Alternatives and Action

11-1 Page 50 image 1

Models of grassroots resistance and organizing, cross-border coalitions, and regional alliances. Articles also offer visions for alternative agriculture, energy and trade systems.

Thinking Globally

How community-based organizers are connecting the global-local dots

During the 1980s, policy wonks and suit-and-tie progressives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were typically the ones to fly halfway around the world to influence meetings where the global economic agenda was being hashed out by corporate executives, trade negotiators and international financiers.  In recent years, however, community organizers from the United States have begun to appear on the international circuit, sometimes to join the protests at ministerials, such as the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Canc?É?í?Ǭ?n last September, and often as participants in alternative conferences such as the World Social Forum and the World Conference Against Racism.

11-1 Page 53 image 1
Increasingly aware of the devastating impacts that global trade policies have on their constituencies at home, these U.S.-based organizers have been eager to mount a global counterattack. They’ve also sought to catch up with community leaders in the developing world who have long known that the seemingly distant issues of global trade and investment are determining local destinies.

The global justice movement that made a name for itself in the massive mobilizations that began in Seattle in 1999 has provided a context for these organizers. While community groups sympathize with the protests and marches that whirl around global trade summits, they often lack the resources to send members to protests. They have also been frustrated by the lack of diversity in U.S.-based global justice efforts (a problem captured by activist Bettita Martinez’s provocative question, “Where was the color in Seattle?”).  In response, community-based organizations (CBOs), led by or representing low-income people of color, are patiently building a grassroots base for the global justice movement. 

Making the Global Connection
One of the main groups pushing the new community-based interest in globalization is Jobs with Justice (JwJ), a national organization with more than 40 local chapters charged with building bridges between labor, faith and community. In 2001, JwJ representatives went to Porto Alegre, Brazil to attend the first World Social Forum (WSF), a gathering of progressives originally conceived as an alternative to the corporate-dominated World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland. While they were impressed by the wide range of voices from the developing world, they also recognized a glaring absence of grassroots participation from the United States. In response, JwJ raised funds to send large delegations to the following three WSFs as part of a “Grassroots Global Justice” (GGJ) project. 

Accustomed to operating on a limited budget that requires a laser-sharp community focus, community-based organizers are cautiously inspired by the potential for working with like-minded groups they meet at the WSF.  Fortunately, these organizers are discovering that taking on a global struggle doesn’t necessarily mean taking on new issues, but rather re-thinking how their local work is framed. 

Julia Sudbury, with INCITE, a volunteer-based organization working on violence against women of color and the prison industrial complex, was part of the GGJ delegation attending the WSF this January in Mumbai, India. “We started thinking about welfare reform, which has a disproportionate impact on women of color, and puts them at a higher risk of violence, as part of a global neoliberal agenda,” she notes. Then we heard that the women in India were talking about their struggle against the ways subsidized rice is being cut back. Welfare reform and cutbacks on subsidized rice might look different, but fundamentally, they’re based on the same principle. I think that [understanding] was important so that we could think about those impacts as global, and the mobilization against [them as] global, too.”

Community-Based Anti-Globalization
The community-based global approach is often grounded in cross-border, grassroots relationships that are formed over time. The Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network (TIRN), one of the first U.S. community-based groups to integrate global justice into their work, was formed in 1989 to provide support for communities that were quickly losing manufacturing jobs as factories moved south of the border. As protectionist, anti-immigrant sentiment flared in their communities, TIRN started a worker exchange program that sent factory workers to Mexico to witness the poor working conditions and, in turn, hosted delegations of Mexican workers in Tennessee. Forming this cross-border relationship helped create a bi-national alliance that later became a tri-national alliance with Canadian organizations after the NAFTA fight in the early 90s. 

“People who go on these exchanges come back as much stronger and vocal advocates for immigrants in their own communities,” says Kristi Disney, an organizer with TIRN. “Union members in particular come back with a profound respect for the kind of organizing that’s going on in Latin America, and how much people have to sacrifice on a daily basis to do the kind of work that they’re doing, especially women workers. Bringing back that testimony inspires their peers.”

It’s this testimony of lived experience that feeds the popular education activities that are at the core of an emerging community-based global justice movement in the United States. Popular educators and activists understand that while dexterity with the alphabet soup of acronyms—WTO, IMF, FTAA, GATS, TRIPS, MAI—may be a must for advocates working on policy, it’s not a vernacular that catches on with the masses. Instead, community members need to see how their livelihoods are threatened at a local level, and how their fights are not with other workers and other communities but rather with the corporate giants driving a race to the bottom. 

Many global justice advocates ensconced in think tanks and advocacy groups wonder why the global-local link takes so much time to forge. But progressive CBOs are constituency-driven. Their grassroots membership is less impressed by thousands of angry protesters waving signs at phalanxes of riot police, and more moved by the sort of patient work that connects the global-local dots.

Cross-Border Base Building
While some community-based organizations take part in long-distance exchanges, or implement creative popular education programs (see “Galvanizing the Grassroots,” page 54) to communicate the global-local connection to membership, others position themselves where globalization has long been a daily reality. 

The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), an environmental justice group located in San Diego, started a border campaign to do extensive popular education in the maquila zone, an export-processing swath along the U.S.-Mexico border that bears some of the harshest evidence of the ill effects of globalization. One of the key objectives of this campaign is to generate solidarity between low-income immigrant communities in San Diego, EHC’s traditional constituency, and the colonias (squatter townships with little or no infrastructure) in Tijuana. According to Connie Garcia, an organizer with EHC who has participated in the Grassroots Global Justice delegations to the WSF, most of the members in San Diego that attend meetings and trainings have a personal connection, through family or their own experience, to the working conditions in Tijuana, and are quick to show support. Many of the environmental hazards are the same, and EHC can use legislative victories in the United States, such as the passing of the Right to Know Act (legislation that requires facilities to disclose hazardous chemical use), to help inform and inspire campaigns south of the border. 

Other cross-border efforts have concentrated on sharing new organizing techniques such as community-based monitoring of oil refinery emissions—known as the “bucket brigades”—that is now being used in California, Louisiana, South Africa, and the Philippines. But these and other efforts represent just the tip of an iceberg of cross-border community resistance that will be enriched by:

  • connecting grassroots groups on an international level
  • creating new opportunities for worker-to-worker and community-to-community exchanges
  • generating the popular education models that resonate with the local leaders striving to make the global connection.

Looking Forward
The advantages of integrating a global perspective may be especially important for environmental justice groups. As Robert Bullard, Ph.D., of the Environmental Justice Resource Center argued in a paper prepared for the World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, the same corporations using communities of color as “sacrifice zones” in the United States are targeting low-income areas in the developing world. Such communities are finding common ground in their counterresponses. As a result, environmental justice organizations are learning the value of linking community resistance along the global toxic trails of the industries that they have been fighting at home.

Global justice organizing is often portrayed as a sort of “field of dreams”—build it and they will come.  Foundations, mainline advocacy groups, unions, and others think that pointing out the negative impacts of corporate globalization will be enough to galvanize those most affected by the downside of the new global economy.

However, making the global-local link is a resource-intensive task, one that requires a larger slice of the philanthropic pie to allow community-based organizations to dedicate staff to long-term global work. The context is ripe for such investment of time, energy and foundation dollars. With the help of efforts such as Grassroots Global Justice and numerous local organizers, grassroots leaders have begun to recognize that they are already situated on the frontlines of the battle for global justice. They can engage—in fact, lead—in the debate about globalization even as they continue to build local power. 

Tony LoPresti and Manuel Pastor are research associate and co-director, respectively, at the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  The Center has been working for the last two years with the InterAmerican Forum of Miami on a project entitled, “Globalizing Civil Society,” which seeks to bring new voices to the debate about globalization and its impacts in the United States.

Galvanizing the Grassroots

People of color communities build capacity for a global campaign

In November 2003, locally based community organizations came together in Miami to confront the ministerial meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Autonomous from the usual list of anti-globalization warriors—labor organizers, environmentalists, direct-action activists, anarchists—the community groups created something different and historic: RootCause, Global Justice from the Grassroots.

As one of the convening organizations of RootCause—along with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and POWER U for Social Change—the Miami Workers Center (MWC) took on the task of preparing our base for the anti-FTAA campaign. The MWC is a strategy and resource center that helps build and empower grassroots organizations and leadership. One such organization is LIFFT, or Low-Income Families Fighting Together. LIFFT is comprised of the urban poor: current and former welfare recipients, low-wage workers, retirees, and public housing residents—the vast majority of whom are women and Black. Throughout the United States, this sector is economically depressed and under an ideological attack that blames the victims of historic racism and structural inequality for their condition. In Miami, the poorest city in the United States, they teeter on the edge of homelessness, and are harmed by police brutality and government policies that lead to evictions and forced displacement.

To LIFFT members, abstract theories of global neoliberalism are not the best way to crystallize the connections between trade and oppression. Macro-economic policy arguments are disconnected from the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis. Consequently, the poor and people of color often endure conditions without a systematic understanding of the processes that oppress and exploit them so harshly. The challenge for the MWC has been to make real and tangible the concept of corporate globalization, and its connection to those most affected in low-income communities.

Goals and Groundwork
There were three core objectives driving MWC’s decision to join RootCause and take on the FTAA campaign: 1) to make concrete the connections between the concepts of imperialism, corporate globalization, and the everyday lives of poor people of color; 2) to deepen connections and identification among oppressed people of color, thereby transforming individual and local struggles into collective global struggles; and 3) to assert people of color as leaders in the growing global justice movement.

As part of the ongoing process of consciousness-raising, the MWC offers weekly political education sessions, based on the popular education model of active participation and learning from one’s own experiences rather than from textbooks and monologues. The sessions are known as the Circle of Consciousness. The first Circle of Consciousness in preparation for the FTAA, held one year prior to the ministerial, was a ten-part series on imperialism. Participants utilized a world map to identify Third World countries, the subjugating colonial power, the desired natural resources, and the resistance movements that grew in each historic and contemporary colony. The exercises were a hands-on way of illustrating the history of conquest and resource extraction in the Third World, and the historical progression from the slave trade and colonialism to present day neocolonialism and neoliberalism. That map remains on our walls to this day.

The purpose of the series—and the ones that followed on the topics of white supremacy and patriarchy—was to help LIFFT members place their economic and social conditions in an historical and global context. We believe the significance of the FTAA, as the latest version of imperialist public policy, can only be understood in this context. Three months prior to the ministerial, the MWC’s series delved into the FTAA itself. In addition to focusing the Circle of Consciousness on the FTAA, we added a few daytime sessions for deeper study, and organized community meetings, which featured a combination of guest speakers, local allies and grassroots leaders with a developed understanding of the local-global connections.

Sharing Our Stories
LIFFT, POWER U and Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—in addition to participants from  Haitian Women of Miami and others—gathered weekly for two months. That feat required a four-hour round-trip drive to include the farm workers from Immokalee. We talked about globalization, corporate power and the FTAA. We talked about ideas, facts and dates. Most important, we connected with each other through the telling of heart-wrenching stories of abuse of immigrant farm workers, fear and violence experienced by Haitian refugees, and poverty and a sense of powerlessness expressed by members of POWER U and LIFFT.

It was an incredible progression of exchanges made possible by the help of multiple interpreters and a growing sense of respect for people we could barely communicate with, but were identifying with more and more. Those beautiful exchanges made our worlds seem simultaneously larger and smaller, as people traveled from their own communities to the homes of others and back.

While the background political education was important, people learned and retained more, and were far more emotionally moved because of the shared real-life stories. Together, community members were able to place those stories in the context of global imperialism and its effects on people who may have looked different and spoken differently, but felt the same as they did about inequality and oppression.

Model for a Movement
There’s no magic formula for mobilizing, inspiring, and organizing grassroots people of color into broader social movements. It’s all about time, dedication and utter respect. Building LIFFT to this level has been a five-year project, accomplished with intense amounts of time and energy. Both POWER U and the MWC began work in 1999 and CIW has a 15-year history of organizing and popular education. Collectively, we have invested literally hundreds of thousands of hours of door knocking, phone banking, meeting, planning, research, and listening to people’s stories—not hearing them like you would hear traffic or background noise, but listening to them like you listen to your favorite song or public speaker, looking to make the connections to broader systemic processes and taking every opportunity as a teachable moment.

All the advanced preparation produced incredible results at the FTAA protests. The RootCause March, a 34-mile march from Hollywood, Florida to the heart of Miami; and the People’s Tribunal, where social movements throughout the hemisphere put neoliberalism on trial, were among the most powerful expressions of grassroots people of color in the U.S.-based global justice movement.

The RootCause campaign activities were small compared to other mass mobilizations, and its militancy was not expressed through direct confrontation with the police or “the fence” around the ministerial. Rather, we confronted the unprecedented militarization of Miami on our own terms. Our campaign caught the imagination of its participants and the broader mobilization through commitment, culture, flavor, unity and dedication of our grassroots leadership. RootCause members continue to speak of the March in religious and life-altering terms. The experience has galvanized our leadership, built our base, and provided a model for the global justice movement.

Max Rameau is the director of Leadership Development for the Miami Workers Center in the Liberty City section of Miami.

Dispatches From the World Social Forum


11-1 Page 57 image 1

Since 2001, the World Social Forum (WSF) has provided civil society organizations and people’s movements around the globe with an opportunity to gather, share ideas and formulate alternatives to the dominant economic and development policies advanced at the annual World Economic Forum. To get a sense of what grassroots groups have gained from the WSF and what it means for the global justice cause, RPE asked delegates who attended the most recent 2004 Forum in Mumbai, India to share their reflections.


Jose T. Bravo is lead organizer and site coordinator for Just Transition Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of five environmental justice networks that advocates for environmental justice and labor issues nationally and internationally (

On January 14, my first day in Mumbai, India, I attended an orientation by Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), a U.S.-based network of groups opposed to corporate globalization. During this orientation we heard from several speakers, including a journalist and editor from a main Mumbai newspaper. Then we heard from two gentlemen who represented a construction union, the second largest union in India. We ended the session with presentations from two dynamic leaders who spoke about the reality for women in India. As I listened to these women speak, I noted many similarities in how women organize for justice in the United States and in Mexico.

Later that afternoon, the GGJ delegates were divided into five groups and sent on site visits. My group boarded a minibus and went to a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai where we met with people who were running a center for community support and job training. At this center we learned that people could only live in their respective slums for 11 months out of the year; after 11 months they had to move to a different location. So, hundreds of thousands of people are literally displaced every 11 months. We were told that the government requires this of all people who live in slums so that they do not take control of the land they live on. The only exceptions were the few people that have been living in slums for 30 years or longer and who were allowed to make their homes a permanent residence. The center was also used as a drug rehab for residents that needed treatment.

On the way over to the next site, our hosts explained that we were about to go to the municipal dump, which is 300 hectares square (about 741 acres). As we arrived I felt overwhelmed by the 50,000 people who called the dump their home. As we walked along with the crowd, including children anxious to talk to us, each community leader explained their job. Some of the people only pick bottles and others pick up plastic for recycling; still others are in charge of burning the giant mounds to recycle the metals that are left behind. The smell of plastic and paper being burnt was sometimes too much to withstand. I felt very sad at the fact that the children did not look very different from my own.

On the second day GGJ delegates boarded three buses that took us to an activist camp at a nature preserve. The trip, which included three hours in traffic, took us 30 to 40 miles away to the outskirts of the city. When we reached the activist camp, we participated in a welcome ceremony that included chants and songs as well as the Indigenous Environmental Network delegations' ceremonial activities. After the ceremony, we broke out into 10 workgroups and discussed issues such as the World Bank, community organizing, labor organizing, the environment, youth participation, free trade/global trade, Indigenous rights, women's self determination, criminal justice, and legal advocacy. The workgroup that I volunteered for (because of the need for Spanish translation) was on free trade/global trade. We discussed the impacts that trade is having on India, the United States and Mexico.


11-1 Page 60 image 1

[The following morning, January 16, we went to the] site where the WSF was to start later that afternoon. At 3:30 p.m., we made our way to the main stage area where there were people as far as the eye could see. The opening ceremony was spectacular. It included cultural performances by dancers from all over the world. After the organizing committee gave the welcome, we heard author and activist Arundhati Roy speak. She posed several challenges, including a demand for “regime change” from corporate domination, empowerment of the grassroots, and focusing on two corporations that are making money from the war in Iraq. I was shouting, “Halliburton and Bechtel, they can go to hell!” We all left the ceremony energized and ready for the task ahead.


The next day, we went to the first panel that included GGJ delegates. The panel, entitled "In the heart of the empire," included people from the United States, Mexico and Colombia. It focused on creating solidarity with other social justice movements worldwide. Many people were very surprised that people in the United States faced issues of government and corporate abuse that approximated their own. This was the case throughout the WSF.

Later, I went to a panel on labor issues faced by unorganized workers. It was a session with about 25 people, including delegates from Iran, Egypt, Latin America, India and Asia. I represented the perspective of the United States, specifically, the U.S.-Mexico border region. I also attended a workshop on popular education where participants shared methodology and retention advice. I was especially interested in educating people who cannot read or write. In India, art and street theater are used extensively. For example, we role-played a scenario in which a community fought against a dam project—an issue that people at this session had faced.

On the 18th, Chavel Lopez of the Southwest Workers Union, Torm Nomprassuert of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and I attended a workshop called "Actual Effects of WMD: The Case of U.S. Toxic Agent Orange in Vietnam." Chavel, a Vietnam veteran, was a victim of Agent Orange defoliant spraying while a soldier. We reported to the panel that the chemicals are still being destroyed by incineration in communities of color in the United States. We mentioned the fact that children are still exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants in the United States and in other countries like Colombia under the auspices of the war on drugs, and that there were organizations—even a network—working on military toxics issues. We were asked to put together a delegation to visit Vietnam by Madam Nguyen Binh, the former vice president of Vietnam and the key negotiator in France during the withdrawal of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.

That afternoon I went to "The Peoples Forum Against Coca-Cola" panel with some of the labor delegates of the GGJ. Luis Javier Correa Su?É?í?Ǭ°rez, national president of the National Union of Food and Commercial Workers of Colombia, asked me to translate for him during his portion of the forum. One of his issues with Coca-Cola is that six of his union's leaders have been assassinated for protesting unfair labor practices and unhealthy conditions in many of the Coca-Cola plants. This was a very enriching experience and I was glad that I could assist in translation.

On the 19th, I participated in an anti-Coca-Cola march at the WSF grounds, where several hundred people rallied. When the workshop started, there were only three people, but as the time went on more and more people came in. We discussed Just Transition Alliance (JTA) and the links that JTA makes with workers and communities struggling with environmental and economic justice issues. As I started to describe some of the sites where we are doing work the participants started sharing their own experiences. We explored different ideas and scenarios together.

On January 20, I met with people who were representing the victims of the toxic gas release in Bhopal, India. They were parents, children and other family members of people who had lost their lives or were left maimed by the accident. I was especially interested in meeting with them because JTA is starting a new campaign around Dow Chemical Company and Dupont in Louisville, Kentucky. Dow now owns Union Carbide and is reneging on the settlement with the people in Bhopal. Likewise, Dow and Dupont are leaving a community in Louisville severely contaminated and trying to abandon workers with an unjust retirement plan. Dow and Dupont are planning to move the Louisville plant to La Place, Louisiana, right in the middle of “Cancer Alley”.

That afternoon I met with the GGJ Indigenous delegation and helped to set up a ceremony with an Indigenous elder that I had met on the second day of the WSF. This elder was from Mexico and he had brought a bundle of charcoal from the great fire of the Condor—the Indigenous peoples of Latin America—in Teotihuacan. I had spread the word that we wanted Indigenous peoples to meet at the ceremonial fire and be part of the ceremony. Sixty Indigenous people, including several from different parts of India, came and we participated in a wonderful ceremony. We ended with prayers for the safe return of all WSF attendees to their places of origin, and for the success of people’s movements throughout the world and for world peace.

Why We Went to the Forum

AGENDA (Action for Grassroots Empowerment and Neighborhood Development Alternatives) is a grassroots organization based in South Los Angeles that organizes poor and working class communities and communities of color around social and economic justice issues. This year AGENDA/SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education) was fortunate enough to send three of our community leaders and one staff member to the World Social Forum in India as part of the Grassroots Global Justice delegation.

Being a part of the GGJ delegation gives us an opportunity to “represent a different face from the ‘belly of the beast’ and to show solidarity with global movements against corporate globalization,” said Jennifer Ito, director of CIPHER (Community Institute for Policy Heuristics, Education and Research), the research arm of AGENDA/SCOPE. We see the World Social Forum as an important vehicle for our members and staff alike to explore firsthand the connections between our struggle and those of peoples and organizations throughout the world. 

Members and staff who have attended the World Social Forum for the past four years have brought lessons back home to deepen our understanding and critique of the global corporate agenda and its impacts beyond Los Angeles. Learning about alternative economic policies and health-care systems has also expanded the boundaries of what is possible in our current Jobs and Health-care campaign. Gloria Bradshaw, a community leader with AGENDA said, “I was surprised and saddened to see such extreme poverty and poor living conditions of people (young and old) in India, but left inspired by the people and organizations fighting for the same thing we’re fighting for here in Los Angeles. Justice!”


Southwest Organizing Project is a multi-racial, multi-issue community-based organization based in Albuquerque, New Mexico that works for racial and gender equality, and social and economic justice. This report came from SWOP delegates to the WSF, including Marco Romero, Victoria Rodriguez, Marjorie Childress, Eileen Garcia and Michael Montoya, while they were attending the Forum.

Hola Friends and Family:

The World Social Forum has been inspiring, chaotic, educational, massive, and challenging both spiritually and intellectually. Large numbers of people have attended from all over the country. Represented here are tribal groups, organizations working with poor people who live in slums, women and Dalit groups, trade union federations, international intellectuals, youth, grassroots groups from throughout the world, media, and international non-governmental organizations, just to name a few. The Forum has been full of dialogue, art, cultural expression and great food. We have all gone to many different workshops and panel discussions. Every imaginable discussion has been taken up here, [including dialogues about] gender, labor and youth issues, immigrant and migrant rights, the right to food, human rights, popular education, economic and social security, and tribal issues.

For those of you who have been to one of the previous WSF events, we should explain that this year's event is held on a campus, [much] like a state fair. We walk through a sea of banners and posters at all times, surrounded by hundreds of different organized groups parading throughout the venue. Social movements seem very real to us here. The energy that is evident at all times on the grounds of the site is truly breathtaking.

Our trip has provided us with the opportunity to be in different venues. For example, the Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) delegation has taken several field trips: one, to a tribal organization outside the city, and another to what the locals call slum dwellers’ organizations. People who live in India's slums are fighting for basic services like water and electricity, and also for the simple right to have a roof over their heads. Many of these structures are considered illegal and the residents often have their homes torn down. It should be noted that half of the population in Mumbai lives in slums—that’s about 8 million people. These structures are scattered throughout the city, some are large areas and others are simply a row along a road. We noticed several instances of ostentatious skyscrapers looming over the slums. These skyscrapers are topped by no-holds-barred homes that look like mini Greek palaces, pillars and all.

We also took a trip to a tribal organization outside the city. This was a great exchange. We felt privileged to witness the interchange between the tribal group and Indigenous delegates from North America. We broke into groups that discussed a variety of issues. It was interesting for us to see how people who live on the other side of the world [face issues similar] to our own and use similar language to discuss their circumstances.

We have been pleased to see a very strong women's movement here, as well as an overt acknowledgement of the role that class plays in economic and social structures. We have also learned a lot about the caste system and the plight of Dalits (formerly referred to as “untouchables”). Although Indian law has changed the formal discrimination against Dalits, in practice it is very much part of the day-to-day reality. We have all been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the population in Mumbai and by the degree of poverty that exists here. It is one thing to intellectually know about the poverty, [and] quite another to witness it. It is humbling and makes us very aware of our own privilege.

On a critical note, we have observed that the less-than-perfect models of how we communicate in large groups have been replicated on a large scale here at the WSF.  Overcoming our outmoded, hierarchical norms of running meetings is an ongoing struggle. Another all-too-familiar sight is the preponderance of men and intellectuals on all the panels. While we acknowledge that academics and intellectuals are a great resource for our movement, we feel that these norms reinforce the class and gender divisions in the movement. These divisions are so completely evident that the [makeup] of the panels is almost obscene. Also, there is a great separation between youth and the larger WSF. The youth have to travel a long distance from the youth camp to the main venue, and they have their own parallel conference that is not integrated into the WSF.

Across the street from the WSF is another parallel conference called the Mumbai Resistance 2004. This conference opposes the WSF on the grounds that it is reformist and in dialogue with the imperialists. They take issue with Western foundation funding of the WSF. They also point out that the WSF charges delegates money to attend and it excludes particular groups. From our perspective, we do not believe that the WSF can truly be considered representative of the international community as long as it excludes groups such as the Zapatistas, who have so much to teach us all about resistance to capitalism and survival in the face of overwhelming forces.

We find that the critique of the WSF posed by the MR 2004 to be quite valid. At the same time, we have all gotten much out of our experiences at the WSF, and don't see that the MR 2004 has a concrete proposal of its own for how the movement for justice can proceed in a manner that is inclusive of all the diverse social movements that exist throughout the world. 

Solidarity Without Borders

Keys to effective cross-border campaigns

Organizing globally is the challenge of our time. Whether you're trying to reform capitalism or abolish it, to organize labor or community, you're struggling against the power of concentrated, politically connected capital. The justice organizer’s task is to connect and collaborate across borders with others who are also rooted in local struggle—that is, to organize locally and globally, just as social movements organized locally, nationally and internationally a century ago. 

Such cross-border organizing is going especially well in Latin America. The region’s nation-states share a 200-year history of U.S. imperialism and national resistance, and that shared history supports a strong critique of neoliberal economic policy. Twenty years of structural adjustment has shown Latin America that neoliberalism doesn't work. For that reason, further negotiations to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), has generated effective counter-coordination across borders.

But analysis of these trends is only the beginning. Next, anti-corporate globalization activists have to identify the constituencies that those trends affect, then reach and mobilize them. In this year's fight to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA (which, as of this writing, had been signed by Bush, but not yet sent to Congress), three of those key constituencies are civil society networks in Central America, Central American immigrants, and solidarity activists in the United States.

Popular Education Leads to Action
Across Central America, civil society groups have come together in fights against structural adjustment, the agricultural crisis and privatization. Central America’s struggles against neoliberalism and war spawned a type of a hybrid organizer in the United States—the solidarity activist—who melds North American resources with Central American perspectives and organizing. Meanwhile Washington's military and economic policies have pushed the third constituency, millions of Central American immigrants, into the United States.

The potential power of these three sectors is tremendous. How can that power be actualized? By organizing politically. We help foster that organizing at United for a Fair Economy (UFE) through popular education workshops in Spanish ( and English ( Popular education is only a first step in organizing, but a crucial one because it allows the people who are most affected to articulate an analysis and organize on their own terms.

One example comes from an anti-FTAA workshop we led in Miami (which drew Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, among others) as the 2003 FTAA summit meeting was approaching. A Mexican woman who is now living and working in Florida asked whether the FTAA and other agreements were similar to NAFTA. Another woman answered yes, and told her story. She had owned a small business with six employees that sold tortillas. In 1992 in Mexico, she explained, there was a lot of publicity about the importance of NAFTA for farmers and small business owners. Yet, she said, “nobody imagined the disaster that was coming. As soon as NAFTA took effect, Mexican white corn was exported to the United States and we got the yellow corn produced in the United States. Our tortillas were not white anymore, but yellow, and nobody wanted to buy them. My business failed. The six people that worked with me lost their jobs. I had to sell my little house to survive and in the end I had no choice but to come to the United States. Here we continue to suffer and have needs. I hope that people in Latin America take notice in time to stop these free trade agreements that only benefit rich people and corporations.”

That same year, a Mexican organization was making sure that Latin Americans did take notice. The Mexican Network for Action Against Free Trade, which is the Mexican affiliate of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, traveled repeatedly to Central America to talk about NAFTA’s disastrous impact. Then a network of Central American non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups that work against structural adjustment soon came together to oppose CAFTA. On Columbus Day, 2002, they coordinated anti-CAFTA actions in every Central American country. The protests and actions raised awareness about CAFTA, connecting it to national fights like El Salvador’s yearlong health care strike.

In the United States, Central American solidarity organizations played the same role. Their protest on March 24, 2002 in Washington, D.C. pulled together an anti-CAFTA coalition, which placed ads in Salvadoran newspapers while President Bush was campaigning for CAFTA there. That fall the coalition created a Latin American anti-CAFTA statement and turned it into a hemispheric “People’s Declaration on Trade,” which over 200 organizations in Central America and the United States have signed.

Meanwhile, Central American immigrant organizations in Boston asked UFE to start educating their members about CAFTA. A temporary coalition was formed among worker, religious and global justice groups. Having the shared goal of stopping CAFTA helped us set specific tasks and a common agenda.

In mobilizing against CAFTA, Central American immigrants discovered their unique binational power. It didn’t take them long to break through feelings of isolation and take new steps. Salvadorans organized weekly call-ins that jammed the local consulate's phone lines. Hondurans called radio stations back home and told their compatriots the truth about free trade. Guatemalans swarmed a "mobile consulate" that was conducting a blood drive and asked, “What about CAFTA?” Organizing joint lobbying visits to Congress with other coalition members helped them build a sense of power.

Cycle of Solidarity
How did an issue as specialized as CAFTA rise to the top of social movements’ agendas in the United States and Central America? Coordination is a big part of the story—coordinated protests across borders, as well as networks coordinating both Central American and U.S. groups.  The public demonstrations, lobbying and educational events of 2002 and 2003 were synchronized, making them more powerful and visible.

Who created the coordination? Three constituencies that, because of their histories, have internationalist perspectives and ongoing cross-border relationships. Hemispheric strategy meetings, like the one in Havana, Cuba this January, and popular education help renew their commitment. In creating UFE's Free Trade workshops, we borrowed heavily from popular materials developed in Central America. Now the workshop materials are being downloaded and used throughout Central America as well as by all three key constituencies in the United States. The cycle continues.

By working with people directly affected by free trade agreements and their allies, we have learned that social justice groups in the United States and grassroots organizations in other parts of the world have no choice but to coordinate their work. All of us exercise influence nationally, but groups in the United States have considerable freedom of expression and power in the main country that's driving corporate globalization.

Mike Prokosch coordinates the global economy program at United for a Fair Economy, where he designs workshops and leads trainings for unions, congregations and community organizations. He co-edited The Global Activist’s Handbook (Nations Books).

Jeannette Huezo is education coordinator and lead trainer at United for a Fair Economy. Originally from El Salvador, Jeannette has more than 20 years of experience as a community organizer and popular educator working for justice and social change.

Strategies From the Global South

The alliances and alternatives that aim to defeat corporate-driven trade

By Deborah James

In September 2003, the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Cancun, Mexico came to a screeching halt after a large bloc of the world’s developing countries refused to expand the WTO unless the wealthier nations made existing trade rules fairer. The “Group of 21” developing nations emerged as a powerful South-South alliance.  Led by India, South Africa and Brazil, the Group includes 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

11-1 Page 64 image 1

That November, government trade ministers meeting in Miami to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)—an expansion of the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model—barely reached consensus for moving ahead with talks. Another developing country bloc began to emerge in opposition to the FTAA. This stalemate revealed a clear divide between the pro-FTAA “Group of 13” (the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and the Central American countries) and the other primary regional alliances: Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay); Caricom (the 14 members of the Caribbean Community); and the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.

In response to Latin American and Caribbean regionalism, the United States has mounted a political counterassault. It has employed divide-and-conquer strategies on several fronts, and used aid and diplomatic pressure with a number of FTAA countries as levers to pry apart the coalition of countries. For example, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)—including Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic—would bind these nations even more closely to U.S. economic domination, surpassing even NAFTA in its enshrinement of corporate rights over the rights of communities, workers and the sovereign citizenry. CAFTA could be sent to the U.S. Congress for ratification soon. The United States has also launched a series of bilateral trade negotiations with Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, in an attempt to isolate Venezuela from the rest of the Andean Community.

Post-Miami, the FTAA has been divided into two distinct tiers, the contents of which are still undergoing highly charged negotiations. Tier 1 requires a minimum level of commitment that would be acceptable to all of the countries; Tier 2 aims for full, comprehensive trade liberalization. This two-tiered system acknowledges that the United States is not going to get its prize—a full comprehensive agreement for the hemisphere—and is a victory for the social movements working against the FTAA. But it also contains a dangerous trap that could still be damaging for many countries.

Turning the Tide on Free Trade
The stalling of the FTAA, originally scheduled for completion by the beginning of 2005, is due to various factors. The political scenario in Latin America has changed significantly in the last 10 years. Social movements in some countries have recently elected governments that represent, or are at least sympathetic to, the perspective of the poor majority. In addition to progressive governments, the strength of the social movements in the hemisphere have brought within reach the opportunity to defeat the FTAA. Campesino groups, labor unions, Indigenous networks, youth and women’s organizations, and advocacy groups across the hemisphere have built strength through international coordination, mounting the Continental Campaign Against the FTAA. This campaign includes regional networks such as the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA); the Jubilee campaigns against the illegitimate foreign debt; the Convergence of People’s Movements of the Americas (COMPA); Grito de los Excluidos (Cry of the Excluded); Friends of the Earth Latin America; as well as country-based campaigns.

11-1 page 65 image 1

A striking aspect of these efforts has been the relative unity of the social movements across geographic, ethnic, age and occupational differences. For example, the Peruvian No!! FTAA campaign is composed of the national trade union, four national family farm organizations, small and medium artisans’ groups, human rights organizations, fair trade groups, feminist alliances, anti-debt campaigners and consumer organizations. In Uruguay, the Anti-FTAA Campaign Secretariat includes the central workers’ federation, the university students’ federation, the national federation of housing cooperatives, small business owners, and environmental groups, among others. An Assembly of Caribbean People in August 2003 brought together more than 1,000 people from 100 organizations in 11 different Caribbean nations and several different languages against militarism and the FTAA.

Oftentimes the Indigenous and farmers’ organizations form the backbone of the popular mobilization capacity of these alliances because corporate globalization threatens not only their wages or their health care but their entire way of life. For that reason, regional farmers and Indigenous coalitions like Via Campesina and the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC), and the various national farmers federations, have played key roles in educating their populations and mobilizing in the streets.

Holding Leaders Accountable
But the relative success of the social movements in changing the negotiating position of their governments has depended on their ability to move from “resistance” to “taking power”—and then holding those governments accountable to the people’s demands. For example, the social movements in Ecuador, particularly Indigenous groups and family farmers, have mobilized strong popular resistance to the FTAA, including a massive rally and march of more than 10,000 peasants during a previous FTAA Ministerial meeting in the fall of 2002. Citizens there recently elected Indigenous rights leader Lucio Gutierrez to the presidency, but have not been successful in holding him accountable to the social movement’s demands. Active social movements in El Salvador fought very hard last year against privatization of the national health care system—an issue intrinsically linked with the FTAA agenda of privatization of basic services—and yet their government’s position is still aligned with U.S. interests.

On the other hand, Argentine President Néstor Kirchner rode into office on a wave of sentiment against the International Monetary Fund’s enforcement of privatization and structural adjustment policies. Social movements have formed thousands of cooperatives there to meet the basic needs of people who have been plunged from relative prosperity to abysmal poverty. Groups allied with the AutoConvocatoria en Contra el ALCA (Call to Action Against the FTAA), for instance, continue to pressure Kirchner to side with the poor instead of the United States by linking their campaigns against militarization, debt and free trade. In Bolivia, strong and strategic social movements have linked massive resistance to natural gas and water privatization to the struggle against the FTAA and bilateral agreements. After successfully unseating a pro-business president last year, they have achieved positive changes in their country’s negotiating position in recent months.

Similar sentiments are roiling Brazil, where President Lula da Silva heads the first Workers Party government in the country’s history. Brazilian social movements including the CUT (the national labor federation), the Landless Peasant’s Movement and religious groups organized a people’s plebiscite on the FTAA in which over 10 million citizens voted; more than 98 percent rejected the FTAA. Though many business interests in Brazil advocate for a comprehensive FTAA, and some sectors want the minimum FTAA to earn enough money through exports to pay back their foreign debt, the anti-FTAA forces have so far managed to keep Brazil from giving in to U.S. demands.


View From Venezuela
The staunchest opposition to the FTAA at the negotiating table comes from Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has become a hero among the country’s poor majority.  In 1998, Venezuelans elected this Afro-Indian son of schoolteachers who has resisted U.S. economic domination and strives to redistribute oil wealth. They then voted to elect a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution, which was approved in 1999 by more than 71 percent of the vote.

Venezuela’s negotiating position in the FTAA, based on this Constitution, most closely resembles the priorities of the hemisphere’s social movements. It mirrors several key aspects of civil society critiques, which assert that the negotiating process is undemocratic and non-transparent; that the agreement would give rights to corporations at the expense of sovereignty and democracy; and that the privatization of services is a death knell for poor people across the region.

Because of its anti-FTAA position, Venezuela has called for an extension of the January 1, 2005 deadline. According to article 73 of the Constitution, the government would have to hold a popular referendum on the FTAA so that citizens could decide whether to approve it or not. This commitment to citizens directly voting on the FTAA is the primary strategy of the social movements in the hemisphere.

In addition, Venezuela has argued that the proposed FTAA cannot truly be fair until the member countries are more equal economically. Its leaders have put forward a detailed proposal for the creation of Funds for Structural Convergence. This fund, which has now gained the support of 24 nations, would involve a massive shifting of wealth from the rich countries to the smaller, more vulnerable nations, to ensure that inequalities among countries are reduced.

These policies have raised the ire of the U.S. government, which has been supporting opposition elements that were responsible for the failed military-business coup of April 2002 against the democratically elected government. That failed coup, which was outright praised by Washington, was reversed by a massive outpouring of hundreds of thousands of citizens in the streets. [As of this writing, a recall election is pending.] As achieving a comprehensive FTAA remains the Bush administration’s number one goal in Latin America, the lack of cooperation from Venezuela in pursuing the FTAA has ruffled many feathers—from the Trade Ministry, to the State Department, and all the way to the White House.

Envisioning the Alternatives
Social movements in the hemisphere have learned that we must promote our own vision of an alternative to the proposed FTAA. To that end, anti-FTAA organizations, working together through the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA), have developed the Alternative Agreement for the Americas. It starts with the premise that the people should have a voice in determining the future of regional integration. It also asserts that the first step toward more equality in the hemisphere would be debt reduction. Enforcement of core labor and environmental rights and standards should also be at the center of any new agreements. Governments should be encouraged to adopt new local, national and global rules to discourage harmful speculative activity, and to encourage lasting investments in productive and sustainable local economic activities. Access for foreign products and investments should be negotiated with adequate concern for national development plans and priorities. Protection of critical sectors, such as food production, must be the right of each country so as to ensure the rights and well-being of all people. This document, collectively endorsed and produced by hundreds of social movements and organizations in the Hemispheric Social Alliance, is available in its entirety at

Venezuela has also produced a model vision of how nations in the region could work towards regional integration, based on shared concern for the environment, health, education, food security and human rights. The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas—ALBA, in Spanish—was drafted as a counterweight to the argument that the only path towards regional integration is economic subservience to the corporate elite in the North. ALBA is the only national proposal that closely mirrors the vision of the social movements in the hemisphere. It includes counter-proposals to every negotiating area of the FTAA, including market access, investment, services, government procurement, agriculture, intellectual property, competition policy, subsidies, dispute settlement, and special and differential treatment. But it also includes sections to ensure that any agreement addressing regional integration is also compatible with previous commitments and social justice goals relating to the environment, human rights and women’s rights. The ALBA proposal is available in Spanish through the Venezuela Information Office, at (202) 737-6637, x27.

If global justice advocates are to achieve our goal of stopping the FTAA, we must strengthen our alliances across the continent. We must work together with our partners in Latin America, and share information and organizing strategies. We must integrate the movements against corporate globalization with domestic struggles for economic justice and community empowerment. We must envision, develop, and promote alternatives with the same fervor that we oppose the current model. And as U.S. citizens, we must defend democracy in those countries, such as Venezuela, where our own government seeks to destabilize it—precisely because of the government’s social and economic justice policies. 

Deborah James is the global economy director at Global Exchange, where she has been promoting fair trade, demanding corporate accountability, and organizing against corporate globalization for ten years. She is currently on sabbatical to direct the Venezuela Information Office.

Related Stories: 
Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 
Oftentimes the Indigenous and farmers’ organizations form the backbone of the popular mobilization capacity of these alliances because corporate globalization threatens not only their wages or their health care but their entire way of life.

Engendering Global Justice: Women First

A tool for prioritizing women in trade deals

11-1 Page 68 image 1

In the village of San Ignacio, Mexico, Felicitas Villalobos weaves baskets. For Felicitas and many of the Tarahumara Indians living in a poverty-stricken region, creating baskets is one of the only ways to earn an income.  At 28, she is a mother of two small children and the sole wage earner for her family.  Her baskets can sell for nearly $100 a week on the export market where she can earn up to three times as much as a factory worker.  Still, because of taxes imposed on exports since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), her earnings do not meet Mexico’s official living wage of $445 per month, which includes the average cost of food, clothing and housing for a family of four.  However, if the taxes were removed, Felicitas's earnings would increase by $66 per month, bringing her income to just above the living wage and providing a more stable life for her family.

A recent Women’s Edge Coalition study shows that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had negative social impacts on poor women—like Felicitas Villalobos—and their families, and communities in Mexico (the only developing country in the trade pact). According to the study, “NAFTA and the FTAA: Impact on Mexico’s Agriculture Sector,” NAFTA caused poverty to increase by 50 percent for women-headed households, while poverty decreased by five percent for male-headed households. Additionally, the amount of basic goods (food, clothing, health, education and housing) that Mexicans could afford to buy dropped by 50 percent between 1990 and 2000, further exacerbating women’s poverty. 

How Trade Affects Women
Of the 1.13 billion people living in poverty globally, the vast majority are women. Although international trade has the ability to lift these women —as well as their families and their communities— out of poverty, it is currently leaving many behind. 

Though trade is considered to be gender-neutral, several factors limit women’s capacity to engage in trade activity. For example, social and cultural discrimination may reduce women’s access to the type of education and technological training needed for them to get some of the better-paying jobs created by trade agreements. Since women face a sex-segregated labor market in many countries, they are often not hired for jobs for which they qualify. Considered “secondary” wage earners, women tend to be the last hired and first fired. Women of child-bearing age may also be discouraged from seeking jobs in certain sectors which are considered physically taxing.

Fast Facts

  • Women in Latin America comprise 70 to 90 percent of the labor force in the Export-Processing Zones (EPZs), assembling garments, textiles and electronics for export.
  • Women handicraft producers in Latin America comprise 70 percent of craft workers who make  textiles, jewelry and ceramics sold locally and globally.
  • In Africa, women farmers are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of domestic food crops.
  • In India and Bangladesh, 90 percent of working women are in the informal sector—unregulated work, such as domestic servants and street vendors.
  • Women own between one-fourth and one-third of businesses worldwide.
  • Women’s unpaid labor (i.e. caring for their children) is the voluntary “social capital” that provides the foundation for the next generation.
  • As consumers, women typically decide what to buy (or obtain) to provide their families with food, water, clothes and shelter. 


The Trade Impact Review
The Women’s Edge Coalition believes that trade can work for women. But trade agreements are currently negotiated and implemented with no systematic effort to examine the potential impacts on the poor—the purported target population to benefit from trade and economic growth. If the goal of trade is to reduce poverty, it is essential to conduct proper analyses to forecast how trade will affect the poor, especially poor women.

To shed light on the links between trade, women and poverty, the Women's Edge Coalition developed the Trade Impact Review (TIR), a tool to assess potential positive and negative impacts caused by trade agreements.  By conducting the TIR, trade negotiators, policy makers and development professionals can accurately gage how trade will affect women and make educated decisions that benefit everyone. 

The TIR is a framework which encourages interested parties to: gather gender-related data from a variety of sources; use computer models to look specifically at the roles of women and men, and forecast trade’s possible effects; and consider in-depth social analyses. The process of conducting the TIR involves a wide array of stakeholders, including citizens’ groups, in an open and transparent process. The tool examines agriculture, manufacturing, services, informal and home-based sectors, foreign investment, intellectual property rights, domestic laws and regulations, labor standards, human rights, and social protections for the poor. 

The TIR is the centerpiece of the Women’s Edge Coalition’s Look FIRST (Full Impact Review and Screening of Trade) Campaign, the goal of which is to pass legislation requiring the U.S. government to conduct a Trade Impact Review. In a victory for the women of Central America, the Women’s Edge Coalition successfully worked with U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to ensure that the U.S. Trade Representative looks at how Central American workers may be affected by the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). This success will enable U.S. and Central American trade negotiators to examine employment options, as well as wages and working conditions for women in the region, in order to craft policies that help the poorest women. The Women’s Edge Coalition is also working to ensure that such comprehensive assessments are required for every trade agreement that the United States signs.

Write a Letter

To support the Look FIRST campaign and urge the United States to conduct Trade Impact Reviews, send a postcard or letter to the U.S. Trade Representative:


Ambassador Robert Zoellick
U.S. Trade Representative
600 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C.  20004

Dear Ambassador Zoellick:

As the United States continues to work with developing countries to expand free trade in regions throughout the world, it is important to ensure that trade liberalization will bring new economic opportunities to the poor. Women are the vast majority of the world’s poorest citizens. For trade to lift the poor out of poverty, trade negotiators must examine how trade benefits and hinders the poorest of the poor—women and their children.

To ensure equal progress for everyone, I/we urge you to include in all U.S. trade agreements an assessment, such as the Women’s Edge Coalition’s Trade Impact Review, of how trade will affect women.

We appreciate your attention to this important matter.



Marceline A. White, is the global trade director at the Women’s Edge Coalition ( She has written about many aspects of women and trade. Her most recent article, “Women and Global Trade: ‘Engendering’ a New Development-Centered, Rights-Based Trade Policy,” will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Gender and Justice.  


  1. Gereffi, Gary & Lynn Hempel, “Latin America and the Global Economy: Running Faster to Stay in Place,” NACLA Vol XXIX, No. 4, 1996, page 22.
  2. “News Advisory: Women Entrepreneurs are a Growing International Trend,” National Foundation of Women Business Owners (NFBWO); February 28, 1997.
  3. “News Advisory: Women Entrepreneurs Worldwide Voice Optimism,” NFBWO; March 3, 1998.
  4. Mehra, Rekha & Sarah Gammage “Trends, Countertrends, and Gaps in Women’s Employment,” World Development Vol. 27, No. 3, 1999, page 538.
  5. “The Craft of Sustainable Development,” Americas, Washington: Organization of the American States, 1999.
  6. UNDP, Human Development Report, 1999, United Nations.
  7. The Global Labour Institute, Notes on Trade Unions and the Informal Sector,
Related Stories: 

Engendering Global Justice: A Different Vision

What can ensure that globalization is a truly progressive force that allows us all to live in a world where, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, the winds of the world blow freely all about us, but we are not blown off our feet?

My answer is simple: women.

In my years of working at the Global Fund for Women, the largest grantmaking foundation in the world that focuses exclusively on advancing women’s rights internationally, I have had the privilege of hearing from thousands of women’s groups.   These groups work on such issues as the environment, health, education, water rights, inheritance rights, trafficking and early marriage. In their work they are fired by a very different imagination—a vision of a world that is not defined by brute force or military power. They are able to envision a world where conflicts are resolved using words instead of weapons. They are able to conceive of a world where a truly “free market” will decide that the value of a teacher or child care worker is reflected in a salary that shows how much society truly values children, education and community over profit margins. 

What enables women to imagine such a world? I don’t believe that it’s some genetic gift of superior insight. Rather, because women have been excluded from power for so long and marginalized in so many cultures across the globe, they are able to rethink the paradigm that appears self-evident to others. No matter where they live or what religion they practice, women are “global” in a way that men have never been: the experience of bearing and raising children, of nurturing and caring for the sick and the old, and of preserving life, is true for women everywhere.

As we look for ways to re-imagine our economies and our governance structures, women may be able to help us shape priorities and values that will in turn be reflected in the marketplace. Women are able to offer a new vision of how such a world might be organized, where collaborative and cooperative systems would replace “old-fashioned” industrial-age models of competition and ruthless exploitation.  Human security—of person, of food, and of shelter—would replace narrow militaristic definitions of national security. 

The Global Fund’s own experience provides some evidence of this possibility. Our mission is to advance women’s human rights and to amplify the voices giving birth to this alternative vision—namely, women’s groups around the world. Theirs is a truly twenty-first-century imagination of globalization, one that is in harmony with the word “global”—that values mother earth, and is round, warm, all-encompassing, inclusive, borderless. At another level we seek to model this alternative vision as an organization, inverting the traditional hierarchical model of philanthropy by opening it up to participation by all who seek to create social change, and transforming relations between North-South and Grantee-Donor to a network of equal partners who respect and trust one another.

It is often said that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. In the case of women, perhaps their long-term and systemic exclusion from the broader economy and from roles of public leadership is exactly what offers them the ability to imagine a future where, in the words of environmental activist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, “they can refuse the choice between centralized controlling states and centralized controlling markets and demand decentralized democracy for local communities, vibrant lived democracies that are possible for humanity across the world.”

Gandhi once said, “It may be long before the law of love is recognized in international affairs.” For his dream to be realized we will need women’s vision, imagination and participation to transform the global economy. Only then can their ripples of change bring about a tidal wave of lasting transformation and a truly ethical globalization for all. 

Kavita N. Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women since 1996, is a recognized leader in the fields of women's rights and philanthropy. Before joining the Global Fund, Kavita supported both domestic and international programs in economic development and population issues as a program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.

The New Face of Agriculture

Alternative models to corporate agribusiness

11-1 page 72 image 1

For thousands of years, small family farmers across the globe have grown food for their local communities, planting diverse crops in healthy soil, recycling organic matter, following nature’s rainfall patterns, and maintaining our rich biodiversity. Today, this agricultural system—which was built on knowledge accumulated and passed on from one farming generation to the next—faces both an environmental and moral crisis.

What’s called “modern industrial agriculture” is replacing family farms with corporate farms, and biodiversity with monocultures. This agricultural model is trading local food security for global commerce.

America is no different. U.S. farmers have been sold out to corporate agribusiness. Ever-increasing numbers of farm bankruptcies and foreclosures reap a grim harvest of alcoholism, suicides, and loss of community. In the 1930s, 25 percent of the U.S. population lived on the nation’s 6 million farms; today 2 million farms are home to less than 2 percent of the population. Small family farms have been substituted by large commercial farms, and 8 percent of farms now account for 72 percent of sales. Between 1994 and 1996, about 25 percent of all U.S. hog farmers, 10 percent of all grain farmers, and 10 percent of dairy farmers went out of business.

Federal agricultural policies have contributed to the decline of the American countryside. Recent farm bills, like the 2002 farm bill, ensure that crop subsidies don’t go to the mythic American family farmer but to wealthy corporations like MeadWestvaco, Chevron, John Hancock insurance company, and rich individuals like Ted Turner and David Rockefeller. Such policies, while subsidizing agribusiness interests, leave family farms with nothing but a tax bill.

Corporate agribusiness also robs the world’s poor. Wielding the power of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and international trade agreements, the United States has opened up foreign markets for its agribusiness corporations, forcing poor countries to remove subsidies and lower tariffs. United States exports corn at prices 20 percent below the cost of production, and wheat at 46 percent below cost. The result is a reverse Robin Hood effect: U.S. farm subsidies cost poor countries about $50 billion a year in lost agricultural exports, while profits for agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland have nearly tripled since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

What is Food Sovereignty?

Following are principles, culled from people’s movements such as Via Campesina (, of a just global food system. Food sovereignty includes:

1. Prioritizing local, regional, and national needs, based on agriculture that consists of small farmers, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and other local communities;
2. Protecting local and national markets of basic food stuffs to give priority to the products of local farmers;
3. Promoting and enforcing farmers’ rights, including access to land, water and seed;
4. Promoting sustainable peasant agriculture, which is more productive and protects our biodiversity;
5. Genuine land reform to ensure redistribution of land;
6. A new farm economy which should be at the centerpiece of economic development.


Farmers Fight Back
But any system built on structural inequities is ultimately unsustainable because it fuels conflict and struggle along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity.

Last year, Mexican farm leaders, under a united front that proclaimed, “The Countryside Can’t Take it Any More,” started a hunger strike to protest the agriculture chapters of NAFTA. Mexico was once self-sufficient in basic grains, but largely as result of NAFTA, now imports 95 percent of its soy, 58 percent of its rice, 49 percent of its wheat, and 40 percent of its meat. An estimated 600 peasant farmers are forced off their land each day because they are unable to compete with the cheap agricultural commodities dumped in their country by the United States. The hunger strike—accompanied by demonstrations along the U.S.-Mexico border, on highways, at airports, and at the offices of transnational agribusiness corporations—saw an outpouring of support, both nationally and internationally.

This cross-border organizing is an example of the new face of agriculture. It was also evident at the Fifth Ministerial of the World Trade Organization in Cancún, September 2004. Lee Kyung Hae, leader of the Korean Federation of Advanced Farmers Association, climbed the barricades that were blocking over 15,000 protesting farmers, Indigenous people, and youth from the trade talks. Wearing a sandwich board that read, “The WTO Kills Farmers,” Lee Kyung Hae took his life with a knife to the heart. Lee, whose own farm had foreclosed four years earlier, had watched hundreds of his comrades driven off their lands over the years. His suicide symbolized the sacrifice of the global countryside.

But this new face of agriculture is not without hope. Farmers around the world, the stewards of our land and keepers of nature’s inheritance, have not quit. Their resilience is testimony to a growing global resistance to corporate-controlled food:

  • Rural communities in Pennsylvania and South Dakota are responding to the corporate takeover of our food system by advocating anti-corporate farming laws and preventing factory farms from being located in their communities.
  • The organic food movement is the fastest growing sector in U.S. agriculture. Because of the efforts of family farm groups, farm workers, community gardeners, nutritionists, and environmentalists, farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) have doubled in the past decade. Organically grown food from Boston’s inner city Food Project is feeding the homeless in soup kitchens. Sold at reasonable prices at inner city farmers’ markets, this food feeds 225 CSA family shareholders. For instance, Oakland is home to the People’s Grocery, a community garden and mobile market in the heart of West Oakland. And nationwide, farm-to-school programs are helping local farmers supply schools with nutritious meals for students.
  • Resistance to the biotech industry is growing internationally, from Mendocino to Australia to Sudan. In May of this year, pressure from farmers and environmental groups forced biotech giant Monsanto to abandon its plans to commercialize its genetically modified (GM) wheat crops. Two months earlier, Mendocino County voters approved the nation's first ban on the raising and keeping of GM crops or animals. Also that month, Vermont senators voted 28-0 to support the Farmer Protection Act, a bill to hold biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by GM plant materials. Sudan recently joined Zambia and India in rejecting GM food aid from the United States, and the Angolan Government, too, declared that it opposes GM crops. Western Australia became the first Australian state to ban the commercial growing of GM crops. Meanwhile, 300 small farmers celebrated an annual corn festival in Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, to promote the use and exchange of native corn seeds.
  • The Movement of Landless Workers (MST) in Brazil has forced the Brazilian government to award more than 20 million acres of agricultural land to over 350,000 MST families since the movement's founding in 1984.
  • The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—joined by hundreds of university and high-school students, faith-based groups and other farm workers’ advocates—set off this spring on a 45-mile-long Taco Bell Truth Tour from east Los Angeles to Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California. Immokalee farm workers, who have not seen a wage increase since 1978, are demanding an additional one cent per pound of tomatoes.

Each of these examples is more than a model of an alternative food system. They are case studies of real change taking place on the ground—slowly, organically, steadily. They signify a new consciousness that acknowledges that food is both personal and political. This new face of agriculture is the pathway to a new future that embraces a life-affirming and just food system. What is the battle cry of this movement?  Food sovereignty is a fundamental human right. 

Article Sources

  1. A. Mittal, “Freedom to Trade? Trading Away American Family Farms.” Food First Backgrounder, Fall 2001.
  2. A. Mittal, “Giving Away the Farm: The 2002 Farm Bill.” Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2002.
  3. Douglass Cassel Jr., “The Great Trade Robbery,” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, May 16, 2002.

Anuradha Mittal, a native of India, is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, human rights and agriculture issues. She is the founder and director of a new policy think tank, The Oakland Institute. Previously, she spent nearly a decade at Food First/ Institute for Food and Development Policy and was its co-director. She lives in Oakland (

Alternative Energy

Innovative ideas and steps toward a more sustainable global system

11-1 Page 75 image 1

There is no longer any reason for this unsustainable [global energy] situation to persist. Considering the social, environmental, and security problems intrinsic to fossil fuel-based economies, it is a wonder that this form of energy production has survived to the present at all.

A number of countries have already shown that it is possible to eliminate dependency on electricity generated from nuclear power, which also poses an unnecessary threat to the health and security of millions of people around the world.

  • Italy shut down all five of its nuclear reactors between 1987 and 1990, after the accident at Chernobyl and a vote by the Italian people in a referendum against nuclear power.
  • Following a referendum in 1980, Sweden announced that it would phase out its twelve nuclear reactors, which generated half of the country’s electricity.
  • Belgium announced in 1999 that it would phase out its seven nuclear reactors, which generate nearly 60 percent of the country’s electricity between 2015 and 2025.
  • The Netherlands has closed down its two nuclear reactors.
  • Germany pledged in 2000 to close down all of its nineteen nuclear reactors, which generate 30 percent of its electricity, by 2021. Wind power will replace them.

Most of the technology needed for a complete transformation of our energy infrastructure is already available. We can increase energy efficiency many times over and meet all our remaining needs with a mix of renewable resources: solar, biomass, geothermal, minihydro, micropower turbines, and most imminent and important, wind energy and hydrogen fuel systems; the latter is directly applicable to cars, trucks, airplanes, ships, and all other modes of transit.

None of these alternative technologies are esoteric or difficult to develop; in fact, all are already in use in many places. For example, Denmark gets 15 percent of its total electricity from wind turbines. Hydrogen and solar energy systems are powering the U.S. space program and many other military programs. In Germany, BMW is operating and selling hydrogen-powered cars with conventional engines that are far more efficient than gasoline-powered cars. In Japan, Mazda is converting its rotary engine to hydrogen. DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Honda, Toyota and GM are also developing hydrogen fuel cell cars. And the Rocky Mountain Institute—an important technology think tank and research institute directed by Amory Lovins—has completed design and construction of a prototype hydrogen fuel cell “hypercar” that will be inexpensive, has most of the safety and performance features of standard cars, and is claimed to achieve the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon using hydrogen. (See Lovin’s book Hypercars: Materials, Manufacturing, and Policy Implications)

Hydrogen has none of the geopolitical problems of oil, and it is not scarce. It is, in fact, the most plentiful element in the universe and can be converted directly from water. It can be unlocked from water by electrolysis, using electrical energy from wind turbines, or it can be reformed from natural gas. The process is relatively simple; it does not pollute—its only tailpipe emission is water—and no global cartel can control it.

Iceland has begun work to achieve its goal of becoming the first country in the world to use hydrogen-fuel cell technology to displace all of its remaining fossil fuel use by 2030. And the state of North Dakota is gearing toward the introduction of 10,000 megawatts from wind generation on farmlands there.  Denmark plans to build a new series of large-scale offshore wind farms in the North Sea and the Baltic that will generate half of the country’s power by 2030.

Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, predicts that in many countries wind turbines will supply both electricity and, through electrolysis of water, hydrogen. Together, says Brown, “electricity and hydrogen can meet all the energy needs of a modern society.”

In another report from Worldwatch, “Hydrogen Futures,” Seth Dunn predicts a nearly complete transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen within a century, although it could be argued that we should move much faster than that if we are to save the global climate. Dr. Ty Cashman, former secretary of energy of California, says “an informed global public may be all that is required to bring an end to the climate-destabilizing fossil fuel era.” And U.S. Windpower Corporation founder Alvin Duskin, now head of the new Committee for the Conversion of the Oil-Based Economy, an NGO in San Francisco, says, “The only thing limiting the immediate conversion is the assumption that hydrogen is more expensive to produce than oil, but only if you ignore the repeating military costs from protecting oil suppliers and fighting wars, and the environmental costs from cleanups of oil spills and the like. If you delivered those costs to the pumping station, hydrogen would already be far cheaper. In any case, within a few years the unit price will be lower than gasoline, no matter how the costs are calculated.”

Transitioning from Fossil Fuels
In a recent comprehensive report, “Energy Innovations: A Prosperous Path to a Clean Environment,” the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), founded by the late Nobel laureate Dr. Henry Kendall, undertook a thorough analysis of steps needed to make a transition from fossil fuels to an energy future without the myriad political, economic, environmental, and social harms that are inherent in the present model. In addition to endorsing most of the alternative systems already mentioned, UCS cites recent advances in membrane technologies, advanced gas turbines, and integrated green building designs that would further reduce dependency on either fossil fuels or nuclear sources. UCS also suggests a highly innovative set of new tax strategies they could reallocate costs to motivate higher energy efficiency and lower emissions while avoiding any overall increase of taxes and fees.

Other well-circulated tax ideas include a so-called carbon tax on fossil fuels and a Tobin tax on all international financial transactions. This latter tax could be earmarked directly for the conversion away from a fossil fuels economy. It should be remembered that 30 years ago, production tax credits helped kick-start a vital new turn to solar and wind. But when oil prices plummeted and Ronald Reagan took office, that changed. It must now be revived again.

All of the above is aside from the great contribution that could be made from even minimal efforts at direct energy conservation. The New Economics Foundation points out that energy has been conserved on a mass scale with enormous success in many countries in periods of crisis. During World War II, for example, the United Kingdom reduced its fossil fuel use by 80 percent yet still mounted a major military effort. The United States had similar results on the occasions in its history when energy conservation became a national priority—unlike the present, when additional consumption is the national goal. In recent years, countries such as Germany, Japan, and Sweden have drastically reduced their energy use without notable diminishment in lifestyle. Indeed, such changes would likely bring a far more peaceful, healthful existence within newly stabilized and localized democratic systems.

If we converted now to this kind of combination of new energy sources for all electricity and transportation, we would immediately achieve the following positive outcomes:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions (global warming) would be reduced by at least 30 percent in two decades, and much more after that.
  • Dependency on expensive, environmentally disastrous long-distance shipment of petroleum would be eliminated.
  • The powers of corrupt, undemocratic governments and gigantic industry cartels would be undermined.
  • Vulnerability to oil price and supply shocks that bring global economic crises would be reduced.
  • Military expenditures for the protection of oil-producing nations and the supply lines that connect them to their customers would be reduced.
  • New jobs in more labor-intensive, localized alternative energy fields would be created.
  • The primary contributor to air and land pollution as well as acid rain would be eliminated.
  • The impact on Indigenous people of the world, whose lands are often targeted for exploitation and invasion for their oil reserves, would be lessened.
  • Vulnerability to accidents or terrorist attacks would be reduced. (Most experts believe that a hydrogen-powered jetliner striking a skyscraper would have produced no explosion at all.)

Government and Grassroots Action
To increase the political viability of this transformation from fossil fuels, many NGOs and some government agencies are circulating draft domestic sustainable energy statutes, as well as draft international treaties, to establish independent international agencies to work with and lead governments in making these changes. Among the more comprehensive and widely circulated is an international sustainable energy fund statute prepared by the New York-based Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE). A full draft was released at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002 (see
). The fund would support sustainable energy programs for the world’s two billion poor and would finance the programs with the savings from the phase-out of government subsidies to fossil fuels. Imagine the impact if such a fund were established and fossil fuels lending by the international financial institutions and government export credit agencies were eliminated.

Michael Northrup of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a foundation in New York, argues that people of most countries are way ahead of politicians, especially in the United States. On climate change issues, for example, he says, “Growing evidence suggests that a real movement has begun at the subfederal level to lower greenhouse gas emissions, often at rates equal to or better than those proposed in any international accord.” He offers the following inspiring list of grassroots actions in the United States:

  • Six New England states, together with five eastern Canadian provinces, agreed this past spring to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 to 80 percent to help stabilize the globe’s climate system.
  • New York State is now in the process of formulating a climate action plan.
  • Massachusetts became the first state in the nation [in 2002] to mandate reductions in carbon emissions from power plants.
  • California legislators recently passed new state automobile efficiency rules to meet the Kyoto auto emissions reduction target.
  • Fifteen states have developed clean energy funds with $3.5 billion in expected assets to underwrite the development of clean energy generation in their states.
  • Thirteen states have adopted policies that require some portion of the power generated to come from renewable sources.
  • Nearly 40 states have put in place net metering rules that allow utility customers to generate energy at home, using solar arrays, wind power, and eventually fuel cells, and to sell the excess energy back into the electric power grid. (This reduces the cost for households wishing to install renewable energy systems by allowing them to pay down purchase costs more quickly.)
  • More than one hundred municipalities across the country have developed plans for greenhouse gas reductions of up to 20 percent.
  • Seattle’s city council formally passed a measure adopting the Kyoto protocol.
  • Chicago announced that it would demand that 20 percent of all its energy come from renewable sources.
  • San Francisco voters passed a referendum that will turn city rooftops into solar collectors to generate clean power.
  • Six hundred hospitals announced that they want to purchase renewable power.
  • Faith communities are also getting involved, with scores of churches, mosques, and synagogues around the country promising to reduce their emissions.
  • Several universities, including Tufts, have adopted the Kyoto protocol, and are analyzing their emissions footprints and adopting reduction strategies.
  • Wesleyan University announced that it would seek to buy 10 percent of its power from renewable sources.
  • Anecdotal evidence is emerging of increasing numbers of individual households adopting their own emissions reduction strategies.

Although these examples of grassroots action are insignificant on the larger plane, they do signify an awakening public. And getting the United States to take real action is critical. Although the world community is willing to act without the United States, a strengthened subfederal reductions movement connected to federal policymaking could help the transition happen faster. 

Excerpted, with permission from the publisher, from Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible, A Report of the International Forum on Globalization (2002) by IFG, drafting committee, John Cavanaugh, et al. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), San Francisco, CA. All rights reserved (

Related Stories: