Book Reviews : Take It Personally, The Global Activist's Manual, Global Backlash.


Take It Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World
edited by Anita Roddick
$24.95, Conari Press
256 pages, 2001

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The Global Activist's Manual: Local Ways to Change the World
edited by Mike Prokosch and Laura Raymond
$15.95, Thunder's Mountain Press/Nation Books
324 pages, 2002

Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy
edited by Robin Broad
$35.00, Rowman & Littlefield 347 pages, 2001

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The movement against corporate-led globalization has an image problem. In recent years, reporters and opinion makers have taken an undisguised glee in portraying opponents of the economic status quo as 19-year-old nose-ringed know-nothings. And even when the pundits acknowledge that, yes, corporate globalization is exacerbating social inequalities and environmental destruction, they often complain that this social movement knows what it is against, but not what it is for.

Part of the problem is that the backlash to corporate globalization isn't led by any single charismatic figure carrying an all-encompassing manifesto. Rather, critics of globalization are what author Naomi Klein has called a “movement of movements.” The swirl of voices, causes, and agendas has deepened the misunderstandings of who the protesters are and what they want.

Three new books tackle these misunderstandings by letting members of the movement for global social justice and environmental sustainability speak for themselves. All three of the new volumes are edited collections of essays, reflecting the diversity of the movement itself. The authors have taken what is sometimes considered a liability—the movement's range of opinions—and made it into a virtue. Read these three books, and you'll hear no fewer than 99 different voices.

The title of Global Backlash, edited by Robin Broad, a professor at American University, may be misleading, as the author concentrates on ideas for reform, not on mere critique. Broad's concern is to show that, despite what the pundits may think, the backlash against corporate globalization has a host of well-thought-out proposals for change. She breaks the backlash into two categories: reshape and rollback. It's a twist on the old question, reform or revolution.

According to Broad, the reshape school assumes that economic globalization is here to stay, so the best place to concentrate energy is by including social and environmental standards in the globalization framework. The labor and environmental “side agreements” of NAFTA are part of the reshape agenda, as are efforts by anti-sweatshop activists to establish independent monitoring of apparel factories.

Those in the rollback camp want to protect or fence off certain goods from the reach of globalization. The rollback proponents want to ensure that there is no globalization or commercialization of the world's water supply, the world's forests, and certain essential social services. For the most part, the rollbackers believe that local economies are superior to global economies.

Yet even as she charts the variations in the range of backlash visions, Broad is careful to note that the differences haven't led to divisions. This is an important point, and it gets to the spirit of the backlash movement, which is the belief that many different alternatives to the status quo are possible.

What Broad hints at but never really hits straight on is the idea that corporate globalization needs to be both reshaped and rolled back. The billions of people already brutalized by corporate globalization can't wait for the rollback to occur. The sweatshop seamstress, for example, needs relief now, and a reshape agenda can provide it. At the same time, however, tinkering around the edges won't solve the environmental crisis spurred by corporate globalization. The major change envisioned by rollback proponents is necessary if we are to avoid widening ecological disaster.

In The Global Activist's Handbook, Mike Prokosch and Laura Raymond show that there are as many concrete tactics for making change as there are grand proposals. Activists with the Boston-based social justice group United for a Fair Economy, Prokosh and Raymond have put together a comprehensive toolkit for the in-the-trenches organizer who wants to spur people to action. Want to know how to organize a speaking tour for a foreign guest? Anxious to learn about building coalitions with disparate communities, and the pitfalls you might encounter? Curious to know the history of nonviolent direct action and its importance today? This book has the answers, and in providing them it reveals an extraordinarily diverse and strategically minded social movement.

Take It Personally, by The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, combines corporate globalization horror stories with hopeful visions of transformation and everyday ways of contributing to change. While the ideas aren't as fresh as those of the other two books, the presentation is as fresh as it comes. The book has panache—a jazzy, almost MTV-like layout, bleak statistics, and stark images grab the reader's attention. By providing readers with simple suggestions (such as: raise questions, check how companies are really operating, give as generously as you can, and think before you buy), Roddick shows that you don't have to be a full-time activist or brainyacademic to make a difference.

The gamut of ideas found in the backlash movement doesn't lend itself easily to the neat sound bites demanded by the media. This range of voices has sometimes been mistaken for cacophony. But as these new books prove, all the critics agree on at least one central point: human values should come before commercial profits.

Biologists tell us that a field with an assortment of plants is healthier than a monocrop. So it is with social movements. Diversity must be at the center of resistance to corporate globalization because diversity gives the lie to the notion that there is no alternative. The reality is that not only is another world possible, but that many different worlds are possible.

Reviewer Jason Mark is a free-lance journalist and communications director for the international human rights organization Global Exchange.
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