With the climate talks in Cancϊn showing no sign of significant progress and with politicians focusing on economic recovery and fiscal austerity, those of us who've long been concerned about global warming, looming energy shortages and other global issues will no doubt be feeling even more despondent. To ordinary citizens all over the world, the ability to gain any traction on these issues seems elusive and our efforts to get politicians to do anything substantive likewise seem futile. And yet the power to reverse this, I contend, is already in our hands if only we realise it. We - at least those of us in democratic countries - already have the necessary power to drive our politicians to implement substantive global solutions.
To fully realise our power requires, however, that we first take stock of the various misconceptions that prevent us from seeing it. We are limited not so much by corrupt or blind politicians, nor by greedy corporations, nor by the "money masters" the private banks. We are limited only by the false walls of misconception we've constructed in our own hearts and minds.
The first of these is our assumption that politicians have the power to make the substantive changes needed to put the world on a just and sustainable path. There can be no doubt we believe politicians have this power because if we didn't, we'd hardly spend so much time lobbying them or taking direct action to persuade them to change their policies. We lobby them and protest because we think they have power but they don't, at least not nearly as much as we think they do, and certainly far less than they'd need if they're to really solve global problems.
How can this be? Their lack of power stems from the fact that, today, capital and corporations can move fairly easily and instantaneously across national borders, so determining which country gains investment and employment and which loses it. Since politicians have no choice but to implement policies designed to attract or retain capital so as to maintain employment and competitiveness, it's not hard to see why they're constrained to implementing only market- and business-friendly policies which favour the rich, the corporations and the bankers and thus disfavour greater social justice and the environment. So, to lobby politicians in the way we do now is rather illogical. Because for any nation, implementing our demands unilaterally would risk making its economy uncompetitive, leading to capital flight, unemployment and so on. Implementing our demands, in short, would not be in the national interest. So, why do we persist in demanding substantive change from people in this case our politicians when they don't have the power to deliver? Clearly there must be something wrong with our thinking; with our conception.
Our second major misconception is that the above problem must be the fault of the rich or the corporations who move their capital around. While no one should condone poor or greedy corporate behaviour, we have to realise that on the whole corporations do what they do because not doing it would mean losing out to others. For corporations, acting ethically or refraining from taking advantage of countries with lower regulations and taxes would by and large mean losing out to their less scrupulous competitors, so it's not difficult to see why they so often fail to behave as we'd like. So while it's right we should highlight poor corporate behaviour when we see it, why do we persist in blaming corporations when it's clear that their behaviour is only the natural consequence of the lack of a level playing field of globally binding regulations? Again, there must be something wrong with our conception.
What's more, these misconceptions only lead us into contradictory thinking, such as identifying free trade as our enemy. At a recent Trade Justice strategy event, for example, delegates were disappointed that a survey carried out during the Make Poverty History campaign showed that supporters could not say what trade justice actually meant. Following that, a delegate from one major NGO gave his own answer, proclaiming that "We're against free trade and we're for protectionism in certain circumstances". But he failed to see the inherent contradiction that if you are for protectionism only in certain exceptional circumstances, you must logically be for free trade in all other circumstances! What that delegate and most of his colleagues are missing, then, is that their real enemy is not free trade itself but the fact that free trade occurs without adequate global social and environmental regulations, without any redistribution of wealth across national borders, and without any adequate transnational enforcement. In short, it's not free trade that is our enemy; it is the lack of effective global regulations and governance. And if the leaders of our movement cannot accurately identify the real enemy, surely we shouldn't be surprised if the public cannot define trade justice.
But lying deep beneath these misconceptions are the false walls we build in our hearts. We build them on the above misconceptions and hold to them dearly because they allow us to blame, shame and complain about others and that makes us feel self-righteous; it makes us feel good - like campaigning warriors, boldly speaking out for the good of the world! But while raising public awareness of global abuses is certainly necessary, how can blaming people who are not really responsible possibly be good for the world? How can it be right to blame politicians or businessmen when it's not really their fault and when change is not in their power and when, moreover, if we were in their shoes, global economic forces would demand that we behaved pretty much as they do? This, perhaps, is why Gandhi asserted that "It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist or attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world." 1
If we want to help and heal the world, then, it is the largely unregulated global market system that we must recognise as our real enemy that we must resist and attack - and not any person or corporation or mode of trade that operates within it. We must realise that we are all caught, at one level or another, in that system and are thus all "tarred with the same brush". And from that it follows that while none of us is really to blame, all of us must hold ourselves jointly responsible for changing the system itself for doing something about it. When we stop blaming each other, then, we realise that we are all prisoners of the system and all in the same planetary boat. If we take down the false walls of misconception in our hearts, we open them to the truth that those who we fondly believed to be at fault are not, and so our hearts open to each other without discrimination or reserve and so to the whole world. For how else could we be permitted to do good for the world? How else could we possibly build a non-judgemental space that is open to all; the vital open and forgiving space that is needed to begin our joint search for a genuine global solution? None of this means we should stop our present campaigns, of course; it means only that we must recognise their limitations, and so realise that an additional, more global, thoroughly non-judgemental, more truthful, more inclusive approach is also needed.
Let us now go further to see what such an approach might actually look like. What might its design criteria be?
If the free movement of capital and corporations is a global phenomenon, our first deduction must be that only a truly global solution could possibly fit the bill. And since the nature of governments' failure to act is their fear of losing jobs and investment to other countries, it follows, secondly, that any solution must be implemented simultaneously by nations to avoid that fear. If all or sufficient nations act simultaneously, no nation, corporation or citizens need lose out to any other: global and simultaneous everybody wins. But since dominant nations may not see global cooperation as in their interests and would seek to free-ride and undermine global cooperation, our solution must give citizens the power to compel their governments to cooperate. So our solution must not just be global and simultaneous but also be driven by citizens. And if citizens are to drive the process and be capable of compelling their politicians to cooperate globally, the solution must enable them to operate on politicians in a way that is democratic, legal and binding. It must, in short, operate through existing electoral systems but do so in a way that is completely new, has trans-national coverage and yet transcends party-politics.
For a few years, now, a relatively small number of citizens, primarily in the UK, have been test-running a global solution which meets all the above design criteria. Over the course of two general elections, in 2001 and 2005, they succeeded in getting 27 Members of the UK parliament and countless electoral candidates from all the main political parties to pledge to implement the campaign's global policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. In some UK electoral constituencies, more than one candidate signed the pledge, meaning the campaign gained a seat in parliament regardless which of those candidates won the seat. This showed that the campaign was capable of transcending party-political divides and was global in scope, leading one supporting MP, Lembit Opik, to recognise that, "We live together at once, on the same small planet. There are some things we should do together, at once, on this same small planet."
But how could a relatively small number of citizens achieve such big results in such a short time? The answer lies in their discovery of a new and powerful way to use their votes. They do this by making it clear to all politicians that they'll be voting in all future national elections for ANY politician or party within reason that pledges to implement the campaign's policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. Or, if they have a party preference, they encourage their favourite politician or party to sign that pledge. In that way, campaign supporters still retain the ultimate right to vote as they please but they also make it clear to all politicians that they'll be giving very strong preference to candidates that have signed the Pledge, to the exclusion of those who haven't. So politicians who sign the Pledge attract those votes and yet they risk nothing because the policy package only gets implemented if and when sufficient governments around the world have signed up to it too. But if politicians fail to sign the Pledge they risk losing votes to their political competitors who do, and so could risk losing their seats. With many parliamentary seats and even entire elections around the world often hanging on a relatively small number of votes, it's not difficult to see that only relatively few campaign supporters will be needed to make it in the vital survival interests of all politicians to sign up. And therein lies the power that citizens already have, even in dominant countries such as the USA, to ensure that their governments sign up and cooperate.
Thanks to this novel way of voting, not only have many UK MPs signed up, some Members of the European, Australian and other parliaments have too. The campaign has supporters in over 70 countries and they are self-organising to take the project forward and roll it out internationally. In 2005 they started a global process by which they - potentially with the help of chosen independent experts - gradually develop the global policies to be included in the campaign's overall policy package. This ensures that the policies to be implemented are democratically developed, globally inclusive, tailored to the needs of each country and yet that the process still remains open and flexible over time. Many non-governmental and campaigning organisations already have well thought out global policies to deal with climate change, oil depletion and other problems but what they don't have is a viable political means for getting them implemented in a globalised world. That's why they're increasingly seeing this novel campaign as a vehicle for driving politicians and nations towards cooperatively implementing them. They're increasingly recognising that if politicians don't have the unilateral power to deal substantively with global problems, then citizens must logically take the lead both in designing the necessary policies, and in using their collective voting power to drive politicians to implement them simultaneously. So, the power to create a better world is already in our hands we only have to use it; we only have to realise it.
The campaign we're talking about is called the Simultaneous Policy (or SIMPOL, for short). As Lembit Opik went on to say, "The compelling logic of Simultaneous Policy is really collective common sense it's a campaign to find out how common sense really is!"
With global problems now mounting steeply around us, isn't it time more of us found out and played our parts? Isn't it time you let go your misconceptions and opened your heart to all the world? Isn't it time we all jointly discovered, as Gandhi said, that the "divine powers within us are infinite"?
1 M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1927, 1929.