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Building Grassroots Globalization

by Joshua KarlinerCorpWatch
December 1st, 1997

The old 1960s slogan "think globally, act locally" is no longer sufficient as a guiding maxim. Rather, civil society -- popular movements, non-governmental organizations, labor unions, academics, doctors, lawyers, artists and others across the world -- must confront the essential paradox and challenge of the 21st century by developing ways of thinking and acting both locally and globally at the same time.

For without a host of fresh, innovative, coordinated international approaches firmly anchored in a diversity of local realities, the world's social and environmental movements will be rendered increasingly ineffective before the transnational power and mobility of the global corporations in the age of globalization.

Such collaborative initiatives are emerging in a scattershot fashion across the globe. Communities and organizations are increasingly working together across national boundaries to combat corporate abuses. Groups around the world are campaigning jointly around a diversity of issues ranging from Mitsubishi's deforestation, to Union Carbide's ongoing denial of accountability for the Bhopal gas disaster. Indigenous peoples from Nigeria to British Columbia are increasingly working together to save the natural and cultural integrity of their resources from corporate and governmental intervention.

Some organizations such as the Pesticide Action Network have secretariats in every continent dedicated to collaborative efforts to phase out some of the world's most deadly agricultural chemicals. Other organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have offices in dozens of countries working on a series of coordinated campaigns aimed at curbing corporate-led destruction of the global environment. Similar international efforts are also emerging from the South. The recently created Ecuador-based group Oil Watch works with activists throughout the Third World to combat the abuses of transnational oil corporations in the tropics. And the Malaysia-based Third World Network, whose representatives operate in various countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, has helped lead the critique of the GATT and WTO as new structures for global corporate governance.

The kinetic activity in all of these areas begins to provide a picture of a somewhat dispersed but burgeoning process of grassroots globalization. Communities the world over are breaking their isolation and entering into direct contact and collaboration with one another. As a document entitled From Global Pillage to Global Village--the product of a post-NAFTA meeting of more than seventy US-based grassroots organizations--optimistically declares:

The unregulated internationalization of capital is now being followed by the internationalization of peoples' movements and organizations. Building peoples' international organizations and solidarity will be our revolution from within: a civil society without borders. This internationalism or "globalization from below" will be the foundation for a participatory and sustainable global village.

Unfortunately, the current level of organization and approach of most of those working to build grassroots globalization still comes up well short. Corporate globalization continues apace, and civil society has so far been unable to significantly slow or change, let alone reverse its destructive course. Despite sporadic triumphs at the local, national and even international levels, the Corporate Planet continues to appropriate the Blue Planet for its profit- driven motives.

As advocates of social and environmental justice are attempting to navigate the uncharted territory of corporate globalization, this chapter of The Corporate Planet [and this section of our website feature] aims to provide a compass and some rough sketches of a map that may help point in the right direction. It is an attempt to contribute to the discussion of how the existing diversity of efforts to exert democratic control over corporations might develop a strength and power to successfully work in a consistent, strategic and systematic fashion to build a powerful form of grassroots globalization that can challenge structures of corporate rule.

Excerpted from: Joshua Karliner, The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization (Sierra Club Books, 1997).