rn: The Beginning of a Global Movement


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

One thing I particularly like about the posting below is that it articluates
very well what we are for; there is so much we oppose and that we must speak
out about because most of our neighbours are insulated from the knowledge of
it, that sometimes it becomes too easy to forget what we are working towards.

What we want was, to a large degree, manifest in the very way the WTO
protests were organized and carried out. Leadership was exercised by many
individuals, and people seemed not to need to choose designated leaders as
has so often been the case in the past. It was natural too, to listen to the
voices of those most directly affected by corporate globalization, even if
their names are not household words.

all the best, Jan
From: "Viviane Lerner" <•••@••.•••>
To: "WAND" <•••@••.•••>, "Women's Net" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: The Beginning of a Global Movement
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 14:00:52 -1000

The Beginning of a Global Movement
by Adriene Sere

In my 18 years of political activism, I have never witnessed so much
political change happen in one single week, right before my very eyes.

Thousands of activists shut down the WTO with nothing but determination and
unarmed human bodies. The protests helped bring a halt to the Third Round of
negotiations between powerful world leaders who wanted to trade in more of
the earth’s forests, compromise more laws protecting public health, and open
up our public services for sale to corporations. With little help and every
hindrance from the corporate media, activists brought this secret new
oligarchy, quickly expanding its powers over democracies around the world,
into public view. And there was one more amazing outcome from the week: the
emergence of a transformative solidarity among a vast diversity of people,
leading to what many are calling the beginning of a movement for global

The success of the week wasn’t, of course, just luck. The unique power of
this effort, in my view, resulted from a combination of three factors: the
decentralized basis of organizing; the integration of marginalized voices as
voices of authority; and the wholistic and responsible vision of this new

There were no clear “leaders” behind this week of teach-ins and protests.
Instead there were hundreds of organizers who committed months of their time
to create and coordinate events. There were no “followers.” People were
motivated to organize because of the facts they learned about the WTO and
corporate globalization--not because of a particular ideology or a fad or a
charismatic individual.

Because of the decentralization of the movement (and the decentralized
nature of its main organizing tools, email and the internet), outreach
extended far and wide. People could get involved where they already were,
where they were most knowledgeable, where they could best use their talents,
working with others who shared their main concerns and organizing approach.
There was no line of authority. Activists simply took power into their own
hands, and coordinated their efforts with others who were doing the same.
Because of this, the events and actions were creative, pervasive, and
empowering, and they manifested at every turn, on every issue affected by
the WTO.

The power of decentralization made itself most clear in the successful civil
disobedience-- coordinated primarily by Direct Action Network--which
temporarily shut down the WTO. Ecofeminist author Starhawk, who participated
in the action, recently wrote in an article dispersed through email: “No
centralized leader could have coordinated the scene in the midst of the
chaos, and none was needed--the organic, autonomous organization we had
proved far more powerful and effective. No authoritarian figure could have
compelled people to hold a blockade line while being tear gassed--but
empowered people free to make their own decisions did do that.”

A decentralized structure can make a mesh strong and effective. But there
also has to be unity threading together the decentralized structure. In this
movement, that unity was motivated by a common threat--the WTO. But a common
enemy does not in and of itself bring about meaningful unity. The unity that
we witnessed grew strong and held together in large part because of
organizers’ and participants’ commitment to equality and sharing of power.
Sexism, racism, and other isms evaporated like I had never seen before.

That commitment to equality wasn’t happenstance, either. After years of
identity politics, feminism, and the persistent struggles in the developing
world against exploitation by rich nations, the dominant classes finally
shared power with the marginalized--effortlessly, it seemed, and with
respect. Gender balance and fair representation of people of color were the
norm, rather than the exception (though unfortunately, there were
exceptions). During the teach-ins, the marginalized who had directly
experienced the harm of corporate globalization were acknowledged as the

Even in casual interaction during this week, sexism and other divisive
behaviors seemed to evaporate. Everyone seemed to prioritize the necessity
of stopping the WTO. There seemed to be a power and purity to the
resistance, so strong that it could not be contained or smashed when faced
with the collective brutality of every law enforcement agent in the area,
plus the National Guard. The sense of solidarity continued in protests all
week long, on the streets and in the jails and in the 24-hour-a-day vigil
outside the jail. Such bonds of solidarity cannot coexist with the weakening
forces of sexism and other bigotries.

The third element of success was vision. Like most leftist activity, the
week of teach-ins and protests was a response to an emergency--the existence
and possible expansion of the WTO. But vision was built right in. The focus
was not solely on what we oppose, but also what we are for: sustainable
farming, empowerment of women, local control, diversity, globalized workers’
rights, indigenous rights, the priority of democratic law, protection of the
environment and endangered wildlife, fair and responsible trade, respect for
basic needs.

These goals were weren’t briefly mentioned only to be passed right by. For
instance, women from developing countries spoke about the devastation of
cash crop export industries, and they also spoke about the importance of
sustenance farming to their lives and cultures. Some spoke about the
oppressive working conditions of maquiladoras, and also about how the effort
to fight the oppression was unifying women. Audiences heard about the
homogenizing impact of pro-corporate trade, but we also heard about how
crucial diversity is to the environment, to indigenous cultures, to the

The values underlying the teach-ins and the resistance emerged from an
understanding of and respect for wholeness; a humble understanding of the
human relationship to nature; a commitment to long-term social
responsibility; a knowledge and acknowledgment of interdependency; and an
honoring of the small, the immediate, the local, all the while keeping an
eye on the big picture.

These are values that have been guarded by women, more so than men. These
values spring from the necessities of life, and women have tended to be the
ones to care for life, against all odds. Women have had to know what is
required to care for life, and have suffered oppression in part because of
their efforts to meet those requirements.

During this week of teach-ins and resistance, these values, long associated
with women, were put forth by a broad-based, mixed-gender, all-ages
movement. It was the commitment to these values on the part of such a
diverse population that gave this week its foundation and tremendously
powerful meaning.

The movement that was born at the cusp of the millennium in Seattle, in the
face of a planetary crisis, carries so much significance and potential
because it aims to make these life-honoring values the basis of our economic
infrastructure, as well as our social and cultural relationships.Therefore,
it could be argued, this not only signals the beginning of a new movement
for global democracy. It set an example for transforming patriarchal,
destructive societies into a world based on decentralized equality,
empowerment, and the careful honoring of life.

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