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Nonviolent action for global justice -- globalisation

With protests at Seattle, Prague and Genoa, a diverse movement campaigning for global justice had received more and more media coverage. A lot of this has been negative, concentrating on violent riots at these summits rather than the issues. The words "globalisation" and "anti-globalisation" tend to be bandied about, with lots of confusion about their actual meaning. We cannot win an argument if we do not even understand the terms we are using. Strictly speaking, globalisation is a process by which the world becomes linked closer and closer together, largely through improvements in infrastructure and transport. Many aspects of globalisation are good -- few activists would deny the benefits of the Internet, of exchanging cultural information and practices (and food!). Without globalisation, WRI could not have hosted a seminar such as this, with participants from around the world. Neither are the effects of globalisation that new -- they are just more "in your face" than previously.

The problem is corporate or elite globalisation, that is, the process by which large companies are gaining increasing power due to their transnational nature. Elite globalisation is also that process which keeps the developing world poor for the benefit and enrichment of the West. Corporate globalisation is furthered through institutions such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank, NATO and the UN, bodies that are to large extent agencies of the US.

Susan George described corporate globalisation as having three long-term effects:

  • it moves money from bottom to top
  • it moves power from bottom to top -- power is concentrated at the international level, where there is no democratic accountability
  • it creates a myriad of losers, not wanted as producers or consumers

The Military-Corporate Complex

Stephen Staples described the emergence of the "military-corporate complex". Eisenhower had warned American citizens to beware the growing influence & power of the military industrial complex. The collusion between military and defence contractors would subvert democracy. The end of the Cold War and advent of globalisation has transformed this into the "military-corporate complex".

The wealth and power of some companies exceed those of many nation-states; their interests extend across many borders. Protection of the war industry is written into the WTO. Social and environmental policies are constantly under attack, while the WTO protects militarism is protected through the "Security Exemption". This allows governments to define their own security, which cannot be challenged before the WTO's Disputes or Appeals Panel.

The power and influence of arms companies can be seen in the key role Lockheed-Martin played in the deterioration of US-Russian relations. Lockheed-Martin empowered cold warriors in Congress to increase the military budget by $17 billion more than the Pentagon had asked for. The Bush Snr administration had promised not to enlarge NATO to the East if Russia (Gorbachev) did not oppose the reunification of Germany. The US Committee to Expand NATO lobbied furiously (and successfully) for US to disregard that promise -- the vice-president of Lockheed-Martin chaired the committee.

What must we do?

1) The peace movement must educate itself on the relationship between militarism and globalisation and between inter- and intranational finance.

Our writers and researchers need to investigate the military-corporate complex.

2) We cannot treat the arms industry & military spending as separate issues. We must recognise that the international corporate agenda is a form of warfare against peace, human rights and democracy.

3) We need to develop our own positive alternative to economic globalisation & the WTO.

Complexity And Interconnectedness of the Issues -- Agribusiness

In building an intelligent argument against elite globalisation, we must beware oversimplifications and superficial statements. For example, our side of the discussion around agribusiness is frequently limited to "GMO's are bad, they're not natural".

Naïve arguments play into the hands of our opponents.

In fact, food security is a far more complex issue, covering

  • the attempts by biotech companies to introduce GMOs into the food chain
  • the importance of biodiversity and ecological balance
  • ownership of biodiversity
  • land-use and styles of agriculture
  • decision-making over land-use
  • decision-making over parts of the foodchain (from seeds to final product)

The growth in agribusiness has echoed the fundamental global dynamic, i.e. a concentration of power in openly unaccountable and undemocratic TNCs (transnational corporations). This has further exacerbated the "gulf between the majority at the receiving end of this drive for profit and those riding the corporate juggernaut."

However, the global nature of this problem has also played to our advantage uniting groups as diverse as Lord Melchet and GM activists in Britain pulling up crops, grassroots organisations in Africa resisting attempts to patent their (genetic) heritage and Indian farmers standing up to Monsanto, refusing to let their whole production process be taken over.

As a result, we have seen some successes:

  • In Britain many large supermarket chains no longer stock GMOs due to consumer pressure. (However, this has become largely a food safety issue, with people losing track of the wider globalisation issues.)
  • The European Patent Office revoked a patent on a product from the neem tree, which has been used for its medicinal benefits for centuries in India.
  • A Biosafety Protocol was signed in Canada. For the first time, countries in the south could have some opportunity to refuse GMOs.

Now the corporations are launching their next offensive. In India, agribusinesses are creating rice with added Vitamin A -- when what the farmers really need is Vitamin L and Vitamin M -- Land and Money.

The phenomena of mass protests at international summits have led to these summits becoming ever greater media events. While this does lead to higher scrutiny of our governments' actions, most of the media attention focuses on the photogenic actions of the demonstrators. However, we must always remain aware of the role of the media in misinformation and disinformation. It is therefore absolutely vital that we get both the underlying issues and the positive nature of our actions across to the wider public. While a lot of effort is put into preparing these mass actions, there is very little reflection on how things went. This is largely because of the peripatetic nature of these summits, where one team will prepare a one-off counter-summit or demonstration. However, we must examine how things have gone to have any chance of improving actions and flushing out problems.

Recent Mass Actions -- US

Joanne Sheehan presented some reflections on the role Seattle and Washington have played.

For the Seattle demonstrations there were 50,000 participants: 40,000 were labour union members and 10,000 from various environmental and economic justice backgrounds.

Organising began one whole year in advance. 5000 took part in nonviolence training beforehand, with the explicit aim of shutting down the summit. Despite discussing this beforehand with the police, they were fairly successful at blocking the entrances, as police had not taken the demonstrators seriously.

While no one person knew all the relevant issues being presented that day, most of the people were generally very well informed.

Some empowering dialogue occurred between demonstrators and delegates trying to get in to the summit.

Naomi Klein stated that what emerged on the streets of Seattle and Washington was "an activist model that mirrored the organic decentralised pathways of the internet".

However it is very dangerous to pretend that the organising of these actions happened on the streets inspired by the internet, rather than recognising the vast amount of planning and organising that had gone into making them so successful (and mostly nonviolent).

The foundation of this "new way of working" has been going on for 25 years. A key aspect was the use of Affinity Groups -- the campaign against Seabrook nuclear power station developed the concept of the affinity group, inspired by Biehl, Spanish anarchist cells and women's consciousness groups.

WRL (War Resistors League) in the States played a key role in taking this successful model to the nuclear weapons movement, to the Central Americas movement and beyond. It, along with other creative influences, was a clear foundation and inspiration for the nonviolence activism at Seattle, as well as other creative influences.

Seattle has become a model for the globalisation movement. This is a new era of activism raising new discussion on nonviolence.

We must analyse successes and failures and build on them. We must not lose sight of where power lay in Seattle, and gain an understanding of the power of nonviolence in that action. People came home wanting more nonviolence training.

Questions for groups acting in the global arena and in coalitions:

  • What is the role of nonviolence groups committed to nonviolence?
  • How do we bring a nonviolence perspective to this co-operation?
  • The peace movement has been the "keeper of the flame of nonviolence". How do we bring resources together, integrate experiences without feeling like we know it all or excluding the creativity that we want to see?

Bringing A Nonviolence Perspective To Groups / Coalitions That We Work With.

  • Nonviolence must "empower" -- be seen as a strength, not as a weak tactic.
  • Nonviolence training/guidelines/organising builds a nonviolence "structure" which makes acting nonviolently easier within large actions.
  • Was Seattle "successful" as there were elements of violent behaviour? It would have been a failure not to act. Violence is a problem rather than a sign of failure. Training 5000 people in nonviolent action was in itself a considerable success.
  • Violence gives nonviolence a bad name, especially as there was violence against persons present.
  • The mass media played a crucial role in highlighting violence and attacking activists. This undermines nonviolent action by portraying us as mindless hooligans. While we must use alternative media to get activist perspectives out, these only reach other activists. We must find some way of training journalists in the meaning of nonviolence. We shall always face the problem that the interests of the mainstream media are contrary to ours.

We must urgently address the overlap and parallels of language used to describe nonviolent and violent action, such as "guerrilla" and "eco-warrior". While these might sound sexy, in most people's minds it places us on the same plane as violent activists. Media bias means that people on the street think that violence was widespread even if it was minimal or didn't even occur. Heavy reactions by police are presented and perceived as a response to violence -- even if there was no violence. Mass media also plays a role in creating a bad atmosphere, an expectance of violence.

What should our response be to violence within the movement? Is 98% nonviolence enough? Can one impose nonviolence? Is there a feasible form of "peace police"? It is very difficult to restrain violent activists with nonviolence. It was attempted in Seattle (in the form of peace police) and caused "all sorts of disquiet".

Nonviolent Action In The Pyrenees.

In response to the planned building of a dam widespread opposition was generated. University teachers who proposed alternatives supported the villagers. But few people got involved, as the dam did not threaten many villages. Trained people in nonviolent action resisted the machines and were successful in stopping them. However many people think nonviolent action is too radical. (in a negative sense). We need to make clear that it is less radical than violent action. Many people use nonviolent action without realising it. We need to enable people to recognise the whole range of nonviolent action.

It was reported that there had been no grass roots training in UK (for MayDay or J18) as there was in Seattle and Washington.

Often people come to nonviolence after years of opinion forming. How do we nurture this interest and motivation in two days training for a Seattle type demonstration? We need to build nonviolence training into campaigns early on, rather than last minute before a big action. WRL in USA is now organising regular training.

  • Can we see taking part in major actions as part of nonviolence training?
  • Could post-action debriefs be made integral parts of training?
  • Affinity groups also help to prevent violence. The dynamics of an isolated individual in a crowd of thousands is very different from those of an individual in an affinity group in a crowd of thousands.
  • There is a clear need to develop longterm nonviolence training. People commented that they found it difficult to recruit for training during the year that marketing for training is very difficult, unless there is an imminent "big event". There is a need to build nonviolence strategies into the structures of society.