By Roland Watson
To conclude this section, I want to make a few comments about government and political activism. As we have seen, the formation of nations has led to a dramatic centralization of power, and hence given rise to a great potential for abuse. And, since the system of checks and balances largely has failed, it is up to us, as individuals, to bring about corrective action.
This is not something that you should find intimidating. It is important to remember: you are the "owner" of your government. You bought it with your taxes. You have the right to demand change.
Regarding politics, the fight is against corruption, and in this area your greatest allies are the press and your specific government representatives. You should make your concerns, and outrage, known to them (including through the Internet), since they have great power to bring about change. Also, where corrupt politicians have been identified, you should confront them at any and all opportunities. Shame them, and then vote them, out of power.
For the residents of democracies that are struggling in their formative stages, that have been turned into kleptocracies by their corrupt elites, it is important to recognize that you will not have succeeded in your reform when new, less corrupt government leaders are in power, and when government procurement practices are "transparent," i.e., open to public audit. You can only be assured of success when a significant percentage of the former assemblage of thieves has been charged, relieved of their ill-gotten wealth, and imprisoned. The system cannot be considered to be effectively reformed, to be cured completely, until such punishment has been accomplished, until the consequences - the costs - have been paid. (When the dictator Somoza fled Nicaragua, his family's property was nationalized. But such a step has yet to occur in many like situations, as with the Suharto family and Indonesia.)
For people who are being repressed by an autocracy, your goal, obviously, is to overcome the regime, install a democracy, write a constitution and a body of law, and work towards national reconciliation. But in this process it is crucial to realize that the primary responsibility lies with you, no matter to what oppression you may be subjected. You have to resist. You have to fight. Of course, you will have many allies from the outside: the democracy activists of the world will flock to your support. But no change will occur, no dictator will relent, without your own rebellion, which will inevitably require, at least for some, the ultimate sacrifice.
Further, such efforts will be complicated if you are subject to a religious autocracy. For instance, when the Shah fled Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini commented that there was "no place for democracy." This is clearly a tenet of radical Islam, and perhaps for all Islam: at least from the perspective of the mullahs. The only way to confront this, as in Turkey, is to have a separation of church and state. (The people of Iran finally seemed to have realized this, electing moderate candidates nation-wide in the elections of February 2000.)
For the citizens of established democracies, the goals of your activism should be:
- To revitalize the system of checks and balances.
- To shrink and decentralize government, starting with the military, and to ensure fiscal responsibility. This includes to improve inefficiencies, and to privatize or eliminate government functions that are outside its purposes. However, the issue of privatization is complex, raising many difficult issues. Government operations should not be sold at a discount to corporate interests, and where possible equal shares should be distributed to all members of the general public. Also, while a common motivation of privatization is to streamline inefficient operations, steps must be taken to respect worker rights and, where jobs will be lost, to provide training and assistance to the displaced employees.
- To fight government collusion with corporations, which includes the striking of corporate welfare subsidies, and also the promotion of government's new protective functions. For example, in the U.S. great subsidies are paid (or effectively given, through allowing free or low cost usage of public lands) to the logging industry, and also to ranchers and the mining and oil industries. Such subsidies should be eliminated, and the funds instead redirected "to programs that create jobs restoring ecosystems, recovering wildlife populations, reducing consumption, developing alternative fibers, and promoting sustainability for private woodlands." (Bombers Target Forest Guardians, Charlotte Talberth, Earth First! Journal, May-June 1999, page 29)
To do this, though, will require an organizational restructuring within the government. In the U.S., public land is the responsibility of numerous agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. To ensure that environmental considerations are not sacrificed to the interests of the extractive industries, such lands either need to be consolidated into an organization where environmental protection is given paramount priority, or a regulatory mechanism needs to be designed, and decentralized to all such lands, to offset all efforts directed at their exploitation.
(An extensive presentation of the government redirection necessary to protect us from corporate exploitation is given in the Corporate Activism article.)
- And, in the long run, to accomplish the change to a direct form of government, through the installation of home voting.
Also, a very specific and timely goal is to fight attempts by the military to sell weapons to dictators and weak states. The former should not be helped in their repression (they should be opposed), and the latter need their money for much more important purposes. For instance, the United States is the largest arms merchant in the world. In addition, the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid are Israel, Egypt and Columbia, and much of this is for military assistance. Instead of enabling conflict, the freewheeling U.S. armaments industry should be restrained, and such foreign aid (including amounts given to other countries) should only be granted for infrastructure development, using a bottom-up approach, and population control.
More generally, democracies must refuse to support dictatorships. In 1977, President Carter cut aid to human rights abusers Argentina, Uruguay and Ethiopia. This precedent, though, was reversed when President Clinton delinked such concerns - effectively all ethical considerations - from trade with China. Indeed, U.S. granting of permanent normal trade relations to China, and our support of its bid to join the WTO, entrenched the dictatorship there, just as Burma's entry into ASEAN strengthened its military rulers. The U.S. government does not understand, or it chooses not to understand, the mentality of the Chinese leaders including what they want and how they negotiate. In China, a tradition of imperialism has been combined with the goal of universal communism and the belief that any tactic is a viable means to this end. Further, the Chinese negotiate as if they have the rights and prerogatives of emperors. Therefore, they should not be assisted in any way. Trade should be relinked to human rights, and sanctions imposed which not only halt new investment, but which force the divestment or closure of all current operations as well.
Another area of government activism relates to the behavior of the economic supranationals. To begin, the WTO should be totally restructured. It should have a different agenda, different staffing and procedures, and be completely open to public inspection. For example, much international trade, as it is now practiced, requires bribery. It requires corporations to be unethical, or rather it ensures that the most unethical corporations will be the most successful. Working to reverse this should be one of the WTO's primary goals.
Similarly, the IMF and the World Bank should be reconstituted: refocused on providing widely distributed funding for bottom-up development by the general public; or else they should be terminated. Also, there is a significant opportunity for supranational coordination of social and environmental issues across distinct "bioregions," such as the Himalayas or the Amazon Basin, which include the territory of many nations. As yet, though, other than through the efforts of a few NGOs, a unified approach to preserving and meeting the needs of the inhabitants of such large-scale natural ecologies does not exist.
Lastly, for the people of all nations, there is the fundamental activist concern which needs to be addressed, that of achieving the freedom to pursue our basic human rights. The foremost goal in this regard should be the elimination of discrimination, by race, ethnic group, sex, including sexual orientation, age, and via other biases.
© Roland Watson 2016