THOUSANDS OF ACTIVISTS RALLY IN JOHANNESBURG TO CHALLENGE WORLD LEADERS AT ENVIRONMENTAL SUMMIT
by Adalila Zelada
August 27, 2002
JOHANNESBURG, S.A. - There is the distinguished Asian economist. There is the anti-globalization veteran of the “Battle of Seattle.” There is the African AIDS doctor. And there are the tens of thousands of others who have joined them at the Global Peoples’ Forum, a two week rally, seminar and protest by non-governmental organizations that have come to Johannesburg to influence the world’s leaders at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development. The official estimate is that between 40,000 and 60,000 representatives of about 15,000 civil society groups will gather here at the Forum. Over 13,000 participants attended last Friday alone. Under the slogan “A Sustainable World is Possible,” they have gathered at the state of the art NESRAC Expo Centre, a spacious, park-like facility of auditoriums and outdoor booths about 14 miles from the official summit.
At the official summit, more than 100 world leaders will debate what to do about the deteriorating world environment and economy, in a 10 year follow-up to the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Here at the Global Forum, there are plenty of critics with advice for the nations’ leaders, including former California governor and current Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, Santa Monica mayor Mike Feinstein, Maude Barlow with the Council of Canadians, and Randall Hayes, Founder and President of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Third World Network, Via Campesina, the Landless Peoples Movement, Global Exchange, International Forum on Globalization and scores of other groups representing women, nature, indigenous peoples, religion, workers, farmers, and others will air their challenges during the two weeks of the summit which ends September 4.
The theme of the event echos “another world is possible,” a motto coined in Porto Alegre, Brazil earlier this year when anti-globalization forces met to provide an alternative to the capitalists’ World Economic Forum. The majority of Global Forum participants in Johannesburg are likewise viewing the World Summit as only the latest clash between proponents of free market capitalism trying to impose a one-size-fits-all formula , versus environmental and social justice activists who claim that the neoliberal economic model is incompatible with the goals of sustainable development.
There will be workshops, meetings with officials, marches, and at least one massive demonstration. Many NGO’s, already frustrated with the official Summit which began yesterday, are threatening a massive walk out of the Summit’s plenary sessions if progress is not made today. The South African organization Indaba has pulled together various “anti imperialist” groups for a rally on August 31.
For these critics of the current economic system, the success or failure of Johannesburg depends on which side of this controversy prevails. Patrick Bond, author of a book on African development, and his colleague Michael Dorsey of Dartmouth University, predict high tensions at the summit. In a recent memo to groups headed to Johannesburg, they wrote: “Where there is government and corporate collusion to plunder the environment and hijack humanity, the radical forces of civil society are never too far behind.”