When 640,000 people sign a petition, you know it will have political clout. And you know that formidable political organizing has taken place.
How much clout was demonstrated in February’s budget when the federal government cancelled most of the debt owed to it by what have come to be known as Highly Indebted Poor Countries. There are 50 countries in the group, 23 of which owed money to Canada. The government cancelled the debts of 19 of them totalling $113 million.
The petition was organized by an alliance of 30 churches and ecumenical organizations gathered under the rubric of the Jubilee Initiative, which takes its inspiration from Leviticus (25:10) where God says: « You shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberation in the land for all its inhabitants. You shall make this your year of Jubilee.’’
The alliance reads this as saying social justice is a primary goal for today’s world.
Involved in the alliance are the Anglican, Roman Catholic, United, Armenian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Baptist, Quaker, British Methodist Episcopal, Christian Reformed, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Evangelical Lutheran, Polish National Catholic, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Mennonite churches, as well as church agencies, and some non-religious organizations such as the Aboriginal rights Coalition.
How much continuing pressure can be expected was demonstrated by what the government did not do in the budget. It ignored additional requests to drop conditions attached to loans requiring poor countries to adopt austerity measures, called structural adjustment programs, set by the International Development Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The alliance calls the austerity measures « noxious,’’ because they « erode health care, education, and the environment, further impoverishing the poorest populations of the world.’’
The budget also skirted another request asking Martin to exhibit a determination to eliminate child poverty in Canada. Elimination of poverty by the year 2000 was a promise made by federal Liberals in 1989.
In its campaign for social justice, the alliance has linked environmental restoration, redistribution of wealth, and an end to « debt slavery.’’
It has targeting globalization and « how the ideology, or idolatry, of `the market’ has distorted our values….
« Neoliberal economic policies,’’ it says, such as those « embodied in frameworks like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), have removed the ability of states to regulate trade and investment, resulting in a global ‘race to the bottom’ as nations seek to lower wages, labour protections, and environmental standards to be more `competitive in the global marketplace.’ ’’
To the officials cocooned behind police barricades this past week at the IMF meeting in Washington, and at the WTO meeting in Seattle last December, the appearance of the Jubilee Initiative ought to be unsettling.
They can belittle the Washington and Seattle demonstrators for being rabble rousers. But they can’t do that with the Jubilee alliance. It is disciplined, highly informed, skilled at organizing (its website is www.web.net/~jubilee), and has an international reach with ecumenical partners abroad. And besides, attacking the church is always a risky business.
What’s more, every day in the news there are stories affirming the message that the alliance is imparting — such as last Monday’s story that poverty in Toronto jumped by 50 per cent between the census years 1990 and 1995.
Obviously There is something systemically and drastically wrong when when child poverty can reach rates of 50 per cent in Montreal, 37 per cent in Toronto, 36 per cent in Vancouver, and 24 per cent in Calgary.
When, instead of the trickle down theory so beloved of free market advocates, we have wealth sucked up to the already rich — to the point that during the past five years 200 million people have joined those in absolute poverty, surviving no more than $1 a day.
To my mind, Peter had it right when he urged: « Save yourselves from this crooked age.’’ (Acts 2:40)
Next Week: Restoring the earth