A couple of weeks ago, in Washington D.C., approximately 150 Wesleyan students saw something few had seen before, felt something few had experienced. It's a feeling that comes from something with many names - the movement, the new paradigm, dare I say it, the revolution. Witnessing its full power, its collective feeling, significantly affected many people from this university. And that is exactly why beautiful, large-scale hope is so real; it lies in contagion. It travels from individual to individual, but exists within the entire group. It is the feeling of being one people with one power.
There have been two mass actions in the past six months that were much spotlighted, deservedly so. These are last fall's n30 demonstration against the WTO and this spring's a16 action against the World Bank and IMF. The two actions are inextricably linked and are said to be evidence of a "new movement" against corporate globalization. Indeed, they are both actions of great historical magnitude, and they represent much more than one specific movement, despite what corporate media may lead us to believe. The two mass actions against global economic institutions represent a large-scale progressive movement that probably has more potential for worldwide social change than any prior movement. This is because we are not simply fighting the IMF and WTO, but rather, we are attempting to turn on its head the entire power structure of the world. This movement is a movement of the people to take power away from the elites and return it to the masses.
For this reason the protests in Seattle and D.C. are not alone. The movement is not just about the IMF and WTO, but encompasses all the governing institutions of the elite. Many mass actions have spawned from the success of n30. About a month ago, Boston saw the largest protest against genetically modified foods to ever to take place in the U.S. On May 1 activists reclaimed Mayday, the worker's rights day, with mass civil disobedience in New York City. This summer the July 30th Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and the August 15th Democratic Convention in Los Angeles are expected to draw protest crowds in the many thousands, perhaps even more people than attended the Seattle and D.C. actions. On June 4th, a meeting of the Organization of American States in Canada will be another target for thousands of activists. And a mass action for next September's World Bank meeting in Prague is already in planning stages. This is all happening due to a movement that is well-organized, intense, intelligent and professional in unprecedented ways - scary for the powers that be.
The last era in which western countries saw protests on such a massive scale was the 1960's. The present and future success of the current movement relies on learning from both the successes and failures of previous movements. The anti-war and civil rights movements, the struggles of our parents, taught our nation that the masses do have the ability to rise up against the status quo and make concrete changes. They taught us to stand up and shout, to stand in solidarity, to take over buildings, to always question those in power. And now we are continuing their struggle, but with a much larger goal. The protesters of the 60's had very specific agendas: to stop the war in Vietnam and to end racial discrimination. Certainly these struggles involved the redistribution of power, but that was not the main agenda. The beauty of the current movement is that every single movement of the people-including the civil rights and anti-war movement-fits within it.
The pu-pu platter of causes addressed by activists in Seattle and D.C. was often cited by mainstream media as a liability, but, actually, it could be our strongest asset. Only when connections between different fields of social change are made--such as the highly-touted environmentalist-union coalition--is sweeping change possible. When activists from different fields unite it becomes apparent that the root cause of many of our problems is the same, namely, the system in which MONEY, not life, dominates. The breadth of the movement could also be its liability if activists allow themselves to factionalize and accept the media's claim that all these issues are too complicated and unrelated and confusing to the general public. We've all heard, "What are they all protesting anyway? It's just a bunch of kids with misplaced anger." This isn't a bunch of kids, nor is it a bunch of people with misplaced anger. It's a lot of people with very legitimate conviction for change standing up for their beliefs.
Another key difference between this movement and ones that took place in the 60's is that the current movement is not tied to one specific cultural group. The 1960's anti-war movement grew simultaneously with the hippie culture. Regardless of whether the culture and the politics of the 60's were deeply connected, that perception damaged the movements over the long run. But these days people can have “sex, drugs, rock and roll” in a completely apolitical environment. Mainstream society has effectively de-politicized a culture that used to be deeply tied to leftist politics. Thus the new grassroots movement based on intellect, passion, and dedication is being built from a very pure level.
The time is ripe for the modern movement. Civilization in general is clearly pushing its limits - how much further can all this go? Thirty thousand people a day die of hunger, precious little remains of the rainforests, and air pollution is so bad that in some cities people have to wear gas masks. Welcome to the future. The modern political climate in the U.S., according to repeated studies, is one of increasing distrust towards government and feelings that the world is headed down a dangerous path. People are becoming active because they care about social and environmental issues and understand what is going on in a world in which a tiny elite dominate and humans exist not with, but against, the environment. In a way, this present movement came out of pure desperation, and many people out there are certain to join it out of a similar desperation.
In this place in time, an effective movement against social injustice, environmental degradation, etc. is needed most in the U.S.--the nation that hogs the wealth, eats up the resources, and bombs and oppresses most everyone else because it has the big guns and dollar bills. The greatest hope of the grassroots globalization movement is that the citizens of the U.S. have finally picked up on it. As U.S. citizens we have a hugely important role in global justice. As privileged college students, and soon as privileged college graduates, we have even more of a perfect position from which to make difference. We have the ability to keep this movement going and spread that same contagious empowerment throughout all people.
And declarations of winning and losing aside, A16 was without a doubt a success. The following night on TV I saw something that I could barely believe -a press conference with the Mobilization for Global Justice, the umbrella organization which planned the action. C-Span ran it straight, so mainstream TV audiences saw articulate progressive speakers talk in an earnest way about the IMF and World Bank and about so much more. Rarely do radicals get this kind of public exposure. Finally, I saw the "new paradigm" displayed on national television, and I thought to myself, "This is a special day."
Indeed it is, because, in the most successful way ever, people are actually, to paraphrase Gandhi, "living the world they envision." Through our brother/sisterhood, our sharing of property, our consensus decision decision-making, our selflessness, our passion, our fun, those who have joined in the new movement are answering the big question of ALTERNATIVE. We are creating a different world and using it to dismantle the present one, using it to show that it is within human nature for people to live in an equal and respectful manner with differences. But we must be careful to not lose sight of our goals. We must remember that this is not war, that we must be inclusive and considerate of all opinions, that love must, in the end, overcome. And we must remember to not sacrifice happiness to make change, but to create it in our making of change. Certain powers will use all sorts of tactics to dismantle us, to factionalize us. But we must continue with inclusion and solidarity- our most powerful tools. Only then will our numbers expand and eventually include all, a wonderful concept.