One year ago, February 15, 2003, millions of people around the world filled the streets, marched, chanted, and sang for peace. It was not a single organization or movement that brought out the largest global protest in history. It was thousands of organizations and millions of choices people made to be there, but a single passion. Some count the day as a failure because the United States did attack Iraq the following month. But on February 15, we, the people of the world, made a powerful statement of clarity and resolve. And our marches and rallies were marked by the collaborative spirit, creativity, and peacefulness that we are working to bring into the world. The New York Times captured the significance when it announced the emergence of a second superpower.
The February 15 peace uprising is just the most visible of many efforts in which ordinary people from around the world are together making things happen that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Some trace this global convergence back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where civil society, excluded from meaningful participation in the official UN-sponsored event, held their own summit. As they shared experiences of environmental crisis and successful innovations, and worked together to write citizens' treaties, they began developing a global consensus on ecological sustainability.
Others trace this grassroots-style globalization to the uprising of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect 10 years ago this January, and the subsequent gatherings of global activists in the jungles of southern Mexico (see Weinberg). Still others trace this international activism to the late 1700s when people joined forces across continents and oceans to end an earlier practice of global, exploitative commerce—the slave trade (see article by Zahara Heckscher).
International political movements are not new. What is new is the global convergence of values around peace, ecological sustainability, and the rights of people to self-determination and freedom from poverty. In recent years, these values have found expression in the launching of the International Criminal Court, the land mines treaty, the Kyoto Accords and other initiatives of global civil society.
But how do we turn these shared values more fully into the lived realities of our world? In particular—given that the U.S. has declined to participate in these and other such agreements, and given trends that continue to show environmental decline and increasing warfare and polarization of rich and poor — how do we do so before we are engulfed in global warfare or ecological disaster?
Albert Einstein famously warned that we cannot solve problems with the kind of thinking that got us into them. Today's culture of domination cannot save itself, or us, from its ravenous economic system, over-inflated military, and wasting of the planet's life support capacity.
Instead, our best hope is coming from those who have resisted the seduction of the evils of materialism and militarism, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would put it (see article by Grace Lee Boggs). This leadership is emerging from the grassroots in communities around the world, especially among women and people of color who are rarely invited to the summits of the powerful and whose voices are rarely heard in the media. It is this leadership in the countries of the industrialized North as well as the South, and our collaborations across boundaries of nationality, race, religion, and gender, that gives credence to the World Social Forum slogan, “Another World is Possible.” (See Fran Korten's report on the January 2004 World Social Forum).
Sarah Ruth van Gelder
P.S. March 20, 2004, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be yet another occasion for a global call for peace. Check with local activists for planned activities—or create your own!