Previous Next


  The global citizenís movement first manifested itself in Seattle in November 1999 outside the meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At Genoa in July 2001, with the protests at the G8 summit, it won a psychological victory, forcing the G8 to choose more remote, inpenetrable locations for their meetings from then on. Since then, the citizenís movement has continued to grow rapidly with 70,000 people attending the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2002 and 35,000 people attending the European Social Forum in Florence in November 2002, and a further 50,000 attending Porto Alegre in January 2003. Susan George, a leading voice in this movement, expresses her new-found hope that this movement might indeed bring about the change that is needed.
By Susan George  
While everyone agreed that nothing could justify the terrorist attacks on the United States, some also recalled another September 11th when the American-sponsored coup díetat in Chile brought down the democratically elected Allende government, ushering in a fascist regime that murdered and ìdisappearedî thousands. For a magic moment, the citizensí movement was no longer on the defensive. From Seattle to Genoa, via Washington, Prague, Quebec, Nice and a dozen other destinations, the dispiriting decades of unbridled corporate greed and freewheeling financial markets seemed to be drawing to an ignominious close, smothered under their own sheer awfulness. Or if such a perception was mere wishful thinking and a bit premature, at least neoliberalism was under credible and forceful attack.

Negatively labelled ìanti-globalisationî by the media but known to its thousands of participants and millions of sympathisers as the movement for global justice, the nebula of protest and proposals was coalescing and gaining strength.

The corporate and political elites could no longer meet in plush peace and confidential quiet to do their deals, and were obliged to retreat to fortresses whose defences the demonstrators regularly stormed both physically and ideologically. The winds of history were blowing in a new and refreshing direction.

Then came September 11th. Like the rest of the world, Europeans were shocked and horrified, especially by the sheer scale of the destruction and the potent symbolism of the targets, but in another and admittedly limited sense, weíd been there before. Weíd had bombs in our metros, terrorist attacks on our railways and exploding cars in our streets, not to mention centuries of wars, invasions and occupations.
As the initial trauma wore off, we also tried to analyse what precisely lay behind the attacks and to ask political as well as moral questions. While everyone agreed that nothing could justify the terrorist attacks on the United States, some also recalled another September 11th when the American-sponsored coup díetat in Chile brought down the democratically elected Allende government, ushering in a fascist regime that murdered and ìdisappearedî thousands. American support for the ìcontrasî in Nicaragua; the training of Latin American torturers in North America; the attacks against weak and defenceless countries like Panama, Grenada and Sudan; the bombing and blockading of Iraq leaving civilians dead and maimed but Saddam Hussein firmly in place ó all these were remembered and discussed, as was the crucial US role in the endlessly destructive Israel-Palestine war.
While the prestigious French daily Le Monde headlined ìWe Are All Americansî, others felt that this assertion very much depended on ìwhichî Americans. Yes, without question, if it meant mourning for the victims and their families; no, if it meant unqualified support for the corporate, financial and government elites, and for business as usual.
Nor were we surprised when these same elites in Europe, our neoliberal corporate adversaries and their domestics, instantly seized upon the atrocities to advance their cause.
By the morning of the 12th they had already sharpened their sticks. Using crude, faulty but sometimes effective logic in an attempt to intimidate and criminalise the citizensí movement, they declared, ëYouíre anti-globalisation, therefore youíre anti-American, therefore youíre on the side of the terrorists.î For weeks, the media gleefully and unrelentingly framed their coverage and their questions in that light alone.
So weíve had to explain incessantly why such arguments are not just wrong but pernicious, and weíve refused them the pleasure of painting us into the villainís corner they had reserved for us. We reject as well the ìanti-globalisationî label and, in order to counter accusations of ìanti-Americanism,î stress our ties with our American friends in the global justice movement. Weíve also continued to mobilise, and on that score, itís gratifying to report that September 11th has had relatively little long-term impact. Although virtually unreported in the mainstream press and, alas, with zero effect on the negotiations themselves, the recent WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, brought far more people into the streets than had gathered in Seattle. Decentralised demonstrations were organised in at least thirty countries, including forty locations in France and twenty-five in Germany.
The demonstrations in Laeken at the end of the Belgian EU presidency in December brought out tens of thousands, including a large number of trade unionists, with almost no violence (one or two shattered bank windows). On January 19th, ATTAC-France (ATTAC is an acronym for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens, whose program now reaches well beyond the push for the so-called Tobin Tax, the proposed small tax on international currency transactions) filled to overflowing the largest rock concert hall in Paris for the kick-off of the upcoming presidential and legislative election season. While we have no intention of becoming a party, we do promise to harass all the candidates unmercifully around our issues. Next month, ATTAC-Hungary will be launched, the fortieth country to join this international movement. The CGIL, Italyís largest and most progressive trade union, recently decided to become a ìfounding institutional memberî of ATTAC-ltaly. Kids all over Europe asked their parents to give them the airfare to Porto Alegre for Christmas so they could attend the historic international citizensí gathering there January 31rd-February 5th.
We know that for Americans, the backlash of the terrorist attacks has been far more powerful and the aftermath more lingering. With flags flying on every corner, the obligatory rallying around President George W. Bush no matter what he decides, and a kind of suffocating and frequently phoney patriotism dominating the debate, itís clear that the pressure is considerable.
ìFree tradeî as managed by the World Trade Organisation and reinvigorated at the recent negotiations in Doha is largely the freedom of the fox in the henhouse. Allow me still to argue that itís time to pull ourselves together, pull up our socks and pull together ó take your pick of metaphors, but also take heart: September 11th is not the end of the world. History may even be handing us a radically new moment, one we did not choose but ours to seize. Our message is more relevant today than it was on the eve of September 11th.
The emotions the atrocities awakened in all the rich Western countries caused me briefly to entertain the naive hope that their leadership might finally recognise the gravity of the situation and provide an appropriate response. I should have known better. Those who hold our futures in their hands are not serious. They see no farther than the noses of their bombers. Frightening though the prospect may seem, citizens must accept the risk of being serious in their place.
What does ìbeing seriousî mean? For starters, recognising what our leadership refuses to admit: that terrorist nihilism is one response to poverty, despair and hopelessness. I donít mean to imply that redistribution of resources and aid programs, however well conceived, could have stopped bin Laden and his immediate followers. They care nothing about the poverty of their own compatriots, but they do know that terrorism thrives in the rich soil of exclusion and victimhood.
On September 10th, half the world was already living, if one can call it that, on less than $2 a day, with a fifth surviving on half of that. Thirty thousand children were already dying needless deaths daily. Inequality is exploding both within and among nations, and perhaps contrary to the poor of the nineteenth century, todayís poor know they are poor. The plausible fantasies of Western television constantly remind them of their own failure to capture the material rewards of modernity.
The only rational response to global problems is global solutions. ëForeign direct investment,í the panacea of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, consists mostly of mergers and acquisitions that result in harmful economic concentration and job losses, and in any case such investment flows to only a dozen or so countries. The UN target of 0.7 percent of the wealthy countriesí GNP for development aid is never going to be met, and we should stop pretending that it will be, because this particular pot of money is shrinking by some 5 percent a year. What resources do exist are unaccompanied by control over the local elites, who all too frequently use them for their own ends, a recipe for waste, corruption and inefficiency. Whatís needed is to ratchet up our efforts to the international level and launch a global Marshall Plan, financed by various international tax instruments (including but not confined to Tobin-type taxes) and made conditional on genuine civil society participation and rigorous auditing. Debt relief ought to be a precondition of a properly functioning worldsystem; otherwise the debtors are competing on the ìlevel playing fieldî the neoliberals never tire of extolling with lead in their sneakers.
The cash is out there. It can be found not only by taxing financial transactions but in tax havens where, as Bush himself has proven, itís possible to identify, target and close down accounts belonging to anyone the United States identifies as a terrorist ó so why not the accounts of drug barons and traffickers in women, children, endangered species and armaments? Thanks to these same cosy locations in the Caribbean and other fiscal paradises, taxes on transnational corporations are undermined while taxes on labour and consumption contribute far more than their fair share.
ìFree tradeî as managed by the World Trade Organisation and reinvigorated at the recent negotiations in Doha is largely the freedom of the fox in the henhouse. Despite the advance on generic drugs for pandemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the Southís needs are shelved and the transnationals continue to run the show according to their own preferred rules.
None of the profound changes we call for will, however, happen spontaneously, and our present elites certainly donít want them. Clearly the shock of September was not great enough to force them to change their minds and their behaviour.
So, American friends, where does all this leave us? First of all, please bring the United States back. We need you, the world needs you. Although people on every continent are joining in this struggle, there are no guarantees we can win. Without a strong US movement, in the bastion of corporate and financial-market-driven globalisation, we are in fact likely to fail.
I hope not to be misunderstood in saying that September 11th must not lead to an unhealthy inwardness and self-preoccupation but to tough-minded analysis followed by outward-looking action. The adversary hasnít changed since September 11th. That adversary is still ìDavosî and every thing Davos stands for, whether meeting in the mountains or on the banks of the Hudson. ìHomo davosiensisî wants all the resources, all the wealth, all the power and all the freedom to extend his ascendancy across time and space. This means that we too must be world-spanners and history inventors, right now. As we say in French, ìIíhistoire ne repasse pas les platsîóîHistory doesnít offer second helpingsîó so weíd better deal with whatís on our plate now, which is world poverty, inequality, exploitation and hopelessness.
The great Chinese general Sun Tzusaid said 2,400 years ago, ìDo not do what you would most like to do. Do what your adversary would least like you to do.î [Wherever they next meet], we hope you will be supremely inconveniencing the Davos mob, denying it whatever it may want just now and in future (one thing it ìdoesî want is for violence to spoil the proceedings and attract exclusive media attention, so watch out for ìagents provocateursî).
Personally, I have not been so hopeful in decades. The mood is changing. People no longer believe that the unjust world order is inevitable. To Margaret Thatcherís TINA ó ìThere is no alternativeî ó they are replying that there are thousands of them. Now itís up to us all, especially to Americans, to prove that, as we say in ATTAC, ìAnother world is possible.î And urgent. D
  Susan George is Associate Director of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, a decentralised fellowship of scholars living throughout the world whose work is intended to contribute to social justice; she is also Vice-President of ATTAC France (Association for Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens).
  This article was taken from ECHOES Justice Peace and Creation News, 21/2002, published by the World Council of Churches, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. E-mail: Web: