文/Yutzu (Annalise) @ IPAM, Paris, France
Before the departure to Paris, I did not have much time for the preparation as I have just left my previous job. Instead of packing, I indulged myself in going through what I have done in the passing 2.5 years. While working for one of the largest charity organizations supporting economically vulnerable children and families in Taiwan, it had shocked me so much that the solutions to eradicate the inequality gaps ultimately do not lie in our working methods or projects. Sponsorships, scholarships or other financial means may assist the families and communities to invest in projects to improve their living status quo, but such approaches do not provide the solutions to change the fundamental causes that have chained the people in vulnerabilities for once and for all.
One might argue that humanitarianism has reached out to a great population of those in needs, but no one can guarantee how long such outreach could last. In the international humanitarian world, the majority of the nonprofit organizations will only stay in the same communities for a certain time; once these organizations decided to withdraw the resources from the communities, sometimes these communities might fail to regenerate the same vitality to encourage community development due to its long- term dependence on the “foreign” aides.
Meanwhile, in the humanitarian movements, the types of the interventions, as well as the approaches, could be mostly decided by the donors. The local inhabitants might be invited to discuss about their needs, but such actions do not necessarily reflect the true aspirations and the local consensus on the directions of the future local development. Sometimes there might be other conflicts or diverse perspectives in identifying the actual needs of the communities from the grounds; such actions, in the mean time, do not further encourage local reflections or urge the solidarity of the people. In addition, sponsorships or donations can be made easily with a stable pool of financial resources and willing donors. Should the local communities urge its development completely based on the financial aides provided externally, such high- level of economic dependence might bring potential threats for these communities.
What if the humanitarian interventions cannot collect community consensus sufficiently in supporting the sustainability of local community development? Once the humanitarian actions are suspended and the assistances are withdrawn, can the communities cope with the deficit of development fund and continue its journey on development? Could there be alternative ways that are different from the “mainstream” humanitarian approaches to support and encourage local community development, mitigate the potential hazards that might come along with the climate change and other forms of disasters in the near future?
The answers to these questions are what I have expected myself to explore, understand, reflect and learn in the upcoming time. I believe this is going to be an extremely challenging but inspiring learning journey for me. Before I go into further details, please allow me to give you a brief introduction of where I am going to be at and what I will be doing for the following 10 months.
Life at IPAM
Since 17th October, I have started to work as an international volunteer for Initiatives for Another World (abbreviated as “IPAM”), a network composed of 6 associations that actively engage
in activities to support international solidarity, battle along with those who are oppressed by the dysfunctional and unjustified system, and advocate for a world that is not only more suitable but more equal and democratic for every one to live in.
Just as the other associations, IPAM has its designated themes that they focus on specifically. Yet, it still carries the same conviction that through international partnerships and collective works, citizens can form a much louder voice to raise public awareness, speak for those who were kept silent or unseen, and assist the underprivileged to regain what they were deprived from in the society.
The 6 associations at IPAM include:
- CEDETIM: a research centre created in the 60s that aims to work on the initiatives related to international solidarity. It recognizes the fundamental value of international solidarity in fostering a world with more freedom, equality and true democracy, and it is a social practice and theory that encourages collective actions, reflections and debates on the development and the alternatives towards the liberal globalization.
- CEDIDELP: the International Documentation Centre for Development, Liberty and Peace, which has a previous collection of books, films, and other materials that have recorded the journey of the international solidarity movements around the world.
- AITEC: a network of professionals, technical and expertise groups that dedicates to the exchange of information, professional knowledge and analysis on themes ranging from rights to the housing in the cities, access to rights and democracy, international financial reform, trade and development issues.
- AMORCES: its objective is to assist the other international solidarity associations by supporting its initiatives, reflecting the working methods, reinforcing its capabilities, searching for financial resources, following up its actions and conducting assessments.
- Echanges et Partenariats: promotion of the exchanges and partnerships of the civil societies that work on international solidarity, reinforcement of the partnerships and accelerate knowledge or skill exchange via international volunteer deployment; and,
- HCA: the French branch of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA), a civic movement that focuses on democracy, peace and empowerment of civil society.
IPAM is located in an interesting big house named CICP (International Centre for Popular Cultures), where there are more than 80 associations dedicated to national liberation struggles, defending human rights, solidarity with immigrant workers, and social movements. Though the organizations here might have different approaches and focus themes, the goals remain the same: to facilitate and support the development of international solidarity.
Since I started working with IPAM, I have been mostly working with AMORCES and Echanges et Partenariats. My main tasks include:
- Assist AMORCES to compile a catalogue of the alter-globalist organizations around the world and search for potential donors for the alter-globalist projects;
- Participation of “International Intellectual Collective” project (the initiation date is around the end of November/ beginning of December);
- Support the editing of the IPAM newsletter and other on-going initiatives.
One of my discoveries here: apart from the rich documentation and data preserved within the réseau IPAM (network of IPAM), I find the most valuable resources at IPAM are the people you meet here, including my colleagues and the volunteers/ supporters of IPAM. At the homeland of “altermondialisme” (French term for “alter- globalization”), the conversations with colleagues and work discussions have allowed me to observe how the idea of “another world is possible” is being realized through collective reflections and actions. Unlike the stereotypical imagination for the French, my colleagues at IPAM are genuinely friendly and helpful in so many ways; I am truly grateful for their efforts to make me feel at home.
In the meantime, I have been given the opportunities to read some literature related to the emergence and the evolvement of altermondialismeand what it truly encompasses nowadays. This is where I would like to commence my self- reflections for the upcoming journey, and I believe these reflections will come back to me from time to time in the future.
Reflections on Altermondialisme
The origins of altermondialisme in France appeared in the late 1980s with the mobilization in battle against the multilateral investment (AMI). In the 1990s, the emergence of international campaigns mapped out the future direction of altermondialisme around the world: coalitions and networking. As Young-Feng had explained at our pre-departure training,” The dilemmas one society faced at that moment could not just be a single isolated phenomena or event in that specific time and space.” Altermondialismerepresented the trends of the group reflections on the society we dwell in and how the citizens build their networks to fight for a better future.
Altermondialisme itself is a rather interesting social movement in France, as it draws various diversified civic forces to march on this journey and seek for the alternatives for the mandates and the visions they stand for. Looking back at the historic development of the alter-globalist movement, it is incredible to find that altermondialisme has such great capability to inspire individuals, associations or movements to gather together and act collectively against the unequal neo-liberalist world system. It has intrigued a new wave of civic self- awareness and a series of dialogues and debates, and its influences have transcended geographical, spatial and generational frontiers for the social movements around the world.
Franceis a unique case itself, as it has a long history of civic movements along the history of its national development. This has prompted the development of altermondialisme and the composition of the organizations active in the altermondialisme to be more vibrant and diverse in comparisons to the others in other countries. Through Aguiton’s researches, he identified that the first success of the global justice movement is its capacity to link very different generations of organizations and movements- trade unions, NGOs and new social movements- and to generate new forms of organizations and networks.
Trade unions have long been in the existences in the Occident world with the building of the industrialized societies. The Industrial Revolution created jobs and attracted the peasants to arrive at the cities, which prompted the making of major cities in the world and urbanization. After the great wars, massive reconstruction projects required numerous labours to contribute, which encouraged immigration from economically vulnerable countries and former colonies. The immigrants from approximate geographic zones tend to group together with people they are familiar with and share similar paths to arrive at the host countries, while the labours in the modernized factories might experience oppressions and life stories together, the coherence and bonding of the trade unions was stronger than one can imagine. In sum, when people have experienced oppression and unjustified treatments, such painful life experiences prompted them to find constructive methods and voice to break out the difficulties they were trapped in.
In Massiah’s ideas, the international solidarity movement is built from several trends that are likely to evolve with the decolonization. These charity/ relief organizations (e.g. the French Red Cross, the Catholic Caritas, Oxfam, etc) emerged to provide humanitarian responses after the great wars. In the 60s, the charity organizations initiated more reflections on how to connect the relief work (at then, the focus was on the fight against hunger) with the essence of development work, while there are new social movements initiatives from the third world countries as the products of decolonization (e.g. the Peace Movement in Algeria, the Vietnam Committee, the African Students and North African Associations).
Massiah further elaborated that the debates between the third- world activists (tiers-mondistes) and the anti- imperialists are vigorous. In his opinion, the former might found the later tends to be more politically- oriented and their approaches to be too focused on the State and its social aspects of liberty, while on the other hand, the later might find the former with more rural and local perspectives and only focused on the local reality. In the mean time, what altermondialisme means to the associations might also differ.
Some see the task as necessarily creating a global movement of resistance aimed at new forms of global governance, even new forms of political parties- not fundamentally challenging current political categories (I called these “universalizing globalists); others (place- based globalists) see the need for a more radical departure from traditional ways of doing politics, one that challenges not only capitalism, but the universalizing and mono- cultural logics that characterize all aspects of life from the micro- to more macro- political. (Osterweil, 2005)
Could the syndicate groups be more authentically altermondialisme supporters than the charity organizations when they both support the same mandates and voice out for people in vulnerabilities? What about those local development groups who aim to fight this battle from the ground practices- are they thus excluded from being the active thinkers? Who can define and identify which associations or individuals are the real altermondialisme supporters?
In my opinion, the essential divergence comes from the types of struggles they face in the society as each culture has its distinct social dilemmas and cultural concepts. It is true that some associations might carry more political reflections and be more syndicate, while the others might seek to solve the local issues through the alternative development practices. There are no definite definitions (nor should there be any) on which organizations are more altermondialiste than the others and whose approaches are better. It is the difference that has made the altermondialiste movement more diverse and dynamic than other movements.
The basic premise of strategic alternative thinking is that there is no centre of power… the movement’s goal or idea is neither revolution nor reform, but the abolition of exploitation and oppression in all spheres of life and the promotion of empowerment over our lives and interactions. (De Angelis, 2005)
Never before have the movements reached such a level of international coordination, and the direct relations, the woven bonds and confidence between actors engages tens of thousands of militants from across the world. (Aguiton, 2005)
That is the beauty of altermondialisme, as it is still an on-going process where people are still finding their own interpretations on how to be alternative. The most important issue is how to adopt alternative and creative approaches to let people live better with respects and free wills. Whether through the discussions platforms at the World Social Forum, local reflections and debates, or militant actions, the goal remains the same: alternatively, another world is possible!
When thinking about the strategies for furthering the altermondialiste movements around the world, it is also crucial to reflect upon ourselves on how to shorten the gap and distance of the altermondialiste movements and theories with the societies to make it more comprehensible for the public. If the slogans and the ideology we convey can reach out to the people and let them understand how these notions are linked to their life, even for those who have not have such struggles, we would be able to foster stronger strengths to voice out for the voiceless. It is thus an important challenge and a necessary task for us to review on how we can actively popularize, without simplifying the analyses and critiques in ways that empower the so-called “ordinary” people to understand the deep transformations that are taking place in their societies, and most important, to act (Bullard, 2007).
Social transformation emerges out of our actions, subjectivities, desires, organizational capability, ingenuity and struggles in unpredictable ways. From the perspective of radical transformation and moving beyond capitalism, our true enemy, the beast we are confronting, is how to articulate our livelihoods, our needs and desires, in a way which is predicated on a certain distribution of property rights and access to resources.
Colonialism deprived the basic rights of people, created class divisions, and brought along injustices; so did Capitalism. In confrontation against the disequilibrium of our world, the voices from the people who have been oppressed in the “mainstream” world system will continuously echo beyond the borders and deliver the same message: we are no longer going to laissez-faire(“let it be” in French) our life to be deprived anymore.
The struggles against this unjustified world system continuously occur at all corners around the world, yet one thing for sure is that more and more people won’t tolerate the world to be divided with further gap. Given the recent Occupy events around the world, it is confirmed that more people will join this battle too. Just as the caption of the Courrier International (no. 1096 from 3rd November): The 1$% against 99%- the New Fight of the classes. The war is on!
- Aguiton, Christophe (2005) “Mapping the Movement”, Development, 48(2): 10-14.
- Bullard, Nicola (2005) “Looking Back, Looking Forward”, Development, 50(S1): 148- 152.
- Courrier International (2011) No. 1096, Nov. 3.
- De Angelis, Massimo (2005) “The New Commons in Practice: Strategy, Process and Alternatives”, Development, 48(2): 48-52.
- Massiah, Gus (2006) “Humanitaires et Altermondialistes”
- Osterweil, Michal (2005) “Place- based Globalism: Theorizing the global justice movement”, Development, 48(2): 23-28.
- Saunders, Doug (2011) “ArrivalCity: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping our World” Pantheon.