Maybe it’s the name that does it. Roll it over a few times on your tongue and you’ll find that Agenda 21 has a polarizing effect. For those who foresee shrinking icecaps, diminishing resources and rising tides from increasing population and unsustainable methods and industries, the concept of Agenda 21 provides direction. It offers a game plan – an agenda of sorts – for a sustainable future in the 21st century.
But for those who distrust outside control, particularly through the consensus of world governments, Agenda 21 – a concept, in fact, authored through the United Nations – speaks to the basest of fears in this country: the dread of being shackled by communism.
So it is no surprise that the John Birch Society (JBS) has picked up the baton recently to wage a grassroots war against Agenda 21. JBS, which describes itself as “being dedicated to restoring and preserving freedom under the United States Constitution,” says the U.N.’s plan is an effort to “establish control over all human activity.”
“The UN is at the hub of a global network working to submerge the independence of all nations in a world government controlled by the elites,” reports JBS on its website, “and JBS calls for the U.S. to get out of the U.N.”
The John Birch Society’s objection to the U.N. is no surprise. The JBS was founded on the principle of opposing communism – or what its members believe exemplified communist ideology in the late 1950s, a time when such battles were considered by some to be defining moments of the country’s future.
Of its many endeavors, JBS, or John Birchers as its supporters were called, were best known for efforts to block dialogue with and peaceful recognition of the communist Soviet Union during the 1950s. More recently, they have attempted to stop the country’s participation in a free-trade agreement in the Americas that JBS called “subversive,” and involvement in an economic North American Union agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that the JBS asserts would have “abolished our borders” with adjacent countries.
“There are many stages of “welfarism, socialism, and collectivism in general,” JBS’ founder, Robert Welch wrote, “but communism is the ultimate state of them all, and they all lead inevitably in that direction.” Within those leagues was lumped the civil rights movement, which the organization fervently rallied against in the 1960s, and the concept of a united league of nations, the U.N.
“The global power elites view the U.N. as their main vehicle for establishing, step by step, a socialistic global government controlled by themselves,” the JBS explains on its website.
Its members see efforts by the Obama administration to gain consensus regarding the dangers of global warming as “cooking the books” and the results of “environmentalist manipulation, lies and fear mongering,” words that appeal to those who may be uncomfortable with reaching out beyond their borders or forming consensus with other nations, as Agenda 21 purports.
First proposed at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio Janeiro in 1992 as a series of guidelines for improving global sustainable development, Agenda 21 (so named for the 21st century) has received varying support throughout the U.S. More than 500 U.S. cities are members of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, (now known as Local Governments for Sustainability) or ICLEI, a network of communities and governments committed to increasing sustainable development. U.S. signatories provide for more than half of the organization’s global membership.
But Agenda 21 has its critics as well, particularly here in the U.S., where in the words of radio personality, Glenn Beck, those who oppose its goals see Agenda 21 as an attempt to exert “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.”
“Yes, thousands of people traveled to Rio to spend 10 days formulating a plan to build bike paths and farmers markets,” JBS’ regional field director, Hal Shurtleff expressed incredulously in a comment to ThinkProgress.com’s recent article on the JBS’s efforts to stop Agenda 21, “And you folks question our sanity?”
JBS’ success in undermining Americans’ confidence in Agenda 21 will likely not be based on conspiracy theories or disputes over the genuine reason for a global conference on sustainability in 2002. It will come from its ability to seed fear in readers who believe that the quintessential values of their American life are at risk.
To that end, JBS has assembled an Agenda 21 Project Page of videos, talking points and petitions to mobilize homeowners and readers against any “related sustainable development laws and ordinances” in their communities.
“(The) UN’s Local Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community,” the website says, warning that its arrival to U.S. communities may signal the end of personal freedoms, such as the ability to travel, own a gas-fuelled automobile or even raise a family.
“(It) would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain,” the JBS asserts. It’s a bold claim, and one that the organization knows it can’t actually prove.
But for U.S. property owners that have already seen their resources diminished by environmental changes, rising taxes, and an escalating cost of living, hard data means little. The issue they will be asking is whether sustainability programs based on Agenda 21 yield a better way of life for their present-day communities. And as the John Birch Society sees it, the answer is a resounding “no.”
As for the global community, Agenda 21 is still far from an adopted program. While many may not step in league with the principles of far-right organizations like JBS, there are many who question whether placing faith in a program that promotes governmental oversight of resources and procedures holds the key to ensuring the earth’s ecological future. It will be interesting to see whether the Agenda 21 legacy endures.
Image courtesy of Kenneth Freeman.