By David Dyssegaard Kallick
How do you think about connecting local organizing with issues of globalization?
[You find] policy links to what people are already mobilizing around. These tend to have a global connection, whether you're talking about taxes or the budget or whatever.
Then, there are grassroots issues - environment, drugs - issues people feel close enough to that they're willing to put their bodies on the line for them. It's harder around debt crisis, for example - the connections are a bit more abstract.
But the issues people are trying to deal with at a local level, once you get in there the connections are pretty easy to make.
In Louisiana, around Shintec, for example.
Talking with people about something like education is a little more difficult. When you talk about money being available for education, people generally see it as a local if not a neighborhood issue. But in terms of globalization: people are open to looking at the necessity of education being broad. They feel their children need to be prepared to interact in a global world. That's a pretty big change from 20 years ago.
[Looking at education in this way] starts to expose inequities. Some schools have 1000 computers, other schools have typewriters. How are children going into the next century? That's a way to raise these issues.
The other side of it is: There also are people outside the US who want to make connections, from Mozambique to Hungary, who want to be in touch with their counterparts in the US. So I've found that to be a way to internationalize things. For instance, we're taking a group of young people over to South Africa next March [with the Washington-based project, LISTEN] - community grassroots organizers betrween 19 and 30 - to meet with their counterparts. And we're going to split the group in half, some going to Paris, some going to London.
A lot of groups have institutionalized an attempt to bring in an international perspective.
You mention people from other countries being interested in meeting their US counterparts. Do you find a similar interest in the other direction?
I think [people are interested] when they think it's possible. When [they have the opportunity], their interest is even higher.
Because poeple are in similar contexts. Part is sharing their success - people are faced with the same kind of issues. That's useful. Or sitting down together to find ways to overcome it. We do a lot of work with the Roma in Hungary. We've had exchanges with civil rights activists here - becasue Roma faced similar circumstances. Those have been useful for both sides - for people here to get a sense that these are still issues. And it's not that eveyrone here has figured it out. Some of the Roma's work can also be appropriated here. The way Roma organize themselves and see collective leadership, [for instance,] was very instructive.
You take for granted the advantage of a very internationalist perspective. Do you find any tensions in your work with people who have a more national orientation?
My current work is university-based, and that's just what I do here. But before my academic work I worked on Capital Hill. And there, there's a great deal of parochialism. What was it a recent report said, one third of all Congressional representatives don't even have passports?
Is there any uneasiness about the question of international solidarity?
The problem is that most of the developing world, they're looking for investment. There, they're saying anyone who is willing to invest over here at any level at all is welcome. At a general level there's solidarity. But at a concrete level, no one is turning that stuff down.
There's been success with sweatshop campaigns on campuses. There's a reception out there for these kinds of things. But it goes up against supranational regimes like the WTO. You've got to stop this [kind of thing] before it gets put in place. Because it's very difficult to see how you dismantle the WTO at this point.
It's also been a de-fanging of the UN - which didn't have muich authority in any case. But the power has been eroded.
Strategically, the anti-sweatshop work on campuses is clearly taking a page from the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s and early '90s. Yet I haven't heard of any links between anti-apartheid activists and anti-sweat groups today. You've been involved in both - I wonder if you know of any?
Most of the folks who were the core anti-apartheid activists moved on to other things. There's no links I've seen anywhere.
One of the things that did not happen is a summation of the anti-apartheid campaign. There's no critical assessment of what worked, what didn't - so there's a more cognitive transition to people doing similar work.
That would make a good foundation-sponsored retreat - anti-apartheid student leaders and anti-sweat campaign leaders.
The folks are still around.
There's a big debate going on about whether there really is something called "globalization" and a decline of the power of the nation-state that is significantly different than what came before, or whether we are just witnessing a continuation of the kind of gradual changes within capitalism that have prevailed for a century. Where would you place yourself in this discussion?
I think the nation state is not completely eroded. It's still a fundamental entity in international politics. And capital is still state based, even though it functions globally. We are in a new era, where the capacities of capital are in a place where they've never been at all before. The instant nature of the economy is a whole other animal to deal with. No one has figured out - including capital itself.
So I don't quite buy the arguments that this is just capitalism expanded. I think there are some qualitative leaps that have been made.