From Aug. 4th to 12th, 2004, 130 people from 8 countries participated in a workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on alternatives to corporate globalization. Sub-titled “Another World is Possible,” the workshop included academics, activists, social workers, political theorists and others from Mexico, the United States, Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina, Colombia, Rwanda and Italy. The bilingual, Spanish/English, workshop addressed issues of political and workplace democracy, cosmopolitan and global consciousness, as well as the impact of global markets and international corporate capitalism on local social and economic realities. People who attended the workshop are members of a large variety of organizations: social justice organizations from the San Miguel de Allende area; cooperativistas from the neighboring state of Hidalgo; cooperativistas from Nicaragua; academics from the US and Mexico City; philosopher-activists from Cuba, as well as political activists from many places, among them New York City, San Francisco, Yucatan, and Buenos Aires.
At the end of workshop, participants agreed on the need to continue work and study on the issues addressed. The result was the founding of an international center for research and learning in San Miguel de Allende, to be called the “Center for Global Justice.”
The workshop meetings ranged over a wide variety of subjects. There were discussions on the theory and practice of cooperative enterprises, on the abuse and conservation of water resources in Mexico, on the influx of genetically modified corn into Mexico and its threat to Mexican culture and infrastructure. The depletion of the aquifer in the semi-arid region of the state of Guanajuato was examined. Workshop participants attended sessions led by cooperativistas from the states of Yucatan and Hidalgo, and from Nicaragua. Several sessions were devoted to local development projects in Cuba. Women from independent worker cooperatives in the San Miguel region told of their struggles to create economic independence through the development of new organizations, and new products and markets, as a necessary response to the massive migration of men to the North in search of jobs. The women also discussed the cultural and social costs to themselves and their families resulting from this migration. These discussions of the economic and social realities of Mexico, one of the Third World countries most impacted by the United States corporate capitalism, provided a strong inverse perspective on corporate globalization and its injuriousness.
Workshop participants discussed theories of the restructuring and conservation of common goods, of different concepts of socialism (in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union), and of how those concepts are related or relevant to the contemporary struggles against corporate globalization. Other workshop sessions addressed the development of local political consciousness, popular participation in governance, and advances in higher education in Cuba. There were also discussions of the necessity for multiple interpretations of class structures and class relations in a hemisphere marked by a history of colonialism, privatization, and structures of racialization.
Interspersed with the substantive and multi-faceted discussions of current economic and social conditions, workshop participants also focused on issues of conference process. This was seen as an important concrete step toward the realization of an alternative social reality based on equity and non-hierarchical structures and interactions. The schedule of events was repeatedly punctuated by discussion directed toward group self-awareness and self-critique, as part of the common project for the workshop by all participants. Attention was called to a need to shift discussion protocols or paradigms, in order to work towards equal participation by all those present. The workshop, as a body, looked for better ways for people to address one another and to learn to acknowledge and honor the heterogeneity of the group. A commitment was made to work on these process issues without accusation, without acrimony, and in a spirit of moving toward cooperation. This oscillation between the concrete discussion of issues and internal dialogue was neither planned nor patterned; it occurred spontaneously. While some felt a certain resistance to this unusual and improvised movement, most found it ultimately necessary, productive, and positive.
An important part of this process of self-awareness was the gathering of women as a specific movement within the meetings. This was sparked by two main factors: the preponderance of men at the workshop who often tended to dominate sessions; and by the inspiration provided by the participation of the women’s cooperative organizations of the region of San Miguel. The women at the workshop met periodically, drew up lists of protocol proposals to guarantee equal participation of women, and proposed procedures to prevent or guard against the discrimination against anyone, on any grounds. As a result, the women’s caucus set a tone of equality and equity for the meetings as a whole. Though this work was positive, at the end of the workshop, everyone agreed that the process of achieving political conjunction across cultural and linguistic differences had only begun. The workshop body made a commitment to incorporate into the founding of the Center for Social Justice the principle of equity across gender, class, race, age, culture, geography and other hierarchies. This commitment includes equity in all aspects of the Center: conferences, programs, research agendas, language, administration and governance.
The workshop participants, as founding members of the Center for Global Justice to be located in San Miguel, established a number of provisional governing and administrative bodies for the Center. These include a coordinating committee, a conference planning committee and a communications committee. Plans have been made to establish a development committee for the purpose of raising operating and program funds for the Center, and an Advisory Council to contribute to the program planning and governance of the Center.
Since the Center will include members of a wide variety of geographical locations, much of its administrative work will be carried out via internet meetings and communications. Initial funds have been raised to hire a part-time person to begin the Center’s administrative work. A more permanent structure and governance will be elected and established at the next conference of the Center, planned for next year.
The Center will provide a learning program and a place for research and writing. It will serve as a networking center for activists, scholars and researchers to share and pool their work, their information, and their resources. It will attempt to coordinate travel to politically interesting places, and to thereby extend the network of activist connections.
Another founding principle of the Center is a commitment to integration into the life and activities of the town and region of San Miguel de Allende, whose residents will be encouraged to participate in all Center activities and programs. Part of this commitment will be an ongoing effort to address social and economic conditions of the area. Towards this end, a pilot program is currently being planned to initiate a series of community assessments in some of the poorer communities of the State of Guanajuato, particularly indigenous communities. Working with existing social service organizations like CASA, a San Miguel organization, field work is planned to be carried out by teams of interviewers that pair researchers (mainly graduate students) with local youth to conduct family surveys in the communities. Community assessments will be made through interviews carried out by center investigators and community members in a mutual effort to identify existing and potential community resources with the ultimate goal of having baseline information for further development of alternative community enhancement programs. With programs such as this pilot community assessment, the Center will not only situate itself as a learning and research environment in the San Miguel region, but will also actively contribute to improving the quality of life for residents of the region.
The August 2004 workshop and the subsequent founding of the Center for Social Justice in San Miguel de Allende has generated a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for broad cooperation among many people in many countries for concrete progress towards envisioning and establishing an alternative global reality of economic and social justice. Through its connections to Mexico and other parts of the western hemisphere, its broad and radical thinking at both the intellectual and activist levels, its multiple focus on critiquing contemporary global political developments, and its vision of social and political alternatives for a more humane and democratic world, the Center will seek to exert a positive influence on the unfolding of world events.