Av Nick Dearden, leder i Global Justice Now, Attacs søsterorganisasjon i Storbritannia.
Twelve months ago we changed our name. We didn’t do it on a whim or as a piece of marketing, but as part of a ‘relaunch’ to express how much the world has changed in the 45 years since we were founded.
In the early 1970s the name ‘World Development Movement’ summed up our aspirations: we needed a movement of people to stand in solidarity with the liberation of the global South. That’s what ‘development’ seemed to imply – the liberation of individuals and societies that had suffered under the chains of empire for far too long.
In those days, liberation struggles were regular features of the news, social democracy was strong in Europe and governments from the non-aligned movement organised at the UN to contest the power of the US and its allies.
Today, development has been taken from us. More often than not our allies in the global South are fighting against projects which are labelled ‘development’ – the building of five star hotels, energy extraction, industrial-scale agribusiness. For many, the British government included, ‘development’ has become near synonymous with the extension of capitalism. No wonder the aid budget is now looked on with such fondness by the business world.
But the world have changed in other ways too. Our old logo showed a quarter segment of the world pulling away from the rest. It was symbolic of the first world / third world model I grew up with, and the incredible disparity of power and wealth that that model represented.
Today, there is still a huge difference between life in Norway and life in Liberia. But increasingly, people are looking at the central division of the world as that between an elite, the so-called ‘1%’, and the rest. Elites have forced significant proportions of the ‘first world’ into poverty, and they are all too happy to work in collaboration with a growing coterie of billionaires springing up everywhere.
In such a context, activists in Africa are quite right to ask ‘why are you so concerned about the food policies of the Ghanian government? Maybe you should fix the food policies of the British government.’
‘Global Justice Now’ far better reflects our values in the twenty-first century. Justice means we do not seek the development of multinational corporations but the liberation of people everywhere from domination by exploitative elites. What’s more our struggle must be truly global – we can’t hope to support activists in Latin America if we are unable to stop our own government destroying our national health service. And of course, climate change means that all of this needed to happen yesterday.
A change of name will only get us so far. It removes an obstacle, but will only be successful if it accompanies a genuine resurgence of activism. It also means trying harder to ‘live our values’. That entails having the courage to speak out even when we risk abuse – for instance, it is impossible for an organisation with our principles to stay quiet when immigrants are being demonised and blamed for society’s problems.
It also means our organisation needs to behave differently – more democracy and participation within our movement – and look different – reflecting the diversity of our society at large and making a special effort to work with potential activists from working class backgrounds and diaspora communities.
We’ve been helped by the blatancy of corporate Europe’s power grab. The wave of anger against the US-EU trade pact TTIP has mobilised a younger generation. So have the concepts of food sovereignty and energy democracy, which are rapidly gaining popularity as positive solutions to an economic system which seems to prefer the extinction of human beings to losing a day’s profits.
Many questions have not been answered by our relaunch. European society has been disempowered – this is the product of a political project to make people feel alienated, isolated and helpless. Recovering ‘people power’ will take time, and we will experience many failures in the rebuilding of communities of thought and action. Then, how can we disentangle and confront such a complex and intertwined system as global finance? How can we convince millions of people that the politics of hatred spewed by right-wing demagogues like Le Pen represent no hope at all?
One thing is certain, the answers must be both local and global. That’s why the final change we made during our relaunch was to formally join the Attac network. Together, we can change Europe – creating a more democratic, equal and climate-friendly society that begins to undo some of the terrible damage it has inflicted on our planet and its people.