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Cities vs. Multinationals

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25 June 2020

This publication takes a comprehensive look at the confrontation between cities and multinationals’ power, which is played out in many different ways in different sectors. It includes articles written by activists, journalists, officials and academics from different European countries.

Authors:   Max Carbonell Ballestero, Déborah Berlioz, Igor Lasić, Kenneth Haar, Yago Álvarez Barba, Maria Maggiore, Benoît Collet, Olivier Petitjean, Rachel Knaebel, Hazel Sheffield, Maxime Combes, Barnabé Binctin, Guernica Facundo Vericat, Radek Vrábel, Olivier Hoedeman, Lina María González Correa, Mónica Vargas, Eleonora de Majo, Blanca Bayas Fernández, Alfons Pérez , Laia Forné, Nuria Alabao, Sol Trumbo Vila, Emma Avilés

In collaboration with:  Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Observatori del Deute en la Globalització (ODG), Observatoire des multinationales (OMAL)

Programmes:  Corporate Power, Public Alternatives

All over the world, and especially in Europe, cities have become a key battleground against the growing reach and power of multinational corporations, and all the social and environmental ills they entail.

This has become increasingly visible in traditional urban sectors such as construc- tion and public services, but also in the increasingly destructive tourism industry, in the “disruptions” caused or planned by tech and platform companies and in the speculative take over of cities’ living spaces. It is also visible in the countless obstacles that multinationals and their allies put in the way of city councils, communities, urban groups and movements seeking to tackle the climate emergency through decisive action or develop alternatives for providing basic services, protecting rights, or ensure a resilient energy or food supply.

From water privatisation to Airbnb and Uber, from fighting against cars and diesel pollution to promoting a “relocalised” economy that does not leak cash for the benefit of remote shareholders, a battle is brewing in Europe, one that pits cities and citizens against multinationals and the power of finance.

This is also a battle that cities and urban movements are increasingly conscious of, as they seek to gather their forces through networks and alliances to share their experience and develop common strategies. The “municipalist” movement, particularly vibrant in Spain but which has spread across the planet, is the expression of that consciousness (although it is a label that not all groups and people featured in the articles below would spontaneously use).

This publication is a first attempt to take a comprehensive look at the confrontation between cities and multinationals’ power, which is played out in many different sectors, and in different ways. It includes articles written by activists, journalists, officials and academics from different European countries. It tells stories of resistance and construction, of collective awakening and mass movements, of courageous social or political leaders. These are not only stories about mayors and city councils, but also stories about urban social movements, civil society groups, and impoverished communities and workers taking a stand and claiming their “right to the city”. We limited our scope to Europe, for pragmatic reasons and to emphasise the shared experience of European cities in recent years, but of course the same stories, or similar ones, could be told across the planet.

We are aware of the fact that “cities” is a highly contested term, both from a scientific and a political perspective. Our emphasis on cities does not come from their urban configuration or administrative qualification, but from recognising them as a political space of struggle and articulation of social majorities that, in the current era, has facilitated the articulation of new forms and practices to rein in the power of multinationals. We are also aware of the dependence of cities on extracting resources from the rural world. Cities as a space of political transformation cannot be romanticized without an analysis that acknowledges this fact.

Ultimately, this publication is about the confrontation between democracy and corporate power. In Europe, there is an increased sense that the current political system, which is based on the checks and balances model inherited from the liberal revolutions, has lost its legitimacy. Multinationals and their unparalleled economic and political influence lack effective accountability mechanisms within the existing decision-making processes of our democracies. Their unbridled power has great effects on the way we live as individuals and urban denizens, and on what we are capable of deciding collectively to manage our shared interests and expectations.

Contents

Introduction

RESIST.

#RavalVsBlackstone: The right to the city against the finance-real estate-tourism complex – MAX CARBONELL

The German Cities and Activists Rising Up Against the Car Industry – DÉBORAH BERLIOZ

“What is Dubrovnik Today?”: A golf course, free trade agreements, and the battle for the soul of a city – IGOR LASIĆ

Box : Airbnb Lobbyists in Brussels: Curbing Cities from Above – KENNETH HAAR

Debt: The straightjacket on municipalism – YAGO ÁLVAREZ

“Stop 5G”: Residents, doctors and judges going against the grain of Italy’s infatuation with smartphones – MARIA MAGGIORE

From Public Refuse to Private Profits: Does Belgrade really need a costly, corporate-built incinerator? – BENOÎT COLLET

Tech Giants, Privatisers and the Arms Industry: Fighting the “smart city” in France – OLIVIER PETITJEAN

Box : The Berlin Neighbourhood Which Forced Google Out – RACHEL KNAEBEL

RELOCALISE.

The “Preston Model”: A UK city takes the lead in progressive procurement – HAZEL SHEFFIELD

Loos en Gohelle, From Coal to Renewables: Is there a future for a small town without resources – MAXIME COMBES

Box : Good Meals Out of Freshwater in Rennes – BARNABÉ BINCTIN

Showcase Cities, Agora Cities: A vision of Barcelona built on solidarity – GUERNICA FACUNDO

Good News from the Brink: The story of Horní Jiřetín, a small North Bohemian town that defied the coal industry – RADEK VRABEL

Energy Transition: A small German district shows the way – DÉBORAH BERLIOZ

Cities with a Cause: Are EU rules an obstacle to the growing movement of progressive local procurement? – OLIVIER HOEDEMAN

Box : Progressive Procurement and Corporate Accountability in Barcelona – MÓNICA VARGAS, LINA MARÍA GONZÁLEZ

(RE)MUNICIPALISE.

Leaving Water Privatisation Behind: Paris, Grenoble and the advent of a water remunicipalisation movement in France – OLIVIER PETITJEAN

A City Against Established Powers: Neomunicipalism in Naples – ELEONORA DE MAJO

Defending Life in Cities through Feminist Action: Taking care services out of corporate hands – BLANCA BAYAS

Residents on the Front Line in Berlin’s Housing Revolution – RACHEL KNAEBEL

Switching off Spain’s Electricity Oligopoly: Three proposals to dismantle the corporate power of Spain’s electricity companies – ALFONS PÉREZ

France’s New “Municipal Farmers” – BARNABÉ BINCTIN

LOOKING FURTHER.

Public-Community Municipalism in Defence of the Commons – LAIA FORNÉ

Local Democracy and Feminism, Tools Against Neoliberalism – NURIA ALABAO

Source: Transition International

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Arts

Chautauquas and Lyceums and TED Talks, oh my!

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Our future is in OUR Hands

We are aiming with Mobilized to create a vibrant forum for ideas.  “Big deal”, you might say, there are already places for that.

Well, you’re not wrong.  There was, in the earliest days of the web, a loose and wild forum called The Well.  The great and powerful Google had as it’s mission the goal of “bringing all the knowledge of the world to every person”… before it pivoted to a new goal of just making money off of what it knows about us.  That change was a real pity.  There have been sites such as Wiser Earth, which aimed to be a global directory of people and non-profit organizations so that collaboration could happen on a larger scale than ever before.  It lasted about two years, sadly; not long enough to create a legacy.  Huffington Post had a good run in its’ early days, sharing ideas widely and helping to boost its’ contributors in the public’s mind.

What’s important to know, is that as of this writing, there is not really a widely recognized forum online or in ‘meat-space’.  There are print publications such as YES! magazine, Tikkun, The Sun Magazine, and The Utne Reader, all of which which reach a population of hundreds thousands.  Great, but their reach could be even more broad, in my humble opinion.  Within social media sites there are plenty of good ‘groups’ but they also don’t reach enough folks outside of their own memberships.

Probably the most popular comparable live events right now are the TED talks, which do serve a valuable purpose.  Sadly, they also tend toward the ‘Gee-Whiz‘ and the ‘Shiny New Buzzword‘ in their contents.  Mobilized really wants to focus on the proven, the existing, and the hidden.  There are already, all over, groups doing wonderful work, but too many of them are laboring in obscurity.

So, how do we do that?  Well to begin with, we’re not trying to be a technology startup.  There is no secret sauce, no fancy algorithm at work here.  Almost all the underlying code behind Mobilized is made with off-the-shelf parts, such as WordPress.  There is zero reason to re-invent the wheel, and frankly the notion that one must do so has tripped up several earlier attempts at building a successful progressive community.  We take the approach of using the tools at hand to build our house.

Secondly, we are going into the future with an eye firmly on the past.  And that leads us to the point of this essay, a look at how America became America.  We can take many lessons from the past.  One of our best ideas as a nation was the Chautauqua movement.   It had it’s heyday from the 1870’s right up until the beginning of World War II.  In part, it helped spawn a Lyceum movement, the Vaudeville traditions in the theater world; and had an effect on the earliest days of the motion-picture industry.  Here’s why it was so popular: the average person, anywhere in the land, could go to a Chautauqua when it came to their town, and engage in spirited discussion with the brightest minds of the day.  It was direct, person-to-person, and offered a mix of local and national ideas and people; presented on a rotating basis.  So ideas could be hashed out and spread rapidly.  And they did.  In no small part due to these two movements, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were defeated.  The Great Depression was tackled too, and along the way no less than Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain became huge fans.  No part of society could, or wanted to, ignore the notion that average people could teach other average people.

Mobilized aims to help bring that back into common understanding.  In the present era, there may well be a place for tents and lecturers setting up in farmer’s fields.  There certainly is a crying need for an educational platform that is accessible to the masses.  And now, there exist enough robust tools for us to re-create the ethos of a Chautauqua on the internet.

We, the people, when it really mattered and the stakes were high, collectively taught ourselves how to better ourselves.  Now, in every corner of the world, the stakes are once again pretty high.  It is time for a new Chautauqua movement, and this one will be truly global.  So step right up, come on inside our virtual tent.  Welcome to the show.

 

 

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CITIES

Rethinking Democracy From the Perspective of Political Ecology

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The issue of the governance of human societies immediately leads us to the issue of democracy, since the so-called democratic model is one of the pillars of modern civilization, today in crisis. Seen in historical perspective, governance — the ability to make collective decisions that are adequate to the extent that they are fair because they respond to the interests of the individuals who make them — became more complicated as societies grew in number of inhabitants and in functional complexity.

By Victor M. Toledo, originally published by Resilience.org

Ed.note: This piece originally appeared in Spanish in La Jornada, December 1, 2020

Translation into English by Jane K. Brundage

The issue of the governance of human societies immediately leads us to the issue of democracy, since the so-called democratic model is one of the pillars of modern civilization, today in crisis. Seen in historical perspective, governance — the ability to make collective decisions that are adequate to the extent that they are fair because they respond to the interests of the individuals who make them — became more complicated as societies grew in number of inhabitants and in functional complexity.

In the first extractive and agrarian societies, which make up 99 percent of the history of the human species, governance was carried out in a direct and balanced way. Governance began to become problematic with the appearance of the first cities, the State, class society and the diversity of work tasks. The democratic model, which according to E. Dussel was born not in Greece, but in Egypt and other Mediterranean cities, was defined as the power of the people in order to differentiate it from the various autocratic or despotic forms.

Today, modern governance in non-autocratic societies is generally synonymous with institutional, representative, electoral, formal or bourgeois democracy, in which decisions are made by representatives who are distantly elected by vote and usually through political parties. A good part of Western thought has forgotten or concealed the existence of another democracy, which was prior to the representative one, and which can be described as direct, participatory, radical or local. Four thousand years later, it continues to exist essentially among the planet’s 7,000 villages of indigenous peoples. Today, in the presence of the crisis of modernity, it resurfaces as the basic cell for constructing an innovative governance scheme that runs up the scale from the local to the global.

Today, the supreme and greatest challenge for contemporary science is to contribute to overcoming the crisis in which the modern world is plunged and to offer clarifications, clues, alternatives. The ineffectiveness of electoral or representative democracy as a way of reaching consensus and above all,  as a way of offering solutions to the phenomena of social injustice and the deterioration and depredation of nature, requires study and research. Modern democratic systems are also highly expensive. In Mexico, the National Electoral Institute (INE) will spend a budget of 12,493 million pesos in 2021 to organize elections and sponsor political parties.

In this context, because its long civilizational history has left a current legacy of 25 million Mexicans who identify themselves as indigenous and live in thousands of traditional communities, the Mexican case provides numerous living examples of a radical and participatory democracy. There are innumerable examples in the territory, especially in those regions where an inextricable relationship survives between culture and nature, together with a vigorous defense of communal territories.

This is the case in the state of Oaxaca, where 80 percent of its 570 municipalities elect their authorities directly. Likewise, the neozapatista caracoles[1] in the state of Chiapas, and the most recent processes of self-management and self-defense in the municipalities of Cherán[2], state of Michoacán; Oxcub, Chiapas, and Cacahuatepec and Ayutla de los Libres, state of Guerrero. By the same token, keep in mind the actions of the self-defense groups of Michoacán, a project frustrated by the power of the State, and the community police still serving in 920 towns and communities within 51 of the 81 municipalities in Guerrero.

All these experiences have been ignored, vilified, despised and repressed by the national system, because they contain the seeds of a profound transformation in the ways of governing. Their subversive power extends and multiplies beyond the local and acquires regional dimensions. In the Sierra Norte de Puebla, about 250 Nahua and Totonaca communities have held regional assemblies since 2014 (they have 30) with thousands of participants in defense of their territories, their forests, their springs and their mountains. Representative democracy, which maintains and conceals social exploitation and exploitation of the natural world, is under siege.

These reflections were shared by this writer speaking at the program “Rethinking Democracy in the Current World”, organized by the UNAM [National Autonomous University of Mexico]. It was a very successful event owing to the quality of the speakers and the number of those who followed the conferences virtually (ours was attended by more than 20,000 people.

For Dr. José Manuel Mireles, hero and martyr, for a true democracy.

+   +   +

Translator’s notes:

[1] Caracol is the Spanish word for conch shell — long used by Mexico’s indigenous peoples in ritual ceremonies. Blown into, they emit an unmistakable, hauntingly plaintiff tone that, once heard, is never forgotten. In the autonomous Zapatista communities of Mexico, caracol is the name given to its organizational regions, created in 2003 to replace the earlier organizational structure, Aguascalientes [Hot Waters]. Formed in 1995, the objective of Aguascalientes was to serve as contact points between Zapatista communities and other cultures in Mexico, and with cultures in the outside world. The Zapatista Caracoles were formed following a period of extensive discussion about the necessity of changing the traditional relation between Zapatista communities and other Mexican communities, and between Zapatista communities and the outside world.

 

In that sense, the objective of the caracoles is similar to its antecedent. In the Zapatistas’ own words, to be “windows for us to see ourselves, and for us to look outside” with “horns [ie, conch shells, in the sense of loudspeakers] to get our word out and to listen to those who are far away.” Source: Los Caracoles ZapatistasRaúl Romero, La Jornada, August 17, 2019.   (Spanish)

[2] Cherán, an indigenous community|municipality located on the Purhépecha Meseta [Highlands] in western Michoacán, is a remarkable story of community resilience, resistance, persistence and triumph over seemingly overwhelming odds. It is all the more remarkable for having been initiated and driven by the community’s women and young people. Here’s a good review at the 5-year marker: Mexico Indigenous: Cherán Celebrates 5 Years of Autonomy and Dignity.

Source: Resilience

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A Smarter Conversation

How localization leads to optimal health and well-being, hope and happiness.

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At a time of rapid change, there is a better way forward. A path that leads to optimal health and well-being, hope and happiness. 

Localization.

As globalization and consolidation has changed many of the ways we live and work, it has also contributed to the depletion of resources, on-going pandemics and crises and human suffering.

For four decades, Local Futures has revitalized  communities and local economies around the world

Mobilized spent about one hour speaking with the visionary founder of Local Futures to the ideas into action for a better way forward.

“A new human story founded on connection and diversity is emerging. It’s called localization.”

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Founder and Director is the founder and director of Local Futures/ISEC. A pioneer of the ‘new economy’ movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than forty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, and the author of several books, including Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, described as “an inspirational classic”, and most recently Local is Our Future. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award (or ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’) for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

 


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