Heralding Article 25: A People’s Strategy for World Transformation
By Mohammed Mesbahi
Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK, 2016
In the years following the death and destruction of World War II there were a number of key developments in the efforts to rebuild and to prevent major future conflicts. Two of the most significant developments occurred in 1948. In June of that year, the Marshall Plan—a United States aid initiative to rebuild Western Europe’s economy (named for then Secretary of State George Marshall)—went into effect, and the following December the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (the UN having been established three years earlier at the end of the war).
One of the most crucial components of the UDHR is Article 25, which states that everyone has a right to the basic needs for an adequate and secure living standard. Unfortunately, the global community is far from recognizing fundamental rights and needs for all; however, in the past decade or so there have been renewed pushes to address this.
In 2006, the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP—a movement for non-violent activism) voiced its support for a new, expanded “Global Marshall Plan” (GMP), which calls for bringing the global community together to achieve peace and personal and collective security through the dual goals of ending global poverty and healing the environment.
The NSP developed the Environmental & Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S.Constitution for several years (the concept having been proposed back in 1997) before vouching for it in 2010 in response to the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The amendment would get money out of politics and mandate environmental and social responsibility on the part of large corporations to continue to be chartered.
And last year, writer and political activist Mohammed Mesbahi published Heralding Article 25: A People’s Strategy for World Transformation, which calls for sustained, peaceful mass action to support global recognition of Article 25. Mesbahi founded the London-based civil society organization Share the World’s Resources.
The GMP proposal and Heralding Article 25 go very much hand-in-hand in seeking to alleviate the suffering of impoverished people worldwide through generosity, while rejecting their current domination and exploitation. They both place a strong emphasis on people exercising their grassroots power, and on avoiding complacency or expecting the government to do the right thing on its own without pressure.
They also both critique imperialism’s role in perpetuating conflict, and how ruling capitalist elites have used institutions to condition humans against their own nature to view an alternative paradigm as unrealistic or impossible. Heralding Article 25 stresses the point that countries such as those of Scandinavia have come a long way toward implementing the rights in Article 25).
Both initiatives recognize the role of growing inequality and materialism underlying the world’s problems. They seek to remedy these ills through individuals and institutions taking responsibility for bettering society and protecting the local and global environment, as does the ESRA.
In the programmatic and tactical realms, GMP and Heralding Article 25 differ. The former lays out a series of specific policy proposals, whereas Mesbahi in his book prescribes frameworks for action that leave it mostly up to the reader how to best carry them out. Mesbahi also looks more deeply at how people and politicians have perpetuated the status quo through misplaced priorities. While both writings highlight the need to put human needs and rights before money, the GMP very explicitly states that the concept of generosity through security is about more than material wealth, while Mesbahi is more focused on resource redistribution. The ESRA complements the vision laid out in Heralding Article 25 by seeking to enshrine its prescriptions within the Constitution in a manner that would compel the centers of political and economic power to get on board.
In one chapter, Mesbahi insightfully treats organizing against poverty as intertwined with and just as crucial as the green movement in countering degradation of the environment. He argues that the impoverished are more likely to have more children so that those who survive will be able to support them later, thus fueling overpopulation and its stress on the planet. We must ensure people’s needs while protecting the ecosystems essential to all life. Mesbahi’s most glaring omission in the chapter is the failure to mention the role of contraception and sex education in addressing overpopulation, but otherwise he is very effective in making its points and contributing to a valuable discussion.
One of Heralding Article 25 ’s fundamental merits is that it seeks to transcend divisive labels and their corresponding ideologies. It’s still important to identify these camps and the divisions among them—for example, the role of capitalism itself in undermining progressive values and goals can’t be ignored. However, avoiding divisive labels is critical to achieving Mesbahi’s intention, since the transformation he urges should be seen as a matter of common sense and basic decency instead of an ideological battle of left vs. right.
Essential to Mesbahi’s approach is his goal of re-focusing education on promoting humanity and sustainability over material success Moving beyond divisive labels that can turn away potential supporters (or at least fighting against the stigmatization and polarizing effects of those labels) is needed to accomplish this. It isn’t enough to replace one -ism or system with another without addressing how people are running them or including the people we seek to help in our discussions. It’s important to be for positive ideas, not simply against ideas one disagrees with.
As a vision of unity, Mesbahi makes interconnectedness one of his central themes, which underlies efforts regarding Article 25. Still, some form of revolution seems necessary—a political, groundswell movement such as the one Bernie Sanders inspired on the part of tens of millions in the recent presidential campaign is what’s consistent with the spirit of the Article 25 and GMP efforts, rather than the bloody revolutions and all-out wars of past cycles.
The current for-profit paradigm governing our society and institutions has brought about far too much turmoil and factored into driving people toward desperate and reactionary measures, whether it’s joining terrorist groups, or supporting nationalistic election campaigns such as those of Brexit, Donald Trump, and the extremist, xenophobic political parties that have gained traction in Europe. It’s imperative that we don’t allow current developments to take societies down a path similar to that of the 1930s when the rise of fascism led to world war. Heralding Article 25 was published prior to Trump’s election, and it’s more important than ever to heed the book’s message as part of the effort to counter and resist Trump and more broadly reduce the appeal of strongman figures.
Distaste for the status quo can produce constructive responses as evidenced by the level of support the Bernie Sanders campaign received (or for a more historical example, the U.S. responding to the Great Depression with the New Deal), but harnessing such energy instead of resisting it is necessary to counter destructive responses.
As stressed in both the book and the GMP, philanthropy and small-scale aid to those who have been exploited and neglected can only go so far and are insufficient replacements for a new system that puts people and life first. Partial forms of aid that fail to adequately fix our problems at their roots tend to lose support when people see them as failed investments and are led to believe the aid costs more than it actually does, which is all the more reason for more comprehensive approaches that can actually work. The ESRA can help generate the political will for these changes by curtailing financial interests’ tendencies to maintain business as usual.
In only 125 pages, Mesbahi makes the case for the transformation global society needs in order to relieve needless suffering and promote a sustainable, habitable future. Heralding Article 25 should be recommended reading for anyone who seeks to achieve a better world.
Noah Tenney is a Tikkun editorial intern and Oakland resident with a BA in Communications Studies and a minor in Political Science from Sonoma State University.
Heralding Article 25: A People’s Strategy for World Transformation