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Before I close, I would like to stress again
the importance of fostering alternative forms of education
and communication, which are the key to popular mobilization
I am sure everyone here is aware of the so-called
"Battle in Seattle," at the end of 1999. This massive multi-sectoral
protest against the World Trade Organization was a major breakthrough
in terms of social awakening about the harmful human and environmental
effects of globalization. Over 10,000 people from more than
60 countries participated. And as the wave of awareness spreads,
Seattle has been followed by similar protests against the
World Bank and IMF in Washington D.C., Sidney and Prague.
All of these protests represent an outpouring
of participatory democracy within a political power structure
where the electoral process has been trivialized by big money.
Far from being mindless rabble rousing, as claimed by the
mass media, these protests have been strategically planned,
with a well-organized educational focus. There have been public
lectures, discussion groups, and participatory theater, all
with well-documented sociopolitical analysis. In short, these
massive rallies have had a strong component of popular education
Also, the protests have helped bring together
for the common good different groups that have often been
antagonistic. At Seattle, this was symbolized by the rallying
cry, "Teamsters and Turtles," representing the newly united
front comprising both labor unions and environmentalists.
Before the "Battle in Seattle," few people had
ever heard of the World Trade Organization. But now, around
the world, awareness is growing about the socially regressive
and ecologically distressing aspects of globalization. Such
proliferation of critical information and collective analysis
is a strong first step in organized action for change.
In terms of alternatives for sharing information,
we must not forget the Internet. Like fire or water, the Net
can be both friend and enemy. On the one hand, it has expedited
the global reach of transnational corporations. On the other
hand, it has become an invaluable tool for the building of
worldwide coalitions of activists and progressive movements.
One of the most exciting uses of the Web in
grassroots struggles has been in the Zapatista uprising, in
southern Mexico. On the day that NAFTA officially began (January
1 1994), the marginalized tribal people in the state of Chiapas
declared their revolt. It was a protest against the betrayal
of Mexico's land reform program and the government's sellout
to the international market system. Although the mini-revolution
consisted of only a handful of hungry Indian peasants, they
broadcasted their demands for human rights and equal opportunities
so effectively through the Internet, that progressives around
the world responded vigorously.
Had it not been for this international solidarity,
the Mexican army would have brutally squashed the Zapatistas
from the start. But as it turned out, the international outcry
was so great that the Mexican government had to capitulate
to at least some of the Zapatistas' demands, by reinstituting
part of the agrarian reform policies it had annulled in preparation
The Zapatista uprising with its international
solidarity has had a far-reaching ripple effect, which continues
to this day. This year (2000) in Mexico's presidential election,
the people at last threw out the corrupt, elitist political
party (the PRI) that had ruled the country for 7 decades.
This end to one-party rule can in large part be explained
by the political education spearheaded by the Zapatistas,
through the Internet and alternative press.
We must remember, however, that the Internet
still is accessible only to the more affluent 0.5 percent
of the world's population. If the poor majority are to take
part in building a healthier world, we must be very creative
in looking for ways to share information with them and to
meet them on their terms.
The overarching goal of the People's Health
Assembly is, quite literally, to change the world. Our vision
is to help create a world that is a fairer, heathier place
for all people.
Albert Einstein, who realized all things are
relative, also shared this vision. He said:
"Not until the creation and maintenance of decent conditions
of life for all people are recog-nized and accepted as a
common obligation of all people and all countries -- not
until then shall we, with a certain degree of justification,
be able to speak of mankind as civilized."
I would like to add one last, rather personal
thought. It is about what keeps me going when I get discouraged.
I like all of you here, I assume am committed
to struggle against injustices at the macro level. But the
globalized power structure is so huge, and seems so impervious,
that sometimes it gets me down. I feel a bit like Don Quixote
fighting the windmill!
What lifts me back up is my personal involvement
at the micro-level. When I am not grappling with the global
Colossus, I am still active in the community-based program
in Mexico, where disabled villagers help to enable handicapped
children and their families. My greatest satisfaction comes
when, with my companions, I am able to make a small but significant
difference in the life of a child or family. While this is
certainly not a transformation on the global scale, it is
none the less uplifting. And somehow I think it contributes
to the larger change.
There are many ways, large and small, that each
of us can help make the world a better place. Each time one
of us reaches out to a friend or stranger in need, each time
we comfort someone who is sorrowing, each time we embrace
a lonely child with love, or nurture someone who hungers for
understanding, each time we defend the dignity and rights
of an outcast whether innocent or guilty whom the righteous
throw stones at, each time we give of ourselves with open
arms and with joy, we add a grain of sand to the building
of civilization to which our budding humanity ... and all
humanity ... aspire.
For me, it is being personally involved at the
village level it is seeing how the lives of caring people
whom I have grown to love are afflicted by social injustice
on a global scale that tells me that I must not lose heart
in the struggle for a healthier world order.
In sum, I would suggest that all of us try to
keep a balance in our quest for change at the macro and micro
levels. It is the mini-transformations that happen on a personal
level, in solidarity with friends, that will guide our efforts
to transform the world. It is our local involvement that keeps
our global activism on target.
I am confident that the day will come when the
world's people will become one grand and diverse community,
gladly sharing our human and material resources with one another,
for the good of all. I see the ongoing activities of the People's
Health Assembly as the standard bearer and catalyst in this
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