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Grassroots Globalization Gets Real

Last month's worldwide anti-war protests made it clear that a new kind of globalization has emerged, with an emphasis on conscience instead of commerce.
 
 
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The huge worldwide peace marches in mid-February were of historic importance. For years progressive activists have trumpeted the promise of "grassroots globalization" -- an alternative to the current corporate-led globalization. The planetary peace rallies showed the force of such a people's globalization. They proved that grassroots globalization is getting real.

As the sun rose on the morning of February 15 the anti-war gatherings began. Peace marchers took to the streets of Seoul, Tokyo and Melbourne to oppose an invasion of Iraq. More than one million people carrying anti-war banners paraded past Rome's Coliseum. Peace demonstrations occurred across Spain, and London witnessed the largest protest in British history. Up to 400,000 people clogged Manhattan's East Side as Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu led crowds in a chant of "Peace! Peace! Peace!" In snowy Minneapolis nearly 10,000 people streamed through the city, while in Phoenix thousands marched in t-shirts. All together, at least 10 million people around the world came together to oppose an Iraq war.

The immediate impact of the global peace marches is uncertain. The worldwide demonstrations certainly rattled "the warheads in Washington" -- as one anti-war placard cleverly put it -- and put the White House on the defensive. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration appears hell-bent on launching a war against Iraq.

The long-term achievement of the worldwide marches promises to be more powerful. The very idea of a "global peace movement" is now a potent political reality. The currents of discontent are rising into a wave of citizen activism with the potential to re-order international relations and re-invigorate efforts for human rights and democracy. As the New York Times put it: "There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

A Globalization of Conscience

The worldwide peace protests were made possible by globalization. These were wired demonstrations, organized and coordinated through the World Wide Web. But make no mistake -- this was not your CEO's globalization. The peace demonstrations represented a globalization of conscience, not a globalization of commerce.

Such a globalization of conscience has long been in the works. In recent years trade unions have formed relationships among workers in different countries. Environmentalists have encouraged consumers to use their power to stop rainforest destruction. Human rights groups have brought attention to the plight of indigenous groups threatened by ill-conceived "development" projects. Fair trade organizations have created links between producers in the world's poor countries and consumers in the wealthier nations. And activists from all these movements have united across continents to challenge the power of institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. The idea is that community can act as an antidote to commodification.

At first, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 threatened to set back the budding grassroots movement. Wars, after all, tend to muzzle dissent and distract from other priorities. As the rubble smoldered at Ground Zero, it seemed that the burgeoning corporate accountability movement would be another casualty of the terrorists' assault.

But if wars undermine social justice movements, they also breed their own resistance. The belligerence of the Bush White House has ignited an international backlash that promises to deliver new energy and new supporters to long-standing social movements.

The challenge facing us is whether we can expand our efforts to address the causes of violence, not just the consequences. How can we bring together the global peace movement and the global justice movement? How can grassroots globalization reach its full potential?

Redefining Safety

The answer lies in building a movement dedicated not simply to preserving the peace, but to creating peace. Instead of merely preventing conflicts, we should be striving to eliminate the roots of conflict. This will require a wholistic definition of safety.

Each peace rally is a cry for safety. But safety, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is not just the absence of war -- it is the presence of justice. Real safety will demand more than stopping the Bush Administration's imperial instincts. It requires abolishing the environmental, political and economic injustices that feed the resentments and fears propelling war.

Without limiting our dependence on oil, we will not be safe. Without helping citizens around the world achieve real democracy, we will not be safe. Without ensuring that all people everywhere have a roof over their heads and enough food to eat, we will not be safe. True security rests on putting the ideals of democracy and fairness at the center of our priorities.

The Bush Administration is dangerous because it believes that security lies in domination. Viewed through the lens of empire, the International Criminal Court, the International Landmines Convention, the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty appear as threats to America. The White House's lethal folly lies in failing to see that real security relies on cooperation.

Luckily, the rest of the world already gets it. The peace marchers have the common sense to know that bombs won't make us safe. They know that lasting security, real safety and a just peace depend on our efforts to build the better world we know is possible.

Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark work for the human rights group Global Exchange. They are writing a book, to be published this fall by Routledge, about the corporate accountability movement.