The COP is naked part II– how our ability to see it emerged

Tord Björk | Uncategorized | Monday, November 30th, 2009

The popular movements with their roots all over the planet and mass activities in Copenhagen have the strength to convince the world that the political outcome of COP15 is predictably, showing that the governments have no solution to climate change. The outcome will lack the commitment, being to late but foremost not built on the social forces that are the only forces that can bring about a trustworthy sustainable transition.

It is the environmental movement that once created the ability to develop an understanding of the wider and combined effects of different kinds of environmental degradation as climate change. This ability of popular movements have been described by Andrew Jamison and Ron Eyerman in their cognitive social movement theory. The combined challenge on cosmological, organizational and technological aspects of the established development model gives birth both to a social movement and new cognition. The eco-system theory could establish itself with the help of the environmental movement at the same time as the established political system answered on the growing environmental awareness by organizing the first UN Conference on environment in 1972. By now we can see that in details the efforts of the established system have been effective but that the eco-systems collapse or are at the brink of collapsing in a wider and wider scale. The way that the negotiations are organized are not trustworthy anymore.

The strength of popular movements in Copenhagen comes from the dynamics between mass activities that complement each other and the possibility for a dynamic relationship between Danish political culture and international intervention. The decisive strength of popular movements comes from their ability in people’s daily life to be relevant for both their bodies and their heads, both our social and ecological relationships. While the international intervention primarily brings heads, the host country is the only one that can bring larger number of people who with their bodies and minds are decisive for challenging the formal inter-state political system.

The reason why the Danish political culture can contribute its qualities to the dynamics is its ability to develop mass activities that express in full different aspects that are necessary for making a breakthrough. This strength is at the same time a weakness. It has in the case of Denmark been built on separating the mass activities formally from each other. But this weakness has also been the decisive factor for a fruitful international intervention. It has enabled international or in other words transnational, planetary, or global, popular movements to contribute by a formally united coalition bringing the separate mass activities together.

This creates a moment were the best of different strands can fully express themselves with bodies and heads integrated in a combination of four mass activities. These four mass activities as well as the main popular movements actors have reached such a maturity that they together will bring about a decisive change towards global democracy integrating participatory and representative qualities, a change the is a democratic revolution in world politics.

The situational context has been described in part I one of this study.  The historical context is equally important. The combined strength of the mass activities in Copenhagen comes from expressing in full different aspects that bridge barriers between local and global, practical and ideological, state-centric and movement building. Thus each one of the mass actions comes close to four complementary ideal types. These ideal types is described in the first  part of this study as ”in one corner practical and local movement builders, in another corner general or even global ideological movement builders, in a third corner a diversity of state-centric pressure groups for single issues and in the fourth corner general ideological state leaders themselves.”

These ideal type mass activity qualities has been expressed before but never at a Summit as balanced as in Copenhagen. They each have their history, sometimes long and mature as in the case of general ideological state-centric mass meetings, sometimes really seldom if ever before strongly expressed as a mass forum on all relevant issues with a core of system-critical practical and local movement builders. Combined mass activities at a Summit also have their history.

All the aspects of mass participation have roots far back in history on all continents. Monks in China intervened against wars by contributing their skills in the art of self-defence on the weak side in conflicts 2 500 years ago. In Europe a council in Constance at the Boden lake was called in a time of severe system crisis for in the beginning of the 15th century by inviting both the head and the body of Christianity. The leaders of the third estate mass movements of peasants and workmen opposed the widely criticised practice of the Pope. They were invited to the council with the guarantee to not be punished given by the Emperor. The princes decided to separate physically the body an the head of the leader of the mass movements, Jan Hus and his companion, as the princes shared the criticism of the pope but opposed that mass movements were allowed to express the same views and declared that they had not issued any guarantee, only the Emperor. The road was paved for separating religion from politics and establishing the modern state system of sovereign national countries built on the separation of the head, central power, and the body, people in common as a collective and organizers of commons.

In modern times the ideal types of mass activities came to strong expression in the antifascist sentiments after the World War II by organizing World Students and Youth Festivals starting in Prague 1947. These festivals soon became strongly dominated at the formal level by states with communist party leadership and closely related mass movements. At the informal level they became the starting point for the dissident movement in the 1950s in countries as Poland and Soviet union as well as the anti colonial, anti-racist and anti-imperialist movements world wide as ANC from South Africa. The participation equals the biggest global meetings of today with a peak in Moscow 1957 with 32 000 international guests and 8 million Soviet citizens visiting political meetings, sport events, film festivals and other cultural activities. These festivals even survived the fall of the Berlin wall, the last one was held in Caracas 2006. But the kind of mass meetings with progressive state leaders and thousands in the audience is also a part of events as World Social Forum as in Belem 2009 when five presidents were speaking to thousands and thousands of participants jointly singing the Latin American movement song Comandante Che Guevara. The mass meeting with president Evo Morales from Bolivia, Hugo Chavez from Venezuela and other invited heads of states from the ALBA countries

A second ideal type of mass activity is the mass civil disobedience action. This tradition was in modern times invented by the Muslim Sheth haji Habib, on the 11th of September 1906 in Johannesburg who declared that he refused to follow the new pass laws introduced to control coloured people. Under the leadership of Gandhi this movement developed civil disobedience as a collective method for political struggle against racism and imperialism which later also inspired the peace and environmental movements. In recent times the Zapatistas from Mexico, peasant movements from India, indigenous people from met in Geneva in 1998 to establish People’s Global Action against ”Free Trade” and WTO, PGA. This network launched global action days and were able to break through the consensus among NGOs to be mass civil disobedience..

A third ideal type is the market place within a broad ideological framework where each organisation can promote their message in a bloc in a demonstration or a seminar at a forum. In modern times this kind of meeting have been organized at a number of UN conferences often labelled NGO-forum. In response to World Economic Forum Brazilian NGOs and social movements launched World Social Forum in 2001. Since then this formula spread at local, national and continental level maintaining its vitality especially at the global level. To emphasize the openness and diversity no decisions are made in the name of all participants. Thus there is strength in maintaining diversity and a weakness in the relationship between discussion and collective action promoting a model of many single-issue actions which puts pressure on one opposing actor rather than promotion of one united actor or in other words a movement of movements able of challenging the actor maintaining the world order. In the case of World Social Forum organizations that are armed as the Zapatistas in Chiapas are excluded as well as political parties except politicians in their personal capacity thus delinked from their collective. This puts even more emphasis on the role of social forums to put pressure on someone else rather than being a democratic expression of collective actors capable of establishing independent political facts. This someone else tends to be the state. Another expression of the same model is demonstrations with a broad platform where each organization of groups of organization can form their own bloc promoting their own message. Such demonstrations have been held during social forums. The demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003 have also been used as a model for this kind of broad manifestations.

A fourth ideal type of model is the collective meeting that puts both system-critical and practically oriented movements at the centre in the interest of the global majority. This ideal type has had the greatest problem in emerging. Already at the UN Conference on Environment in 1972 the Oi Committee was formed basically with environmental activists from the South. They were first able to overthrow the agenda at the Youth preparatory meeting for the UN Conference. A top-down programme with speakers selected primarily with North American experts was replaced and continental working groups was set up instead formulating a joint agenda for action put together in a global statement. During the UN Summit the Oi Committee was able to meet again with the help of Swedish popular movements putting pressure on the government to fund the travels from the whole world. But the result of this meeting was completely forgotten. This attempt at building a global system-critical and practically oriented environmental movement became squeezed between a more resourceful Western dominated NGO system and mainly ideologically oriented anti-capitalist forces that used the environmental issue to illustrate the truthfulness of their ideology rather than contribute to an independent movement able of struggling and winning conflicts. But new attempts were made mainly by building global action networks on issues as baby food, pesticide and rain forests from 1977 and onwards. A broad system-critical expression of these efforts was the creation of the world-wide Third World Network with the help of the Consumer association and Friends of the Earth Malaysia. But the expansion of a global system of NGOs promoting cooperation with governments and other main actors in civil society including business for sustainable development made it hard to develop this model further. But now independent popular movements have developed an international leadership built on global democracy, giving the third world a decisive voice in the life of these collective actors. Gradually since Friends of the Earth Malaysia and other sister organisations started in the South, Friends of the Earth became more and more of a global system-critical and practically oriented popular movement. The same tendencies has since a long time been there in the radical pacifist organisation War Resister’s International. With the emergence of the peasant movement Via Campesina, World March of Women and international indigenous movement we now have world-wide practically oriented and system-critical movements who interact directly with each other more and more and thus for maybe the first time there is space for a gathering in Copenhagen which is initiated by practically, locally based system critical movements emphasising that the whole meeting makes a joint declaration together with all cooperation partners.

The combined mass activities at a Summit also have a history that actually begun in Copenhagen 1970. Here at the World Bank meeting there was a counter conference and popular education material was produced for maybe the first time about the bank. There was a demonstration and afterwards three days of confrontations between the police and activists with some 10 000 people on the streets mainly watching but some also actively participating in what was going on. The police run with their motorbikes straight into the masses and activists through Molotov cocktails and the police motorbikes burning them into pieces. The diversity of tactics of the movement was complete and afterwards the split of the separate parts of the movement became permanent in Denmark. It would take until 1988 in Berlin for a combination of system-critical and more single-issue oriented protests could challenge a World Bank Summit again.

But already at the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm 1972, a model for Summit protests was established that since then have influenced not only UN Summits but also almost any summit of importance. Here independent popular movements organized demonstrations, a daily newspaper about the summit was produced for the first time by Friends of the Earth and the ecologists read by everyone, there were different alternative meetings and official governmental and NGO delegates participated in alternative activities and protesters had contacts with politicians at the conference. All the four ideal types were expressed also this time but in different form compared to Copenhagen 2009. Thus there was a People’s Forum that made a joint statement where local environmental groups had a strong influence, but due to polarisation after US movement initiatives the statement became more of a general ideological criticism of capitalism than a broader system-critical perspective combined with more practical, ecological, social and cultural examples from different parts of the world as in the Oi Committee declaration. There was a mass demonstration with 7 000 participants but with a joint common political message against the ecocide in Vietnam and no separate blocs with different massages. There was also the Environmental forum initiated by the government but with popular movements responsible as an alternative to the independent People’s Forum, without ambitions to come to any conclusions on behalf of the participants on a broad range of issues. Finally there was a mass action initiated by Life Forum, a group of American activists with the hippie style collective Hog Farm as central actor. They were given a piece of land far away from the city centre to organize a youth camp where the police were ordered to tolerate the use of drugs as well. The Life Forum action managed to mobilise a hundred participants among the official delegates from the governmental US delegation and a lot of media attention. The political demand was to protect the whales, an industry were the US had no interest. It included to undress naked in the central square of Stockholm and a speech by the North American businessman Maurice Strong that also was chair of the UN conference. The two movement building activities, People’s Forum and the mass demonstration had quite a lot of overlap among the organizers. There were also some overlap between demonstration organisers and Environmental Forum. Life Forum was given some tolerance at the Environmental Forum and could occupy the final session without any resistance. The relationship between Life Forum and People’s Forum as well as the mass demonstration was antagonistic. Life Forum violently silenced any speeches critical against the Vietnam war at the action while a number of people out of their ranks disturbed the press conferences of the People’s Forum trying to divert the interest away from any criticism of the US and rich countries.

In Rio de Janeiro 20 years later the four ideal types was also present, this time again in another form. The secretary of the official conference was once more the businessman Maurice Strong, this time with a stronger openly organized business network to support the idea of solving the environmental crisis by more free trade and cooperation between governments, business and NGOs for sustainable growth called sustainable development. The alternative summit was called Global Forum. It was organised by a friend of Maurice Strong who also was a North American energy industry businessman. 20 000 participated at this Global Forum, which was a market place were everyone could have their voice heard one by one. Thus the Global Forum was very single-issue and state-centric oriented with intentions rather to split the movement than strengthen of as a collective actor. There was also an NGO and social movement forum with some 2000 participants initially with support in Rio de Janeiro from 80 local ecological groups in the regional network APEDEMA-RJ while the progressive NGOs as IBASE and FASE had decided to join hands with progressive business in a Pro Rio initiative. As the progressive NGOs understood that the local environmental groups were the only ones that could receive support from the national Brazilian organizations with headquarters in São Paulo and their international counterparts, the NGOs in Rio shifted their tactics, became organisers as well of the NGO and social movement forum and marginalised the local environmental groups. The end result was no common strong system-critical statement, rather long lists of fragmented details. The local groups in Rio felt abused by the 20 000 participants from NGOs from the whole world that came there but had no interest in the local situation. The end result was also a lack of clear confrontation of the official agenda, a legitimation of a neoliberal world order if such an order included NGO participation in global governance. There were small isolated actions, primarily initiated by the youth and perceived as harmless while military tanks were ordered out on the streets pointing their cannon roars in the direction of the favela slums. The strongest coherent mass action was a united demonstration with organisations from the favela slums and left wing groups joining hands with a few international speakers behind a system-critical platform in a mass demonstration with some 5000 participants. There was also a broad mass demonstration with some 10 000 participants which each group used to promote their domestic message and none asked international speakers to join, a demonstration that went out of hand when the participants did not follow order and tried to storm the Global Form premises in protest against the excessive resources given to the different activities during the UN conference by the local government.

While many NGOs became part of the neoliberal global governance world order, the mass movements in the South and especially the new international peasant movement Via Campesina built up a more independent platform. With Karnataka farmers mass demonstration in India against WTO in 1993 with half a million participants and the burning of corporate offices, and the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico against North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the independent platform gained momentum and in 1998 PGA was formed. This stronger global popular movement alliance focusing on mass civil disobedience as the main way to bring about change and progressive NGOs from the South as Third World Network could together challenge the participation in global governance of neoliberalism that had been so dominant during the 1990s. Now both popular movements and NGOs said no to a proposed multilateral agreement on investments instead of demanding to become part of managing the agreement. Soon 1 500 popular movements and NGOs in the same vein also said no to any further expansion of WTO, ending with the protests at the WTO meeting in Seattle and the breakdown of the negotiations 1999.

In 2001 the progressive NGOs in Rio de Janeiro as IBASE and FASE together the trade unions and the landless movement MST of Brazil initiated the World Social Forum, built on excluding the Zapatistas and all who felt more loyal to the Chiapas uprisings than with the mixture of NGOs and popular movements at WSF. While PGA had become more ideological and lacked resources for a more ambitious exchange of experience on more practical matters of social and ecological change, WSF received generous support from many sources. It soon became a success in many countries by organising local and national and sometimes also continental social forums along the same model while also continuing with the Global Social Forum. While the other levels have lost some of their momentum and popular movements criticize the formula, the global level is still vital which was expressed this year in Belem at the mouth of the Amazon river with over 100 000 participants. Here the popular movements had come to grips with what they perceive as passivity aspects of social forums and partly organised their own mass activity outside the forum. Thus there were the traditional mass meeting listening to important politicians as Lula, the open space with a huge number of seminars and the Assembly of Social movements with short statements on action plans. But there was also a mass meeting with presidents from Bolivia, Venezuela and other ALBA countries were the speakers were challenged by the popular movements in a dialogue and not as at the similar meeting inside WSF were allowed to make a monologue.

With this history the mass activities in Copenhagen have a mature back ground which especially have been developed to strengthen system-critical practically oriented groups. This maturity gives the possibility to build a stronger combination of forces built on democratic participation integrating different dimensions from the local and practical to the general and global. A combination of the strength in a country were a summit takes places and representatives of international movements. A dynamic of unprecedented possibilities to change world politics to start democratic transition of both economy and politics towards sustainability and social justice.

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