The System, the Youth and Democracy

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 22 2019 – If we ever needed a proof, to see how the political system has become self referent, and unable to update itself, the last student march, in more than 1.000 towns, is a very good example. Of course, politicians referred to it in declarations, , and the President of the European Community, an old political fox with a lot of mileage, Juncker, even kissed the hand of Greta Thunberg ( a totally demagogic gesture). But however this unprecedented youth manifestation has given life to a new initiative on climate change. We are lucky that Greta’s Asperger syndrome of GRETA, , brings little empathy and more determination, so is totally improbable that she will be co-opted by flattery and recognition …

Roberto Savio

It was interesting to see the reaction of politicians. In the Italian Parliament, what was heard more by insiders was: anyhow they do not vote, they are too young…

We should all remember that in 2017, the italian government put in its budget 20 billion dollars to save 4 Italian banks; en 2 billion dollars for all subsidies and support to the young people

Directors of schools from Germany to Italy, declared that students have to study, not to take part in manifestations… there was, as usual, a plot theory, that climate change is too complex for young people, and clearly Greta was a puppet in adult hands. Newspapers have dwelt on the relations between her family and climate change campaigners, to show that she has been used .May be so, but by now is too late to discredit her, and she acted on her goals, that were her owns… The hundred of thousands of students do not copy her. She has awakened a chord which was already there.

The fact is that when hundred of thousands of students from all over the world mobilize around an utopia, a category totally disappeared in the political world)., makes adults uncomfortable. It measure the distance between what we are now, and when we were young, and the world was more idealistic than now, and we all had some hope and engagement. And that distance is quite large…many of us have betrayed or put to sleep those ideals. The way out is scepticism and paternalism. We know the reality, we know what are dreams, and young people should listen to our experiences. In the may of 68, Tristan Tzara, the father of Dadaism, cried to the marching students from is balcony;:” criez, criez, vous serez tous des notaires” (Shout, shout, you will all become notaries)..-.And for those of us, who have not betrayed ideals and commitments, is the sad realization that we are a failed generation, who ws not able to implement our vision of a better society…

Except that when we were young, the most existential threat was the atomic bomb. We made many marches. Now not only that threat is coming back, with the abolition of the the INF, but there is a new existential threat, the climate change. What is very impressive is that many students speak of how they are changing their lifestyle: , from not using plastic bottle, to reducing meat, to use less water when they clean their tooth’s… the change of lifestyle goes much beyond climate change…it goes to the heart of our consummation society and its values. A society where advertisement is larger that education budgets, And the fact that the heavy users of Internet, the first willing victims of the commercialization of the Net, start to doubt Google, Twitter and the other use of people not as citizens, but as consumers, is a significant fact. They are now ignoring advertisement. The automakers are very sad that car is not any longer a symbol status among young people…Nike, Jeans and smartphone are the status symbol, and their impact on climate is much smaller…

Extremely interesting are the reflections of a high level staff of the World Economic Forum, Davos: We see with great sympathy the mobilization of cicil society. Thank to them, several gaps in the field of medical assistance, museum and art care, and many social problems, are taken care. His has a double positive effect: It reduces the social tensions, and keep the volunteers busy, and out of the political engagement. In other words,civil society activists are seen as hamsters: running all the time, and going nowhere…

May be, for our generation is time to make three considerations.

The first is good to remember that until the crisis of 2.008, with the exception of Le Pen, the populist, xenophobe and nationalist parties, were marginal. Now they are everywhere, except Portugal, and frequently in power, like Italy, Austria, Poland Hungary, or in the government ‘s coalition of several countries including the Nordic ones. Nobody at that time could have thought of rabid nationalists, like Trump, Bolsonaro, Duque, Modi ,Duterte, Abe, Xi,: and how the multilateral system, based on the idea of peace and cooperation, would be disintegrating.

Now we know what unchecked capitalism and finance mean. By now we have a financial system, 40 times more powerful that the world of industry and services. Without any control, Banks have been fined since 2008 for illegal practices over 800 billions dollars. Nobody foresaw a world where 40 peoples have the same wealth of 2.3 billion people; a world where the family owner of the chain of Walmart magazines makes in a minute what is the yearly salary of its employees. During the last decade, fiscal paradises hide from the fiscal system at least 30 trillion dollars: six times the budget of US. Government. Countries are now unable to act globally, while finance does that daily, without any control. The last decade has seen a steady deterioration of democracy, of social justice, of the concern to secure a future to the young people and halting the existential threat to the planet., of man, animals and plants.

There have been only two new changes. : The arrival of woman on the political scene, with millions mobilizing against injustice and patriarchism. . Did that bring that enormous woman mobilization any change in legislations and budgets? Hardly. On the contrary, reinforced the prestige of dinosaurs, like Putin, Trump, Kaciesnky, Orban, Salvini, Le Pen and co., who are defending the values of the western civilization, against the dissolution of the family, the advancement of woman ( associated in the same breath with lesbians, gay and transgender, a revealing logic). And now, young people are mobilizing…until now the extreme right has not made any comment. Yet, to touch climate change, alternative energies, and lifestyle, is bound to create opposition, soon or later…strange destiny that of the extreme right wing. Is now against peace and development, social justice as central values. In a short time is now going against woman, and now will be against young people…

Second lesson. In fact the main value of this campaign, is that the political system is put in front of his responsibilities. “ We have no time”, and it is true. We are all mesmerized by the Treaty of Paris on climate change, with the participation of all countries of the world. However, it is important to see how the Treaty was conceived. To make a tent large enough to accommodate everybody, the rules are: every country will decide what targets it will adopt; and every country is responsible for checking the implementation of his engagement. What would happen if we did that with the fisc? Every citizen will decide how many taxes he will pay, and every citizen is responsible to see that he did comply-.

Well, on the basis of the engagements taken until today, the world temperature will increase to 3.5 centigrade., from the 1840. The scientist have always insisted that a reasonable limit is 1.5 centigrade, after which they speak of irreversible changes. Paris adopted the goal of 2 centigrade, to make things easier.

Then Mr. Trump left the Treaty, explaining that climate change is a Chinese hoax, to block the American development. It has cancelled all laws on climate control, created before him, to the point that he is now opening to extraction all national parks. This pleases of course to his founders, like the brothers Koch, who owns the almost part of the coal; to the petro companies: to the workers displaced by the fight against climate change, like miners. And to the large numbers of Americans who see China as the main threat, and believe that America is a victim of international exploitation, especially from their allies (Canada, Europe, Japan), Trump withdrawal has given a perfrect aliby to countries like Poland (coal) Saudi Arabia(oil) and others to duck the issue. So, now governments say that in 2020, when the first conference on the implementation will be held, they will assess the situation. But the students are here to remind It is a pity that, according the near unanimity of scientists, unless we change the present trend, we are going I unless we change the trend, in 2030 we will be over the famous threshold, of 1,5 centigrade. Scientists call for an unprecedented effort. But by now climate change by now is considered a left-wing issue, and times are not really the best. In other words, there are many chances that we will reach 2.020 still debating…The very important encyclical Laudatio Si, from this Pope, who links climate to social justice, migrations, technological progress, etc., in a holistic approach, has been largely ignored.

The young people are asking us to act now. As Greta said at Davos: when we will arrive in the society, the damage will already be done. This is an intergenerational call, and it is very important and powerful. “Parents, if you say you love us, why you do not take care of our future? “Should young people to take a lesson from the violence of yellow jackets, to be heard, instead of pacific marches? This way seems the only manifestations of many that obliged an Olympian president to hear…

Now , to the third lessons. The climate movement comes after several others grass root movements. The most traumatic was the protest against the World Trade Organization, in Chicago 1999, when thousand of protesters against unchecked capitalism, imposed by the Washington Consensus ( an holistic neoliberal view of international and national relations, based on the extreme reduction of the state, and unfettered capitalism) a consensus, subscribed by The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the American Treasury, changed the trend from cooperation to competition, and success Social costs were unproductive, Only trade and finance were the tools for the world. Margaret Thatcher famously said: there is v no society, only individuals….

Then, in 2001, in Porto Alegre, was ’ created he World Social Forum, a meeting place to share practices and view in alternative to Davos, and started a process of conferences with several hundred of thousand of people from all over the world,: a process which is continuing today, albeit with a big loss of steam. Ten years later, in 2011, the Movement of the Indignados started in Madrid, asking for a change of the democratic and financial system, and went in 68 towns of Spain, lasting until 2015. Antisystem parties come out in 2013, and presented themselves to the European Elections of 2014,. Podemos got 1.253.837 votes, and four seats. The others did no make it: Partido X got 105.561 votes, . The Movement of Citizens Democratic Renewal got 105.688, Recortes Zero 30..827. Had they presented together, they would have had 7 seats. But a proverb says that the left unites only in front of a firing squad…

But lot of other citizen’s movement took the streets. To conclude this review of the main citizens movement, in 2011, there was the Occupy Wall Street,, against greed, corruption, social inequality and the power of finance and corporations over political institutions, with several hundred thousand people. Some see the Arab Spring, and the massive protests of Algiers, as part of the same revolt. But it is is instructive to see how the political system read those events. They were classified as anarchists’ movement. Horizontalism (they did not elect any leader), autonomy from existing institutions, and defiance, demonizing the rich, and introducing a class warfare, were considered proper of anarchist who rejected the political system. . So the content of the demonstration was obscured by how they structured themselves.

It is a fact that to act without the rules of organization that political parties apply, since their inception in the XXth century, has been a huge handicap. Podemos, the only survivor of the Indignados wave, , like 5 stars in Italy, structured themselves as a political party. Like it or not, laws are made in parliament, and outside protests, large as they can be ( let us think of the woman movement), can be perfectly ignored, at no risk except the recurring elections. But the political system today is not a free one. Is conditioned by finance, corporations, trade armaments, technological development: Many more people will be made jobless by artificial intelligence than by migrants. The political system is hardly the representation of citizens, in the old sense. There are 32.000 lobbyist in the American Congress, and 16.000 in the European parliament: hardly a symptom of unfettered democracy…The Koch brothers, who donate at each elections hundred of millions of dollars to the Republican party, have a vote like the unemployed black guy form the suburbs. Do they compete at equal level?

Now, the student’s movement asks to those in power to introduce the urgent changes, on their behalf. Until now the system has been able to ignore the requests from people’s movement, and let them fritter away, “Students do not vote” , was the main internal comment after the large last manifestation. Yet, the students are denouncing an existential threat, which will reach the brothers Koch, as well the black unemployed (but remember, the weakest will be affected much more). If the system will not hear the voices of young people, the gap between political institutions and citizens will increase. And history tell us that voices from the street can be ignored once, twice, many times: but not for ever…Young people are those who see clearly that climate change is a strong hypothec their future, already affected by precarious jobs, unemployment, and a difficult future., where pensions will be minimal. They see a growing injustice and participation. They represent a revolt based on idealism and hard facts…They are also a minority because of our changing demography…If the political system will ignore this last mass movement, it will take an unprecedented risk. What will happen, will be a something that will shape history, If they will be ignored, democracy swill be in great peril…To kill idealism is a very great responsibility…

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of global governance. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

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