Jubilee 2000

God Bless C-SPAN

The voice of the people. Even the crazy ones.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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Something to Celebrate!

Thanks to tremendous grassroots efforts and skillful advocacy, anti-debt campaigners in the United States had something to celebrate as Congress moved toward adjournment this fall. A coalition that brought to the halls of Congress not only Bono of U2 but also "every missionary in the world," in the words of Rep. Sonny Callahan, convinced legislators to appropriate money needed for the United States to begin doing its share toward debt relief for some of the world's most impoverished countries.

Considering that only two years ago Congress had little or no interest in this issue, the appropriation is nothing short of a miracle. There is much more to be done to address the debt crisis and create a just global economy, of course, but for now proponents of Jubilee are "glad indeed."

Jubilee 2000 and its allies essentially prevailed on all major items:

  • Congress appropriated $435 million for cancellation of bilateral debt owed to the United States by highly indebted low-income countries, and authorized the International Monetary Fund to revalue its gold stocks to fund multilateral debt reduction.

Jubilee 2000 and other advocates worked for this funding all year, and many times it looked like they would come away with little to show. A July 13 amendment by Rep. Maxine Waters that brought House funding up to roughly $225 million passed by five votes. Senate funding lagged far behind, at $75 million. In the end debt relief advocates won the full amount requested by the Clinton administration for this fiscal year, as well as last year's previously unfunded request. Rep. Waters and other congressional allies credited the grassroots Jubilee 2000 campaign for keeping the heat on Congress.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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Jubilee Begins With Me

Pat Pelham lives in Birmingham, Alabama. About four years ago, she felt called to help people in need. Her pastor at Independent Presbyterian Church suggested she get their church involved in Bread for the World.

Pat and her friend Elaine Van Cleave came to hear me talk about Bread for the World at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. After that event, Pat and Elaine started to organize. They got their church's hunger committee involved in Bread for the World.

Three years ago, they invited their member of Congress, Rep. Spencer Bachus, to a Bread for the World dinner at Independent Presbyterian. I sat on his left, and the Presbyterian Hunger Action Enabler for Birmingham - a Republican Party activist - sat on his right. We urged Bachus to cosponsor the anti-hunger legislation that Bread for the World was pushing that year. Rep. Bachus had never before sponsored such legislation. But he called Pat the next evening and said, "I doubt that this will win me many votes, but I don't want to be responsible for even one child going hungry."

At the beginning of 1999, the Jubilee 2000 network was getting organized. Rep. Bachus had become chair of the international committee of the House Banking Committee, where any congressional action on debt relief would have to start. Pat, Elaine, and two friends from Independent Presbyterian flew up to Washington, D.C., at their own expense to bring Bachus a debt relief petition with 400 signatures.

"I don't know much about economics or international finance," Elaine explained. "But I do know that about 30,000 children die every day from hunger and other preventable causes, and, as a mother, that really bothers me....it would help a lot if you would sponsor this Jubilee legislation."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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And on This Side of the Pond

In spring 1995, before the debt crisis was a front-page story, a small group of people representing mainline Protestant churches, peace churches, and Catholic orders and organizations met in Washington, D.C., to brainstorm about creative and effective ways that the U.S. church community could challenge the policies of the international financial institutions. The upstart, ad-hoc group named itself the Religious Working Group on the World Bank & IMF (RWG).

The mandate of the RWG—most of whose members had close contact with people living and working in the "Two Thirds" World—extended across a spectrum of economic justice issues, particularly structural adjustment programs and the debt. However, members soon realized that the crushing debt of the world’s most impoverished countries was a priority and deserved extra attention. They also realized that to continue their work on debt, a strategy needed to be created that would include a broader base than Christian churches. Many members of the RWG were in contact with the coordinators of the Jubilee 2000/UK campaign, and when the British appealed to the folks in the United States to pick up the Jubilee banner, the RWG complied.

At the June 1997 G7 meeting in Denver, when the world’s seven richest countries gathered to discuss the world economic system, RWG members and others concerned about debt cancellation announced the formation of the Jubilee 2000/USA campaign. By December 1997, a campaign platform had been written, additional organizations recruited to join, and the first staff person hired.

THE U.S. AND BRITISH Jubilee 2000 campaigns "have a common vision," said Jo Marie Griesgraber, director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern and the chair of the Jubilee 2000/USA executive committee. "We want to make debt relief a reality. We want concrete results. We want to get rid of all unpayable debts without the burden of structural adjustment programs."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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An Irresistible Force

It might seem odd to describe Hamsatou, a 13-year-old girl in the West African country of Niger, as lucky. A mysterious flesh-eating disease known as "the Grazer" has consumed the left side of her face, leaving a gaping hole at the side of her nose, through which you can see her pink, unprotected tongue. She shields her head in embarrassment in her village, has no prospect of marriage, and rarely walks further than the nearby well. "When I go to the market," she says, "I'm ashamed of myself. I cover my face so people won't stare at me and laugh."

But Hamsatou is lucky because she is alive. One in three children in Niger, the world's poorest country, do not reach 5 years of age. And while the Grazer will kill 120,000 children in the world this year, a $3 mouthwash would have ensured she need never have succumbed to its ravages. Unfortunately the government of Niger does not have $3 to spare. Three quarters of its annual tax revenue is spent on servicing its $1.4 billion international debt.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Jubilee Progress

On September 29 President Clinton announced that the administration would erase 100 percent of the debt owed to the United States by 30 heavily indebted poor countries. Much of the credit for this move goes to the grassroots efforts of the Jubilee 2000 movement for debt cancellation. Jubilee welcomed the pledge saying, "If the U.S. announcement has the intended effect and results in other major creditors matching this challenge, the impact in terms of new resources for poverty reduction could be significant."

Marie Dennis, chair of the Religious Task Force on the World Bank and IMF, echoed this sentiment, stating, "This is a welcome step, as it goes beyond any commitment the United States has made thus far."

While celebrating the victory, activists will continue to press for a just implementation of debt relief. "The real value of any debt cancellation is determined by how well it serves the needs of the poorest people," said Dennis, "and it will never be tested unless Congress sees fit to appropriate the necessary money."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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A Growing Clamor for Relief

After months of intense lobbying by Jubilee 2000 campaigns, leaders of the world’s industrialized countries agreed at their meeting in Cologne, Germany, this summer to cancel $45 billion of debt for the world’s most impoverished countries. The G8 also emphasized the need to connect debt relief to poverty reduction and, surprisingly, suggested a role for civil society in the design of programs associated with debt relief.

Though it may open a hairline crack in the steel wall of structural adjustment programs and may significantly reduce the debt service payments of at least 16 countries, this latest proposal, while an important step, is far from enough. Debt reduction, for example, will be even more strictly linked to the highly controversial Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility of the IMF, and the power of the international financial institutions to condition and control the process of debt relief has been enhanced.

What the changes reflected in the Cologne proposal do demonstrate, however, is the remarkable impact of Jubilee 2000. In fact, advocates for cancellation of the debt are heard in every corner of the world—increasingly, in the mainstream and popular media. Jubilee campaigns in the global South, particularly in Africa and Latin America, are more and more clear in articulating their demands. In Europe, Jubilee 2000 is everywhere. Religious leaders continue to advocate for this as a necessary expression of economic justice. Celebrities with a social conscience, including U-2’s Bono and Muhammad Ali, are helping to animate a vast popular movement. Thousands upon thousands of people in local communities around the world are signing and circulating petitions and finding other ways to express their intention to see this major moral task accomplished soon.

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Heavyweights Fight Third World Debt

Former boxing champion Muhammad Ali, the newly appointed "international ambassador" for Jubilee 2000, visited Britain in February to accept the Freddie Mercury Prize for the debt relief campaign. Ali accepted the award—presented by Bono, U2’s lead singer—saying, "Nothing is more important to the poorest nations of Africa and Latin America than to be able to keep most of what they earn and invest it in the well-being of their children."

Bono has taken a lead in promoting the campaign, and others in the music industry have planned a range of initiatives to be launched this year, including putting the Jubilee 2000 logo and "Drop the Debt" slogans on CDs. Record companies are also encouraging retail outlets to promote the petition and a Jubilee 2000 lapel badge. Other artists who have shown support for Jubilee 2000 by signing the petition or wearing the campaign’s lapel badge include David Bowie, Annie Lennox, PJ Harvey, and Peter Gabriel. Keith Flint from Prodigy has gone further than most by tattooing "Drop the Debt" on his back.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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To Break the Chains of Debt

In an awesome display of people power, 70,000 demonstrators linked arms to "break the chains of debt" at the recent G8 summit of world economic leaders in Birmingham, England. The human chain surrounded the city center on May 16 to raise the issue of crushing debt for the poorest countries. The Jubilee 2000 Coalition, founders of the international movement to cancel unpayable Third World debt, organized the monumental event.

We gathered in our sections of the chain, then at 3 p.m. we amassed with other sections, linked arms, cheered, blew whistles, and did the wave to let the sound of jubilee surround the city. The joyous lines of cheering people stretched out around every corner. To be in the midst of a 7-mile-long chain of folks concerned about such an abstract issue as Third World debt was an awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, life-changing experience.

The G8 leaders, for whom the event was tailored, secluded themselves in a country retreat at the last minute. However, surely because of our presence, the debt burden was put on their agenda. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met personally with the leaders of the UK group to express interest and support for debt relief.

The greatest impact of the human chain may not have been on the leaders of the G8 but rather in the birth of a new hope in the hearts of those who linked arms. It is a sign of something new afoot—an international awakening to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the South and a uniting to take a stand on their behalf for justice and compassion in the new millennium.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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For a Dignified Life

Matchbox Child

Living in a matchbox
This city
This barrio
This shack
This life.
Cruel, ludicrous lack of space
Competing for limited everything
Survival of the toughest
Self-preservation a permanent posture
Imprisoning fear
Strangling hope
Why bother?

I am a match
Small, skinny, easily snapped in half
Snapped in half every day
Until I am so small
As not to be counted at all
Disposable.

—From a poem by
Annette Mandeville,
Maryknoll Lay Missioner
in El Salvador.

Matchbox children staggering under the weight of $2 trillion in debt live daily the reality of "limited everything." With three billion other people in the world who live on less than $2 per day, they yearn for the basics essential to survival. With 1.5 billion others without access to potable water, they thirst for the possibility of a dignified life. One hundred and fifty million of these matchbox kids never get to school, yet they hunger incessantly for the knowledge that enables good work—for the possibility of nurturing the unique potential that each human life, including the most impoverished, contains.

How many hundreds of thousands of times has an Alice Walker or a Beethoven, a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Rigoberta Menchu flickered out in a matchbox of poverty and hopelessness? And how is this tragedy linked to the staggering foreign debt that cripples the economies of many impoverished countries?

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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