Building a World Federation, from the Grassroots Up
The U.N. is failing and in need of fundamental reform – people everywhere are rightly skeptical about its present and future role in the world. Corporate and financial power is clearly out of hand, to say it mildly, and great powers, in the traditional sense of powerful nation states, clearly also have to be reigned in. In this context, it is becoming clear to all that only the global human community, the people of the earth themselves, united in solidarity across our great and wondrous diversity, joined together by some few commonly shared principles, can reign in the unwieldy and anti-democratic, anti-ecological destructive powers which now dominate the earth.
The mood of humanity, if you can make such a broad statement, and I believe one can with a fair degree of accuracy (see the World Economic Forum global poll 2002), is one of deep concern for the future; deep discontent with the present state of global power, economy and relations; deep disillusionment with existing forms of power and institutions; and showing a clear and growing realization of the need to both deepen democracy, and simultaneously build bridges of world solidarity for mutual protection and creative action.
Can humanity agree upon a few basic principles, while allowing for mutual respect of our differences and diversity? I think this is not only a reasonable proposition, but one that has already been demonstrated. We have international agreements such as the Kyoto Accord, ratified by 141 nations, the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, ratified and implemented around the world, the Ottawa Treaty, banning landmines world-wide, ratified by the majority of the world’s nations, and the Geneva Convention, to name just a few examples of human agreement and consensus internationally. We have the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, for example, which the vast majority of the world have accepted as a basis for international unity and understanding.
The basic principles of freedom, democracy, equality, peace and sustainability are acceptable to the vast majority of the global village. It is only the rogue financial and corporate powers, along with an unfortunately large number of political elites from many countries around the world, and a relative handful of extremists, who cannot or will not accept these principles as binding. The populace, as a whole, and world-wide, in virtually every nation on earth, already accepts these principles as foundational for any decent human society. Agreement is already there. It is solidarity that is lacking. Alienation and division must be overcome. We already agree on enough to build a better world. It is the unity across diversity that is missing, but that is changing quickly.
Some form of world federalism is needed now. Before this statement can be misunderstood, it must be said that I am not advocating the further institutionalization of hyper-concentrated global power. We do not need any further centralization or concentration of power in the world – in fact, what is needed is a radical decentralization and democratization of social, political and economic power. At the same time, however, it is clear that we need a greater degree of solidarity and cooperation amongst humanity and human communities world wide. We need thus, some form of global federation in which power is democratically held and concentrated at the grassroots level.
After the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle of 1999, just such a grassroots-based global network of solidarity began to emerge. Individuals and popular movements world-wide began to recognize the need to respond to social and environmental issues in a more comprehensive, systematic and globally linked fashion, with greater international solidarity, across all lines of geography, issue-orientation, race, class, gender and religion. Seattle `99 was a watermark, a turning point. Since then, much has been done to create and develop such a decentralized, democratic and popular-based unity amid diversity: a global network of peoples’ movements. This phenomenon shows great promise. It may be the only thing that can reverse the trend toward hyper-concentration of global power, the destruction of human rights, freedom and democracy, and the destruction of our home on earth.
The shining star to emerge out of this growth of grassroots global solidarity is the World Social Forum. The WSF is not a body with any direct political or economic power. It is a gathering, a place of networking and bridge-building. It is a place for individuals and popular movements to come together to exchange information and ideas, to discuss and debate, and most importantly, to generate greater solidarity and cooperation among peoples, communities and movements world-wide for the creation of a better world. It is not a centralized power, but a place where decentralized, democratic grassroots constituencies can discuss, come to certain agreements as to shared values and goals, and together, without the need for a centralized authority directing them, in the spirit of equality, freedom and democracy, bring about greater cooperative and effective action for the benefit of humanity and the earth. Noam Chomsky recently remarked that the World Social Forum is presently the most promising phenomenon on the planet.
Along with 1) the pervasive global questioning and challenging of all forms of power in society and all previously held assumptions, 2) the emerging spirit of democratic citizens’ empowerment world-wide, 3) the increasing realization by humanity of the interdependent nature of our world, 4) the dawning awareness that unity and diversity are not intrinsically contradictory, but in fact can be mutually enhancing, 5) the rapidly developing and growing global solidarity among diverse peoples, groups, communities and social movements world-wide, and 6) the rapidly unfolding genuine human renaissance which is perhaps unprecedented in its depth as well as its breadth; I would have to agree with professor Chomsky: the World Social Forum is one of the most promising things happening on earth at this time.
Along with the World Social Forum, we clearly also need a renewal and a deepening of democracy world-wide, in individual communities, states, provinces and nations. And, I would say, in order for this to be possible, a federation model, rather than a model of centralized power, needs to be developed or restored: otherwise we have the outer forms of democracy, but the democratic forms hide the real nature of power in society, which is oligarchy.
This needs to be done at the local level – the level of communities – and also at the state/provincial level, the level of the nation-state, and internationally. We need, in sum, a decentralization and democratization of power in society, along with a corresponding increase in global solidarity and cooperation: we need a decentralized and democratic world federation of some form.
It must be noted that it is absolutely critical that not only overt formal political power be decentralized and democratized, linked in a global federation of democratic communities (and perhaps for a time yet, also nation-states), but also economic and cultural power. We must swiftly, peacefully, and absolutely decisively deal with the exisitng hyper-concentrations of media power, and the parallel and even more fundamental hyper-concentrations of economic power – in the hands of banks, financial institutions, large corporations, family dynasties, old boys clubs, and trade agreements and bodies that effectively concentrate global power in the hands of the international investment class (such as the WTO, NAFTA, the FTAA, the SPP and the WEF).
Although their vision and example was imperfect, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine both held a clear and sensible, and in some regards, a noble view of the world as it could be – as can be yet. Thomas Paine, the primary political theorist for the American democratic revolution, along with Jefferson, took his inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy, not the ancient Greeks, as is commonly believed. The Iroquois Confederacy still offers perhaps the best model for the future of humanity. Five nations lived in peace in a grassroots, community-based federation for mutual protection and prosperity. The people of these nations lived with greater peace, freedom and authentic democracy than almost any other peoples before or since. Jefferson himself admitted that the new American democracy was a pale imitation of the superior, more free and equal, and more democratic form of government which he saw in these native communities. Despite their faults, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, along with the Iroquois Confederacy, offer us now among the best and clearest inspiration for a better world, as we together look to our future on earth, and together face the ominous and simultaneously hopeful trends of the present.
Jefferson saw it clearly: either keep political power decentralized and out of any one group or individual’s hands (beware the ostensibly benign oligarchs), or watch tyranny arise, and freedom, democracy, human rights and even decency of life, decay and die. He also saw clearly that if the increasing concentration of economic power in the hands of the corporations is not checked, democracy will be overthrown by stealth: consumed and digested by the dominant power of money. He was right on both counts. We are late in heeding his warning, but not too late. There is still time to rescue the dream of democracy from the threats which surround her. There is still time to found a beautiful and just, free and fair world for humanity on earth. It is not to late. But we must act now.
J. Todd Ring,