Proclaim Jubilee: Why I March for Economic Justice

By Julia Dowling 10-07-2010

It's been ten years since the prophetic call to Jubilee was made in 2000. Tens-of-thousands of people came out into the streets and made the world's leaders listen to their cries against poverty and injustice. The energy was palpable, and in response to their activism, many of the world's poorest countries have benefited from debt relief through the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. As a young advocate, I personally felt empowered this spring when Haiti became the first country to receive a second round of debt cancellation in the wake of its devastating earthquake. These are signs that we are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we must continue to work in solidarity with our partners in the global south because this hasn't been enough. We are only five years away from the Millennium Development Goal deadline to halve extreme global poverty. The food, fuel, and economic crises have threatened to reverse much of the progress already made. Over the next five years, 1.2 million more children will die before the age of five because of the economic crisis -- a crisis which neither these children nor their parents living in poor countries had a hand in creating.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, despite good rhetoric claiming they've changed and cleaned up their act in the past few years, continue to impose policies that put profits over people. Debt relief and new loans still come with policy prescriptions that result in cutting critical social protections and freezing employee wages -- elements that serve the basic needs of the poorest in the face of external shocks. Shocks both natural, like Haiti's earthquake, and man made, like the economic crisis. Furthermore, just this year the World Bank gave a $3 billion loan to South Africa to build the biggest coal plant on the continent -- one which will raise the cost of energy for the poorest South African citizens, and will harm the environment and exacerbate global climate change.

This is why I, other jubilee staff, and activists from many partner organizations are getting out and demanding changes that will save lives on October 8. I will join partners from the global south, like Wahu Kaara, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, in surrounding the World Bank and IMF in paper chains during this year's Annual Fall Meetings. After surrounding the Bank and Fund, we will walk on to the White House with our chains, collected from around the country, to show President Obama that he can and must break the chains of debt for the most impoverished.

What does economic justice look like? In the Bible the Jubilee is a year of celebration, a year marked by the restoration of land and the forgiveness of debt. It is a year in which to correct old injustices and imbalances so that all may play an equal part in the community. As we continue to work towards a time of justice and equality, President Obama can take concrete steps forward to reform the international financial system: harmful conditions attached to debt relief must end, as must the World Bank financing of projects that hurt the environment. For true economic justice, countries must be able to speak on equal footing, which means reforming the World Bank and IMF to be more transparent and accountable to those directly affected by their work; poor citizens throughout the world should have a real say in Bank and Fund decisions that affect them.

Our office speaks often of social justice and the origins of the Jubilee movement. In many ways, our upcoming work on IMF and World Bank reform is an opportunity to both look back and look forward. With a decade since the Jubilee year and the protests associated with it, it is time to raise our voices once again and pressure our leaders to take the bold steps needed to reform the system. Liberation theologian Pablo Richard, speaks best to what I envision Jubilee to look like: "The Jubilee is a theology with energy, with spirit, with strength, with power. It is a theology not to be read but to be announced, proclaimed, shouted at the top of one's voice." On Friday, Jubilee will be proclaimed in front of the World Bank and IMF delegates at their Annual Meetings -- and I think we will be heard.

Julia Dowling is communications and development coordinator at Jubilee USA Network.

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