What Can We Do About It?

As Tom Athanasiou says in his excellent book, Divided Planet: "Our tragedy lies in the richness of the available alternatives, and in the fact that so few of them are ever seriously explored."

The technical means exist for feeding, housing and educating all the people on earth: it's mainly a matter of developing the political will to build a sustainable and equitable world economy. The goods news is that there are thousands of groups struggling to create more democratic control of the capitol and the capital. What needs to be done?

1. Demystify the system and teach ourselves how to organize alternatives. We need critical education about how the global economy really works: who benefits and who loses. The International Forum on Globalization in San Francisco organizes educational conferences and distributes useful educational materials on globalization. Call them at (415) 771-3394. One of the most basic human skillsÑhow to organizeÑneeds to taught in a systematic way so average citizens can create their own solutions to community problems rather than waiting for some distant 'leader' to do the job. Some of the better groups for helping your community get organized are included in the following list.

The Center for Third World Organizing trains community activists of color from across the country. Contact them at (510) 533-7583.

The Midwest Academy in Chicago runs 5-day seminars, "Organizing for Social Change." Contact them at (312) 645-6010.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has a long track record developing community organizing skills. Their three main offices are in New Orleans (504) 943-0044, New York (718) 693-6700 and Chicago (312) 939-7488.

The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is one of the biggest organizer training networks in the U.S., with branch offices around the country. Their main office is in Chicago (312) 245-9211.

2. Reform international economic institutions. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were originally chartered as part of the UN and were to be under the control of the General Assembly (the more democratic branch of the UN). But the global bankers now have complete control of these powerful bodies and they function to transfer wealth from the poor of the world to large banks and corporations. The 50 Years Is Enough Network has a detailed plan for restructuring these institutions to promote sustainable and participatory development. Contact them at (202)IMF-BANK.

3. Develop ways to control the behavior of corporations. There is already an international movement to create and enforce codes of conduct for transnational corporations. Government and citizens' movements have been pushing on many fronts to codify rules on how corporations can treat their workers, customers and the environment. A good group working to make transnational corporations more accountable is the National Labor Committee in New York (212)242-0700. In 1995 they succeeded in forcing the Gap to reform the horrible working conditions in factories in El Salvador that produce clothing for the Gap.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility represents numerous church groups and uses shareholder activism to pressure corporations for change. Their newsletter, The Corporate Examiner, has useful information. Contact them at (212)870-2936.

Corporations exist only because we the people allow them to exist via charters issued by our state governments. If we could mobilize enough people to pressure our state governments, we could revise corporate chartering laws to impose codes of conduct or--in cases of corporate wrongdoing--we could revoke the corporation's charter and put them out of business. For more information on this strategy, contact The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, (508)487-3151.

4. We need a major restructuring of the U.S. tax system. All taxes redistribute wealth: the question is which direction do we want that redistribution to go. To spur economic growth and more equity, we should demand a tax system that transfers wealth downward to the majority instead of upward to the minority. The former could lead us toward equal opportunity; the latter is leading us toward increasing class conflict and a deterioration of our society. Contact Citizens for Tax Justice, (202)626-3780.

5. Grassroots development organizations are building alternative economic institutions to provide jobs and include workers in decision-making. The Fair Trade Movement helps third world producer groups market their products in rich-country markets so they can work their way out of poverty rather than be dependent on charity. The Fair Trade Federation links fair trade organizations across North America to coordinate strategy and provide third world producer groups with more support. Contact them at (508)355-0284. Transfair International works to establish fair trade criteria and link up progressive producer groups around the world. Call them at (612)379-3892.

6. Get involved with the programs organized by Global Exchange to build grassroots internationalism. We sponsor a wide range of programs you can get involved with, including: Reality Tours to dozens of countries, a fair trade program with three stores selling third world crafts, country specific campaigns to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, Mexico, Haiti and other countries, and we provide a broad range of educational materials and speakers. We can be reached at (800) 497-1994.

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