We are here now, but where do we go from here?
by Peter Weisberg
“Moving Beyond Capitalism” was a great success. 200 activists, organizers and scholars gathered in San Miguel de Allende, MX for 6 days of north-south dialog, sharing of successes and failures, and strategic planning for future actions.
This was the 4th international conference organized by the Center for Global Justice (http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/) and undoubtedly the timeliest. Corporate capitalism is failing the vast majority of the worlds population and the very fabric of Mother Earth herself and it is failing even as it tries to extend its structure through massive undemocratic global trade agreements. The secretive corporate agendas being pushed through TPP and TAFTA are glaring examples of an international trade model that seeks to reward the rights of profit over the needs of the people. And as Naomi Klein stated, “Our economic model is at war with life on Earth.”
The conference went far beyond a critique of capitalism. As the current system cracks, a number of creative bottom up institutional structures have emerged in response. Cooperatives, worker run businesses, community budgeting models and public banking legislation are a few examples of a growing movement toward people taking greater democratic control of their lives. These emerging institutions provide us with a vision we can rally around. In addition to these emerging alternatives, a considerable amount of conference focus was directed at the ongoing changes in Cuba, Chiapas, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Cuba continues to push forward in its transformation from a centralized state directed economy to an economy that has greater local control and popular participation. The growing role of cooperatives in the urban sector as well as the agricultural setting was discussed in depth.
Gustavo Esteva and Gustavo Castro spoke at length on the ongoing struggles in Chiapas being forged by the Zapatistas. Against all odds, these indigenous communities are standing up to the full power of international capital. In defense of their dreams of autonomy and social justice they are fighting desperately against the nightmare they see in the extractive and exploitative economic model pushing at their boundaries. Organizers from Mexico provided firsthand reports on the continuing battles for strong unions and collective actions in many parts of the country. Mexico is becoming attractive again as a site for competitive cheap labor coupled with a low bar for environmental protections and, as seen with the Zapatistas, a lack of respect for indigenous rights, both cultural and land based. This renewed interest by international capital in the Mexican market highlights what David Schweickart calls the”hyermobility of capital”. Lacking in accountability and long term commitment to communities, these corporations seek to maintain a low bar in every category except profits. Clearly, these struggles are our struggles.
The impact of community councils in Venezuela was also explored with great interest. These popular democratic institutions number in the tens of thousands and exercise local control of budgetary allocations. The community determines its own priorities and projects. According to the speakers, these councils are overwhelmingly comprised of women. The conference attendees also got a better understanding of the unique challenges facing the “Bolivarian Revolution” as it interacts with the capitalist class that remains intact in Venezuela. Strengthening the growing ties amongst the bloc of countries forming UNASUR will be an important path for Venezuela, due to its opposition to NAFTA type “free trade” agreements.
Participants also got to hear about the “Buen Vida” movement and the constitutional inclusion of the rights of nature an in Ecuador. What a concept – linking the health of Mother Earth to the health of human beings.
In addition to the weeklong dialog, an incredible art show was on display for the entire conference. New documentaries on a variety of themes all tied to MBC were shown daily. This infusion of creative energy felt like an essential element in the overall process we were brewing at the conference as well as a critical part of envisioning the engaged human.
It's not only misery that loves company. I think everyone who attended the conference drew strength from hearing about the struggles for social justice in locations north and south. Highlighting successes of participatory democracy and movements of the 99% emerging around the globe will infuse us with greater confidence and energy in our collective struggles. Recognizing the sharp increase in gatherings similar to “Moving Beyond Capitalism” at this moment in history links us to the growing desire to replace a system that is at odds with the health of the planet and those that inhabit it now and in the future.
Some issues that were important to me that were not fully addressed at the conference:
1. How can we explode the myths of capitalism”, as these myths ensnare some/many potential allies to our cause, and in the process use that disruption to move individuals toward an embracing of the challenges necessary to create a progressive movement. The failures in capitalism will create some of the opportunities to build a movement. I suspect more people will question the empty promises inherent in the system as the reality of their daily lives diverges from the disneyesque portrait held out to them. Like empty calories in a diet (and I speak from experience here), consumerism might feel good for a brief moment, but it never nourishes the core of our humanity. Part of our task, like the bards of old, lies in telling and retelling the stories of success talked about at the conference. We must be the media we want since we know the mass media we have will downplay every step we take toward our goals. If we can build coalitions that combine our people, ideas, finances and spirit, we just might create a movement that will change the world.
2. Where does China fit in to our critique of global issues?
3. What is our position toward a more militant wing of a people’s movement? Many of the Occupy sites had “members” of the black bloc. How do we relate to them when we are on the streets with them? And in the longer run, I find it hard to think about a mass movement that challenges the state that doesn’t have a militant component.