Grassroots Globalization Network: Community-Based Solutions for a Sustainable, Democratic Future
by Aaron G. Lehmer

As shown by the spirited gatherings in Seattle, Genoa, and Pôrto Alegre, civil society is reasserting itself with growing determination in a struggle to curb the stifling power of global corporations. This effort is nothing short of an historical turning point.

Transnational enterprises have grown so huge in recent decades that 52 of the largest 100 economies are now corporations. Unfortunately, as the scandals over Enron, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, and so on clearly demonstrate, these companies are running rough-shod over the public trust and leveraging their influence over the media and the government to ensure that their corrupt activities can continue unabated.

In the face of mounting social, economic and environmental challenges caused by corporate-led globalization, civil society is being called upon to help chart new directions that preserve the freedom and creativity of the marketplace while empowering people to address oft-neglected priorities like sustainable livelihoods, quality public services, and participatory economic strategies and arrangements based on democratic principles.

Grassroots Globalization Network (GGN), a new project of Earth Island Institute, promotes democratic ways for people to create healthier local economies, safer communities, and a cleaner environment. The network does this by forwarding workable ideas on overcoming the problems caused by corporate-led globalization; linking issues of economic justice with sustainable development; highlighting successful examples of people reasserting democratic control of their communities; building ties between groups and citizens involved in community improvement efforts; and supporting socially and environmentally positive economic policies and livelihoods.

GGN is one among a growing number of non-governmental organizations focused on solutions-oriented, grassroots approaches to economic justice and sustainable community development. GGN’s programs support community-based economic strategies while emphasizing the importance of just and sustainable development.

GGN realizes that many of the mounting threats to our general welfare and the natural environment are caused by the persistence of too many undemocratic institutions, unaccountable decision-making processes, and an uncritical acceptance of conventional economic notions. These realities allow corporations and governments to pass the costs of their activities onto society at large, forcing communities to clean up after their bad investments, ecological destruction, and social disruption.

The threat to sustainable livelihoods and local, independent businesses is largely driven by anti-competitive practices, policies and arrangements favoring national corporate chains and absentee owners. Indeed, publicly traded, absentee-owned corporations that deny people democratic voice and “externalize” social and environmental impacts must be critiqued insofar as they are unable to help communities meet their needs for sustainable livelihoods, reliable social services, and equitable citizen access to income-generating resources. GGN pursues people-centered ends directly, not as secondary or peripheral to the interests of transnational corporations.

Here on California’s North Coast, GGN is collaborating with area groups and citizens to form an alliance of independent businesses, cooperatives, and service organizations. This is being done to boost the community-enhancing potential of local enterprise and to counter the threats to local control and entrepeneurship posed by “big box” conglomerates like Wal-Mart. Independent Business Associations (see news item elsewhere in this issue – eds) help communities become more conscious of the economic and ecological costs and benefits of the choices available to them and address questions like: Which institutions invest and recycle more dollars locally? What subsidies and tax breaks are being given and for whom? What arrangements best serve the community? And how can local businesses cooperate to compete with the power of large corporations? Such associations also enable members to share experiences, cooperate in a variety of endeavors, and leverage their network for positive policy change.

To broaden the debate around environmentally sustainable economic arrangements, livelihoods, and policy options, GGN is showcasing the many untold success stories of cooperatives, credit unions, and other locally-based enterprises along with land tenure reforms, full-cost economic policies, participatory budgeting, community currencies, and other grassroots strategies. GGN’s publications include our bi-monthly Community Solutions series highlighting democratic approaches to sustainable development.

In collaboration with a broad range of civic-minded groups, GGN is catalyzing the creative experimentalism in sustainable and equitable development that’s already underway in communities around the country. Together, we can be co-creators of a more democratic and ecological future.

Aaron G. Lehmer is the Director of the Grassroots Globalization Network. Contact: GGN 1175 G Street, Suite C, Arcata, CA 95521; (707) 826-1798; email ; website .

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