Photo: Gizmodo

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Small acts of resistance

I came across today on Duncan Green's blog what seems like a really inspiring book called "Small acts of resistance: How courage, tenacity and ingenuity can change the world." The book has its own website where you can also submit your own stories of resistance.

Some of the examples included on the website from the book give pinpoint examples of how ordinary citizens took very simple actions to bring about change. For example, football supporters in Uruguay during the military dictatorship mumbled the national anthem until it came to the line, "May tyrants tremble!" which they shouted with all their might, before continuing to mumble the rest. The Generals couldn't arrest a whole football stadium nor could they accept the humiliation of removing this line from the national anthem. The people had found a way to express their opinion.

Those of us committed to creating a fairer world by eradicating poverty should also submit our stories of acts of resistance. So often we're faced with the question, "So what have you done that's improved people's lives?" Often our responses are so long-winded and complex, that potential supporters have moved on to the next, more readily understandable cause.

We should take up the author's invitation to submit our small acts of resistance. We are witness to them everyday by people living extraordinarily difficult lives who, despite all the odds, demonstrate courage, tenacity and ingenuity to survive extreme poverty. To inspire you, here's a video presentation of the book.

Small Acts of Resistance Final from Small Acts on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A world where money is more important than people

I was in Strasbourg this week, accompanying a group of young people from across Europe to meet Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General. Some of the guys who made up the delegation continue to have a difficult life, struggling to find work or their place on a worthwhile training course. And struggling to find their place in a society that tends to value people's worth in economic more often than human terms. Others have had more opportunities but are committed to creating a society which gives those same chances to everyone whatever their background.

It was uplifting to join them as they delivered their Appeal for a fairer world to Ban Ki-moon and the European Parliament President. This Appeal is the fruit of a process that has brought European young people together over the past year, in which each person was listened to and each point of view was respected. The Appeal asks Europeans of all ages and backgrounds to express their solidarity with young people who are among the over 80 million who live in poverty across the continent. 

"As young people from across Europe and in solidarity with young people the world over, we live in a world where money is more important than people. This world excludes some of us and breaks others. It leaves us feeling disgusted and angry. (…) We are of all ages and from across Europe. We dream of a fairer world. We must come together to make it possible."

The high that the young people were on after the event was infectious. As one of them put it, "When we began the process of writing this Appeal, I could never have imagined that we would end up reading it to the UN Secretary-General!"

It is easy to be cynical about such encounters between dignitaries and "ordinary citizens". I honesty got the feeling that Ban Ki-moon was genuinely touched and impressed by the commitment of this group of young people. In his very spontaneous response, he congratulated them on their leadership in tackling questions of poverty and encouraged their expression of solidarity to build a world free from poverty.

Those of us accompanying the delegation must now ensure that the Appeal's strong message of a dream for a fairer world is reinforced by reminding world leaders and decision makers of the expectations young people have for them to stand by the commitments they have made to make that dream a reality.

European youth appeal to the UN Secretary-General for a fairer world from ATDFRA on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Break the silence: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. I'll be heading to the Plaza of Liberties and Human Rights, at the Trocadero in Paris to join thousands of others to who share my refusal to accept that over a billion of our fellow citizens be condemned to a life of extreme poverty. The Plaza were over 60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed to herald, "Freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."

What will it take to spur us to take a stand against the injustice of poverty and make this proclamation more than rhetoric? For President Piñera of Chile, it was the plight of the 33 miners which led him to state his country will could now undertake the challenge to be the first in Latin America to defeat poverty.

It shouldn't need 33 courageous men to spur us to end poverty. The rallying call has come from many great figures in history over the years. From Victor Hugo, who in addressing the French Parliament in 1849 said, "I am among those who think and affirm that poverty can be destroyed." Or more recently, Nelson Mandela, who, now free, reminded us that the poor are not: "They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free."

Yet since the onset of the global economic crisis, nearly 70 million more people have been condemned to extreme poverty. And this just ten years after the international community pledged to, "Spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty."

Poverty can and must be eradicated. Tomorrow, people in different corners of the globe, including those who experience poverty first-hand, will express the conviction of Joseph Wresinski that, "Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty."

Below is a video from the director general of ATD Fourth World with his meesage for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

What will you be doing tomorrow?

Message from Eugen Brand, Director General of the International Movement ATD Fourth World on the occasion of the International D from ATDFRA on Vimeo.