GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW IS
HERE TO STAY:
Building New Coalitions for a Democratic Economy
The Local Faces of Anti-(Corporate)
In the year since
Seattle, the movement for global economic justice has shown that its
here to stay. It has staged three national demonstrations against the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the one-party system
controlled by corporate capital. It has kept itself in the media,
establishing protest as a frame for media coverage of the global
economy. With its sister movements around the world, it has kept the
IMF and World Bank on the run and helped block a new round of trade
talks in the World Trade Organization.
Less visible, but equally vital, are the movements local gains.
Across the country, activists are connecting global battles to local ones.
The globalization movement is becoming a movement to take American
democracy back from giant corporationsnot just in the streets of Philly
and LA, but in fights for family farms, living wages, and the seeds of a democratic
Here are a few of the stories Laura Raymond and
I have discovered while researching a book about the local face of the global
movement (forthcoming from Nation Books in September). They paint a picture
of one no and many yeses a plural movement which is
rejecting corporate globalization and building links with the many majorities
that make up our society.
Bangor is a small city in central Maine, but it has a large core of
activists who are always looking for ways to mainstream progressive
principles. In the mid-1990s they decided to make Bangor a sweat-free
A petition drive that collected signatures from
one in every ten Bangor residents was the first step. Since then a city council
annual Clean Clothes Fairs, and a consumer-retailer pledge
have kept expanding the base and visibility
of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Its message is: We dont want exploitation
marketed in our city. Our values should shape our
economy. And they can.
The message is echoing across Maine. New Clean
Clothes Campaigns in southern Maine, the state AFL-CIO, the Maine Catholic
Diocese and state Council of Churches have joined forces to develop a new state
purchasing and investment law. Clean Clothes activists sit on the state commission
which is drafting it. If the new law is challenged in the World Trade Organization
as a barrier to trade, they are prepared to fight a battle that
could echo around the world.
Iowa. Family farmers are front-line victims
of corporate globalization. Transnational corporations are consolidating
the entire food
chain, to quote Monsanto spokesman Robert Farley. In the
process, theyre turning family farmers into contingent contractors or forcing
them off the land entirely. But in the early
1980s, many Iowa farmers couldnt see the process clearly through the fog
of government propaganda which blamed foreign
To cut through the fog, they went abroad. A series
of cross-border exchanges took family farmers first to France, then Canada
Mexico. I couldnt believe that I was hearing the same stories
in France that I heard in rural Vermont, said Lee Light, a dairy farmer
who joined one National Family Farm Coalition
trip. Those French farmers that our government told us were highly subsidized
were in fact losing their farms.
The farmers also started crossing borders in the
United States. We began to cross sectors and started developing relationships
with labor and environmental organizations, said Denise OBrian
of the National Family Farm Coalition. The progressive farm movement
was too small.... it needed to ally with other movements to make its voice
And it did. The Family Farm Coalition helped defeat Fast
Track free-trade legislation and reached out to labor. Farmers organized
an entire day of protest in Seattle and added their voice to the overall critique
of corporate capitalism. Well be hearing more from family farmers as
StarLink corn, mad cow disease, and other agri-business crimes arouse the
you cross bordersborders of race, class, nationalityit changes you.
The students and Steelworkers who got together in Seattle have made a formal
alliance that is slowly transforming both their movements. The Tennesee workers
and Iowa farmers who crossed the border gained an energy and a clarity that changed
them and their communities. The new movement is creating its own kind of globalization
that connects people across national and occupational lines. It is fighting destructive
new trade agreements, often successfully, and carving out space for sustainable
local economies. It is breaking down the free-market, big-business-knows-best
that walls us away from our future. It is a growing force.
Connecting Anti-Corporate and Grassroots Economy
Where does the
grassroots economy movement fit into this? In at least three places.
enemies. Under the mask of free trade, the worlds largest corporations
are systematically eliminating the little enterprises. They are changing the
rules to tilt the game in their favor, e.g., by making tax-based supports and
government preferences for local contractors illegal, and by enabling giant,
foreign corporations to
gain market access and destroy local enterprises. Rule changes like
these would monopolize economic development in the hands of the wealthy and powerful.
They are far advanced, but incomplete. There is still time for the grassroots
economy movement and the
globalization movement to join forces and stop the corporate WTOWorld
Some of the same solutions. The new South
End Press book, Globalization from Below, advances the following strategies,
on which both anti-corporate and grassroots economy activists could
building a community controlled economic sector;
protecting local and national economic
overall, making decisions as close as possible to those they affect; equalizing
global wealth and power; creating prosperity by meeting both human and environmental
Many of the same challenges. Among other
things, both movements need to work much more closely with communities of color
and support their struggles for economic justice, reach out to build a really
broad base for a democratic economy, and take the fight for a democratic economy
beyond the borders
of the United States.
Some co-ops are actually showing the way. One of
these, Equal Exchange, is profiled in this issue. Since 1986, it has developed
strong connections between fair trade, ethical consumption, and the building
of a strongly democratic economyboth in this country and
Fine. These two movements share enemies, solutions,
and challenges. How do they actually start working
First, through education. Find people near you
who are working on globalization issues. Show up at their meetings or actions
and start talking to them about your projects. Set up house parties, slide
video shows, or open houses at co-ops. Dont just tell people how a democratic
economy works, show them. In doing this educational work, keep focused on two
Your values, the values of a cooperative,
democratic economy. How they match the values of the people you are reaching
out to. How both contrast with the values of
Where I (someone youre trying to reach) fit into the present
economy, and would benefit from a
cooperative one. If you are talking to me, and you can help me discover
my place as a worker/consumer/woman/manand how to
transform ityou have given me a starting point to change that economy and
my relation to it.
Try it. You will find tremendous receptivity, especially
activists. While theres also skepticism, most global activists share an
ecological critique of capitalism. Theyre sympathetic with small-scale,
democratic, sustainable enterprises. What they lack is direct experience of how
they work. If you offer that, many people
will eat it up. Theyve seen whats wrong with the economy now
they want to know how their economic lives can be
Secondly, draw on the anti-globalization groups
in your local areathey may want to may want to pitch in as well. The
Clean Clothes Campaign in Maine publishes a Shopping Guide featuring democratically-run
clothing workplaces (alongside relatively clean corporate retailers).
The Inter-Religious Task Force used its global education work with congregations
to make Cleveland the countrys fourth largest market for fair trade coffee.
It may take some work to find a similar global group near you and do the initial
educational groundwork with them. But if you are looking for more people to
help build a democratic economy, the folks that are fighting global corporatism
a good place to start.
coordinates the globalization program at United for a Fair Economy,
in Boston, MA. He can be reached by email at email@example.com
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