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Date: Tue, 23 Jul 1996 08:31:34 -0500
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>>> Item number 7258, dated 96/07/21 16:01:04—ALL
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 16:01:04 GMT
Reply-To: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Organization: PACH
Subject: NACLA: Anti-World Bank Activism in the North

/** nacla.report: 260.0 **/
** Topic: Anti-World Bank Activism in the North by John Gershman: **
** Written 11:58 AM Jun 19, 1996 by nacla in cdp:nacla.report **

Making the World Bank More Accountable: Activism in the North

By John Gershman, The North American Congress on Latin America, 21 July 1996

In early October last year, over one thousand marchers left Dupont Circle and proceeded up Connecticut Avenue to the Washington Sheraton, site of the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are held in Washington, D.C. every two out of three years. While Bank/IMF meetings in Europe have often been marked by big street demonstrations, this was the first large-scale action in the United States focusing on those two multilateral lending institutions.

The march came at the end of a two-day conference on the Bank and IMF, and preceded a week of vigils, street theater, and other actions to protest the destructive impact of IMF and World Bank policies. The conference, which offered workshops and panels on issues ranging from The Cold Reality of Hot Money to Struggling for Health in Unhealthy Economies, brought together over 300 U.S. solidarity and grassroots activists as well as nearly 100 activists from abroad. The conference was organized by members of the grassroots working group of the 50 Years is Enough (50YIE) campaign, while the demonstration was organized jointly with the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico.

The 1995 events were a high watermark for the 50YIE campaign. The campaign emerged in early 1994 out of discussions among six organizations with extensive experience monitoring and lobbying the Bank and the IMF: Oxfam-America, the Development GAP, Global Exchange, International Rivers Network, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Defense Fund. These groups wanted to take advantage of the educational, media and advocacy opportunities opened up by the fiftieth-anniversary celebrations of the founding of the World Bank and IMF.

The campaign rapidly grew to include over 140 U.S. groups, including faith-based justice and peace organizations, environmental groups, solidarity groups, and development organizations. It forged alliances with over 170 partner organizations worldwide, with more than 40 in Latin America and the Caribbean. The 50YIE campaign is the U.S. version of a broader international movement that also uses the slogan 50 Years is Enough.

Campaign members united around a set of proposals based on a five-point program: openness and full public accountability of the Bank and IMF, and participation of affected women and men in all aspects of their projects and policies; the reorientation of Bank and IMF economic-policy reforms to promote more equitable development; an end to environmentally destructive lending and support for self-reliant, resource- conserving development; reduction of the size and power of the two organizations, and rechanneling of resources into other more participatory and accountable development initiatives; and multilateral debt reduction.

Based upon this platform, issue-oriented working groups drafted comprehensive background and briefing papers on different aspects of Bank and IMF operations. Functional working groups then focused on getting this information and analysis out to the media and policy makers as well as to different grassroots communities. A group of women formed a gender caucus both as a response to the absence in the campaign of a clear gender-based critique of Bank and IMF policies and practices, and to call attention to the lack of women in leadership positions within the organization.

Juliette Majot, a steering committee member from the International Rivers Network, points out that a key element of 50YIE’s success was that it built upon the foundation of an already well-established multilateral development-bank campaign largely comprised of Third World activists and their Washington-based allies. A broad range of organizations— including groups that view themselves as abolitionists as well as those that see themselves as reformists—united behind the campaign’s radical reform agenda. This unity was based on the reputation of the founding member organizations in the broader environment and development community as well as on the profound restructuring envisioned in the platform which essentially erased the distinction between radical reform and abolition. The major difference between 50YIE and other efforts was the campaign’s public willingness to attack U.S. appropriations for the Bank and IMF, a stance other advocacy groups had been unwilling to take as a means of exerting pressure.

During its first year, the campaign focused on generating media publicity, which peaked with the 1994 Bank-IMF annual meetings held in Madrid. It was able to get widespread coverage in the U.S. and foreign press of its criticisms of Bank and IMF policies. After the Madrid meeting, media interest shifted away from the Bank and the IMF, with brief blips around the December, 1994 peso crisis in Mexico, and the appointment of investment banker James Wolfensohn as president of the World Bank in June, 1995. The campaign shifted its emphasis to grassroots education, mobilization and advocacy.

The campaign’s outreach coordinator worked with local coalitions in half a dozen cities nationwide including San Francisco, Chicago, and Burlington, Vermont. These local coalitions organized teach-ins, conferences and guerrilla theater, and developed popular-education materials and a poster series. A bimonthly letter-writing campaign on issues advanced by campaign members gave Washington lobbying efforts a grassroots base. The combination of principled unity with decentralization has, says steering committee member Juliet Majot, allowed the campaign to shift its strategic priorities from lobbying, to media, to mobilization, depending on the situation. The October, 1995 gathering marked a convergence of the principal streams of activity: the conference reflected the campaign’s outreach and education efforts; the demonstration, its grassroots mobilization; and the 24 meetings between campaign members and Bank and IMF directors, its lobbying and advocacy component.

The campaign’s media visibility and policy leverage were principally due to two factors: the fiftieth anniversary, and support from a handful of Congress members including Barney Frank of Massachusetts. In the absence of the fiftieth- anniversary news hook, 50YIE has become much less successful at using the media to advance its agenda. Partly in response to the bad press generated by 50YIE, Wolfensohn has developed a much more sophisticated Bank public-relations campaign. He canceled the economically and environmentally catastrophic Arun Dam project in Nepal shortly after assuming office, and has proposed decentralizing the Bank’s operations and increasing the involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society in Bank activities. As a result, the Bank has become a more complex target, to which the campaign has yet to develop a compelling response.

Historically, the U.S. Congress and the Treasury Department have been the two main channels to influence Bank and IMF policy. When the Republicans assumed the majority in Congress in October, 1994, the campaign concentrated its lobbying efforts primarily on the Treasury Department and the U.S. executive directors of the two agencies. The capacity to convert grassroots pressure into changes at the Bank and Fund without Congress is one of the largest challenges that the campaign faces, says John Ruthrauff of the Center for Democratic Education.

The campaign is currently in the midst of a major transformation. A name change is on the agenda. 50 Years is Enough, while having gained some press recognition, has built-in obsolescence as a name. The organization also has had to grapple with its own weaknesses and limitations. Most of the campaign’s efforts to date have focused on the issues most familiar to its members: the environmental damage caused by large infrastructure projects, the social and economic impacts of structural-adjustment programs, and information- transparency issues. The campaign is working to develop greater expertise about the kinds of lending increasingly favored by the Bank, such as social-sector lending and direct support to the private sector. In order to strengthen its ties with other U.S. grassroots activists, the campaign has also formed a Making the Links caucus whose task is to develop clear analytical and activist connections between economic restructuring in the United States and abroad.

Despite the need for retooling, the campaign has had an important impact on a number of fronts. The demands of Southern groups—such as conditioning Bank and IMF appropriations on greater transparency—are now more forcefully heard in Washington, D.C. The campaign has also carved out space in the mainstream media for critical analysis of the impact of Bank and IMF operations. The fact that the World Bank felt compelled to build a more sophisticated public-relations campaign, including a ten-page response to the 50YIE platform, demonstrates that it takes the campaign seriously. And as a result of 50YIE’s work, the Bank and the IMF are now firmly on the agenda of solidarity and other grassroots groups in the United States.