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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 path.

So   is there any window for hope? Is it at all realistic for us at the People's Health Assembly to be optimistic?

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 structural violence.

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 differences.

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 and photo-novels.

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 lives.

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.


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