Building an AIternative


by Kevin Danaher

As Tom Athanasiou says in his excellent book, Divided Planet: "Our tragedy lies in the richness of the available alternatives, and in the fact that so few of them are ever seriously explored." The technical means exist for feeding, housing and educating all the people on earth. The main problem confronting us is how to mobilize enough political will to overthrow the current system of elite rule and build a sustainable and equitable world economy. The goods news is that there are hundreds of groups struggling to create more democratic control of the capitol and the capital. What needs to be done?

1. Demystify the system and teach ourselves how to organize alternatives. We need critical education about how the global economy really works: who benefits and who loses.

The International Forum on Globalization in San Francisco organizes educational conferences and distributes useful educational materials on globalization. Call them at (415) 771-3394.

One of the most basic human skills-how to organize-needs to be taught in a systematic way so average citizens can create their own solutions to community problems rather than waiting for some distant 'leader' to do the job. Some of the better groups for helping your community get organized are included in the following list.

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

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

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

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

2. Reform international economic institutions. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were originally chartered as part of the United Nations and were supposed to be under the control of the General Assembly (the more representative branch of the UN). But the global bankers now have complete control of these powerful bodies and they function to transfer wealth from the poor of the world to large banks and corporations.

The 50 Years Is Enough Network has a detailed plan for restructuring these institutions to promote sustainable and participatory development. Contact them at (202) IMF-BANK.

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

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

Corporations exist only because we the people allow them to exist via charters issued by our state governments. If we could mobilize enough people to pressure our state governments, we could revise corporate chartering laws to impose codes of conduct or-in cases of corporate wrongdoing-we could re voke the corporation's charter and put them out of business. Some states already have this legislation on the books but there is not enough public awareness to exercise this restraint on corporate power.

For more information on this strategy, contact The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, (508) 487-3151.

4. A tactic that has proven useful in many different struggles is boycotting corporate products. For a comprehensive list of cur rent boycotts and articles on strategy and tactics, see Boycott Quarterly ($20/year), Center for Economic Democracy, P.O. Box 30727, Seattle, WA 98103-0727. Another good boycott newsletter (BoycottAction News) is published as an insert in the Co-op America Quarterly, 1612 K Street NW, #600, Washington, DC 20006.

5. Special attention needs to be given to the environmental depredations of global corporations. But it is not enough to focus public attention on specific misdeeds of corporations; it is necessary to criticize these misdeeds as part of a systemic ten dency of corporations to put their own profits above the well being of our planet. Groups we have worked with who are able to link practical action with a larger understanding of the need for system-wide change include:

Rainforest Action Network, (415) 398-4404 has many campaigns, including one to pressure Mitsubishi Corporation to stop clearcutting tropical rainforests.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition organizes college students on many global issues (919) 967-4600.

Greenpeace still ranks as one of the more creative and militant organizations working on environmental issues. You can get local Greenpeace contacts by calling their Washington office at (202) 462- 1177.

6. A key battleground for the corporations is the minds of our young people. Corporations have penetrated the public school system with commercial messages and an ideology that extols profit-making as a civic virtue. A key group leading the resistance to this mind pollution is The Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, 360 Grand Ave., Suite 385, Oakland, CA 94610, (510) 268-1100.

7. We need a major restructuring of the U.S. tax system. All taxes redistribute wealth: the question is, in which direction do we want that redistribution to go. To spur economic growth and more equity, we should demand a tax system that transfers wealth down ward to the majority instead of upward to the minority. The former could lead us toward equal opportunity; the latter is leading us toward increasing class conflict and a deterioration of our society.

Contact Citizens for Tax Justice, (202) 626-3780. For an accessible critique of the current U.S. tax system, see Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).

8. Corporate power is nowhere more evident than in U.S. trade policy. Whether it's the struggle over NAFTA or efforts by big corporations to get Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China, one of the best groups researching and organizing on these issues is Public Citizen. Its Global Trade Watch program can be reached at Public Citizen, 215 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003, (202) 546-4996.

9. We must put the issue of inequality on the political agenda. Most Americans are aware that inequality is getting worse but they lack specifics on just how bad the problem is and what we can do to fix it.

For information on this central issue and what we can do about it, contact Share the Wealth (617) 423-2148 and ask for a sample copy of their quarterly newsletter, Too Much.

10. A growing number of groups are printing their own forms of currency as a way to strengthen local economies against the power of large corporations. This strategy has worked quite well in Ithaca, New York and other places. To get an Ithaca Hours starter kit for $25, contact Ithaca Money, Box 6578, Ithaca, NY 14851. Other groups with information on local currencies include: LETS, c/o Landsman Community Services, Ltd., 1660 Embelton Crescent, Courtenay, BC, V9N 6N8, Canada (604) 338 0213; E. F. Schumacher Society, Box 76A, RD 3, Great Barrington, MA 01230 (413) 528-1737; or see New Money for Healthy Communities, by Thomas H. Greco, Jr., P.O. Box 42663, Tucson, AZ 85733.

11. Grassroots development organizations are building alternative economic institutions to provide jobs and include workers in decision-making. The fair trade movement helps third world producer groups market their products in rich-country markets so they can work their way out of poverty rather than being depen dent on charity.

The Fair Trade Federation links fair trade organizations across North America to coordinate strategy and provide third world producer groups with more support. Contact them at (508) 355-0284. Transfair International is developing fair trade labels and links up

12. Get involved with the programs organized by Global Exchange to build grassroots internationalism. Global Exchange sponsors a wide range of programs you can get involved with, including: Reality Tours to dozens of countries, a Fair Trade Program with three stores selling third world crafts, country specific campaigns to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, Mexico, Haiti and other countries, and we provide a broad range of educational materials and speakers. Please see the back pages of this book for more details. We can be reached at (415) 255-7296.

this article is from the book

edited by Kevin Danaher

Common Courage Press
Box 702
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phone - 207-525-0900
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Reforming the System

Corporations Gonna Get Mama