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August 28, 2003

who are the anti-globalizers?

(posted on Friday morning) I am curious about the "transnational activists": those young people who organize movements and stage protests about global issues. In particular, I wonder about their knowledge levels. In the 1999 IEA Civic Education Study, American 14-year-olds ranked dead last (out of 28 countries) in their knowledge of international issues and institutions. I presume that the transnational activists are more knowledgeable than their peers are, although that should be investigated. I wonder whether knowledge is a predictor of activism, and/or whether people gain knowledge through participation.

It is possible that interest in transnational issues has risen because knowledge of local and national issues and institutions has fallen. A lot of young people are fairly perplexed about how and why they might participate in local or national issues. Before they can participate, they must form opinions about private actors (such as corporations) and also about elaborate sets of public institutions. For example, if they want to get involved in US environmental issues, they may find that they have to understand the role of the EPA and the courts, the differences between Democrats and Republicans, their own state's regulations, and many other matters that polls show they do not grasp. They also have to understand and consider a wide range of potential actions, such as voting for particular candidates, joining parties, and criticizing specific public officials. At the international level, however, the public institutions are very weak and can more easily be ignored. I realize that activists often choose to protest outside the existing international public institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF. But my sense is that these bodies are viewed mainly as symbols of multinational capitalism. They don't exercise as much power as national governments do, and they give average people no opportunities for influence. Paradoxically, their weakness and undemocratic nature may make them easier to understand.

August 28, 2003 12:04 PM | category: advocating civic education , revitalizing the left | Comments


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