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End-runs Around the Enrons

Grassroots Globalization Network

End-runs around the Enrons
As job losses rise, economic inequality worsens, and corruption deepens, democracy itself now seems to be caught in the crosshairs.

A new call for justice is rousing the restless majority. This movement now includes hundreds of thousands of Americans who repeatedly took to the streets to oppose the invasion of Iraq. This year's World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil boasted the highest turnout yet of people from all walks of life, who gathered to affirm that another world is not only possible -- it's essential.

To get there, we'll need to challenge the ties between corporate CEOs and heads of state as never before. Already, coordinated education and direct action efforts denounce the lavish Iraq reconstruction contracts given to Bush's corporate cronies (e.g., Bechtel and Halliburton). The debate is also heating up over how best to achieve regime change in America.

Democratic alternatives to the corporate model
As critical as these efforts are, we must also begin to challenge the legitimacy of top-down corporations themselves -- entities that bear significant responsibility for the most pernicious problems of our time.

Fortunately, a growing range of grassroots alternatives to the corporate model are helping communities around the globe manage their own affairs, local resources, and natural environments.

As part of its ongoing Community Solutions Campaign, Grassroots Globalization Network has recently released "End-Runs Around the Enrons." This resource guide profiles a wide range of democratic economic initiatives, and provides resources for connecting with organizations that have implemented them successfully.

One response by community organizers, businesspeople, and workers to corporate dominance has been to form economic cooperatives. According to recent UN estimates, nearly 3 billion people -- roughly half the planet's population -- now rely on cooperatives for food, shelter, supplies, health care, and other critical needs.

Through their democratic structure (one person, one vote), cooperatives allow ordinary people to make choices more attuned to their concerns and priorities -- not those of absentee corporate owners and shareholders. Some prominent examples include the Mondragon cooperative system in Spain's Basque region, Group Health Cooperative in America's Pacific Northwest, Co-op Atlantic in Canada's eastern provinces, and Japan's Seikatsu Cooperative Club.

Diminishing services and rising fees charged by corporate banks have led some communities to establish credit unions. By pooling people's resources and granting them voting rights, credit unions have been able to provide competitive financial services while remaining responsive to the needs of their members. Today, some 83 million people belong to over 10,000 US credit unions, according to the Credit Union National Association.

Groups like the American Independent Business Alliance and Social Venture Network have helped organizers set up associations of independent entrepreneurs as a way of preserving economic diversity and recycling dollars locally. Such groups have been established in Austin, Boulder, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and other US locales. The combined success stories of cooperatives, credit unions, community development banks, independent business alliances, ecological land trusts, and other strategies offer a solutions-oriented agenda for building a more sustainable and equitable future.

As a countervailing force to top-down corporate decision-making, they serve as living examples of economic democracy in practice, contributing to a cultural landscape that affirms the value of true self-determination.

-- Aaron G. Lehmer is the project director of Grassroots Globalization Network.


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