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Susan peterson Gateley
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Ellen meiksins Wood
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The Reason To Demonstrate
The mid-April Washington demonstratons against the IMF, World Bank, and WTO are imminent. Are you going? If not, will you be discussing the issues with co-workers, relatives, and schoolmates, even though far from Washington?
The reason to demonstrate and to organize folks to demonstrate in the future is to impact policy. It isnt that demonstrations educate policy makers so they then change their choices. It isnt that demonstrations awaken a moral sensibility in policy makers, so they then change their choices. Either of these could happen, but the most likely outcome for a policy maker whose comprehension or values changed dramatically would be dismissal, not increased influence.
So how do demonstrations affect policies? They coerce change. At any given moment, policy- makers have a whole array of priorities. There is the issue folks are demonstrating aboutin this case the existence and role of the IMF, World Bank, and WTOand there are others as well. Change in policy occurs when policymakers decide that not changing it is not in their interest. Change occurs when movements raise costs that policy makers are no longer willing to endure and which they can only escape by relenting.
When we raise the social cost to elites, they either eventually succumb or successfully undercut our efforts before they become too successful.
So what constitutes a social cost for elites? What actions of ours bother them? What actions have more impact?
If receiving lots of critical letters and email messages doesnt bother elites, and if they dont lead to other actions that will bother elites, then writing letters is not useful. If, on the other hand, tons of mail does bother elites by making them nervous about their base of support, or for any other reasons, then letter writing is a good choice for dissent. The same goes for holding a rally, a march, a sit-in, a riot, or whatever else.
If these choices either in themselves or by what they promise in the future raise costs for elites in position to impact policy, or if they organize and empower constituencies to do other things that raise costs, then they are good tactics for dissidents to choose. Reciprocally, regardless of how militant or insightful, if a protest diminishes costs over time, say by reducing the number of dissidents or causing them to fracture and in-fight, it is not a good tactical choice.
When talking about matters as important to elites as world trade and international economic institutions, the offsetting costs that will cause them to change their agenda have to be very high, to be effective. That means that they have to threaten to disturb things that elites care about even more than global trade, the IMF, etc.and the only thing the qualifies for that is their own elite status via the institutional and ideological underpinning of their material and social advantages.
The specter of more and more people not only being upset about the IMF and World Bank and WTO, but upset about unjust economic relations per se, and not only upset about these, but being willing to voice their anger and to act on itis disturbing to elites. If dissent has no trajectory, on the other hand, it is very weak. For example, continuing to protest current global economic policies will result in a large subgroup of critics who, however, do not become steadily angrier, do not grow in number, do not tend to broaden their concerns from global to domestic economics and from symptoms to underlying causes, then the price for elites is relatively easy to bear.
This tells us that we need to demonstrate a trajectory of dissent in which there are not only growing numbers who reject a policy we want changed, but also that there are more people willing to demonstrate more militantly each time around, and more people who are making broader connections and becoming not just world trade dissidents, but permanently annoying opponents of elite rule and wealth per se.
We need movements that are congenial to new participation, welcoming as many people as possible into dissent, and which propel folks to become ever more conscious and aware, ever more militant, and ever more diverse in their priorities.
If our dissent about the IMF has a component that goes beyond world trade to talk about corporate power per se, that is good. If it has a component that goes beyond taking a visible but passive stand to being civilly disobedient, that is good. If it can link-up concerns of gender, race, ecology, and economic poverty and disempower- ment here in the U.S. with its global economic concerns, that is good. If it can stretch its members focus to encompass other priorities of other movements, that is good.
Because growing numbers plus broadening consciousness and deepening commitment and militancy says to elites, look at this trajectory. You keep on with this global economics agenda you favor and not only will there be steadily more opponents of that, but there will also be steadily more folks questioning your elite position in society and the conditions that give you your power and wealth. If we hold demonstrations that convey that message, you can bet they will hear us. Z