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NGOization: Depoliticizing Activism in Canada

New Socialist

May 25, 2014

By Dru Oja Jay

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Across Canada, movement organizations are preparing for the People’s Social Forum, coming up in August. There’s a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air as committees elect delegates, and strategies are debated. When hundreds of activists gather in Ottawa in a few months, we will be drawing from a rich, long-simmering cauldron of theoretical discussion and insight issuing from astute on-the-ground observations.

Members of a variety of organizations will gather to debate proposals and hear reports from paid organizers. Thousands will gather in major cities, and crowds ranging from dozens to hundreds are expected in smaller centres. In Kenora, a delegation of Indigenous activists are expected to present a proposal for a major change in the role of First Nations in Greenpeace campaigns. In Montreal, a left tendency within the membership is said to be preparing a resolution that would shift the Council of Canadians’ considerable campaigning clout to align more closely with the explicitly anti-capitalist student movement.

In BC, the Sierra Club will hold a series of general assemblies, bringing together its thousands of members for similar discussions. Canada World Youth, Engineers Without Borders, KAIROS and Amnesty International are holding local meetings to select delegates and discuss priorities. Southern Ontario is aflutter with activity as cross-sectoral workers’ committees meet independently of their unions to discuss strategies to proactively prevent the next plant closure and fight it with broad public support if it goes forward.

The question of which alliances to prioritize building when Canada’s still-nascent social movements gather in August is at the forefront of all these conversations. Which strategies will prevail? Which ideas will move to the fore? The anticipation is building.

Pure fiction?

With the exception of the People’s Social Forum, which is indeed planned for August 21 to 24 in Ottawa, the above scenario is pure fiction. The organizations listed above do have the membership and financial resources to open such spaces and expect people to take an interest, but few of them use that capacity. This is not an arbitrary fact of life; there are material and historical reasons why it is the case.

Decades of professionalization mean that if any of those organizations tried to hold assemblies like this, they would, at least initially, have trouble convincing people to come. Things would likely get off to an awkward start and require skilled and hands-on facilitation. A political culture of participation, collective decision-making and debate is all but missing. Decisions are made in offices and boardrooms, where professionalized staff preside over donors, petition signers and the occasional volunteer rather than a mobilized or empowered membership.

It wasn’t always like this. We don’t need to idealize the past to realize that there has been a concerted push to make what under other circumstance would be movement organizations into centrally-controlled bodies run by trained professionals. Exceptions to this trend are forever popping up: the environmental movement in the 1970s, the antiglobalization movement of the late 1990s, and most recently Occupy Wall Street are a few of the more prominent examples. But none of these exceptions has put an end to the process of bureaucratization and centralization. In fact, the process seems to accelerate when powerful grassroots movements enter onto the scene.

This process has been dubbed NGOization (after the increasingly-ubiquitous form, the Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO). While NGOization has been going on for decades, the concept is just starting to gain in currency beyond a few academics and grassroots organizers.

NGOization, write Dip Kapoor and Aziz Choudry in their edited collection by the same name, is a process of “professionalization and depolitization” which fragments and compartmentalizes the world into “issues and projects.” It works well, they add, “for neoliberal regimes.”

What NGOization precludes and inhibits is movement-building. Centralized control allows for an efficient mobilization of existing capacity, but it doesn’t provide the opportunities for masses of people to have new experiences, build their own ideas, do their own research, or start their own initiatives. It doesn’t provide the possibility of large numbers of people to decide, together, where to focus their energies or when to divide them.

The driving force behind the process of NGOization is not mysterious. Billions of dollars have been provided to Canadian NGOs to provide social services, dig wells in villages in African villages, support marginalized populations, campaign for environmental protection, and alleviate the effects of poverty. The money comes from government (the federal government spends close to a billion dollars per year on development NGOs alone) and private foundations (millions of tax-deductible dollars are spent annually to support environmental campaigns, for example).

But what do foundations and governments get for their money?

Part IV: 350.org’s Friends on Wall Street: The “Climate Wealth Opportunists” – Marketing a Fallacy

By Cory Morningstar

April 23, 2014

[Part I of this series, McKibben's Divestment Tour – Brought to You by Wall Street, can be found here] [Part II | Part III]

 

 “Of all our studies, it is history that is best qualified to reward our research.” — Malcolm X

 

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Prologue:A Coup d’étatof Nature – Led by the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

It is somewhat ironic that while anti-REDD climate activists, organizations (legitimate grassroots groups do exist) and self-proclaimed environmentalists – who consider themselves progressive – speak out against the commodification of nature’s natural resources, they also simultaneously promote the divestment campaign. The irony comes from the fact that the divestment campaign will result (succeed) in a colossal injection of money shifting over to the very portfolios heavily invested, thus dependent upon, the intense commodification and privatization of Earth’s last remaining forests (via REDD), water, etc. (environmental “markets“). This tour de force will be executed with cunning precision under the guise of environmental stewardship and “internalizing negative externalities through appropriate pricing.”Thus, ironically (if in appearances only), the greatest surge in the ultimate corporate capture of Earth’s final remaining resources is being led, and will be accomplished, by the very environmentalists and environmental groups that claim to oppose such corporate domination and capture.               

Beyond shelling out billions of (tax-exempt) dollars (i.e., investments) to those most accommodating in the non-profit industrial complex, via foundations, the corporations need not lift a finger; the feat is being carried out by both the legitimate and the faux environmentalists in tandem with an unsuspecting public (a public with almost no comprehension of 1. the magnitude of our ecological crisis, 2. the root causes of the planetary crisis, or 3. the non-profit industrial complex as an instrument of hegemony).

The commodification of the commons will represent the greatest, and most cunning, coup d’état in the history of corporate dominance – a fait accompli extraordinaire of unparalleled scale, with unparalleled repercussions for humanity and all life.    

Further, it matters little whether or not the money is moved from direct investments in fossil fuel corporations to so-called “socially responsible investments.” The fact of the matter is, all corporations on the planet (thus, all investments on the planet) do and will continue to require massive amounts of energies (including fossil fuels) to continue to grow and expand ad infinitum – as required by the industrialized capitalist economic system. 

The windmills and solar panels serve as the beautiful (marketing) imagery, yet they are somewhat illusory – the veneer for the commodification of the commons that is the fundamental objective of Wall Street, the very advisers of the divestment campaign.

Thus we find ourselves unwilling to acknowledge the necessity to dismantle the industrialized capitalist economic system, choosing instead to embrace an illusion designed by corporate power.

The purpose of this investigative series is to illustrate (indeed, prove) this premise.

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Marketing a Fallacy

 

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It is imperative to understand that the “solutions” being proposed in response to our unparalleled planetary ecological crisis will be only those that have the ability to enhance profits or build brand value, thus increasing revenues/profits. Yet, the fallacy of such “solutions” cannot be understated. The industrialized capitalist system is dependent upon growth. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible – a 5-year-old child can understand this fact because it is simple common sense (i.e., he or she would not wish to keep growing forever). Growth is dependent upon destruction of the natural world and exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable people. Violence is inherently built into the system. The idea that a “green economy” under the capitalist system will somehow slow down our accelerating multiple ecological crises and climate change is a delusional fallacy of epic proportion. Ceres allows corporations to continue this delusion and constructs a paradigm that conditions a culture to believe the fallacy.

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