SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.
This is the time for our species to “turn 21”: to transition from adolescence to responsible adulthood as citizens of the planet, before we destroy our own future.
turn21.org asks only two things of you who are reading this: that you take the time to understand the human predicament as presented below, and that on the 21st of every month from now on you make some effort to spread this understanding to one or more other people.
"The United States seems destined to plague us with miseries in the name of liberty."-Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Latin America
"Once the United States is in Cuba, who will get it out?"-José Martí, Cuban national hero.
Poverty policies are built on six legs: knowledge, strategy, resources, organization, assessment, and realism. Too often, national poverty programs are implemented with little attention to many of these underpinnings, courting disaster.
To establish and implement effective poverty policies, a nation needs accurate knowledge about poverty and the poor since such knowledge affects what the public, politicians, and analysts think should and can be done to reduce poverty. First, a sensible and persuasive definition of poverty that avoids extremes is required. Too broad a definition that includes a large segment of a nation's population can lead to a sense of futility or to the conclusion that only general economic growth can alleviate poverty so nothing special should be done to help the poor. But too narrow a definition can result in underestimating what has to be done to make a significant change.
Four years ago, Tunisia and the Egypt erupted in broad popular revolts. At first, analysts, Arab and Westerners alike, were confounded. When Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria followed, in short order, the upheavals came to be described as the "Arab Spring"—the assumption being that what was occurring in the Middle East would unfold in a manner reminiscent of the rapid transformations that took place in Eastern and Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The model envisioned by the term the "Arab Spring" was relatively straightforward. A spark had been ignited in Tunisia that would catch fire across the region bringing fundamental social and political transformation in its wake. It was a simple linear trajectory from dictatorship to democracy. Many experts were certain that this would be the way the Arab Spring would progress.
After revealing the scandal of the NSA surveillance program, the now world-known whistleblower Edward Snowden didn't give many interviews, as he wanted to allow a worldwide debate that would not concentrate on him personally. But with the release of Laura Poitras' documentary Citizenfour in October, the receipt of the alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award) in Stockholm at the beginning of December and his first videoconference in Paris with Amnesty International last week on the International day of Human Rights, Edward Snowden has definitely not been forgotten. In his last intervention, Snowden showed an inalterable devotion to the public interest and the will to promote a debate.
Snowden's revelations moreover provoke another debate, one that goes beyond government and corporate surveillance of people's data and questions the philosophical, ethical and anthropological aspects of our internet use. This debate can take place by creating groups of research, discussions, media shows, education programs. In 2014, hundreds of intellectuals and artists have signed petitions for the creation of an international chart of digital rights. As Snowden pointed out in his conference, a significant change is going to take place.
I lost a long-time friend and mentor, John Judge, on April 15 of this year. The memorial held in his honor is worth watching in full if you were not among the 100 or so activists, artists, scholars, and dear friends (John has no living relatives) who attended. On the day I write this, December 14, he would have turned 67.
Every year on his birthday he invited all of his friends to dinner at one of his favorite Washington, D.C. restaurants. For several years that restaurant was Buca di Beppo, and I will never forget how he would end the night with a 'Hinckley Hilton tour' a few blocks away at the Washington Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW explaining what really happened in 1981, when then-President Ronald Reagan was shot. Despite the frigid temperatures of mid-December, John would speak for more than an hour without pause, and his spellbound friends and supporters would listen without complaint or interruption. His most notable assertion was that John Hinckley Jr., despite popular wisdom, did not shoot the president and was actually set up to take the fall by then Vice President George H.W. Bush and his advisers, who were not happy with Reagan's decisions in office.
Hundreds of delegates from all corners of the globe descended upon Lima to be heard at a summit willing to listen to their struggles, hardships and success stories in confronting climate change in their respective regions. Activists and Environmentalists from the far reaches of the diverse Peruvian topography came to share their experiences in resisting transnational corporations and defending their Pachamama, or mother earth, sometimes resulting in the deaths of their compañeros. Organized panels and workshops were held throughout the week of December 8th on tracks with titles such as the Crisis of Civilization, Social Change and Alternative models of Social life to ones on Agriculture and Nutritional Sovereignty.
On the evening of December 24th a century ago, peace broke out in the most unlikely of places. In the blasted, putrid trenches of Belgium and France, soldiers fighting on the Western Front put aside their arms in what became known as the Christmas Truce. Although World War I was then only a few months old, there had already been a million combat deaths. Many soldiers were weary of the futility and horrific costs of the war, and thousands of them spontaneously stopped trying to kill each other.
The drama began on Christmas Eve, as German soldiers lit up their Tannenbaums (Christmas trees), put them on top of their trenches in view of the Allied troops, and began to sing carols. From there, full scale fraternization became widespread. Troops put down their weapons, climbed out of the trenches and met in no-mans-land to pray and sing and exchange greetings and gifts. The cease fire continued into Christmas Day during which the dead were buried, toasts were exchanged and soccer games played.
We are living and breathing history every day. Every demonstration, every march, every person that walks out into the cold winter to demand justice is in lockstep with those who have come before us. As such we continue to move forward because, quite simply, we have yet to see this ever-elusive "justice." In fact, history should remind people why we've engaged in a sustained movement: our collective outrage for the lives taken from us. Calls for us to hang our heads or go away are a slap in the face to the legacy of those, like Martin Luther King Jr., who were often criticized and jailed for what many decried as illegitimate agitation. We will not go away. We are committed to changing our collective destinies.
While we are often simply described as "protesters:;, we are in fact mothers, fathers, workers, sons, daughters. The families of victims of violence, both by police and others, have always been close to our heart. That's why we march, why we organize. We want justice first and foremost, not a continued cycle of blood. Mayor de Blasio and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who both support the racist Broken Windows theory of policing, purposely fail to understand that as they call for a suspension of protests - which are within our rights. Outrage does not go on suspension as long as those who've murdered us walk free.
The World Bank’s landmark annual publication, Doing Business, ranks countries around the world based on how well their regulatory systems serve narrow corporate interests. Typically this creates a global competition to lower public interest regulations, diminish environmental and social safeguards, and reduce corporate tax responsibilities.
There has been considerable pushback on this ranking system from civil society groups around the world. One of the critics, the Oakland Institute, invited me to provide an alternative business perspective on the Doing Business report at an event last October at the World Bank.