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THE PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT
THE VOICES OF THE PEOPLE IN GLOBAL DECISION-MAKING
By Susan J. Zipp
Today we come together with hopes and visions for our collective future, the sustainability and survival of life on our precious planet. Today we bring our voices together toward creating a UN Global People's Parliamentary Assembly, transforming inner wisdom into intelligent action. Today we commit ourselves to work together and contribute widely toward strengthening the United Nations as a positive international agent for change. Today we take a step forward, hand in hand, so that what would be one lonely step alone now becomes a collective giant leap forward in unity! Today, and from this day on, we determine that our voices will be heard. Today begins the future!
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY MOVEMENT
Any comprehensive discussion on UN Reform would be woefully inadequate without including the needs and voices of the world's people. The contributions of civil society and the NGOs are invaluable assets to local and global communities, and the idea of a UN People's Assembly is not new.
To promote international cooperation, peace and security, in the 1930s Dr. Albert Einstein addressed the potential for an International Association of People in a letter he wrote to Professor Sigmund Freud. "The people have no direct influence on the history of nations; their lack of cohesion prevents them from taking a direct part in the solution of contemporary problems. Don't you think that a change might be brought about in this respect by a free association of people? This international association, whose members would need to keep in touch with each other by a constant interchange of opinions, might acquire a considerable and moral influence over the settlement of political questions. Such an association would, of course, be a prey to all the ills that so often lead to degeneration in learned societies, dangers that are inseparably bound up with the imperfection of human nature. But should not an effort in this direction be risked in spite of this? I look upon the attempt as nothing less than an imperative duty."
In 1945 England's Ernest Bevin said in the House of Commons: "There should be a study of a house directly elected by the people of the world to whom the nations are accountable." In 1975 the People's Assemblies movement was re-kindled under the leadership of Dr. Harry Lerner in New York City and Dr. Jeffrey Segall in London. They organized local People's Assemblies in various cities around the globe, including San Francisco and New York, Vienna and Moscow, and held a five-week People's Assembly concurrent with the first United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. Since then, many hundreds of People's Assemblies have been held in cities and villages throughout the world.
With the encouragement and support of these pioneers and others including Dr. Lucile Green, Dr. Robert Muller, Lady Rhyl Jansen of New Zealand and Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, the vision for a People's Assembly movement was organized at the UN in 1997 as the Millennium People's Assembly Network. I was elected Vice-Chair of MPAN and began building a global network of local and regional people's organizations. By the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace conference, when MPAN became the Global People's Assembly, we had representation in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, along with global youth programs. In 2000 the Global People's Assembly was officially inaugurated in Samoa, and I was elected Co-Chair along with the late Dr. Rashmi Mayur.
Our European colleagues are rapidly advancing efforts toward creating a United Nations Parliament Assembly, with seminars scheduled in major cities throughout the world during 2007.
The recent report of the Panel of Eminent Persons chaired by former Brazilian president Cardosa calls for the United Nations to mobilize and coordinate external cooperation and become an "outward-looking Organization" capable of bringing together the many people relevant to different issues. This is our vision, that a Global People's Assembly may one day exist in permanent cooperation with the United Nations General Assembly, with the right to participate in debate and decision-making, and strengthen the UN's international legitimacy through partnerships with civil society.
ORGANIZING A PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY
When people participate through a global citizens network of local, regional and global assemblies, a unifying principle is created linking civil society with the international community. The Global People's Assembly is designed to represent diverse constituencies and backgrounds with the inclusive voices of the people heard at the highest levels. Our global mission is empowered by the sheer numbers and energy of the choir as we develop local and regional groups that address issues that cross all political and geographic boundaries to represent the people of the world.
It is always beneficial when people get together and share their thoughts. In local communities throughout the world, groups are being formed through the voluntary convergence of individuals and natural groupings. These groups, or informal local people's assemblies, are open to active participation by everyone. People choose the issues they address; conduct their affairs with respect for the rights, views and responsibilities of its members; and are encouraged to cooperate in partnership with local elected officials and civil society organizations.
Local and regional people's assemblies focus toward developing creative solutions to global concerns through dedicated actions on global issues at the local level. Here is a basic ten-step outline for organizing a local people's assembly:
(1) Bring together a core group, (2) identify the areas of passion and concern, (3) and organize a local outreach campaign. (4) Create a communications committee to keep everyone informed. (5) Host community programs with speakers and events, and (6) participate fully with other community organizations, NGOs and civic leaders. (7) Include educational, cultural, arts and youth programs, (8) devise a process for fund-raising so that your local group can continue (9) hold elections to select delegates and representatives to the regional and global People's Assemblies. (10) Most important is to be creative and have fun!
The world's people are no longer categorized merely by national boundaries. The majority of people simply want their basic needs met, and to see positive efforts toward sustainable development, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, non-violence and peace. The emphasis now is to identify and prioritize the issues the international community must address, set standards and targets for international cooperation, coordinate and enhance the effectiveness of the UN's various activities, and collect and share information and best practices among UN agencies.
EXPECTATIONS AND AGREEMENTS
While our world has become increasingly interdependent, human nature struggles with the will to form common bonds of unity. Developing bonds of trust, like all construction, is a conscious responsibility that doesn't happen overnight. It takes a long time and we must be patient. But destruction takes only a moment. Our personalities, cultures and expectations are so diverse that our frequent response to even the smallest friction or disagreement leads us to become defensive and shut down. Matters that are insignificant in the long run rule, and we throw out the baby with the bathwater. None of us can be right all the time. What is needed is a way to identify and share our common values through a larger set of agreements that will support our individual expectations and responsibilities in the fuller capacity of global convention.
We must agree to seek agreement. Binding our movement is the over-arching umbrella of the Declaration of Human Rights, containing the principles for democracy, and the Earth Charter, which outlines the basic agreements for a just and sustainable world and has the support of millions of people, major world organizations, UNESCO and the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and Niger. Within these powerful documents human values come to life. When we find our common ground rooted in these already established global agreements we create a framework for the victory of human potential. Our strength and numbers globally will stand on the firm foundation of widely held beliefs that cannot be diminished.
THE ROLE OF LEADERS
For our movement to gain global momentum we must develop ourselves as global leaders and find and nourish capable people. This must be our focus for the future. By providing an opportunity for every person to have an active voice on issues affecting their destiny, we create value and encourage and inspire each and every individual to develop as responsible citizens and realize their unlimited potential.
When people of various backgrounds, personalities and thinking combine their energies, we can nurture people of rich and diverse ability, creating a broad-minded organization capable of facing any problem.
The ability to find capable people depends on whether we can see each other's strengths, and the only way to do this is to develop our own leadership abilities. A leader must be sincere, honest, and accept a sense of responsibility while encouraging others. A leader isn't anyone special, just a person who values and respects all people equally and works to understand the feelings of others.
Communication is the key. By carefully considering what we are going to speak about and paying attention to detail, we develop open dialogues that build a humanistic culture. We connect with people by listening first, using the "two ears and one mouth" theory to listen twice as much as we speak. And most important is to have youth serve as the driving force in discussions. The youth are the hope and life of the organization and will become true leaders of the next generation.
There is an indigenous people's saying that it is better to build a healthy child than repair a broken adult. This touches on the spiritual dimension that a successful global people's movement must be built on a foundation of humanism. We are all world citizens. We can no longer approach issues of global peace and justice as merely an intellectual exercise. We must open our hearts with appreciation and gratitude as we expand our relationships with people and the environment. This requires a conscious shift from hard power and military might to what is known as soft power, dialogue and cooperation that lies at the heart of the United Nations. The soft-power approach defines paradigms for addressing global problems and creates a collaborative framework of prevention, so we do not wait until global issues reach crisis proportion to act.
The face of sustainability in the 21st Century is the face of a woman. The role of women and youth is central and their voices must be heard. Women and children are the non-combative victims of war, poverty and disease. Up to one out of every seven women and children is subject to rape, beatings, abandonment and neglect. Societies continue abuse, sell them into slavery, and murder their women in "familial honor killings". There are currently no legal standards for what is culturally accepted.
We have entered the UN Decade of Education
for Sustainable Development. Educational programs and exchanges
for all ages must be included in our work. The Eminent Panel's
report calls for educational plans based on "case studies
that encourage students to think critically and to undertake
specific follow-up actions to bring about positive global change."
Our youth carry the hopes for our shared future. By protecting
and inspiring women and youth participation we will compel and
strengthen global cooperation.
About the Author:
Susan J. Zipp was elected Co-Chair of the Global People's Assembly at the GPA inaugural conference held in Samoa during 2000. She is an international advisor for the Communications Coordination Committee for the United Nations, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, and Women for Cultural Wisdom. She is a UN representative for the Association of World Citizens and is affiliated with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The recipient of many awards including the Soka Gakkai International Justice Award, Susan serves on the SGI-USA Earth Charter Committee, has been featured in magazines, radio and television, and is active with numerous international peace organizations.