Over the past 10 years, popular and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have markedly increased their influence in global decision-making. Now these groups are coming together to forge a common agenda, put recommendations on the table, and take united action to solve our common problems.
From April 2-8, for example, the inaugural session for a permanent Global People’s Assembly (GPA) will be held in Apia, Samoa. The momentum has been building for many years. The Millennium People’s Assembly Network (MPAN) held five sessions during the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference, with some 30 delegations attending. A Provisional Delegates Council was formed to move ahead with planning between meetings of the GPA.
During the Hague, a declaration called for "civil society and the United Nations to join in establishing a permanent, representative Global People’s Assembly, which will further promote dialogue, cooperation, and partnership between and among governments, organizations, and the people of the world." Now, a charter is being drafted for consideration at the inaugural session. The creation of a strong and active network of local and regional assemblies is well underway, with organizing activities and events being held in many countries.
The event is sponsored by the Samoan UN Association, with the government’s full support. Its theme is "Make Peace, Stop Wars." Focusing on how to create more viable social, political, economic, legal, religious, and cultural forms, the People’s Assembly will feature an educational program on forms of social organization such as the Matai System, and Scandinavian, Chinese, Sophia Antipodi, and American Indian models. There will also be Samoan cultural events, island visits, and the Messenger of World Peace contest. Registration, food, lodging, and entertainment are approximately $600 for the week.
For more information about the Samoa People’s Assembly, visit www.samoa.net.ws/suna; for MPAN, see www.ourvoices.org; for the Millennium Forum, go to www.millenniumforum.org. You can register for both the People’s Assembly and the forum on their respective web sites. Contact MPAN at 211 E. 43rd St., #908, New York, NY 10017 USA; (212) 973-9835; fax (212) 973-9836, or the Samoan UNA at POB 800, Apia, Samoa; phone/fax, +685-21667; e-mail, email@example.com.
Meanwhile, at the UN …
The largest gathering of heads of state ever is expected to meet for days at the UN’s Millennium Summit beginning on September 6, 2000. So far, the themes are Peace, Security, and Disarmament; Development and Poverty Eradication; and the UN in the 21st Century.
A companion Millennium Forum will be held at the UN from May 22-26, with 1400 delegates representating NGOs and civil society. It will provide an opportunity for the NGO community to continue to develop an evolving network of networks, envision how life can be in the 21st century, and create a road map to get there.
The Millennium Forum will cover Peace, Security, and Disarmament; Poverty Eradication; Human Rights; Sustainable Development; Facing the Challenges of Globalization; Strengthening and Democratizing the UN and other Global Institutions; and UN Funding. Some 30 thematic working groups will draft program and policy recommendations for solving our global problems.
Millennium Forum and Millennium People’s Assembly events are also being held around the world. You can visit the forum website at www.millenniumforum.org to review the calendar of events, join a thematic working group, or apply to participate in the May Forum. To reach the MF Secretariat, call (212) 803-2522, fax (212) 803-2566, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.millenniumforum.org.
More than 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, 800 million go to bed hungry every night, and 850 million adults are illiterate. Meanwhile, we are rapidly depleting our global resource base. Most forests have already been cut. Waterways are polluted, oceans over-fished, and desertification and topsoil loss continue unabated.
Only 20 percent of humanity uses 80 percent of the resources, leaving little for the remaining four-fifths. A billion people lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion don’t have sanitary facilities. The pattern holds in both rich and poor countries. In the US, about 5 percent own 95 percent of the privately held lands. The world’s richest 200 people doubled their net worth to more than $1 trillion in just the past four years.
And the official response to all this? The UN has held a series of global conferences over the past decade, covering everything from food, housing, environment, population, and social justice to women’s issues and the rights of the child. Action Plans have been drafted and ambitious programs passed.
Certainly, good things are being done. But funding for these programs is abysmal and commitments haven’t been kept. At the Earth Summit Conference in 1992, the developed countries agreed to increase their Official Development Assistance (ODA) from .034 to .07 percent of GNP. Instead, ODA has fallen to .023 percent of GNP over the last five years. Now, private investment will reportedly replace it. But almost all the money invested in the third world goes to just a handful of countries, with precious little for those most impoverished. The result: third world debt rose from $500 million in 1982 to $1.2 trillion in 1989, while at the same time $50 billion a year in capital flowed from the third world to the first.
We live in a world of great wealth and dire poverty. Both governments and corporations must be forced to act responsibly. Priorities must be reconsidered and new means of raising funds passed. A small tax on international currency exchanges and speculation would raise billions of dollars — money desperately needed in some parts of the world.
Only by working together can we force governments to meet their commitments. That’s what the Global People’s Assembly and the Millennium Forum are all about.
Rob Wheeler, an activist for 25 years, coordinates the Millennium People’s Assembly.