To read the headlines in the morning papers during these Bush years is too often an exercise in exasperation, as each day’s new outrages seem to top the last. But hidden quietly on the inside pages, and rumbling through alternative news sources, there is also a more encouraging story: Despite the challenges presented by the current administration, the global justice movement has made impressive strides in recent years.
Arguments for trade and development policies that truly address poverty and serve working people have moved from the left margins into the mainstream of international debate. The paradigm of “neoliberalism” that dominated world development for two decades has been steadily losing legitimacy. And, in its wake, some important spaces for building alternatives have appeared.
Whether in the Democratic sweep of the midterm elections, in the eruption of domestic protests supporting immigrant rights, in the leftward realignment of Latin American politics, in the collapse of the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization, or in extended victories in issues like debt relief, these trends continued in exciting ways in 2006.
Given that Bill Clinton’s Democrats were the party of NAFTA, and that the Dems continue to rely on big money from corporate
As the watchdogs at Public Citizen have documented, seven seats in the Senate and 28 in the House changed hands from “free trade” to “fair trade” advocates, who support using international agreements to promote stronger labor and environmental protections. Important wins include those of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a steadfast critic of neoliberalism, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, long-time activist and author of Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. November 7 also produced numerous state- and community-level victories, bringing into office grassroots leaders who see their local work in an internationalist context. As just one example, longtime global justice champion Mark Ritchie, founder and former executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was elected as Secretary of State in Minnesota, and will be leading the effort to make the state a model for conducting clean and fair elections.
Another type of democracy — more colorful and direct — was on display in the streets this year. Most notably, 2006 witnessed a wave of massive demonstrations in favor of immigrant rights. In March, a 750,000-person mobilization in Los Angeles staked a claim as an historic event, only to be topped by a march of over a million people in that city on May 1. Such demonstrations were mirrored throughout the country, and coordinated actions were held in over 100 cities nationwide in a matter of weeks. The demonstrations gave voice to some of the most marginalized members of our society: immigrants who help prepare our food, clean our hotels and homes, and care for our children. While it is not yet possible to discern the full political significance of the immigrant rights movement, the inspiring actions challenged us to see the connections between hardship abroad and the struggle for justice at home. And they suggested that a not-so-sleepy giant awaits politicians who promote exclusion and xenophobia.
It was also an election year throughout
Perhaps the most impressive of the leaders has been Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of
Political realignment in
While deadlock at the WTO does not guarantee a fairer system of global trade,
Other advances suggest that such an agenda might not be far out of reach. On the issue of debt cancellation, the globalization movement has already succeeded in reshaping policy. Advocates effectively publicized the injustice of forcing nations with sick and malnourished populations to send large portions of their national budgets to rich countries in the form of payments on unsustainable foreign debts, many of which were accumulated by past dictators. In 2005, after a decade of pressure from grassroots groups, world leaders agreed to cancel debts of 18 impoverished nations to the IMF and World Bank. Debt cancellation has often proven to be one of the most effective forms of aid, allowing countries to use their own resources to meet social needs. But the 2005 agreement did not go far enough: it left out major regional banks like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the leading multilateral lender in
Members of the Jubilee debt coalition continued to push to cancel debts from the IDB, and this November they made another breakthrough. The IDB agreed to a deal canceling debts of five of the poorest countries in the
Thousands of similar campaigns stood up to local injustices, challenged corporate power, and provided the energy that ultimately unseated presidents. As we are reminded daily of the hard realities that persist in an era of executive excess and superpower militarism, their victories might seem disparate and few. But they have shown that they can accrete and build, gradually bridging the divide that separates us from once-distant possibilities: the death of neoliberalism, the political re-creation of the
Mark Engler is a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus. He can be reached via DemocracyUprising.com. (c) 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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