History teaches us that ordinary citizens can – and do — change the course of history.
By David Korten
Through word and deed, the early American colonists who refused to accept the authority of a distant British monarch and his rapacious chartered corporations created a political imperative. Ultimately the formal political leaders we now call the founding fathers were forced to issue a Declaration of Independence and raise an army or risk being swept aside. The people led; the leaders followed.
The idea of ordinary citizens leading the way to liberate the United States and the world from the grip of the Wall Street–Washington axis might seem a naive fantasy. We, however, live in a unique historical time in which seemingly impossible transformations of unjust and deeply destructive relationships of power occur on a global scale with breathtaking speed and inspiring regularity.
An advantage of reaching my elder years in this historically unique time is that I have been witness, sometimes at close hand, to events that have fundamentally shifted global relationships. My lifetime has spanned the liberation of India from rule by the powerful British Empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the People Power Revolution that brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. All came quickly and were achieved through largely peaceful means.
From my vantage point as an Air Force officer assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon as the Vietnam War began to wind down, I witnessed from inside the military establishment the beginning of the defeat of the world’s most powerful military by an ill-equipped but determined ragtag army of Vietnamese peasants. Attempting to resist the will of a determined people is futile, no matter how many guns and how much money the colonizing power has at its disposal.
I have also been witness to the dramatic changes brought by the civil rights, women’s, and environmental movements in little more than a half century.
On a visit to the South with my parents in my early teens I rode a bus in Miami in which “colored” people were confined to the last rows. It was beyond imagination that I would live to witness millions of whites weeping tears of joy over the landslide election of a black president.
Fran, my wife, was warned by her father when she went off to college that if her grades were too high, no man would marry her. She had a straight-A average when I met her. I married her anyway — a smart choice, as it turned out — but assumed without question that she would follow me without complaint and subordinate her career to mine. Years later, she was the primary wage earner and I happily and productively followed her path from the U.S. to Asia and back again, fashioning my career to fit hers.
As a participant in the citizen portion 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio, the author of When Corporations Rule the World, and a founding member of the International Forum on Globalization I was on the front lines of the birthing of global civil society as it developed in tandem with the Internet as a tool for citizen organizing on a global scale in defense of democracy and popular sovereignty. It began with a tiny group of Third World activists centered in Penang, Malaysia.
In 1994, when I was writing When Corporations Rule the World, there was still virtually no public awareness that trade agreements were being used to facilitate the global consolidation of corporate power beyond democratic accountability. I was part of a small group that launched a largely below the media radar public education campaign. In 1999, a powerful and interlinked global civil society announced itself to the world with the historic Seattle World Trade Organization protest.
Inspired by its success in Seattle, global civil society subsequently mobilized millions of people in massive protests wherever corporate elites met with national political leaders and bureaucrats to negotiate away the people’s rights, The abuse of multi-lateral trade agreements was thwarted and the WTO never recovered.
In 2001, the movement energy began to shift from resistance to a proactive effort to build the institutional foundations of a planetary system of locally self-reliant and rooted economies that function in balanced relationship to their local ecosystems.
Now, through word and deed, global civil society is building the institutional foundations of a New Economy. Millions of people of every color and every cultural and religious identity are sharing ideas and inspiration and growing the political power to awaken our formal leaders to the imperative to get on board or risk being swept aside.
About David Korten
David Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org) is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, the Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group. This New Economy 2.0 blog series is co-sponsored by csrwire.com and yesmagazine.org based on excerpts adapted from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition.
About New Economy 2.0
Visionary economist David Korten introduces a national conversation series, New Economy 2.0, on CSRwire Talkback based on his acclaimed book, Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition. For the next several weeks, Korten will summarize the main points and key lessons of each chapter of his book, leading from a dissection of what went wrong in the “phantom wealth Wall Street economy” to the presentation of a vision of a world of real wealth Main Street economies that support strong middle class societies, honor real market principles and work in partnership with Earth’s biosphere.
New Economy 2.0 envisions an economy in which life is the defining value and power that resides in people and communities. It contrasts with the popular New Economy 1.0 fantasy of a magical high-tech economy liberated from environmental reality and devoted to the growth of phantom wealth financial assets.
The arguments presented here are developed in greater detail in Agenda for a New Economy available from the YES! Magazine Web store.
Readers: Share your inspirations for the power of the people to make positive change. Tell us on Talkback!