Medea Benjamin: It’s Time to Radically Rethink Globalization

Doha Debates
August 23, 2019

Sitting down with Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, who has decades of political activism and public confrontations under her belt, wants us not to blindly accept the status quo. Instead, she asks us to constantly consider the cost—to workers, to the environment, and ultimately us—rather than think things are unchangeable. Her definition of globalization puts aside the sharing of cultures to hone in on “an economic system that’s controlled by big corporations, whose only motivation is profit, and the kind of world that comes as a result of that,” adding, “The big eat the small.” In this world, resources are sucked out of countries, workers are exploited, and alternatives are routinely crushed.

But local businesses and individuals still have power. Medea recounts her personal action of taking on a “Goliath” like Nike by sharing a little secret with us about big companies: “Their brand name is so important that if you start to sully their brand name, they go crazy.” With this in mind, they brought a young female worker from Indonesia, who makes 300 pairs of shoes a day under inhumane conditions, to a Nike store in the U.S. and she tried on a pair of Nike shoes for the first time in her life—because she was never able to afford her own pair. An action that exposes corporations like this to the public, Medea explains, is one way to pressure them to improve worker conditions and guarantee basic human rights: by affecting their image. 

“Let’s recognize that right now, the system we have is destroying our planet. Period.”

If similar tactics don’t work, due to lack of transparency or accountability, Medea considers the possibility of creating an alternative product ourselves: made in a fair way where workers are being treated well, perhaps under a cooperative where ownership of the company is shared. But noting that our current consumption-heavy behaviors are unsustainable in the long term, she asks us to go one step further: “We have to think of a different kind of way of living together.” She urges us to use this as a creative opportunity to redesign the way we could live. “How can we really radically rethink the way we have developed this global system and do it in a way that is not destroying our planet, but actually friendly and sustainable for Mother Nature?”

For more inspirations of resistance, check out our full debate, which includes Medea’s 5-minute argument “Think globally. Act locally,” as well as a fiery roundtable discussion on different perspectives of globalization.