16 October 2006
by Sanjay Suri
The protest has the appearance of doing little more than make a metaphor literal. But easy enough as it is, the protest is intended to record a willingness to act, and to prepare the ground for more firm action next year.
Millions are expected to support the 'Stand Up Against Poverty' action in the 24 hours before World Poverty Day Oct. 17. The protest has been called by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) that led the massive protests last year, particularly by way of the Live 8 concert in several cities, and massive lobbying around the G8 summit in Gleneagles.
The 2005 summit of G8 leaders (from the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Russia) delivered several announcements of steps being taken to fight poverty, such as slashing debt and increasing aid.
The campaign is being resurrected after an almost blank year that seemed to have missed this year's G8 at St. Petersburg in Russia. The summit drew neither forceful demonstrations, nor did it produce a convincing agenda on development and the poor, despite verbal commitments to the importance of these issues.
The Stand Up campaign comes as a reminder both to development groups and to governments that the campaign did not end in 2005. "This is to show that we are not going away, that the movement is growing," Sarah Jenkinson from GCAP told IPS.
The campaign now marks a warming up for demonstrations and other action at the G8 summit next year. "We are very much working towards the G8 in Germany next year," Jenkinson said. "We will make sure that poverty is on the agenda for the summit."
GCAP will be working with other groups for "a massive mobilisation of people next year," Jenkinson said. The movement is now picking up, she said. "In the southern countries it is growing beyond belief."
Time, then, to bring out the white bands again, or get some new ones. White bands have come to be the mark of membership of the global community that is determined to fight poverty, and Oct. 17 has come also to be known as White Band Day.
It will become an occasion for a renewal of demands for action from governments, Jenkinson said. And standing up is a good way of delivering that message, she said. "It is visual, it is physical, it says that actions speak louder than words."
The protest is more a signal, more a wake up call than a stand up call. It is not that much done, but a message that something more needs to be done. It is also a fairly simple way of recording willing numbers. The number tally that would emerge from the actions can become the basis of a talking point to governments.
The numbers game could also bridge the divide that governments often perceive between activists and the people they claim to act for. The simple action can turn the voice of civil society into a call by a great deal more of society, in a great many countries.
The invitation to the Guinness Book of Records to monitor the event seeks to make the numbers believable, and to draw attention to an action that can be recorded formally as a landmark.
The simple, perhaps even token, action could potentially bridge the other divides -- between East and West and north and South. Significant numbers who may stand up in the West could deliver a message that people seen as rich want to fight poverty as much as the poor.
Standing up in a certain way at a certain time is no acid test, and certainly no final answer to sweeping global questions. But it is likely to provide perhaps a broad indication, and that could be the closest to an answer so far.
The move will test to an extent the credibility of civil society, and the ability of civil society groups to network around the world in common cause. GCAP says the groups that support it have a membership of 150 million worldwide. The Guinness Book would have to record a number significantly in excess of that for GCAP to be able to claim both that its member supporters are real and active, and capable of motivating others.
The move has the blessings of the United Nations; it now needs the backing of people.