The Multinational Monitor

December 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 12


B O O K     N O T E S

The Global Activist's Manual:
Local Ways to Change the World
Edited by Mike Prokosch and Laura Raymond
New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002
324 pages; $15.95

What can I do?

That may be the most common question in response to reporting in Multinational Monitor and elsewhere about corporate globalization-induced abuses.

The Global Activist's Manual aims to provide an answer for people in the United States. It considers how people can organize locally to take on global structures, and how they can fashion campaigns that address the ways corporate globalization affects local communities. The collection of essays in the manual surveys a wide range of global justice campaigns and various organizing strategies deployed in localities around the United States. A concluding section contains "practical tips" for organizing, ranging from using the Internet to fundraising.

The Global Activist's Manual is more than an introductory how-to for activism, however. Essays by activists reflect on their campaigns and organizing approaches. By and large they do not critique corporate globalization. Instead, they critique the global justice movement, offering analyses of successes and introspective assessments of failures, shortcomings and areas for improvement.

Without downplaying the movement's achievements or becoming overly self-critical, the diverse essays ask: How can the movement be made more racially diverse and inclusive? What are the most effective ways to link local and global issues, or to bring a global perspective to local disputes or a local orientation to global struggles? How does the movement ensure it is long-lasting? What are the benefits and pitfalls of organizing around particular events, or in a crisis mode? What are the dos and don'ts of international solidarity and coalition work?

The Global Activist's Manual is an accessible, easy read, sure to be of value to fledgling activists, and of interest to seasoned hands as well.

Global Backlash:
Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy
Edited by Robin Broad
Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002
344 pages; $35.00

The overriding message of Global Backlash is that the movement for global justice is animated by ideas, not just by colorful street protests.

Robin Broad has compiled a collection of essays, statements and declarations in a reader designed to convey some of the central analyses of the global justice movement, and especially some of its affirmative proposals. Helpful short essays by Broad introduce each section.

Indicating the sophistication of the movement, Broad includes essays and statements conveying different perspectives on internally debated issues. For example, Lance Compa makes a case for how to use the mechanisms created by NAFTA to address labor rights. Jerome Levinson reviews the history of the NAFTA labor rights bodies, and concludes they are "fatally flawed." A number of contributions focus on corporate codes of conduct and monitoring of multinationals' activities, offering contrasting views on key elements of effective monitoring. Several selections argue for and against "social clauses" in trade agreements provisions authorizing trade sanctions against countries that fail to uphold minimum labor or environmental standards.

A final section contains contributions highlighting different perspectives on the merits of "rolling back" corporate globalization or seeking to reshape it. This reform or reject binary opposition is often overplayed while different actors in the global justice movement bring varying philosophic approaches and favor varying policy proposals, there is broad agreement on certain principles and the "rejectionist" position in particular is often parodied rather than fairly represented. Broad avoids these common pitfalls.

"There is increasing concurrence within the backlash that certain aspects of economic globalization should be stopped," she writes. "In other words, whether one chooses to reshape or roll back depends to some extent on the conditions of a particular aspect of economic globalization."

At the same time, one of the purposes of the book is to draw out genuine differences within the broad movement, and Broad does not want to gloss over these conflicts. "To a certain extent those who focus on reshaping do believe that economic globalization is inevitable but propose initiatives to reduce the environmental and social costs and increase the benefits of that integration. Those who advocate rolling back often possess a different strategic goal, that of placing certain things off-limits to corporate-led globalization.

How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas
By Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega and Zahara Heckscher
New York: Penguin Books, 2002
467 pages; $17.00

"Volunteering overseas could be one of the most educational, inspiring and exciting things you do in your lifetime. Despite all the challenges language barriers, red tape, health problems, culture clashes, financial costs the vast majority of volunteers we interviewed said that, if given the opportunity, they would be glad to do it again. Living and working in another culture while donating your time to a potentially worthwhile cause offers substantial rewards and could enrich your life long after you return home."

That sums up the warm endorsement that the authors of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas all of whom have extensive experience in overseas work offer for volunteering overseas.

But these are authors who also have long been at the cutting edge of efforts to oppose corporate globalization, and they take pains to offer cautionary notes. "You may arrive weeks after a delegation of policymakers from the International Monetary Fund negotiate the reduction of national spending on health and education as a condition for a new loan," they write. They warn as well against good intentions gone bad, with volunteers insensitively imposing their views on communities they are trying to "help" and failing to appreciate the wisdom, experience and knowledge embedded in every community and society.

Having issued appropriate cautionary notes, How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas proceeds to walk through the crucial steps to making a decision about whether and how to volunteer overseas from choosing an organization to raising funds. It offers tips on how to be an effective international volunteer, highlights choices that volunteers will need to make (example: to live with other volunteers, alone or with local families) and provides advice on how to relate to local populations (including a warning to "exercise extreme caution in friendship, love, sex, dating and marriage").

An extensive chapter discusses the Peace Corps, and its pros and cons. Among the pros: there is no cost to joining the Peace Corps, and it actually pays a small stipend; Peace Corps provides intensive language training; and in many sites, Peace Corps volunteers are relatively independent. Among the cons: The Peace Corps is part of the U.S. government, and members are representatives of the U.S. government; Peace Corps volunteers often find themselves in assignments for which they believe they are not qualified; and in-country support for volunteers is often inadequate.

The second half of the book contains a listing of organizations offering international volunteering opportunities to North Americans. In addition to listings of contact information, the book for most listed organizations offers detailed observations and commentary.

These observations, along with the narrative in the first half of the book, are based on interviews with hundreds of overseas volunteers, distilled to their essence and presented in very accessible and pleasant prose.

For those considering overseas volunteering, this is a must read.