Pushing back against the unrepresentative and undemocratic nature of decision-making, the nebulous ‘global justice movement' has become a dynamic new player in international politics. The movement's advocates fight on a number of causes, including the demand for a greater say for people rather than international technocrats in matters that will most affect the general public; a fight against large-scale inequalities of power, opportunity and wealth; and resistance to the further privatisation of national and community resources.
An annual ‘meeting space' for global justice groups under the banner of the ‘World Social Forum' (WSF), formed in Porto Alegre in 2001, captures the wealth and depth of this burgeoning grassroots movement. From the original 12,000 participants in the first meeting in 2001, the most recent World Social Forum in 2009 had more than 115,000 attendees. The WSF is simultaneously a celebration of the expression of global public opinion for a better and fairer world, and a vocalisation of the broad opposition to neo-liberalism, market-dominated globalisation, and the current model of global governance that many claim fails to reflect the broad spectrum of views held by the global public.
The World Social Forum is not only a physical embodiment of the growing strength of the global justice movement, but it also represents the evolution of politics beyond traditional models of political organisation and association. The explosion in global communications and technology has been the catalyst for the international growth and extension of global civil society. Campaigners have shifted their political participation, communication and mobilisation beyond national boundaries into a more virtual and global arena through new media and new technologies such as the internet.
In many ways, this movement therefore exists as a product of globalisation, benefiting from the integration of people through a new ‘flat and borderless world' linked by communication and technology. Unlike many other transnational actors, however, its aims are different, promoting public good rather than private profit through a globally connected grassroots movements. Its advocates claim that this ‘movement of all movements' can promote a positive alternative to corporate globalisation and lead toward a more equitable path for world development.
Below are some key facts and further resources that relate to people's movements.
Putting People First - defining global justice movements
There are many names used to describe the forms of organisation that make up the global justice movement, including ‘global resistance,' progressive ‘popular movements,' ‘transnational grassroots movements,' ‘global civil society,' ‘Citizen's Movement for World Democracy,' and ‘world opinion.'
The label global justice movement incorporates a broad range of actors, including individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations and civil society groups. These organisations are concerned with advocacy on many social and economic issues including; land rights, labour and employment rights, international economic reform, environmental issues and peace/conflict groups, as well as groups encouraging grassroots participation in politics and campaigning.
Commentators assert that several key elements define most of the organisations that form the global justice movement;
- They represent politics "‘from below', from the perspective of people rather than business actors or technocrats in global institutions.
- They operate above or below the state-level of politics, representing both a withdrawal from the nation-state and a move towards global rules and institutions.
- They are individual actors that form part of an increasingly interconnected transnational, global network.
Anti-Globalisation, or Pro-Democracy?
Actors in the global justice movement are often unified by a common aim of promoting a more equitable diffusion of power, control, wealth and democracy.
"No to contempt, arrogance and economic bullying. No to the new masters of the world: high finance, the countries of the G8, the Washington Consensus, the dictatorship of the market and unchecked free trade ... to the relentless spread of the private sector. No to exclusion. No to sexism. No to social regression, poverty, inequality and the dismantling of the welfare state." - Ignacio Ramonet
Mainstream commentators and news agencies often describe social justice organisations and protesters as ‘anti-globalisers'. Populist writers within the global justice movement such as Naomi Klein claim that it is not globalisation that is opposed, but a specific form of neo-liberal, corporate globalisation which means that "power and decision-making are now delegated to points even further away from the places where the effects of those decisions are felt."
"To the increasing irritation of the people concerned, the media constantly refer to them collectively as ‘NGOs' or, worse, as ‘anti-globalization'. Some, though by no means all participants do belong to Non-Governmental Organisations with a single-issue focus (Greenpeace, Amnesty, Jubilee, Via Campesina, etc.). The [global justice] movement itself is, however, multi-focus and inclusive. It is concerned with the world: omnipresence of corporate rule, the rampages of financial markets, ecological destruction, maldistribution of wealth and power, international institutions constantly overstepping their mandates and lack of international democracy. The label ‘anti-globalisation' is at best a contradiction, at worst a slander." - Susan George
Toward Global Civil Society
The idea of ‘global civil society' is connected to the academic and political debates over globalisation and global governance, as well as "the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life..."
Philosophers including Locke, Hegel, Rousseau and Gramsci have all discussed and conceptualised ‘civil society'. Hegel defined civil society as a sphere of voluntary associations that falls between the family and the state. Antonio Gramsci's theories interpreted civil society as the ‘third space' for economic, political and social relations, occupied outside of the market, state and the family.
"Global Civil Society has been defined as civic activity that addresses transworld issues, involves transnational communication, is organized globally and unfolds on the basis of supraterritorial solidarity." - Jeffrey M. Ayres
"What we can observe in the 1990s is the emergence of a supranational sphere of social and political participation in which citizen groups, social movements, and individuals engage in dialogue, debate, confrontation, and negotiation ... What seems new ... is the sheer scale and scope that international and supranational institutions and organisations of many kinds have achieved in recent years." - Helmut Anheier, Marlies Glasus, and Mary Kaldor
Aspirational and Progressive Goals?
Mary Kaldor, Richard Falk and Ronnie Lipshutz are among the leading academics that have an aspirational interpretation of Global Civil Society. This interpretation asserts "[g]lobal civil society is about political emancipation, the empowerment of individuals and the extension of democracy." - David Chandler
"Global civil society is the bearer of alternative visions of a more sustainable and compassionate future world order."[19 - Richard Falk
"...[G]lobal civil society is, whether consciously or not, engaged in a longer-term project to modify what can be regarded as the underlying constitutive rule basis of modern civilization and to develop new modes of local as well as transnational governance." - Ronnie Lipschutz
"Civil society is increasingly seen as a vehicle for injecting values and moral pressure into the global marketplace."[21 - John Clark
"The capacity of Global Civil Society to successfully and meaningfully empower the institutions of global governance requires that new forms of democratic participation are put in place." - Louise Amoore and Paul Langley
Some commentators even suggest that global civil society can lead to completely new forms of identity and political organisation. Where "national identities are being replaced by global civil society, that traditional politics centred around national political parties and state policies are giving way to transnational identities and movements." - Ulrich Beck
Or a Catch-All Term?
Many theorists, including Neera Chandhoke and John Keane, view global civil society as an open, loose, and inclusive descriptive category.
This understanding of global civil society incorporates all ideologies and political perspectives, and the global justice movement represents just a part of a more diverse and abstract range of groups and networks.
"Global civil society is not inherently progressive. Global civil society is extraordinarily heterogeneous and the groups that comprise it can be illiberal, anti-democratic and violent as well as liberal, democratic and peaceful ... If organisations like Oxfam International and Greenpeace are part of global civil society, arguable so too is Al Qaeda." - Leni Wild
"The infrastructure of Al Qaeda has many parallels with the infrastructure of international NGOs or civil society networks ... Al Qaeda is a cross-border network involving hybrid forms of organisation ... What holds the network together is the mission, just as is the case of networks like Jubilee 2000 or the Landmines Coalition..." - Mary Kaldor and Marlies Glasius
Global civil society can be "a bazaar, a covered kaleidoscope of differently sized rooms, twisting alleys, steps leading to obscure places, people and goods in motion." - John Keane
"This term [global civil society] covers a multitude of institutions, voluntary associations and networks-women's groups, trade unions, chambers of commerce, farming or housing co-operatives, neighbourhood watch associations, religion-based organizations, and so on. Such groups channel the interests and energies of many communities outside government, from business and the professions to individuals working for the welfare of children or a healthier planet." - The Commission on Global Governance.
The Growth of "People Power"
"Nonviolent action campaigns have been part of political life for millennia, challenging abuses by authorities, spearheading social reforms, and protesting militarism and discrimination. In recent years, however, there has been ... a remarkable upsurge in nonviolent insurrections [since 1985]... nonviolent ‘people power' movements have overthrown authoritarian regimes in nearly two dozen countries over the past two and a half decades..." - Stephen Zunes
The increasing scale and interconnected nature of the global justice movement has been described by openDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett as "a new force of influence on international affairs ... a truly global force ... World opinion is becoming a second superpower." - Anthony Barnett
"One of the reasons why the movement appears destined only to grow is that it provides the only major channel through which we can engage with the most critical issues. Climate change, international debt, poverty, the hegemony of the G8 nations, the IMF and the World Bank, the depletion of natural resources, nuclear proliferation and low-level conflict are major themes in the lives of most of the world's people, but minor themes in almost all mainstream political discourse." - George Monbiot
Many critics debate the significance of the internet and new media and communication in the growth of the Global justice movement. The internet in particular is revolutionising communication, campaigning and fund-raising strategies for social movements and transnational NGOs, supporting the development of international linkages and networks.
"At their core, social movements are about group formation, and suddenly the tools exist to make it much easier to bring people together ... With a single keystroke, social movements can now push information out to millions of people and lift up marginalized voices into national, and even global, spheres." Brendan Smith, Tim Costello and Jeremy Brecher
"At the start of international campaigning on the Narmada dam fifteen years ago, it took at least ten days for a letter from Indian activists to reach their partners in the headquarters of NGOs in the North. Now, even grassroots organizations are equipped with fax machines, mobile phones, and electronic mail, and may even be able to post the latest news on their own web site." - John Clark
Can the Movement Match Rhetoric to Reality?
Critics such as Heinz Dieterich question whether the global justice movement really has the power to make or effect decisions, or whether it is reduced to "be[ing] on the margins moaning about the system."
"We still have no clue how to organise ourselves in a new, different way. We have all toyed with the metaphor of the network, and with the ideas of direct democracy, participatory politics, assemblies, autonomy and so on, but we still haven't come out with concrete tools to bring together the dispersed anti-capitalist struggles in an effective way." - Ezequiel Adamovsky
The Role of Violence: Tension in Tactics
Although most groups that make up the global justice movement practice peaceful activism, violence has been a tactic of some radical activists during marches and demonstrations, an approach condemned by most civil society actors and protestors.
"Taken together, the string of protests since Seattle in 1999, which have torn through Washington, Melbourne, Prague, Seoul, Nice, Barcelona, Washington DC, Quebec City, Gothenburg and Genoa, have cost more than $250m in security precautions, damage and lost business. Hundreds have been injured, several shot and one young man has been killed." - Financial Times
"Tragically, though 25,000 peaceful campaigners gathered in Gothenburg for the European summit, their message was killed in the crossfire between a handful of moronic rock-throwers and a thuggish and disorganised police force. Tony Blair was able to dismiss the entire anti-European protest as ‘an anarchists' travelling circus' that goes from summit to summit with the sole purpose of causing as much mayhem as possible." - George Monbiot
Sceptics and critics such as Jeffrey M. Ayres also argue that advocates of an interconnected global civil society and the existence of a unified and global justice movement ignore the practical and ideological divisions that separate members.
"Residents in the resource-laden North continue to have much greater access to the components of a so-called global civil society-NGOs, communication technologies, financial resources for funding and travel-than their counterparts in the South. Thus, barriers to a genuinely global civil society remains rooted in a lack of consensus as well as in power differentials between the North and the South." - Jeffrey M. Ayres
"Communities are the ones affected by poverty, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, among others. Instead, it is established NGOs speaking for communities ... Communities are not so naïve that they cannot talk about their problems. They know where they are hurting, and how they want their plight addressed. Can NGOs stop using problems of poor people to enrich themselves?" - Joyce Mulama
The World Social Forum
The purposes of the World Social Forum could be summarised as protesting, networking and proposing.
The first World Social Forum [WSF] was held at Porto Alegre, in Brazil, in 2001. Several influential social justice movements, principally the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT), the French-based alliance of activists ATTAC, and Thai-based Focus on the Global South, created the WSF.
"The WSF is not a movement. It is not even a movement of movements. It is more properly conceived as a family of movements. And this family seeks to be global. While there remain distortions in the level of participation of different parts of the world, the WSF is probably more global already than any prior historic agglomeration of antisystemic movements." - Immanuel Wallerstein
"Every progressive popular movement's goal, throughout history, has been to create a movement of solidarity, which is global, in the interests of the people of the world. In my view, [the World Social Forum] is the only global forum. There's an anti-globalisation forum taking place in New York [the World Economic Forum], which is trying to prevent this development." - Noam Chomsky
Participants from 142 countries attended the most recent WSF in January 2009.
From the original 12,000 participants in the first Forum in 2001, the most recent World Social Forum in 2009 had 115,000 registered attendees.
"Participants came from the five continents. Among the 5808 organizations, 489 came from Africa, 155 from North America, 119 from Central America, 334 from Asia, 4193 from South America and 27 from Oceania."
The World Social Forum exists so that "everyone can participate and can value and celebrate their diversity ... No one individual or organisation can speak in the name of the whole network or space ... WSFs [World Social Forums] do not have a decision-making centre ... Each organisation, whatever its structure, past, size, social object or political position, has potentially the same weight in the decision-process of the WSF." 
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but also to lay siege to it: to deprive it of oxygen; to shame it; to mock it ... Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." - Arundhati Roy
"Township dwellers from South Africa mingled with Thai rice farmers, Indian women about to be made homeless by the Narmada dam, Bangladeshi fishermen, Afghani women fighting fundamentalism, Palestinian torture victims, Quilombos from the free slave colonies of Colombia and Amazon Indians in t-shirts and feather head-dresses." - Paul Kingsnorth
"The WSF and its many offspring are significant not only as sites of affirmation and debate by also as direct democracy in action ... The central principle of the organizing approach of the new movement is that getting to the desired objective is not worth it if the methods violate democratic process, if democratic goals are reached via authoritarian means." - Walden Bello
Fractures in the WSF
As the World Social Forum has grown in scale, success, and profile, it has faced criticism, among other things, for its funding, its ‘Western' character, for being too conservative, and for being weak and unfocused.
There have been protests and criticisms against the World Social Forum during previous meetings. The largest demonstration was the ‘Mumbai Resistance' in India during 2004, where a counter-forum was organised by those who believed that the WSF lacked the radicalism to represent their interests, "an equal party in a raunchy ménage a trois with the bourgeois state and big business."
"[T]hey denounced the WSF as ... a stalking-horse for quietism and counter-revolution. They specifically attacked the concept of the open forum (merely a talk show, they said), the slogan (not ‘another world', but socialism as the objective, they said), and the financing of the WSF (the fact that some money had come in the past from the Ford Foundation."
"[W]hile the idea of open space may be meritorious, after a certain while it gets boring. Year after year, the same ideas are expressed. Inevitably, people will tire of the process, and the structure will wither away."- Immanuel Wallerstein
"Is the WSF still the most appropriate vehicle for the new stage in the struggle of the global justice and peace movement? Or, having fulfilled its historic function of aggregating and linking the diverse counter-movements spawned by global capitalism, is it time for the WSF to fold up its tent and give way to new modes of global organization of resistance and transformation?" - Walden Bello
The roots of many social justice organisations and mobilising causes extend far back throughout history. However, the global justice movement is commonly defined by theorists such as David Korten and Steven Zunes as emerging with a growing collective consciousness since the mid-1980s and beginning of the 1990s.
1986: "The Philippine ‘people power' revolution remains one of the most impressive in terms of the number of people involved, the level of nonviolent discipline and the way it captured the imagination of observers around the world ... Following the widespread fraud in the 1984 parliamentary elections, there were months of nonviolent protests, such as marches, rallies, group jogging, and other efforts. Two seven-day marches converging on Manila [the capital] from the north and south involved an estimated 70,000 protesters."
1994: Immanuel Wallerstein is among the observers who see the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, Mexico on 1st January 1994 as a symbolic moment in the history of the global justice movement. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) led an uprising on behalf of the indigenous, local population against their exploitation.
The Uprising coincided with the implementation of NAFTA (North-American Free-Trade Agreement), and many observers of the global justice movement describe the symbolism of the Zapatista protests as an inspiration.
1997: "Financial crisis hits Southeast Asia: IMF restructuring leads to protests across the region. Korean businessmen hold up signs saying: ‘I aM Fired.' Social movements, from Indonesia to Thailand, link the crisis to economic globalization and the flight of transnational capital."
1999: "The most dramatic manifestation of global civil society so far was to appear in what came to be known as the ‘battle for Seattle' ... for the first time hitherto single-issue groups coalesced into a broad-based movement to challenge the way the world trade and financial system was being ordered by international institutions."
"The failure of the W.T.O Ministerial meeting in Seattle was a historic watershed ... 50,000 citizens from all walks of life and all parts of the world were responding politically when they protested peacefully on the streets of Seattle for four days to ensure that there would be no new round of trade negotiations for accelerating and expanding the process of globalisation."
2001: The inaugural World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, unites the vast range of social justice organisations to create a "movement of movements." The first World Social Forum was attended by 12,000 people.
July 20-22- "Perhaps the apogee of the anti-globalization movement came during Group of Eight (G8) Meeting in Genoa ... when some 300,000 people marched in the face of police tear-gas attacks ... Shortly after the Genoa clashes, in which one protester was killed by police, there was speculation in the world press that elite gatherings in non-authoritarian countries might no longer be possible in the future."
2003: 14-16 February and 15 March, anti-Iraq war protests.
"Anti-war protesters took to the streets around the globe today, determined to keep the pressure on world leaders as a US-led attack on Iraq looms. The outpouring of anti-war sentiment came one month after millions turned out for some of the biggest demonstrations in decades in capitals around the world.
"More than 12 million people have taken part in the largest coordinated anti-war demonstration in history ... people mobilised in more than 700 cities and towns, across more than 60 countries and on every continent"
2005: July, G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland
"225,000 unite in Edinburgh to demand that the G8 make poverty history."
"Make Poverty History has become an unprecedented movement of passion,
energy and solidarity. Never before have so many people in the world come together, fully united in demanding action to end poverty, with a roar for justice that they felt was impossible to ignore."
2 July: "An estimated 3 billion people watched LIVE 8 [a series of simultaneous benefit concerts held around the world] ... Over 30 million people from all around the world gave us their names for the Live 8 list which was presented to Tony Blair ... We couldn't have made it clearer that we expect the politicians of this generation to end the scandal of stupid, immoral poverty."
2009: Put People First coalition in London.
"On 28th March 2009, 35,000 marched through London as part of a global campaign to challenge the G20, ahead of their summit on the global financial crisis. Even before the banking collapse, the world suffered poverty, inequality and the threat of climate chaos. The world has followed a financial model that has created an economy fuelled by ever-increasing debt, both financial and environmental. Our future depends on creating an economy based on fair distribution of wealth, decent jobs for all and a low carbon future. There can be no going back to business as usual."
"One of the organisers, the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, claimed there had never before been such a wide coalition brought together with a direct message for world leaders. "The old ideas of unregulated free markets do not work, and have brought the world's economy to near-collapse, failed to fight poverty and have done far too little to move to a low-carbon economy," he said. "Of course, the G20 will not solve everything in a day's work, but leaders must sign up to boost the world economy and govern it better, and show us that they are trying to build a better world."
- Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
- Global Justice Movement
- Our Future Planet
- People-Centered Development Forum
- Social Watch
- The Corner House
- The World Future Council
- Third World Network
- Transnational Institute
- Ubuntu: World Forum of Civil Society Networks
- World Public Opinion
- Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement
- European Social Forum
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines
- Jubilee Debt Campaign
- La Via Campesina
- Responsibility to Protect
- World March of Women
- World Social Forum
- Civil Society and Democratically Accountable Global Governance
- Crisis: The Way Out Starts Here
- Global Civil Society 2001
- Global Civil Society 2007/8: Communicative Power and Democracy
- Global Civil Society: The Path Ahead
- Making Change Happen: Citizen Engagement and Global Economic Power
- Networked Politics: Rethinking Political Organisation in an age of Movements and Networks
- Peasant Rights
- The Dilemmas of Open Space: the Future of the WSF
- The Idea of Global Civil Society
- A Fete for the End of the End of History
- Never Give up on that Other World
- Recognising the Power of Nonviolent Action
- Social Movements 2.0
- Stronger Than Ever
- The End of the Beginning
- The Global Citizens Movement. A New Actor For a New Politics
- The World Social Forum: From Defense to Offense
- To Open a Crack in History
- Where did all the Protesters go?
- World Opinion: the New Superpower?
- World Social Forum at the Crossroads
- Constructing Global Civil Society: Morality and Power in International Relations
- Global Activism, Global Media
- Global Citizen Action
- Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity
- Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations
- NGOs, The UN, and Global Governance
- Non-Violent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective
- One No, Many Yeses: A Journey to the Heart of the Global Resistance Movement
- Terraviva Archives
- The Global Justice Movement: Crossnational and Transnational Perspectives
- The Global Resistance Reader
- The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs, and Grassroots Movements
- We Are Everywhere
- World Social Forum: Challenging Empires
- Center for Global Justice
- Common Dreams
- Taking it Global
- Wiser Earth
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