Saturday the 2nd July 2005 saw perhaps the biggest ever protest worldwide. A protest against poverty, against pollution and against the agenda of the greed filled leaders of the world who meet at G8.
A day of marching, bands and speeches; the event in Edinburgh was attended over 200,000 people who formed a huge white band around the city centre. The crowd was a mixture of people, young and old, from all over the world and the carnival atmosphere put a smile on everyone´s face.
While the music went on, the t-shirts sold out and the scummy Daily Mirror handed out free placards slapped with their advertising you could be forgiven for wondering how this would really end world poverty or put pressure on our leaders to change their agenda. The cynical voice inside says this is just about guilt relief, about handing over a bit of money and waving a banner for a little while to be able to say you did something about the starving kids in Africa.
Politicians don't pay much attention to protests, I'm going on personal experience here, I marched in the poll tax protests, marched against the criminal justice bill, marched against the Iraq war and yet these things all happened. The poll tax was eventually defeated but only because people refused to pay it. This is the point, going on a march or giving a bit of money is not enough. You have to educate others; you have to put real pressure on MP's by contacting them directly and going to their consultancies.
Protests do highlight the strength of feeling people have, for so many people to turn out in such an apathetic society is still quite a statement. For those protests to be co-inciding with each other in so many countries around the world is heart-warming and encouraging but it is not enough and if the G8 leaders do ignore it then we will have achieved nothing.
Something which provoked this somewhat negative view is the reaction to the Live8 event within Africa which was lukewarm on the whole. I doubt many Africans believe this will save them or improve their situation and while we return to our privileged lives they are stuck in a cycle of poverty which is quite literally killing them. The problem is so complex encompassing delivery problems, corruption and treatment rather than cure, but you finally get the feeling people are beginning to realise that this is not something you can just throw money at - whereas BandAid and LiveAid were all about raising money Live8 has been about raising awareness and putting pressure on the G8 leaders. This is a moral question - at root isn´t everyone entitled to a basic standard of living?
What George Bush is saying when he refuses to cancel debt and refuses to reduce pollution is a big "Fuck You" to the world. The USA is quite prepared for the rest of the world to live in poverty and ill health as long as they can keep their high standard of living. This is a fact. If rich governments can´t be bothered to eradicate poverty within their own countries there is little chance they´ll do it elsewhere.
You may not believe this but the purchasing decisions you make are directly contributing to this situation, many wealthy companies in the west are quite happily supporting evil regimes, employing violent strike breaking tactics, polluting without concern and paying appallingly low wages all in the name of profit. As long as people support these companies and their actions by buying their products no-one is putting any pressure on them to change - they think they have no moral obligation. Despite and perhaps because of the passing of laws in our countries to protect us from this kind of exploitation these companies are happy to locate in countries without the protection and exploit them instead. Substances such as thalidomide, pesticide DDT and asbestos which have long since been controlled in the western world are still being irresponsibly used in Africa simply because it is cheaper for companies to do this.
You may have heard that some of the G8 leaders, notably Blair, are trying to make out that they are fighting to drop the debt but if you have a closer look at the conditions attached you'll see how little interest they have in the welfare of these people. It is as much about opening new markets and applying an economic dependency which is a step away from outright control. One condition demands the privatisation of water supplies minus the regulations we enjoy which would allow water to be cut off for those who don´t pay.
While the G8 leaders remain unwilling to apply the same laws to the rest of the world which have been agreed upon for the west this situation will not improve. While the rich countries continue to enjoy trade conditions which fix prices and exclude African exports from the much crowed about "free market" people will continue to live in extreme poverty with no means of lifting themselves out. While the G8 countries continue to sell arms to regimes with a track record in murder and persecution people will continue to die needlessly.
So we can only hope the G8 leaders are feeling some pressure right now and that it is enough to effect some real change. We have to keep at them though and if this is the most people are prepared to do to put pressure on our governments then I don't hold out much hope for a result - protest is not enough.
Providing a basic standard of living for people at home and abroad should be put on the political agenda. Everyone is entitled to basic human rights and if the wealthy powers that be put half the energy into achieving this goal that they put into weapon research and manufacture it could be achieved - we just have to convince them to do it.