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The reversals in social progress and the deteriorating
health conditions seen in Mexico are similar to those in many
countries today. Structural adjustment programs and unfair
trade policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund
(IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) have put corporate
profits before environmental needs and human rights. By promoting
the top-heavy economic growth they call "development," world
leaders are pushing us down a dangerously unhealthy and unsustainable
So   is there any window for hope? Is it at
all realistic for us at the People's Health Assembly to be
In a guarded way ... I think the answer is YES.
I like to believe that we are on the edge of a world-wide
awakening. True, the process has barely begun. Still much
of humanity is drugged by the consumer culture and duped by
the mass media. And the world's leaders are clearly asleep
at the wheel! But the rumblings of the coming storm are beginning
to shake more and more people awake.
From racial to economic apartheid
When unfairness and inequality become insufferable,
they goad the oppressed into demanding social justice. Look,
for example, at South Africa. Two years before the fall of
apartheid, I visited South Africa at the invitation of NAMDA,
a radical association of progressive doctors and dentists.
At that point in history the struggle seemed all but hopeless.
Police violence was on the rise. Activists were being tortured
and jailed, and community organizations crushed. It seemed
that the harder people struggled for social justice, the worse
things got. Activists had not given up hope completely, but
they were deeply discouraged.
To look for a way forward, a big meeting of
community health workers was held in Cape Town. The main speaker,
who had just been released from jail, was a black activist
nearly as popular as Nelson Mandela. In spite of the prevailing
pessimism of the day, this remarkable man spoke with inspiring
optimism. Noting the increasingly brutal measures of repression,
he pointed out that such reactionary violence against popular
organization was a sign that the ruling minority was fearful
of losing control. The extreme brutality, he said, would prove
counterproductive. Rather than stifle resistance, it united
more people in protest. The speaker predicted that the apartheid
regime, which seemed stronger and more immutable than ever,
was in fact on the brink of collapse. He foresaw that a new
government, elected by the disadvantaged majority, would soon
take control. Needless to say, everyone at the meeting was
energized by his speech. But few of us imagined that the sweeping
change in South Africa would take place so soon.
Of course, contradictions remain. Racial apartheid
in South Africa has now officially ended. But another sort
of apartheid persists. Today the whole world lives under what
might be called "economic apartheid," with its arsenal of
I am confident that the neocolonial inequity
imposed by the global power structure can and will be overcome
... by popular demand and international organized action.
What is required is a critical level of awareness in a critical
mass of people. The key to changing the world is mobilization
from below, involving effective grass-roots networking and
a spiraling process of awareness-raising--or, to use Paulo
Freire's term, "education of liberation."
The importance of alternative avenues and methods
of education in the process of realizing sociopolitical change
cannot be overemphasized.
Today the most powerful weapon of the ruling
class for social control is no longer brute force. It is not
tear gas, stun guns, and rubber bullets. Rather it is institutionalized
disinformation. It is the brain-washing power of the school
system and the mass media.
Never underestimate the power of disinformation!
To me, as a disillusioned Gringo, the recent presidential
elections in the United States made the need for alternative
avenues of education shockingly clear. There is an appalling
lack of balanced information sharing and critical thinking.
The multi-million dollar presidential campaign, financed by
big business and trivialized by the mass media, made a mockery
of democratic process.
Just look at who ran for office! The two top
presidential candidates were George Bush and Al Gore, a hard-nosed
Republican and a so-called Democrat, respectively. In a very
weak third-place was Ralph Nader, representing the Green Party.
Bush and Gore had essentially the same corporate-friendly,
political agendas, so they haggled absurdly over their petty
The reason for the very similar campaign promises
of Gore and Bush is that both unapologetically financed their
campaigns with huge donations from wealthy corporations and
conservative interest groups. In return for such legal bribery,
both kissed the boots of their top funders. The campaign promises
of both included massive military spending, further welfare
"reforms" depriving the needy, zero tolerance for crime, approval
of the death penalty, costly privatized medical insurance
with inadequate coverage for the needy, further liberalization
of trade, and celebration of the United States as global policeman.
In striking contrast to Gore and Bush, the Green
Party candidate, Ralph Nader proposed policies that were consistently
pro-people and pro-environment. These included a radical decrease
in military spending, higher taxes for the rich to provide
increased public assistance and universal health care, fair
trade not free trade, an increased minimal wage to lift lower-income
workers out of poverty, a moratorium on the death penalty,
and an end to the embargos on Cuba and Iraq. In keeping with
his call for stronger participatory democracy, Nader's campaign
both refused and avidly opposed corporate donations.
All in all, Ralph Nader's platform was much
fairer and in keeping with the needs of every-day working
people than were those of the corporate puppets. Rather than
harping on trivial differences, he clearly discussed issues
of profound importance to the well-being of ordinary people
and the planet.
Why then did Ralph Nader only get 3 percent
of the vote? And why couldn't more people see he is more committed
to their interests than are his money-grubbing rivals?
The answer lies in the system of campaign financing,
which translates as one-dollar one-vote; and in the brain-washing
power of the mass media which happen to be owned by the same
profit-hungry corporations that financed Bush and Gore's campaigns.
Tragically, this sort of brainwashing of citizens'
minds to win elections is not unique to the United States.
It happens in the Third World, too. In Mexico, for example,
in this year's presidential elections the two parties that
favor NAFTA and the economic growth of the ruling class, ran
neck to neck. By contrast, the candidate who best represented
the interests of working people and the poor majority (like
"Ralph Nader in the US) got only a small fraction of the votes.
The fact that so many people in the United States,
Mexico, and much of the world can be so pervasively misled
by the elitist powers makes the need for alternative methods
of information-sharing painfully apparent. This is why the
fostering of "Education of Liberation" is so basic.
If it is true that"Disinformation rules the
world," it follows as certainly as day follows night, or as
the Phoenix rises from her ashes  that "The truth shall set
us free." For truly, knowledge is power, especially when enough
people are well-informed, and when they learn through their
own observations and critical analysis to separate the pearls
from swine. I would suggest that one of the big challenges
for those of us here at the People's Health Assembly is to
effectively develop and disseminate alternative avenues of
information-sharing, that is, a liberating approach to education.
By this I mean a learning approach that is awareness-raising
and empowering, a problem-solving process that helps people
make their own observations and draw their own conclusions.
It will need to include a thoughtful, critical view of the
mass media so that people can recognize disinformation for
what it is.
Fortunately, a lot of community-based programs
represented at this Assembly have already developed skills
for facilitating this sort of liberating learning process.
Such discovery-based learning methods include everything from
participatory forms of community diagnosis and group problem
solving to story telling, role plays, interactive theater
and puppet shows, as well as consciousness-raising comic books
But while these "learning methods for change"
have worked well in the past, it is urgent that we adapt them
to the new problematics of the 21st Century. To mobilize people
to understand and confront the debilitating aspects of globalization,
we need methods and materials that can help them recognize
the links between macro and micro events. For example, through
"chains of causes" and "But why?" games, people can visualize
ways in which policies and decisions at the global level translate
into personal hardships and health problems in their daily
Many stories and testimonials presented at this
forum have dramatically made such links between macro and
micro causes and events. Our next step must be to share them
as illustrated documents and post them through the Internet.
Especially important to this exchange are experiences showing
how different peoples are working together to cope with or
oppose the negative effects of globalization. Such a grassroots
exchange can help build bridges of understanding and world-wide
solidarity needed to unite a critical mass of well-informed,
sociopolitically conscious people.