of the world leaders and have forced them, for the time being, to bear in mind their limitations and not adopt extreme solutions. The reference to law in settling conflict is based on justice as opposed to vengeance and collective punishment. This reference to law must be applied in the present situation and enables us to prepare the future. International solidarity among peoples is a reaction to the absurd, murderous idea of the war of civilizations. People’s capacity to overcome a difficulty can give birth to progress. If civilization is to advance, the first step is to attack the barbarity that constitutes the unjust world order.

At the beginning of the new millennium we find ourselves in a situation where the power structures are shifting more and more towards corporate globalisation. In response to this we have also seen a massive growth in protest movements throughout Europe and around the world.

The European Social Forum was called after the success of the 2nd World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which was attended by 70,000 people. As this represented a 300% increase in attendance, the organisers accepted that one venue could no longer accommodate the growing social movements globally, and that regional gatherings would be essential to welcome the similar increases expected this year. The European Social Forum is backed by hundreds of Trade Unions, NGOs, Human Rights groups and others campaigning across the continent.

The European Social Forum gathered in Florence from the 7th to the 11th of November, 2002. The organisers were expecting 18,000 in attendance, but the eventual figure was nearly twice that at 35,000. A half a million people marched during the event in a rally against war and racism. There was no violence recorded.

The World Social Forum and the European Social Forum are born of grassroots social movements dedicated to ensuring that human rights are promoted, protected, and fulfilled by governments, intergovernmental organisations, companies and other non-state actors. The ESF is for anyone who wants to challenge the principles that the market is more important than the people who live on this planet. It is a chance to participate in discussions with leading activists from across Europe and to create campaigning networks of resistance.