Toward the goal of: Democratization
There is some truth in the observation that
"Corporations Rule the World." Most of the giant
transnationals are based in the North, mainly the United States.
Through their powerful political lobby they have strong influence
on national and global policies. Their financial manipulation
of public elections via huge campaign donations--in essence,
the bribing of candidates--has so deeply eroded democratic
process that most Americans no longer vote.
You may be asking, "What does campaign
financing have to do with poor people's health?" I would
answer, "At least as much as doctors and hospitals."
The biggest crises facing humanity today--which include the
widening gap between rich and poor, the role-back of progressive
social policies, our inability to curb looming ecological
disasters, and the deepening of poverty-related poor health,
crime, and violence--are all rooted in the erosion of democracy
that results, in part, from the purchase of politicians by
those with big money.
Therefore, in working toward a healthier, more
participatory democratic process:
Key actions and objectives worth struggling for include:
1. Campaign-financing reforms
2. The democratization of information sharing
Let me explain what I mean by this and why it
Numerous NGOs--such as Common Cause in the US--are
working hard for election-campaign finance reforms. But so
far little headway has been made. Most politicians vote against
measures that would reduce their corporate donations.
Likewise, at the international level, efforts
to democratize the World Bank, IMF, and World Trade Organization
through official channels have been largely ineffective. Hence
the need for street rallies and protests.
In today's low-intensity democracies, disinformation
has become the dominant means of social control. The mass
media are owned by the same club of giant corporations that
profit from hand-guns, landmines, tobacco, deforestation,
petrol-guzzling recreation vehicles, Gulf Wars, Star Wars,
and from the globalized economy that puts corporate profits
before human needs. Both through its advertizing and control
of the mass media, the Corporate Power Structure distorts
the news and methodically brainwashes the public. Reality
To adequately understand and confront the factors
that endanger our well-being, democratization of information
sharing is essential. To see beyond the forked tongue of the
mass media, we need more people-to-people avenues of communication,
such as the alternative press, community television and radio,
and (for those who can afford it) electronic mail.
E-mail and the Internet already have played
a key role in international support of people-centered struggles
against poverty-intensifying free-trade agreements. Examples
include the Zapatista uprising in Mexico against the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the worldwide protest
against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).
The need for "people-centered struggles"
brings us to our forth goal: Mobilization.
Toward the Goal of: Mobilization
Thomas Jefferson (one of the authors of the
United States Constitution), made the observation that to
keep democracy alive, Revolutions must be repeated every
Indeed, the US Constitution states that when
government acts undemocratically against the interests of
its people, citizens have the right to rise up in opposition.
The same right of active opposition should also apply internationally
to undemocratic policies and trade agreements that deepen
socioeconomic disparity or endanger the health of humanity
and the planet.
Today, in fact, the world is ruled by an undemocratic
power structure that wantonly endangers ecosystems and perpetuates
poverty and ill-health for a large part of humanity. To realize
constructive change in the face of such monumental odds, the
mobilization of a critical mass of concerned people is key.
The time has come for a social revolution of global proportion.
Let us pray that it be as non-violent as possible.
Yet non-violence does not preclude confrontation.
When institutionalized democracy fails, people of conscience
need to organize extra-mural democracy through demonstrations,
rallies, and protests. Such protests both raise public awareness
of situations obscured by the mass media, and they put pressure
on the ruling elite to be more accountable, transparent, and
responsive to human and environmental needs.
Let's look at a couple of examples.
1. The Battle in Seattle. From the perspective
of mass mobilization for change, the so-called "Battle
in Seattle" was a major breakthrough. Last November tens
of thousands of people gathered in Seattle, Washington to
protest the anti-people, anti-environment policies of the
World Trade Organization. This massive demonstration, accompanied
by public lectures and street theater, put vital global issues
in the international spotlight, and actually succeeded in
blocking (or at least delaying) the introduction of more inequitable
Key to the impact of the Seattle Protest was
that diverse groups, including hundreds of NGOs from many
sectors and causes, united. The rallying cry, "Teamsters
and Turtles!" symbolized how labor unions and environmentalists
were able to rise above traditional disputes and join in solidarity
over more fundamental concerns. Equally important, the protest
was international, with people's movements and progressive
NGOs from over 60 countries.
The Battle in Seattle embodied a more direct
and confrontational form of democratic action than do official
elections. In the long run, by reinvigorating the disillusioned
citizenry, such mass rallies may fuel the popular demand for
making public elections more truly democratic.
2. The People's Health Assembly. Concerned
with equity and health, another seminal grassroots initiative
of international dimension is now underway. This is the "People's
Health Assembly" or PHA, a broad new movement committed
to giving a "voice to the people" in decisions affecting
their health and well-being.
For information on the PHA contact:
People's Health Assembly (PHA)
PHA Secretariat, c/o Janet Maychin
CI ROAP, 250-A Jalan Air Itam
10460 Penang, Malaysia
tel: 604-229 1396; fax: 604-228 6506
The first major international event of the PHA
will take place this December (from 4-8 December, 2000) in
Bangladesh, with participants from 100 or more countries.
It should be emphasized that the People's Health Assembly
will be an on-going, long-term process. Regional activities
are already gathering momentum, and will be continued through
a coordinated series of actions and advocacy long after the
The People's Health Assembly is being organized
by diverse progressive NGOs together with community-based
health and development movements, networks, and coalitions
from around the world. The coordinating team includes The
Asian Community Health Action Network (ACHAN), the Third World
Network TWN), the International People's Health Council (IPHC),
Consumers International (CI), Health Action International
(HAI), the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights
(WGNRR), Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK) and the Dag Hammarskjold
One objective of the People's Health Assembly
will be to give the strength of popular support to UN agencies
such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, so
that they can take a stronger, more effective stand in cases
where human needs conflict with the profit motive of big business.
One last, crucial point: The People's Health
Assembly is not just for those working in the health field.
Recognizing that many crucial determinants of health lie outside
the "health sector," the PHA welcomes strong participation
of all sectors and initiatives whose activities contribute
to sustainable well-being.
Most of us are aware of the cruel inequalities
in the world today. Many of us would like to contribute in
some way to the creation of a different world founded on social
justice, compassion, and balanced co-existence with one another
and with the natural world.
Our challenge, individually and collectively,
is to do whatever we can--in small ways or large--to achieve
that fundamental transition before it is humanly and ecologically
Yet the means must reflect the end. We
must try to work for change in ways that are as peaceful,
painless, and compassionate as possible. But we must also
be confrontational, when necessary.
To quote again from Martin Luther King:
"Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively
as those who love war."
The NGO Forum for Health can work in many ways
to help break the grip of globalization on poverty-related
ill-health. But we can not do so without taking sides. The
world today is more polarized than ever before.
For some of us, the starting point may be to
protest the inequitable global economy, as with the Battle
in Seattle. For others it may be to join in the struggle for
sustainable Health for All, as with the People's Health Assembly.
Whatever our entry point, the coming together
of a broad spectrum of sectors, movements, and NGOs concerned
with human and environmental well-being is crucially important.
End of Document