Activists launch campaign to fight power of richest 1%

Credit: Prasanth Chandran/flickr

Some heavy-hitting activists have joined the fight against the power held by the global 1 percent. ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus launched a new campaign that calls attention to the negative impact the world’s most powerful have on the environment and global poverty. Much like the Occupy Wall Street Protesters, the groups argue that the distribution of power must shift to realize a better world.

“We need a world where people do not have to live in fear of the economic repercussions of getting sick, or losing their home or job. Where every child gets to fulfill their potential, wrote Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “Where corporations pay their fair share of taxes and work for the good of the majority, not just their shareholders. Where the planet is preserved and sustained for our children and their children’s children.”

The campaign marks an evolution from previous efforts targeting the world’s wealthiest. For the past few years, Oxfam has called attention to the massive wealth held by only a few people as a way to illustrate the problem of wealth inequality. Other campaigns have honed in on tax evasion and illicit financial flows, saying that corporations and wealthy individuals take advantage of tax havens and loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

All of those issues are included in the new campaign, but the new focus is the power held by the top 1 percent that allows them to do things like avoid paying taxes.

“This isn’t just about the obscenity of extreme economic inequality,” said Ben Phillips, director of policy, research, advocacy and campaigns for ActionAid, in an interview with Humanosphere. “This is about the danger that power concentration poses to the planet.”

If the world is to achieve ambitious goals like ending extreme poverty and mitigating the impacts of climate change, the balance of power has to shift away from a small group of elites, the groups argue. They pledged to campaign on a wide range of issues from equal pay for women to universal free public health to reducing the wealth gap between the top and bottom.

Or as Chuck D said back in 1989:

What we got to say
Power to the people no delay
To make everybody see
In order to fight the powers that be
Fight the power

“When we don’t name a problem it doesn’t go away, it gets worse,” Phillips said. “The shift in power has become so extreme that we cannot ignore it. How do we reverse this power shift? How do we build power from below?”

He pointed to examples like the peaceful civil movements like women’s suffrage, Indian independence and African-American voting rights as examples of changing power structures through campaigns. That means the effort is much longer than the typical one year or shorter campaigns launched by nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups.

The new push is a sort of “open invitation” for individuals, governments and groups to rally together for meaningful change, Phillips said. It was timed to coincide with the 10th global meeting of the World Social Forum, an event that started in 2001 as a way for campaigners to work together in forming movements that take on the world’s most powerful. It stands as a sort of counterpoint to the elite World Economic Forum held in Switzerland each year.

The leaders of the four organizations released a statement in advance of the meetings to build a consensus for a new global campaign. Connected by individual histories of activism, the four are optimistic that working together can change the current global course.

It builds on the ideas set forward in the Rustlers Valley letter, published in August 2014. All four leaders signed onto the letter, but most in a personal capacity. This time around, the campaign drawing attention to the 1 percent has the backing of some major NGOs.

“A more inclusive society, at the service of human beings, is both essential and achievable. But only if we work together to insist on it. Another world is possible,” the respective head of the four NGOs wrote. “Ensuring a more just and sustainable economy and society is not principally a technical challenge but rather one of political will.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.