Kevin Danaher

A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Despite some early missteps by Pres. Barack Obama's administration, it seems that our new president understands a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And, we now have a double crisis: not only is the economy collapsing, but every part of nature is rebelling against the toxic nature of the dominant economic model. The Chinese have a cool saying that is apropos of our current state: suffering shared is suffering halved; joy shared is joy doubled.  

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5 Ways to Usher in the New Green Age

To pass on to our grandchildren healthy, thriving communities, instead of a desperate world, we need to accelerate the transition to the green economy: one that works for people and planet, social and economic justice, community and environmental health.

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How a Community Is Saving Itself and the Environment

The following conversation with Omar Freilla is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Though only 33 years old, Omar Freilla has already distinguished himself as a leader in the movement to create a sustainable and just economy. As the founder of the Green Worker Co-op in the South Bronx district of New York City, Freilla has laid out an exciting vision of how to balance economic needs with ecological wisdom. That vision rests on the basic principles of environmental justice-ensuring that no one community has to bear a disproportionate burden for society's toxins and wastes. The way to do that, Freilla believes, is by creating worker-owned co-operatives that will have no incentives to pollute. He spoke to us from his office in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx.

Q: How did you get the idea for the Green Worker Co-op? Was there any "aha" moment that you remember?

Omar Freilla: There have been a couple of "aha" moments. The most recent came when I worked for Sustainable South Bronx. I was involved in a collaborative effort to try to attract green businesses into New York, with the hope and the desire that they would be locating in low-income neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, it didn't go anywhere at the time. I realized that I wasn't really comfortable with the approach that we were taking as a group, which was to try to attract businesses -- traditional, corporate-structured businesses -- into an area from outside. I felt that an approach that produces even more results and maximizes benefits to an even greater extent would actually be building up business from within the community. And creating it as a worker-owned business. So that way the profits would actually stay within the community, and decisions would be made by people from the area.

Q: A key part of the vision is recycling and reusing all the waste produced in New York. How do you plan to turn trash into opportunity?

OF: Well, that's part of the vision. Our vision is to incubate and let fly a number of worker-owned businesses that are able to improve environmental conditions generally. It's not specific to waste. We just happened to latch on to this idea of creating a co-op that could reduce waste. This particular co-op would be salvaging building materials that would otherwise get thrown out and get sent to a landfill, or even worse, to an incinerator. We have latched on to that and really promoted that as an idea.

The next co-op or the third one or the fourth one could be anything. It could be energy efficiency, doing anything related to improving environmental conditions. For us, the big issues in the South Bronx are reducing air pollution, and reducing waste.

Q: Why is it important to you to have a worker-owned co-operative? How does that fit in with your broader philosophy?

OF: There are two reasons. One is economic. It's about being able to maximize the resources within the community. We have an incredible amount of money that just cycles out almost immediately, as soon as it's generated. People don't make a lot of money, and the money we do make winds up going into stores that aren't owned by people in the community. In many cases, especially if you are talking about big chains, the money immediately flows out to some corporate headquarters and distant stock owners in other parts of the country and other parts of the planet. There's really no financial benefit coming back to the person who actually shops there or who works there, other than maybe getting a particular product. We felt that the worker co-op model is a great way to go.

Q: What is the second reason?

OF: Democracy. We live in a country that is counted as a great democracy, but in day-to-day life few of us actually experience it. We go to school and we go to work under conditions where people don't have a say in their day-to-day life; they don't have a say in the things that happen around them. And then people are surprised that there is little participation at the voting booth, or that people don't really take seriously this idea of living in a democracy. So that is a really big part of it, creating an opportunity for people to have ownership of their lives.

Q: We have an industrial economy that's built on extraction. How do you envision a different kind of economy that's more sustainable?

OF: I think there are lots of different pieces that need to be there. One is requiring that everything is counted for, that you don't have natural resources that are being exploited without any kind of accountability. But there is an even larger question of accountability in general: Not being able to exploit anything without being accountable to other people that use it.

My point is that you have corporations that get away with really noxious, destructive practices because the people that are being impacted don't count. They don't count in the political structure or the economic structure. They don't have much clout, and that's why we see environmental racism and classism in poor neighborhoods.

Communities of color wind up bearing the greatest burden of all the environmental horrors that are out there, whether it's places like the South Bronx, with high asthma rates, or the Gulf Coast, known as Cancer Alley because of all the oil refineries. As long as those practices are allowed to happen, as long as those companies and governments feel that they have a dumping ground, then there is no incentive to do things better.

So I think, first, you really need to close that gap. And we can't have a green society or a green economy as long as you have social and economic injustices. Because that's always going to allow for someone to be exploited. We live in a capitalist society. We have businesses that are out to make a quick buck and they will do that, regardless of what the latest ideology is or however many groups are out there trying to promote green as a win-win strategy. There are plenty of people than can make an even quicker buck by exploiting and taking advantage of people's weaknesses. As long as you have that, then, I don't see it as possible to get to some pure sustainable economy. I think sustainability requires social justice.

Q: Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, warns that in rushing to a green economy, people of color are at risk of being left behind. How do you make sure that doesn't happen?

OF: I think we need to be in the driver's seat. We need to be the ones taking control of resources and shaping the kind of world that we want to live in. That is the nature of what our organization is about. Our approach is very different for lots of other groups that are out there. We really feel it's necessary to create the model ourselves. I don't have much faith in our governments-local, regional or federal-or the benevolence of outside corporations to implement the things that we want to see and the way that we want to see them.

Q: Is this about creating a new game, since the old game is not working?

OF: Yeah, that's essentially what it is. I draw a lot of inspiration from every effort that I have ever come across where people in their communities have decided that they were going to take on their own development and really create their own economic structures under their own circumstances --from the Mondragon Co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain, to workers that have just taken over their defunct factories in Argentina, to Native Americans in the U.S. that are building their own energy co-ops and are doing different things to sustain their own economies. There are different things that are happening all over the country where people are trying to do that.

Q: You have written that, "We don't have the luxury to wait for alternatives. That's why we are creating them." What drives that sense of urgency?

OF: Asthma, cancer, every health problem and threat that is associated with the environment; pollution in the environment. All of that. If you are living with power plants and oil refineries and sewage-processing plants, you are also living with the horrible health threats and problems that those things generate.

Q: Twenty-five years from now, what do you want to see your neighborhood looking like?

OF: Lush, green, clear skies, happy people smiling. I'd like in twenty-five years for "worker co-ops" to be a household phrase. For people to understand what co-operatives are, and to know at least somebody in their family who is working in a worker co-op in the South Bronx; for these businesses to be green, environmentally friendly; and for the South Bronx not to be known as a dumping ground anymore, but instead to be known as a place where visions become reality.

How the Environmental Movement Can Redefine Globalization

The following conversation with Michael Shuman is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Michael Shuman is an economist, attorney, and Vice President for Enterprise Development for the Training & Development Corporation (TDC) of Bucksport, Maine. He has written, co-written, or edited six books, including The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition (Berrett Koehler, 2006), and Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age (Free Press, 1998). He lectures widely across the United States and is one of the most important thinkers writing about the local green economy.

Q: What motivated you to write your recent book, The Small-Mart Revolution, and what are some of the main points of the book?

Michael Shuman: In 1998 I wrote a book called Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age. It got a very positive and broad response and helped promote the emergence of two business networks-the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). So what started as anti-globalization in the 1990s morphed into engagement by progressive-minded small-business people. So when I saw the innovations that these grassroots groups were coming up with, I wanted to expand on the theme and explore all the innovative organizing going on in the small-business sector.

The book has three big themes in it. The first is to lay out all the reasons why locally owned businesses are much more reliable actors in promoting economic development in an equitable way. The second point is that small businesses are a lot more competitive than most people think. In many places small businesses are competing successfully against bigger retailers or bigger manufacturers or bigger banks, and I document the strategies they're using. And the third theme describes a coherent agenda on what communities can be doing to advance this local business revolution even faster.

The book examines how we should think differently about economic development, how we can promote local entrepreneurship, how coalitions of local businesses can be more competitive acting together than they might be if they operate just as individual firms. Then I talk about new ways of promoting buy-local campaigns and local investing (this is where some ideas for local stock markets have come out). And then finally, in public policy, I try to show that right now the economic development system is rigged heavily against local businesses. We're trying to get rid of those biases so that small businesses have as much chance of succeeding as large businesses do.

Q: In your book, The Small-Mart Revolution, you say "The small-mart revolution is not about ducking globalization, it's about redefining it." Can you elaborate?

MS: Some people have said, "If you're telling communities to withdraw from the world and be internally focused and less interested in global affairs, then this will be a colossal failure. We're in an era of globalization and we can't isolate ourselves from that." So the last chapter of the book shows that there are many ways that we can support local economies on a worldwide basis without falling into the trap of just getting involved in more conventional trade. That's what I mean by redefining globalization: promoting the globalization of mass movements, globalization of the sharing of ideas of public policy, sharing of small business technology so that every community that's engaged in this small-mart activity thinks of itself as having a duty to help other communities around the world to achieve a similar level of self-reliance.

Q: You contrast two very different models: local ownership and import substitution (LOIS) and the status quo position, which says, "There is no alternative" (TINA). Can you elaborate on this distinction?

MS: One of the questions that has dominated public discourse in the last ten years is, what kind of capitalism should we embrace? For discussion purposes in the book, I simplify the debate with two types of capitalism that I gave the names TINA and LOIS. TINA embodies the most conventional ideas about economic development. People with this perspective are trying to attract as many global companies (whether it be manufacturers or big-box stores) to come into their backyards, and they are trying to export as much as possible to the global economy. They're trying to convince the small-business community that the first two activities are somehow in the best interest of the local community.

The alternative is LOIS (locally owned import substitution), which is really saying that the most dynamic development stories are coming from communities that are mostly made up of locally owned businesses. They are trying to diversify their economies through greater degrees of self-reliance. There's a confidence in those communities that if you have a strong homegrown economy, then you can selectively participate in the global economy from a position of strength ra ther than one of vulnerability and weakness.

Q: You say that small firms produce 60 to 80 percent of all new jobs in the United States and 13 to 14 times more patents than large firms. Can you contrast locally owned companies and big corporations in terms of their impact on jobs and tax revenues?

MS: Let's focus on the local ownership piece for a moment. There are probably three big differences between local and non-local businesses that help explain why local ownership is so important. Local businesses don't run away as easily; they spend more of their money locally and thereby generate higher economic multipliers; and they tend to be smaller in size and thereby have a kind of a character that's more consistent with locally controlled economic development. Let me elaborate. The impact of local businesses not moving is that the wealth that they produce stays in the community for many years, often for many generations. It also means that the kind of catastrophe that one sees around the country when the big TINA firm leaves town is much less likely to occur. That catastrophe-if you're dependent on one big plant-can be enormous.

My current affiliation with the Training and Development Corporation in Maine came about in late 2002 after a paper company decided they wanted to shut down this hundred-year-old plant and to set up a new plant in Canada. The unemployment rate over the next year in this part of Maine grew to 40 percent. It was the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off in that section of the country. So having a strong local business sector for your economy is an insurance policy.

On the second issue of economic multipliers, there have been about a dozen studies comparing local vs. non-local businesses-one study is by Dan Houston of Civic Economics-these studies have all shown that in terms of the economic multiplier, which is the building block for community economic development, local businesses generate two to four times more benefits than non-local businesses. That is because the local businesses spend their money locally. One great study of this was done four years ago in Austin, Texas. It looked at a hundred dollars spent at a Borders bookstore, compared to a hundred dollars spent at a local bookstore. Of the hundred dollars spent at Borders, 13 dollars stayed in the local economy and of the hundred dollars spent at the local bookstore, 45 dollars remained in the local economy. So in multiplier terms, every expenditure that one made at the local business led to roughly three times the local income, three times the jobs, three times the tax benefits. So it's not an inconsequential distinction between the two.

The last issue is the size and character of the local businesses. Local businesses are small and they tend to have their own unique character. So if you want to create diverse communities where people live close to school, shopping and work, it really takes smaller businesses to create a walkable community. When it comes to tourism, what attracts tourists is the unique character-driven kinds of businesses-not big-box stores that can be found anywhere.

Then there is the phenomenon explained by Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class. He presents empirical evidence showing that the strongest communities are those that have a lot of diversity, tolerance, fun, and jobs that are creative: scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, and the like. Diverse small businesses controlled by local people give lots of different opportunities for people to enter into the economy and take full advantage of their skills-that's a creative economy. A local economy is the one that is going to be more creative and generate jobs that can attract and hold the best and the brightest.

Q: Would you say there is a movement happening? What is the evidence that leads you to believe that there is a movement?

MS: Time had a cover story in early 2007 that said "Forget Organic, Eat Local." It is the zeitgeist of the moment. It's just one of the many pieces of evidence that this movement is gathering steam. Everywhere you go in this country you see signs that say "we are a local bank" or "we serve local food" or "we manufacture local jewelry." It is so universal now, cutting across every single political divide. I think this is an important trend in American culture.

It is equally significant that a lot of non-local companies are trying to pretend they are local to take advantage of this trend. McDonald's has put out some posters and newspaper ads that say "Locally Owned" to give you the feeling that maybe they are a local food outlet. Borders now has sections of its bookstore that say "Local Interest." The local economy networks have expanded from zero to fifty networks in six years. Formally, there are fifteen thousand businesses that are members of these networks. But if you counted all of the local businesses in these fifty areas, it's more like a couple hundred thousand. I just saw another list that had networks that are in various stages of formation in another hundred places around the U.S. where there is some form of activity.

We are almost to the point where a majority of the country is now being influenced by these business alliances. It's not quite there yet but given the growth rate of these movements, I think it's not that far off that we'll see that. In my adult lifetime, I have never seen a movement that has grown so fast and appealed to such a broad range of people in this country.

How to Hold Corporations Accountable

The following conversation with Thomas Linzey is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Thomas Linzey thinks of himself as more than just a lawyer. A co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), Linzey is a practicing attorney, committed to the idea that change happens at the grassroots. Much of his activism occurs through CELDF's "Democracy Schools," an innovative curriculum that encourages people to go beyond the single issue they are working on to think of their struggle as part of a larger fight against corporate power. The schools prompt citizens to question basic assumptions behind our legal system. Linzey and his colleagues encourage communities to create local constitutions, or "home-rule charters," enumerating the rights of local citizens and backing up those rights with enforceable laws.

Q: Can you tell us about "democracy"? It's a word used by everyone and can mean so many things.

Thomas Linzey: Well, I don't think we have ever had a democracy in this country. I think it's a myth that majorities have ever been able to decide what happens to their communities and their lives.

It goes back to the American Revolution when we jettisoned the king, but we didn't jettison the English structure of law. That structure of law developed at the same time England was developing into a global cultural empire. And the folks that wrote the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the DNA or hardwiring for this country, in essence worshiped English common law. We got rid of the King but we didn't get rid of an English structure of law that placed property and commerce over the rights of communities and nature.

Amazing as it might sound, a community that may want to stop toxic waste, or stop toxic sludge from coming in, or stop a big corporate hog factory farm from coming into the community, not only runs up against the corporations and the state regulatory agencies, it runs up against the Constitution.

Q: Some people might say you are anti-business. Is that the case?

TL: This work is not anti-business. In fact, it's not even anti-corporate, in many ways. We all need toilet paper and toothbrushes, stuff that needs to be made. But the question is: Who makes decisions about how those things are made? And, in addition, the question is whether those corporations should be governing entities, or should they merely be business entities? And over time, corporations and the few people that run them have become governing entities; they make governing decisions over us.

When we try to make our own governing decisions, they slash us by using our own governmental institutions, legislation, and the courts. The work is not anti-business at all. It's simply a recognition that if you are a business entity, you should do the work of business, but you should not have constitutional rights. You should not have privately enforceable rights in the U.S. Constitution, and you should certainly not have the authority to nullify community authorities.

Q: Many people in this country don't understand that corporations have personhood rights. Why does this come as such a surprise to some people?

TL: That's a very good question. People only begin to peel back the layers of the legal opinions under which they are governed when they have something threaten them personally. One or our most able organizers -- a woman named Jennifer England -- is from southwestern Virginia. She has seven children. And she's an evangelical Christian. There were plans to dump sludge right next to her house. And it was that imminent threat to her kids, to her land, to her family, to her home, that drove Jennifer to start questioning how this entire structure of law is set up.

She asked, "Why can't we just have a law that says 'no sludge can be spread in this community'?" So we had a conversation with her, and we told her that you can't do that, because it would be illegal. It's unconstitutional to ban something at the community level that the state has permitted, because it violates the corporation's constitutional rights. So the question is, as Jennifer asked, "Why?" When you explain to people like Jennifer that corporations are persons, it just doesn't make any sense to them.

The perplexed look on people's faces when they find out that corporations are deemed to be persons under the law generally leads to two things. Number one: asking questions about why corporations as persons do such damage to communities. The explanation is that when you pass a law at the local level and it somehow violates the corporation's constitutional rights, the corporation can use the federal or state courts to strike down the law.

Number two: going on the offense, meaning that if you are going to pass a sludge ordinance or a factory farm ordinance, or some ordinance at the local level, it is absolutely foolish not to anticipate the challenge that will eventually come down the road, and to build into the ordinance a frontal challenge to the assertion of those rights of the corporation.

And so the "Why?" being asked at the local level -- why can't we control the destiny of our own communities? -- is leading to an offense that's very sophisticated in terms of attempting to dismantle the structure of law.

Q: Speak about the regulatory system. It's supposed to keep corporations from doing harm, but everywhere you look -- the water, the land, the air -- everything is polluted.

TL: It's funny, because people come up to me and say that the regulatory system is broken. It's not protecting our health. It's not protecting our welfare. To which, increasingly, we look back at government and maybe we say the regulatory system is working perfectly because maybe its purpose was not to protect health and welfare.

Maybe its purpose was to legalize corporate harms that would otherwise be illegal without a permitting system in place. In other words, we think of regulatory agencies as folks that attempt to save us from being harmed, but in reality the history of regulatory agencies is much different.

In essence, it's about writing a script for our activism and channeling us down to a regulatory point where we can't win, and even if we do win, we don't win much of anything at all.

And of course when you regulate something, as opposed to when you ban or prohibit it, you are giving up your authority and, in this case, being stripped of your authority to decide what comes in and what doesn't. So I think if our activism is really going to evolve, we have to start seeing how the regulatory agencies really are enablers for the corporations to come in and do the damage that they do.

Q: Some believe that laws such as anti-corporate personhood ordinances are a waste of time because they will be challenged and shot down, so why bother? What is the logic behind civil disobedience to the law?

TL: Well, the law changes. The law changes when people stand up and say we can't take this any more, we are not going to do this any more. In fact, lawyers have never changed the law in this country. It's always been community organizers who are pressing up against existing structures of law that have changed anything in this country.

Rosa Parks, she knew she was subject to a criminal conviction, but she did what she did anyway. The civil rights movement, those brave kids that sat down at the Woolworth's lunch counter, of course the police where going to arrest them, of course they were going to jail. How does that change anything?

They change something when a spark happens. When people see other people doing democracy in a different way and it catches fire -- then it has nothing to do with the individual law. It has to do with a movement that builds, with people no longer willing to live under a structure of law that continually screws them. Because there's nothing left to lose, and when there's nothing left to lose, people whose backs are against the wall tend to come out kicking.

What this work is about is knitting together those communities who are finally learning that they are always on the losing end of the stick, that the regulatory agencies are not a remedy, that they can't turn to their state legislature or their courts for a remedy because those courts are carrying out laws that are written by the corporations in the first place.

And the legislatures are passing laws that were drafted and given to them by the corporations. And so the question is: Where do these folks turn for a remedy? They have to create their own remedy -- just like the suffragists did, just like the abolitionists did, just like the great people's movements of this country did.

Q: Do you believe it's possible to change the role of corporations in our society?

TL: I think it's the beginning of the beginning of the beginning. And I think the people that are willing to change the structure of law are the ones that are directly affected by how law operates, are going to be the ones that push it forward. Which means it's not going to come from environmental organizations.

It's not going to come from social justice organizations. It's not going to come from the top down, from existing organizations. It's going to be pushed upward by these groups of people who are courageous enough to come together around their kitchen table to say "we want this for our community" and are being told that they can't have it, and then they are pushing back and they are saying, "we are going to take it anyway."

The bulk of people who are going to be driving this stuff are the Jennifer Englands and other folks who are very different leaders than we perhaps expect to see. Leaders serve in that they are essentially facilitators and translators to explain to people how the system of law is operating, and why, when they try to stop sludge, they have to stop corporations as well.

So I think when I say we are at the beginning of the beginning of the beginning, it's as if we are the abolitionists back in the 1830s, thirty-seven years before the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were written into the Constitution, and I think that's where we are now.

It's an exciting time, because it allows us to lay the framework and the foundation in the right way so that the house doesn't fall over later. But it's also a fairly depressing time, because things are really bad and things are getting worse, and we want to see this thing accelerate.

Eventually, it means rewriting the state constitutions; eventually, it means rewriting the federal Constitution. And now in polite company, you can't even talk about those things yet. I think as the years roll on, more and more people will understand that we actually need to change the DNA of this country to have any chance. I think that as the ball starts rolling faster, more and more people will clearly see how the structure of law operates and the necessity of changing it.

How to Build a Local Energy Economy

The following conversation with David Morris is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

David Morris is a Co-Founder and Vice President of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis. He is the director of their New Rules Project, an excellent resource on the best practices for getting local control over energy, agriculture, retail development, finance, and other key areas. He is the author of many books and reports, which are available from the New Rules website. His regular articles are featured on

Q: Why does local control of energy make sense?

David Morris: Local control of everything makes sense. But local control of energy makes sense for two reasons: one is that ten cents on the local dollar of the community goes directly to pay for fuel, and all of it is imported. Only between ten and fifteen cents on the dollar spent on that fuel stays in the local community. So from an economic development standpoint, it is probably the worst expenditure that you can make in a community. The other reason is that you don't have to. Cities, unless they are high-density cities, can in fact generate much, if not all, of their own energy, either internal to themselves or within 50 to 100 miles.

Q: What has been the federal government's role on these issues? Is it getting better or worse?

DM: The federal government has not been wise on these things, ever. On the issue of decentralization and energy being produced from the bottom up, the federal government's policies undermine it at almost every level. And it doesn't matter whether it's been Democrats or Republicans; there has been no change in that whatsoever. The federal government wants more energy, but they are either indifferent to where the generation occurs, or they encourage large absentee-owned facilities in most of their incentives and regulatory policies.

Q: Could you give us some specifics on how federal government policies undermine local energy production?

DM: Sure, one is that the federal government has preempted a significant amount of state authority on the siting of high-voltage transmission lines. The federal government is doing everything in its power to build these transmission lines like a national highway. They argue that this is "efficient," and I disagree, but that is their argument.

What it does is encourage the generation of energy far away from where people tend to use it. The federal government has also encouraged absentee ownership of energy facilities. For example, in wind, if you have a wind turbine and you only meet your own internal needs, you actually don't qualify for federal incentives. The only time you qualify for them is if you sell the energy into the grid system-then you can qualify for a tax incentive. There are many examples like this, and the federal government would probably admit it. Their feeling is that large is better than small, absentee is better than locally owned, and it's much better to attract the capital of Wall Street and global investment firms than it is to attract local finance.

Q: How does the issue of net metering factor into this?

DM: Net metering was a revolution, a very quiet revolution. It said that the utility companies had to allow you to turn your meter backwards. Since 1979, by federal law, the utility companies had to agree to buy your electricity if you had solar panels, but they could put any conditions they wanted on it, and they put on conditions that made it uneconomical for you to do that. So what net metering says is that the utility can't charge you for a second meter; it has to allow the meter to run backwards, which means you get the retail price for your electricity. So that redefines the electric system as a two-way system, by law.

Q: Is there any state with full net metering, where if I put more into the grid than I take out, they have to pay me for the electricity I put back into the grid?

DM: Yes, there are many states that allow that, but every one is different. There are some that have a carry-over from month to month and at the end of the year you settle up. There are some that have a carry-over from month to month and at the end of the year you lose any surplus you might have. There are some that require them to pay you, but they would pay you for the voided costs, they're not going to pay you the retail price. You could turn your meter backwards, in effect getting the retail price, but when you get a surplus you're getting a voided cost (between a penny-and-a-half to two cents a kilowatt hour) instead of getting the displaced retail price of anywhere from 7 to 15 cents a kilowatt hour.

Q. Can you discuss the biofuels debate?

DM: The key issue is ownership. In 2002 almost 50 percent of all ethanol facilities in this country were majority farmer-owned, and about 80 percent of all the new ones coming on line were majority farmer-owned. By 2007, about 95 percent of all the new ones are absentee-owned. So we've had a big change in the ownership structure of ethanol.

Q: What caused such a big shift?

DM: Wall Street came in. We had oil going for 60 to 70 dollars a barrel, and we had a mandate for ethanol at a national level. Wall Street found out it could earn 30 to 40 percent turnaround on its investments, and they flooded in and began building 100 million gallon-a-year plants rather than 30 or 40 million gallon-a-year plants. If that becomes your basic size template, that's too large for any local equity to get control of. So that's a serious problem.

Q: What about the issue of taking land away from food production by growing corn for ethanol instead of for human consumption? Or the issue of horrible working conditions for sugarcane workers in Brazil?

DM: Previously, the majority of sugarcane in Brazil was family owned. Now, with the ethanol market taking off, they're getting Japanese capital, Chinese capital, American capital pouring in there, and they have to deal with the absentee ownership in terms of bad working conditions. In terms of the food vs. fuel issue, the point is that if you want to go to a renewable sustainable future, then the question is: "What materials do you rely on?" And when it comes to energy, you can say, "Well, let's rely on direct sunlight," and "Let's rely on wind." And that's fine, as long as you don't need storage.

But if you need storage, you need matter, you need molecules -- and where is the material for that going to come from? Furthermore, where are the molecules going to come from for everything else? For desks and for cars and so forth, where's that going to come from?

You have two alternatives: vegetables or minerals. So if you want minerals, with recycling you can do a lot, but in the longer term you want to shift to vegetables. I wrote a book in 1992 called The Carbohydrate Economy and I will stand by the fact that it has to be a piece of the renewable materials puzzle.

Then the question becomes, what do you use that biomatter for, aside from food and feed -- it's an interesting question. It's a challenge to design public policy correctly because obviously, nutrition should be the highest priority. But when you get below food and medicine, what should it be: should it be liquid fuels, electricity, heat, biochemicals, construction materials, what should it be? That's the real challenge in designing these policies.

Right now, corn farmers without government subsidies are earning more than the cost of production of corn for the first time since the drought year in 1996. Since the 1930s we've had a federal policy whereby the taxpayer pays 20 to 35 percent of the cost of production and in return the grain is artificially low-priced.

We find now that the corn is priced slightly higher than it probably should be, and people are screaming that everyone's going to starve to death should they have to pay the real costs of growing these things. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Farmers in other parts of the world have been complaining for many years about the U.S. dumping our cheap, subsidized grain on the world market and driving them out of business.

Q: You've written about energizing rural America through the farm bill and trade policy. Can you talk about the link between increased rural prosperity and energy security?

DM: Rural areas have a competitive advantage in only a few things. The primary one is that they're got a lot of land and relatively few people. It also turns out that the wind blows better and more consistently in rural areas. So that's their competitive advantage: plant matter and wind. Right now those are national priorities, and I'm saying, let's do it right this time. The federal government favors quantitative goals. They want more and I want better.

We did it wrong last time. We should have learned from that experience, and the best way to do it right this time is to let the farmers and local owners control the process so they're not 100 percent dependent on a commodity price they don't control.

Q: Can you talk about green-energy pricing programs?

DM: We're opposed to green pricing programs and I've always been opposed to them. There is a difference between green pricing and green citizenship. Green citizenship says that if the majority supports renewable energy, then the majority should pay for it through the utility bills that go to everyone. Standards are mandates that the majority imposes on themselves, and if there are any increased costs, they are spread out over all the ratepayers.

Green pricing, on the other hand, says that I, in return for taking a moral stand, I will pay a significantly higher price for my electricity because I want renewable sources. This punishes ratepayers who want renewable energy-making them pay 10-25 percent more for their electricity -- while those who don't choose renewable sources pay less. If we want green electricity then we should demand it and everyone should pay for it.

Environmental Justice in Action

The following conversation with Gopal Dayaneni is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Whether he's working with Indigenous communities in North America to oppose oil extraction, partnering with Nigerians to resist human rights abuses, or trying to uncover the modern-day slavery of prison labor, Gopal Dayaneni can be found on the front lines of environmental justice struggles. Friends and colleagues know Dayaneni as an especially thoughtful activist. While he is busy doing his own small part to promote progressive social change, he is also a big-picture thinker, always encouraging those around him to consider the long view of what it takes to create a more sane and humane world. That trait distinguishes Dayaneni as an important resource for communities looking for the strategic, tactical, and imaginative skills necessary to effect change. We caught up with the 37-year-old campaigner at his home in Berkeley, California, where he was busy tending to his young daughter.

Q: You use the term "environmental justice." Can you define that?

GD: Environmental Justice is a term that talks about a movement that developed over the last 20 years to really take on the disproportionate impact of environmental toxics and pollution on poor communities and communities of color. At the heart of that movement is a commitment to bottom-up organizing and grassroots community organizing. Environmental justice is not about a bunch of people trying to lobby for better laws or a bunch of high-level policy people trying to change environmental policy. It's about communities organizing themselves and resisting environmental abuse by industry or government. And because it is grassroots led, and because it is driven by communities directly attempting to make concrete improvements in the quality of their daily lives, it is ripe for an opening to see the intersections between environmental policy, economics, race, class, the war.

Q: You talk about the difference between defending your concrete interests and defending the environment in general. Is it because when the stakes are higher, the passion is greater?

GD: Yeah, I think there's something to be said for the expression, "There's nothing to lose but your chains." I think there's a greater sense of solidarity. I think people are much more willing to share their successes to work together. I think there's a much greater sense of empowerment because people are actually in control of the campaigns that they are organizing. People are not passive participants watching somebody else try and make things better. They are actively the voice of the issue. People are telling their own stories, they're speaking for themselves.

Changing policy may open up political space to stop the immediate bad things from continuing to happen. But if we're talking about fundamentally transforming our society to be more democratic and more equitable and more humane, the strategy is grassroots community organizing, in my opinion. A good friend of mine once said to me, "Campaigns don't change the world, organizations do." And my response to him was, "Organizations don't change the world, organizing does." That's really for me what's important. For me, that's central to my theory of change.

Q: There is a stereotypical view of U.S. environmentalists as white, middle class, and into bird watching. What do you think of this issue?

GD: Race is a scary thing in America. Race is scary to most white people in America. Race is scary to most people of color in America. Being people of color does not make us smarter, or more revolutionary, or more right, or better. It just makes us oppressed, and there's no great glory in that.

Race is a problem for Americans. It's easy to talk about saving the trees or saving the birds. When you start talking about the relationship between saving the trees and saving the birds and white supremacy in America, you start losing people. It takes a lot of work to help build that consciousness. Just in this conversation, we won't start talking about it by calling it white supremacy. We have to figure out ways of helping people to understand the dynamics of power in this country, and how those attitudes and structures and systems serve the interests of some classes and communities of people over the interests of other communities.

Q: As we try to move toward this whole green economy, what are some of the things you think that these bigger organizations can learn from community-based groups?

GD: The grassroots community-based organizing, I think, is the most important thing that people can learn. I think the other thing is, as people begin to fight for concrete improvements in their daily lives, they also have a taste for what they really want. People start building their own alternatives. People build their own organizations. People start building their own co-ops. People start running their own community farms. It's not enough to get rid of the polluting power plant. People are also building community gardens in those same neighborhoods. It's not enough for them to just say, 'We don't like that there are polluting diesel trucks in our neighborhood.' As you fight that and as you experience victory, your revolutionary imagination is liberated. I think that's where the great promise is.

It's not enough for us to make the oil industry start investing in photovoltaics. There's not a technical solution to our environmental problems. There may be technical things that we can use to help us transition, but the solution is deeply political, and deeply structural and societal. It's about really changing the way we organize our relationship to resources. It shouldn't be mediated by mega-corporations who make a huge amount of money off of it. It should be directly controlled and distributed by communities in their own interest.

Q: What's a vision of what an environmentally justice-informed green economy looks like?

GD: Well, one of the things that we have to open ourselves up to when we embrace the idea that we are going to build from the bottom up is that we don't know exactly what it's going to look like. We can't have this idea that there's this road map. We need the creativity of everybody diving into the mix.

But I think there are a few different pieces that are really important. In terms of the scale at which we currently operate, there's absolutely no question that we're not going to suddenly go from where we are today-where everybody drives a car and the box stores and all of that-to everybody getting their produce from a farmer's market. That's not going to happen overnight. And that may not even be the collective vision of everyone. But given the scale of where we are at right now, one of the places where we need to start is empowering workers and communities to have greater control and input over the resources in their community and in their workplace.

Another big part of it is people working hard to meet their own needs within their local environment. All of the models of urban gardening that have been driven by community needs-not just recreation-really demonstrate the power of that. I think one of the areas where we have been an exception is really looking at the relationship between organized labor and these community-based needs. What does it mean that most people in the United States get their groceries-heavily processed foods and all of the things we know that are terrifying about them-from big chain grocery stores? But let's also not forget that a significant portion of these big chain grocery stores are unionized. And they do have workers who have fought hard to get protections and to protect themselves. And we're not talking about suddenly saying, 'Oh, everyone's going to get their food from community-based gardens.' It's about also figuring out how we're going to integrate the needs of people who are existing in this economy into our meaningful alternatives and into our positive solutions.

Q: Speaking of solutions, we live in a one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet kind of culture. Could you talk about how we're going to have to juggle a number of different things?

GD: I don't know when and how it's going to happen, but I personally believe we have to break the expectation that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want. There's a desire to be able to have every kind of produce year-round. There is this idea that we should have access to everything at any time, like changing your cell phone every six months. And I think we're going to have to break that. Part of breaking that is going to be learning to appreciate the local and regional diversity. The more people have the opportunity to embrace the localism and the value of the localism, I think that will help us break that monoculture and allow us to appreciate diversity.

We have the ability to imagine a different future. It's not about going back in time. It's about going forward in a way in which we are living within our ecological boundaries.

Is It Good that Big Businesses Are Going Green?

This is reprinted with permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence," F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

If so, then the growth of the green economy -- embraced by corporations, heralded by politicians -- marks something of an IQ test for the progressive movement. How can we at once celebrate companies that move toward better practices while acknowledging how much farther they need to go?

The signs of change are everywhere. General Electric and BP are ramping up their renewable energy as wind becomes price competitive with coal power. Prominent architects are using recycled and reused materials, and the market for non-residential green building is at $43 billion a year. More than $2 trillion in assets are invested in socially responsible funds. Sales of organically grown food are skyrocketing at 20 percent a year growth. Sustainable living has gone from granola fringe to glossy fashion.

This poses a real dilemma for those of us who have long advocated for a cleaner, more humane way of doing business. Of course, it's a tangible benefit to reduce the amount of toxic substances in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the homes that surround us. But are megacorporations -- the same companies that sold us the toxics in the first place -- really the best vehicles for lasting reform?

As this quandary proves, victories are rarely ever clean-cut. Success almost always comes with compromises and contradictions. Progress is, in a word, messy.

Is it a victory when Wal-Mart is the No. 1 seller of organic milk and organic cotton? Should we applaud when Ford offers a hybrid SUV? In short: What does success look like? How will an ecologically sustainable and socially responsible economy take shape?

After careful consideration, our response is a cagey "Yes, but." Yes, it's progress when big companies take steps to lessen their environmental impact. But it's not quite victory yet.

There are real advantages to the Fortune 500's adoption of more environmentally sound business practices. More organic food and clothing means less poisons in our soil and water. More solar energy means less greenhouse-gas emissions. More hybrid vehicles mean fewer gallons of gas burned.

At its most basic, the green economy movement -- which has been spearheaded by small entrepreneurs and is only now being embraced by giant corporations -- is merely the takeover of the very simple act of buying and selling. We all need some stuff, after all: food, clothing, shelter, and maybe an iPod for kicks. The trick is how to produce that stuff in a way that doesn't destroy the planet or abuse workers.

For too long we've allowed corporations to co-opt our social movements through greenwashing and phony charities. It's about time that we started co-opting the corporations. Let's use what businesses are good at -- marketing, distribution, retail sales -- and make it work for us. This is the idea of the "triple bottom line" economy: balancing financial sustainability, social justice, and environmental restoration. It's an idea that's increasingly popular, as the 3,000 green enterprises that are members of the Co-op America's Business Network prove.

Yet the dangers of a big-business takeover of the local, green economy movement are equally real. Will transnational corporations use green practices to more effectively wipe out their mom-and-pop competitors? Will organic standards be weakened by the power of large corporations? Will Americans retain their bad habits of overconsumption but simply switch to earth-friendly products?

In truth, we are not going to spend our way out of a social and ecological crisis 500 years in the making. The revolution does not take American Express.

The inherent contradictions in the trend toward more green business need not be overwhelming. Instead of succumbing to an either/or thinking that says we can either have Safeway organic broccoli or we can have local farmers' markets, we should adopt a both/and mentality that makes room for each path. Our movement for a local, green economy must mimic the wisdom of nature, which always bends toward unity of diversity. Nature abhors a monocrop, and so should we, recognizing that there isn't just a single way forward. There are many roads to the future, and while some get there by bike, others may choose to carpool or take a biodiesel bus.

In practice we encourage people to take whatever actions they are capable of. Call it smorgasbord politics. For the pioneers and the early adapters, there will continue to be community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, off-the-grid energy, bike lanes, and co-ops. For the newcomers just beginning to think about the impacts of their purchasing decisions, buying organic frozen dinners at Whole Foods is at least a step in the right direction. By all means, buy local. But keep in mind that your neighbor might still need some convincing that the green economy is not a fringe movement anymore.

The idea is to construct a green economy broad enough to accommodate a range of interests, niches for both the deeply committed and the newly curious -- while of course at all times pushing farther and constantly redefining "mainstream" and "normal" and "acceptable."

No, we can't buy the change we wish to see, not when buying too much has gotten us in this pinch in the first place. But we can put a down payment on a future that will have no clear-cut forests, no starving children, no sweatshops, and no endangered species.

Now that's smart business.

Remembering a Friend

Just about every day we hear of bombs going off in Iraq, and perhaps we pause for a moment and think what a tragedy it is, and then we go back to our daily routine. But when someone close to you is killed by one of those bombs, the world stops spinning.

On Saturday April 16, our colleague and friend, Marla Ruzicka of Lakeport, Calif., was killed on the streets of Baghdad. We still don't know the exact details of her death, which makes it all that much harder to deal with the utter shock of losing this bright, shining light whose work focused on trying to bring some compassion into the middle of a war zone.

Marla was working for a humanitarian organization she founded called CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), which documents cases of innocent civilians hurt by war. Marla and numerous other volunteers would go door-to-door interviewing families who had lost loved ones or had their property destroyed by the fighting. She would then take this information back to Washington and lobby for reparations for these families.

A case in point, taken from Marla's own journal, as published November 6, 2003:

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Outsource the CEOs

April 1, 2004 -- As veteran corporate accountability activists, we both have spent years challenging big business to be more responsive to the needs of workers, communities, and the environment. We have picketed outside corporate headquarters, organized sit-ins, sponsored shareholder resolutions and bird-dogged company executives. When it comes to pressuring Corporate America, we've done it as much as anyone.

But the protesting thing is getting old. We figure it's time to give up our placards and trade them in for some PowerPoint presentations. We've decided to drop our commitment to advocacy and adopt a more lucrative career -- consulting.

With long histories as gadflies, we bring a unique perspective to business consulting. Since we've never been inside the box, we think outside the box as a matter of course. Our unique point of view can provide shareholders and management with solutions that will dramatically cut costs and raise revenues.

In this era of ruthless of competition, we deliver ideas that will boost a company's earnings and productivity. We can show you how, by firing a single individual, you can save millions of dollars. We show you how to outsource your CEO.

In recent years, hundreds of U.S. companies have generated significant savings by sending high-skilled, well-paid positions to countries such as Singapore, India and the Czech Republic. The economics are clear: If a job can be done equally well somewhere else for less money, then it should be sent abroad. Our consulting firm takes this concept to the next logical step by outsourcing all the way to the top of the corporate ladder.

Why not? After all, equally skilled and experienced chief executives in Europe and Asia earn a fraction of what U.S. executives take home. The average chief of a major U.S. company receives $10.83 million in compensation per year. The typical CEO in Europe receives about $2.7 million. Japanese CEOs are a downright bargain: Your company can expect to pay as little as $300,000 to $500,000 per year for an executive based there, with year-end bonuses averaging just 10 percent. Even if you exclude the value of stock options and bonuses -- which account for the bulk of American CEO pay -- CEOs in the U.S. on average receive twice as much as executives in other industrialized nations.

The prospective savings to your company's shareholders are immense. You get the same quality of corporate leadership, but at a much more reasonable price. Goodbye Michael Eisner, hello Gunter Thielen and Nobuyuki Idei.

We understand that your company may be concerned that off-shoring the CEO could impact performance. That's why we have a Two-for-One Plan. For the same salary you pay one American CEO, you can get a CEO in Europe and one in Asia. By having an executive on each side of the globe, you get uninterrupted service, corporate management around the clock. Instead of putting your back office in Bangalore, you put your front office in Berlin and Tokyo.

The benefits to your company go beyond cost savings alone. When you offshore the boss, you get rid of the person that hourly workers and management employees alike love to hate. Just think how it will boost worker morale to see the CEO booted out the door. The resulting increases in worker productivity will pleasantly surprise you.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If it makes sense to increase profits by outsourcing skilled labor, let's save big money by outsourcing the most uncompetitive worker in the U.S. corporate hierarchy -- the CEO.

Jason Mark and Kevin Danaher are the authors of 'Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power' (Routledge, 2003). They work for the human rights organization Global Exchange.

White-Collar Anger

Pete Bennett is fed up, and he's not going to take it anymore.

"People are tired and angry and upset," says the 47-year-old unemployed worker from Danville, California, frustration noticeable in his voice. "People are hurting, losing their homes. If we keep pulling jobs out of the country, how is the economy going to stay up?"

Coming from an autoworker or a steelworker, these would be familiar words. But Bennett isn't a laid off Ford or GM employee. He used to work for companies such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, where, as a contract database programmer, he earned between $80,000 and $90,000 a year. But in the last year, he says, he hasn't been able to find any programming work -- such jobs, he is told, are moving overseas.

Bennett is not alone. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled, well-paid positions have been sent abroad.

These days architects in the Philippines are producing blueprints for Fluor; electronic engineers in India are designing cell phone chips for Texas Instruments; and computer programmers in the Czech Republic are building software for Kodak. The stream of job loss is set to become a torrent; a November 2002 study by the consulting firm Forrester Research estimated that over the next 15 years some 3.3 million US service sector jobs would be sent abroad. A more recent report by economists at UC Berkeley says as many as 14 million programming, accounting, paralegal and other service jobs are at risk of being "off-shored."

The off-shoring of service jobs is déjà vu all over again. In the 1970s, U.S. corporations started shipping manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries such as Mexico, China and Indonesia in an effort to cut labor costs. Now, that same drive to reduce labor costs is hitting more highly skilled workers as service jobs go to well-educated workers in New Delhi and Prague and Singapore. As skilled workers are painfully starting to learn, the logic of cost cutting doesn't distinguish between blue collar and white collar.

While the economics of sending manufacturing jobs and service positions abroad may be the same, the political consequences promise to be different. In American politics it's one thing to attack the working class, but quite another to undermine the middle class, which votes in higher percentages. As any political consultant will tell you, as the middle class goes, so goes the nation. By cutting white collar positions, American businesses are sowing the seeds of a populist backlash that could redraw the political map.

One political topic that is bound to be influenced by the off-shoring of service jobs is the hot-button issue of trade policy. Surveys by the Pew Center show that support for free trade policies splits sharply along income lines. Among families earning more than $75,000 a year, 63 percent of people see globalization as positive; among families earning less than $50,000 a year, support drops to 37 percent.

In effect, better paid workers have supported free trade policies so long as they aren't impacted by them. But now many of those people are suffering the same cold fate that manufacturing workers have grappled with for decades. As more and more skilled jobs go abroad, supporters of free trade are almost certain to reassess whether corporate globalization is in their best interests.

The loss of high skilled jobs could also have a significant impact on next year's presidential election. Voters' job anxiety is shaping up as the number one election issue, with President Bush struggling against the loss of more than 2 million jobs on his watch and a so far "jobless economic recovery."

Off-shoring skilled positions is only going to make the anemic job market worse: According to the industry consulting firm Gartner Inc., one in 10 U.S. technology jobs will move overseas by the end of 2004. The disappearance of those good-paying jobs gives Democrats a chance to reach out to more affluent voters whose natural sympathies may lie with Republicans -- but whose anger could translate into Democratic gains.

Winning elections is in large measure about managing expectations -- and it's the newly unemployed skilled workers whose expectations are being downsized furthest. As Pete Bennett puts it: "These people have never experienced this before. ... What are we going to replace these jobs with? Flipping burgers?"

The long-term political effects of the off-shoring of skilled jobs promise to be larger than one single issue or one election. The export of skilled jobs could very likely cause an anti-corporate backlash that will reverse the decades-long drive toward deregulation and the weakening of organized labor.

During the heady days of the late 1990s, America's high tech class by and large supported the push for deregulation and laissez-faire economics. Now, the software designers and tech engineers who didn't think the government needed to play a role in overseeing the economy are the victims of uncontrolled economic forces. The once comfortable are becoming the insecure. The shift from being a winner to a loser is bound to prompt some serious rethinking about whether corporations should be given free rein to do whatever they like.

The first signs of this are already evident. Newly vulnerable high tech workers -- traditionally not big union supporters -- are starting to listen to the entreaties of organized labor. The Communication Workers of America says it is seeing increasing enthusiasm for unionization among off-shored high tech workers. Calls are also increasing for government regulation to staunch the hemorrhage of jobs. In response, state and federal legislators are considering laws to keep service jobs in the United States. The laissez-faire mentality of the 1990s is being replaced by demands that government act to restrain corporations' basic instincts. The political pendulum between dislike of big government and dislike of big business is swinging in a new direction.

Those businesses shipping high skilled jobs overseas should beware: Short-term profits may come at the cost of future political peril.

Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark are authors of the new book, "Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power" (Routledge Press). They work for the human rights group Global Exchange.

Grassroots Globalization Gets Real

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.

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.

Why Conservatives Should Like Cuba

With pressure mounting for the U.S. government to drop its unilateral economic embargo against Cuba, conservatives will be tempted to buck the trend. After all, isnÕt this a perfect opportunity to kick one of the last communist countries while it is lying on the ground gasping for breath? Critics of the embargo have pointed out that the most likely result of the current U.S. policy of trying to squeeze Cuba is that a social upheaval there will produce a massive wave of emigrants to southern Florida. But there is also a positive reason to oppose the embargo: Cubans have developed some "family values" that we could learn important lessons from. Contrary to what theories of "totalitarian" society would lead us to believe, the strongest institution in Cuba is not the Communist Party, it is the family. Whether a Cuban familyÕs politics are left, right or center, you will find the typical family to be strongly bonded, affectionate and loyal. Children show respect for parents, and parents donÕt drive their children out of the house when a strong disagreement flares up. Elderly people in Cuba are respected and not tossed on a scrap heap once they are too old to produce at maximum efficiency. It is common when visiting a Cuban "circulo de abuelos" (elder center) to find children from the neighborhood running in and out, mingling with the old folks spontaneously. The old people love it and so do the kids. School attendance in Cuba is extremely high. Students do not abuse or attack their teachers; they hardly even sass their teachers. Cuban teenagers do not think carrying a knife or gun to school is a cool thing to do. Drug abuse -- at epidemic proportions in our own country -- is virtually unknown in Cuba. Other than a minute amount of homegrown marijuana and a few prescription drugs that find their way into the wrong hands, Cubans simply do not use illicit drugs. The Cuban government is extremely tough on drug dealers. There is very little street crime in Cuba. Even with the current economic crisis and its resulting increase in crime, the overwhelming majority of crimes are property crimes -- theft of one sort or another -- and do not involve violence against people. You can walk Cuban streets at night in greater safety than you can in any major city in the United States. Like conservative politicians here, Cuban government officials have very low tolerance for street crime. In the past, conservatives criticized Cuba for restricting free enterprise. But in recent years Cuba has done more to open up its economy than many of the eastern European countries that are recipients of U.S. government aid. The skeptical may be thinking, "But what about CubaÕs human rights abuses?" LetÕs be frank. The Cuban government does restrict freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom of the press. Many Cubans would argue that the other half of human rights -- the economic rights such as health care, jobs, housing and education -- are better provided for in Cuba than in most other countries. But that still leaves the nagging problem of restricted political rights in Cuba. Think of the double-standard of U.S. foreign policy. In the case of Mexico and China and every other country with human rights problems where we trade openly, the U.S. government argues that increased contact will liberalize these countries and increase their observation of human rights. But somehow this argument does not apply to Cuba. Overall, Cuba meets many of the social criteria of the conservative agenda at a much smaller price in human rights restrictions than do right-wing regimes that canÕt come close to matching the social cohesion of Cuba. President Clinton's recent normalization of relations with Vietnam shows that he knows the difference between being a politician and being a statesman. The president should now demonstrate that we really are "the land of the free and the home of the brave" by ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba and establishing normal relations with our island neighbors.

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