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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Geldof, Wallis, and Me

Three converging activities have got me reflecting on how to practice the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity and Equality as a middle class parent: 1) we’re cleaning out our basement; 2) Bob Geldof is planning another rock extravaganza to help the poor in Africa; and 3) I’m reading God’s Politics by Jim Wallis.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, makes a compelling case that relieving global poverty is a moral issue that people of faith should be addressing with more urgency. He also offers some shocking statistics:
Today some eight hundred million people around the world are malnourished. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 30,500 children die every day in the developing world from hunger and preventable diseases. Almost three billion people, nearly half the world’s population, live on less than $2 a day, 1.2 billion of them on less than $1 a day (285).

Significantly reducing these numbers would cost less than the Iraq war and would do more for our long term security. Wallis makes these kinds of connections and frames them as religious issues. He also talks about realistic solutions, such as changing trade policies to make the playing field fairer for poor countries.

Enter Bob Geldof, who twenty years ago organized Live Aid, which coincidently one of my students skewered in a paper this semester as an irrelevant ego trip for rock stars. Just as I was finishing Wallis’ chapter on global poverty, Geldof announced that Philadelphia will be one of the hosts for a new rock event to help Africa: Live 8, a reference to the summit of eight rich countries that make the trade policies that Wallis criticizes.

I was heartened to hear that Live 8 will focus more on justice than on charity, which could make it more relevant than Live Aid ultimately was. It seems that there is a growing movement of people interested in systemic change. Starbucks now has a Fair Trade coffee blend. Bono’s wife is reportedly starting a line of Fair Trade designer clothing. Obviously neither will be selling at Walmart anytime soon, but Live 8 could conceivably raise consciousness about the connection between trade and global poverty, which could be more helpful than just raising money.

And then there is the connection to my basement, which probably contains more toys than the entire African village where I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I know clearing out my basement is not going to end world poverty. In fact, some would argue that our consumption provides jobs in “developing” countries, though I’m haunted by the words of the eighteenth century Quaker abolitionist John Woolman who wrote: "May we look upon our treasure, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try to discover whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions."

Woolman was talking about slavery. His own journey led him to give up selling, wearing, or eating anything produced by slaves. Perhaps people of faith today could embrace his example and try (as much as possible) to only buy products where the workers were paid fairly. Instead of class warfare, which Republicans charge whenever people raise economic injustice, we could advocate class solidarity as a moral issue.

Aside from the idea of helping others, there seems to be something spiritually toxic for us in having so much more than we need. My children don’t appreciate each of their possessions the way my students in Botswana appreciated something as simple as a new pencil. My struggle is partly about nurturing my children’s sense of gratitude when they are given so much (mostly by people other than us), but it’s also about making time and space for what’s most important. If I took all the time I spend picking up toys, or asking the children to do it, and spent those hours advocating for global poverty reduction, wouldn’t that be a better use of my time?

In the meantime, I’m trying to use our spring cleaning as a consciousness raising opportunity, to get the children to think about which of their possessions they value most and to consider sharing the rest with those who have less. It’s not as sexy as Live 8, but it’s a start.


Blogger Emma said...

Hi, I found your blog while randomly link clicking - something that's found me in some very strange places in the past!

I love your stlye of writing and subject matter. I hope you keep it up - I'll try to remember to check back in.


11:17 AM  

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