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Across the world, millions of campaigners and activists refuse to sit idly by and watch the world’s crises escalate, while our governments fail to provide hope for a more just and sustainable future. The writing is on the wall: climate chaos, escalating conflict over scarce resources, growing impoverishment and marginalisation in the rich world as well as the poor, the looming prospect of another global financial collapse. In the face of what many describe as a planetary emergency, there has never been such a widespread and sustained mobilisation of citizens around efforts to challenge global leaders and address critical social and environmental issues. A worldwide ‘movement of movements’ is on the rise, driven by an awareness that the multiple crises we face are fundamentally caused by an outmoded economic system in need of wholesale reform.
But despite this growing awareness of the need for massive combined action to reverse ongoing historical trends, clearly not enough is being done to tackle the systemic causes of the world’s interrelated problems. What we still lack is a truly unified progressive movement that comprises the collective actions of civil society organisations, grassroots activists and an engaged citizenry. A fusion of progressive causes is urgently needed under a common banner, one that can create a consensus among a critical mass of the world population about the necessary direction for transformational change. As many individuals and groups within the progressive community both recognise and proclaim, this is our greatest hope for bringing about world renewal and rehabilitation.
A new report by Share The World’s Resources (STWR) demonstrates how a call for sharing wealth, power and resources is central to the formation of this growing worldwide movement of global citizens. As more and more people raise their voices for governments to put human needs and ecological preservation before corporate greed and profit, this demand for sharing is consistently at the heart of civil society demands for a better world. In fact, the principle of sharing is often central to efforts for progressive change in almost every field of endeavour. But this basic concern is generally understood and couched in tacit terms, without acknowledging the versatility and wide applicability of sharing as a solution to the world’s problems. For this reason, STWR argues that the call for sharing should be more widely perceived and promoted as a common cause that can help connect the world’s peace, justice, pro-democracy and environmental movements under a united call for change.
How is the call for sharing expressed?
In many ways the need for greater sharing in society is longstanding and self-evident, as there can be no social or economic justice when wealth and income inequalities continue to spiral out of control, increasingly to the benefit of the 1% (or indeed the 0.001%). There is now an almost continuous and high-profile discussion on the need to tackle growing extremes of inequality, which is a debate that is often framed entirely – if not always explicitly – around the need for a just sharing of wealth and power across society as a whole.
At the same time, advocacy for new development paradigms or economic alternatives is increasingly being framed and discussed in terms of sharing. This is most apparent in the international debate on climate change and sustainable development, in which many policy analysts and civil society organisations (CSOs) are calling for ‘fair shares’ in a constrained world – in other words, for all people to have an equal right to share the Earth’s resources without transgressing the planet’s environmental limits. Furthermore, some prominent CSOs – including Christian Aid, Oxfam International and Friends of the Earth – clearly espouse the principle of sharing as part of their organisational strategies and objectives, and call for dramatic changes in how power and resources are shared in order to transform our unjust world.
The renewed concept of the commons has also fast become a well-recognised global movement of scholars and activists who frame all the most pressing issues of our time – from unsustainable growth to rising inequality – in terms of our need to cooperatively protect the shared resources of Earth. On a more local and practical level, there is also a flourishing sharing economy movement that is empowering people to share more in their everyday lives through the use of online platforms and sharing-oriented business models, as well as through gift economies and shared community projects.
In most other instances, however, the basic demand for sharing is implicitly discussed or inadvertently promoted in popular calls for change. For example, millions of people across the world are struggling for democracy and freedom in manifold ways, from people-led uprisings against corrupt governments to those who are actively participating in new democracy movements within communities and workplaces. But there can be no true form of democracy – and no securing of basic human rights for all – without a just sharing of political power and economic resources, as outlined in a section of STWR’s report on participative democracy.
Similarly, the principle of sharing underlies many of the campaigns and initiatives for peaceful co-existence, whether it’s in terms of redirecting military spending towards essential public goods, or ending the scramble for scarce resources through cooperative international agreements. From both a historical and common sense perspective, it is clear that competition over resources causes conflict – and there is no sense in perpetuating an economic paradigm where all nations are pitted against each other to try and own what could easily be shared.
Yet the basic necessity of sharing is often not recognised as an underlying cause for all those who envision a more equitable and peaceful world without insecurity or deprivation. This is despite the fact that the mass protest movements that have swiftly emerged in recent years, including the Arab Spring demonstrations and Occupy movements, are also invariably connected by their implicit call for greater economic sharing across society, not least in their reaction to enormous and growing socio-economic divisions.
Why advocate for sharing?
Given that a call for sharing is already a fundamental (if often unacknowledged) demand of a diverse group of progressive individuals and organisations, there are a number of reasons why we should embrace this common cause and advocate more explicitly for sharing in our work and activities. In particular, a call for sharing holds the potential to connect disparate campaign groups, activists and social movements under a common theme and vision. Such a call represents the unity in diversity of global civil society and can provide an inclusive rallying platform, which may help us to recognise that we are all ultimately fighting the same cause. It also offers a way of moving beyond separate silos and single-issue platforms, but without needing to abandon any existing focuses or campaign priorities.
A call for sharing can also engage a much broader swathe of the public in campaign initiatives and movements for transformative change. Many people feel disconnected from political issues owing to their technical complexity, or else they feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges that face us and ill equipped to take action. But everyone understands the human value of sharing, and by upholding this universal principle in a political context we can point the way towards an entirely new approach to economics – one that is inherently based on a fair and sustainable distribution of resources. In this way, the principle of sharing represents a valuable advocacy and educational tool that can help to generate widespread public engagement with critical global issues.
In addition, a popular demand for governments to adopt the principle of sharing has radical implications for current economic and political arrangements, both within countries and internationally. This is clear when we examine the influence of the neoliberal approach to economics that continues to dominate policymaking in both the Global North and South, and which is in many ways the antithesis of an economic approach based on egalitarian values and the fulfilment of long-established human rights. In an increasingly unequal and unsustainable world in which all governments need to drastically re-order their priorities, a call for sharing embodies the need for justice, democracy and sound environmental stewardship to guide policymaking at every level of society.
A global movement for sharing
Ultimately, only a collective demand for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources is likely to unify citizens across the world in a common cause. Unless individuals and organisations in different countries align their efforts in more concrete ways (a process that is already underway), it may remain impossible to overcome the vested interests and entrenched structures that maintain business-as-usual. While we face the increasing prospect of social, economic and ecological collapse, there is no greater urgency for establishing a broad-based global movement that upholds the principle of sharing as a basic guide for restructuring our societies and tackling the multiple crises of the 21st century. In the end, this may represent our greatest hope for influencing economic reforms that are based on the needs of the world as a whole, and guided by basic human and ecological values.
If the case for promoting sharing as our common cause seems convincing, then it compels us to acknowledge that we are all part of this emerging movement that holds the same values and broad concerns. Without doubt, a dramatic shift in public debate is needed if the principle of sharing is to be understood as integral to any agenda for a more just and sustainable world. If you agree with the need to catalyse a global movement of citizens that embrace sharing as a common cause, please sign and promote STWR’s campaign statement. By joining this ‘global call’, any individual or organisation can influence the development of this emerging theme and vision, and help spark public awareness and a wider debate on the importance of sharing in economic and political terms.
Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources (STWR), www.sharing.org