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From DC: A New Global Solidarity

In the spring issue of YES!, I suggested that those eager to join the momentum for change so evident at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle might want to come to Washington, DC, in April. The occasion was the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A lot of you came! I was delighted to encounter so many YES! readers at the Jubilee 2000 rally on the mall, at the teach-in of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), at the rally on the Ellipse near the White House, and at the protest march on the streets of our capital. The events were another important step on the journey of rethinking our economic system and creating a world that works for all.

I was struck by both the similarities and the differences in the protests on the two coasts. In DC, as in Seattle, people streamed in from a wide range of movements — religious congregations, labor, indigenous peoples, environment, human rights, and many others.

But while in Seattle it was labor that turned out the really big numbers, in DC it was youth. They poured in from campuses and youth organizations up and down the East Coast and beyond, many of them willing — as in Seattle — to lay their bodies on the streets and face unflinchingly the likelihood of abuse at the hands of the police.

Focus on Poor Countries
In Seattle, the focus was on the WTO's challenge to democracy everywhere, while in DC, the focus was on poor countries. Tens of thousands of Americans (as well as many people from other countries) demanded change in the policies of institutions that, on the surface, relate only to the Third World. The size of this protest marks a major change from years past, when only a few hundred demonstrators would turn out to critique World Bank-IMF policies.

We could see this new-found solidarity in the DC protesters' response to Oscar Olivera, a Bolivian factory worker. Olivera was one of the leaders of a revolt against a hike in the price of water in his native province of Cochabamba.

Bolivia is staggering under a massive debt load, much of it created by loans from the World Bank and the IMF. As the country struggles to repay a debt that is ultimately un-repayable, those institutions impose their favored recipe for economic reform: opening markets, encouraging unfettered investment by foreign corporations, reducing government-sponsored health and educational programs, and privatizing government assets.

In compliance with these demands, Bolivia sold Cochabamba's water system to a consortium of private foreign corporations — among them, the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation, Olivera explained. Villagers suddenly found their wells were owned by foreign corporations that immediately raised the price of water, apparently oblivious to the fact that the price increase put this life-essential substance beyond the reach of the poor.

Olivera and thousands of others took to the streets of Bolivia to demand a stop to the sale of the water system.

On the surface, their plight would seem to have little to do with Americans. But those on the Ellipse, at the teach-in, and in the streets of DC gave Olivera standing ovations because in his story they could see the resistance to widening corporate control — accelerated by the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO. They are seeing the damage caused by what many are calling corporate globalization" — the process by which multi-billion-dollar global corporations gain ever more control over the money, the natural resources, and the very laws we live by to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And they could sense that his story is intimately connected to their own lives and the future of this planet.

A Time of Transformation
People around the globe are seeing the interconnections of a dangerous and ultimately unsustainable system.

The worldwide nature of corporate globalization means that whether its forces are playing out in a Midwest town in the US or in the province of Cochabamba in Bolivia, they have the same character. The impacts of this system on the living planet, job opportunities, human rights, and democracy worldwide give the protest movement a quality of global solidarity possibly unique in all of history.

A time of transformation lies before us. The willingness of distinct movements to work together, the incredible commitment of ever more young people, the increasing consensus on the analysis of what is wrong, the growing sense of global solidarity – these are the tributaries flowing into a mighty river of change. Our challenge will be to navigate these waters with wisdom and compassion.


Fran Korten is Executive Director of the Positive Futures Network.

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