2019 in Review: GAPW’s Generational Sojourn


As we complete our 20th year as an organization, we look forward to participating in the UN’s 75th anniversary year as well as the early segments of what the UN is calling the Decade of Action and Delivery for sustainable development. We and those we work with have much to do to ensure that the best aspects of our messages on security and development, both to the UN community and the world beyond, survive the present cacophony of voices, images, opinions, half-truth-telling and outright deception.

From the origins of Global Action as a disarmament-focused organization given to grand narratives and connections that were breathtaking at one level and ungenerous at another, we have evolved multiple times through staff changes and funding losses, through opportunities gained and lost, through the sharing of ideas, some of which endured while others were (properly) discarded. With our resolute “human security” focus, we have shared diverse perspectives, paid close attention to multi-lateral processes that others have long abandoned, and done our level best to link the concerns of diverse populations and its local leadership with “nerve centers” such as the United Nations. That such centers have their own “nerve damage” has been self-evident to us and we have long sought to hold together our care for this place and our insistence that it rise to a higher level of inspiration and effectiveness.

Through all this, and with the extraordinary assistance of diverse funders and partners over the years, we have managed to do what has perhaps been our best work: laying out a path for the participation of many dozens of interns, fellows and occasionally even paid staff. These young people, mostly in the midst of some sort of formal education, many of whom are from what we used to call the “global south,” and most of whom have been women, have graced us with their energy, their skepticism, their often lively brains and sometimes under-developed hearts. We have kept them as much in the forefront as they had time and inclination to accept. It is their world now, their turn at the wheel, their values to incarnate, their cultures to examine and alter.

The bits of heartbreak for us in all of this is two-fold: First, that all of them eventually leave, including those who have had such a positive impact on our lives, mostly to begin positions which test them and for which their experience with us has had some benefit. And secondly, that we have not been able to take more of the burdens of the future off their plates. Indeed, some of the ills that we thought we might have collectively solved once and for all – from polio to torture – have announced their comebacks. And the larger threats facing the planet – from weapons of mass destruction to climate change – have only grown more insidious. We fail to change our ways, including the “ways” in which our flawed institutions of governance and grossly unequal economic system continue to drive a wedge between the world and our better selves.

I frankly cannot predict what will happen to Global Action after 2020. We still have connections to make and reform suggestions to share. We still pay close attention to what is happening inside the UN, hopefully still able to identify ideas that we can share and that can help break the political impasses that themselves threaten to break the spirit of global constituents. And we still sit in awe of what people who have passed through our lives are doing and making in the larger world. But it is not clear that we will have the energy or the resources to carry on beyond 2020. The metaphorical duct tape that we have used (and that many of you have helped us access) to hold this project together over many years is showing more and more of its wear.

We have much to assess in this New Year as well as much to do with others to help the planet embrace a more sustainable path.  We remain grateful for all of you – for your support of us but even more for your own, hopeful global actions — and promise to keep you apprised of our plans and any potential breakthroughs.