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Davos Elites Talk About Rebuilding Trust; People Talk Of System Change

Above photo: Fight Inequality Alliance Peoples Assembly in Burkina Faso.

We will win economic justice when people power becomes stronger than those driving and benefiting from the status quo.

With war threatening to escalate in the Middle East, as well as crises in Ecuador and many other parts of the world, most people are not even aware that the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is rolling around again this week. In the context of sharpening inequalities, and perilous global politics, what relevance does this gathering have outside the elite bubble?

The Forum’s annual Global Risks Report itself posits misinformation, societal polarization, extreme weather conditions, conflict, and rising cost of living among the key risks to the global economy this year. What the WEF has failed to define is that for many, the coming year does not bring the threat of multiple crises. Those crises are already here, and are being lived daily on the streets and in the homes of people on the frontlines of inequality around the world. But we did not seriously expect a self-selecting gathering of the elite to be in touch with that lived reality.

In many ways, the multilateralism that the WEF wishes to (but can only in a de facto way) be a part of has never looked more in peril. The UN system is impotent as members fail to enforce the international rule of law on Israel and its allies in the United States. This blatant revealing of how the international system currently works for the rich and powerful is seen and understood by many, including a disenfranchised younger generation.

The specter of protests across the world on the streets in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian liberation is the power of people on display. It is not hard to imagine that the same people power that will free Palestine will free the world from neoliberalism.

Every January during Davos, our allies at Oxfam release jaw-dropping statistics about inequality. They always do a great job of crystallizing for us the depth of the mess we’re in and provide a wedge into what sits beneath — the wider, systemic, and intersectional problem. But statistics can only hold up a mirror. They do not change the picture we see staring back at us.

For people living on the frontlines of inequality across the world, change is in short supply. We’ve won the debates on how bad inequality is and the fact that it requires deep change. Leaders in the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, many national governments, and even the Pope say they agree things need to change. But in practice, we are far from agreement with the rich and powerful about what change needs to happen and who should be driving that change.

Davos elites talk about rebuilding trust. The people talk of system change.

So where is the change going to come from? Inequality is, at heart, an issue of power. We in the Fight Inequality Alliance know that change comes when people power becomes stronger than those driving and benefitting from the status quo. People are already gathering in different formations and expressing their strong displeasure about the current state of affairs, which is built to oppress the majority in favor of a few.

People around the world are already active campaigning for the policy prescriptions that would do the most to ensure societies that work for all. The agenda of taxing the richest people and multinationals more, adequately funding public services, cancelling the debt, and providing decent work for all have been the backbone of struggles for a just and equitable world for many years. Charting a path to an economy which puts people and planet ahead of greed and profit is the course to take to answer the dangerous times we are in.

But given the intense concentration of power and wealth in so few hands across the globe, the dangerous sweep of rightwing extremism, sexism, austerity, misogyny, and discrimination, accompanied by a crackdown on democratic rights and freedoms, these struggles needed to join up and build collective power on a larger scale. With over 50 national elections set for this year across a hugely diverse range of countries from India to South Africa, the UK to the United States, representing over half of humanity’s population, this year will be a test for democracy. What kind of societies are we able to fight for?

The reality on the streets as the World Economic Forum meets in the Davos mountains is totally disconnected. People cannot, and will not ask Davos to solve their problems. How can trust be rebuilt in a system that is designed to exploit and extract from the majority of humanity? Any talk of rebuilding trust must surely sound as hollow to those at the sharp end of oppression, injustice, and inequality.

But protestors know that all is not lost. We believe in ourselves, and that change will come. Glimmers of hope appear when people organize themselves and demand progressive change — and governments are forced to respond. We have seen moves towards wealth taxes in Mexico and Zimbabwe, to name recent examples. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a groundbreaking summit between governments led to a new direction for more progressive taxation and for the region to raise a united voice on the international tax reform process. The expectation and the demand for fairer and more just societies drives us forward. We can never give that up.

Listen to those on the streets this week. Their stories and demands are our greatest hope.

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