Development: Now Sit Up and Listen
23 October 2008
Analysis by Sanjay Suri
23 October 2008, London (IPS) - For every one in 50 people around the world to make a point of standing up somewhere on the planet to say the same kind of thing adds up to a lot of people. More than any mass mobilisation on any issue ever before.
And now that they have, it should follow for leaders, if only for their own sake, to sit up and listen.
The official figure for the campaign to 'Stand Up and Take Action against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals' Oct. 17-19 has been declared at 116,993,629. The call came from the Global Call for Action Against Poverty (GCAP), an alliance of about 100 social movements, non-government organisations and community and faith groups.
This was considerably more than the 43 million recorded last year.
But the actual number is almost certainly higher than this official figure, says Salil Shetty, director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign. The official total was announced while results, after due verification, were still coming in, he said, adding that the number that actually stood up would be about twice the 67 million estimated before the weekend event. Organisers say two percent of the world population physically stood up to make a point against poverty.
Actions ranged from standing up to deliver petitions to presidents or at local events where city mayors and other officials were invited to listen, to protest marches and meetings where everyone stood up to make a point. The protest gave quite vivid truth to the old cliché about local actions, carried out globally -- this time about similar matters, simultaneously.
The added support for the campaign against poverty might just have been provoked by the global financial crisis, that has seen thousands of billions of dollars go into financial institutions brought down by dubious dabblers, after the leaders who sanctioned this money denied a fraction of that to feed the world's hungry.
"If the rich countries kept their promise of 0.7 percent of their GNP for aid, that would generate more than 200 billion dollars, more than enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and is still much, much less than we've seen available for the banking bailout," Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights declared as the results came in Wednesday.
"The money is there. But it's the political will. Leaders must listen to more than 116 million people," she said. "We have shattered all previous records for mass mobilisation. People really want to stand up against poverty, and say we need change."
The highest number of people who stood up, 73 million, was recorded in Asia, with 13 million reported in Bangladesh alone. Africa recorded about 24.5 million, and less expectedly, what was declared the 'Arab region' recorded close to 18 million.
Europe recorded close to a million, but Latin America only about 211,000. North America seems not to have drawn a significant response at all -- though the movement was led and coordinated from New York.
The initiative is not just about numbers, but a way to make protest possible. "We've created an opportunity for ordinary people to have a voice and to participate and to feel that they are not just objects of change but really the drivers of change," said Kumi Naidoo, co-chair of GCAP and honorary president of CIVICUS, a leading global NGO campaigning for rights and development.
"We've created a global event which is fundamentally local in nature," he said at a press conference after the attendance count. "My sense of why there was such an overwhelming turnout is that there is deep concern that the global economic crisis must not detract from meeting the MDGs, and exceeding them."
The attention to the money market crisis rather than to the MDGs clearly spurred a good deal of the protest action.
For the food crisis the leaders struggled to pledge eight billion dollars, for the financial crisis they found 3,000 billion dollars, said Sylvia Borren, executive director of Oxfam Novib in the Netherlands. "There is an ethical question here. If we had used that money at the bottom of the pyramid we would have achieved the MDGs by now." In this protest, "the urgency is the message."
The participation in the protest, she said, is "a democratic challenge for local governments, for national governments, but particularly also for the global governance we have, that says we the people do not understand that this kind of money can be spent on the Wall Street problem when children are dying every three seconds and women are dying at childbirth unnecessarily every minute."
The message coming across, Borren said, was that money was being spent "on financial institutions, on wars, it's being spent on all sorts of things we don't want; we want it spent on education, on water, on health, on food."
But between the delivery of a message and its receipt there still lies a wide gap. World leaders are meeting soon, not to end poverty or to find ways of providing everyone affordable food, but to make sure that the rich continue to buy, and that their market continues to flourish.