Best friends again

The United Nations celebrates its 50th birthday with a conference June 21-24 in San Francisco, co-sponsored by citizen groups like Rainforest Action Network, Citizens Network for Sustainable Development, and Third World Institute. The alliance is odd, given such groups’ limited influence on U.N. decision-making.

That wasn’t always the case. In 1945, several “people’s” organizations–such as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters–participated in drafting the U.N. charter and mobilized their constituencies to lobby Congress to ratify it. Since then, grassroots groups have seen their role diminish considerably.

Under fire today from all quarters for its bloated bureaucracy, impotence in world crises, and lax oversight of the agencies it ostensibly manages (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc.), the U.N. seems to be seeking a rapprochement with its old allies. But the grassroots are wary, participating “less out of hopefulness [for change] than out of desperation,” said one activist. A good sign: One of the conference’s goals is to rewrite the rules of how citizen groups can get consultative status at the U.N.

Liberal lip

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