Democracy in Action: Day Two

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The proponents of globalization tell us that it is inevitable; there is little or nothing that can be done about it, they say. Clever argument. But activists from around the world, gathered in Calgary on the eve of the G8 Summit, insist that alternatives to corporate globalization are possible — and they can prove it.

Yesterday in downtown Calgary, Greenpeace set up its solar-powered truck and served organic French fries to community members. It was a light-hearted event with a serious message: Don’t Fry the Planet. “Our solar truck shows the obstacles to safe, clean, renewable energy are political not technical,” said Jo Dufay, Greenpeace campaigns director.

“The leaders of the eight richest countries should show some real leadership in providing renewable energy to the two billion people currently without access to electricity. This is an important step to alleviating poverty and protecting the environment and it should be part of the commitments the leaders take to the Earth Summit,” says Dufay.

In late August, world leaders, many of whom are arriving in Calgary today, will be meeting in Johannesburg. There, they will discuss plans — and, if citizens around the world have their way, make concrete decisions — to get the world on a truly sustainable track of development that prioritizes people and the environment.

Elsewhere in Calgary, others gathered to hear Zimbabwean AIDS activist, Clementine Dehwe, talk about the devastating and painful impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The neoliberal agenda of the G8 contributes to the crisis: hospitals are grossly underfunded and desperately overcrowded; essential medicine is inaccessible; poverty is so great that women and children are forced into sex work.

While the G8 says it takes such issues seriously, many Africans, like Dehwe, insist the G8 does far more harm than good. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is just the most recent example.

NEPAD, which the G8 are slated to talk about in their 30-hour meeting later this week, is going to mean even more emphasis on opening markets and removing obstacles to corporate profit — obstacles such as public ownership and taxes — rather than an emphasis on ensuring people’s basic needs are met.

While the globalizers insist there’s no choice but to cut wages, close hospitals and wait for corporate profit to “trickle down” to the poor, Dehwe insists alternatives are possible. She points out that in the rare places that well-funded, community controlled health care does exist, it is successful in providing people with the health care they need. She says sex education in workplaces and accessible medications are not only possible and effective but essential.

Dehwe also argues that the strong unions, public services and government regulations that globalizers say are in the way of progress, are exactly the sort of protection people need. They are the crucial elements of a people-centered alternative. “We know what works,” she urges.

While activists here in Calgary are determined to prove that alternatives to the world the G8 are pursuing are possible, they also stress that victories cannot be easily won. As the Ground Zero theatre troupe put it, there is “no change without struggle.”

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