Jubilee Debt Campaign Birmingham

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 Clipboard03Jubilee Room Houses of Parliament.

Some 80 or so MPs and campaigners were present. It was the fifteenth anniversary of Jubilee Debt Campaign (formerly Jubilee 2000)

Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells, saw JDC as a movement of ordinary people. He recalled Bill Peters who had the original idea and was at time the chair of USPG while he Peter was the General Secretary. Bill had asked him for £1,000 to get the idea off the ground. Though they were sort of men, they agreed. Bill, together with Martin Dent, got the vision going. The change had come about through grass-roots action, from the bottom up. “When debts are remitted, lives are changed.” New life had been made possible thanks to the people, faith leaders and parliament.

Bhai Mohinder Singh from the Sikh Community recalled how the Sikh Scriptures spoke of there being one God and the human race being one large family; God abhors our exploiting other human beings – our own kith and kin. The different faiths could agree about the millennium goals and about the principles of compassion and love. His Sikh community held continuous days of prayer for peace and prosperity for all. A global infrastructure was required, and a just and fair financial system. There should be responsible lending and borrowing, with a proper debt work-out mechanism. He had been delighted to sign the faith leaders’ letter. There were enough resources in the world as long as people were not greedy. It was greed that led to financial crises.

Rabbi Sybil Sheridan from The Movement for Reform Judaism referred to the book of Leviticus chapter 25 verse 10 by which, in the year of Jubilee every 50 years, liberty was ensured for everyone in the land. People’s ancestral lands which might have been sold to others were then restored to them. Wealth then was seen not so much as a wealth but as a gift from God, with corresponding responsibilities to take care of the widows, the orphans and the strangers; neighbours who had become slaves were to have their liberty bought back. The same principle should be followed today through the development of some sort of international bankruptcy procedure by which indebted nations could have their situations resolved.

The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist Conference, said that organisations like JDC encouraged us to change our narrative so that politicians could change the world.

Trisha Rogers, a past Director of JDC and Vice Chair of the British Humanist Association felt honoured to be present. Humanist values, she said, included thinking for oneself with reason, empathy and compassion, respect for the individual, democracy and cooperation. Unfortunately international debt was not subject to the safeguards that applied to lending within the UK where judges could overrule repayment conditions that were unfair; international loans were often to the advantage of the lender and the conditions unreasonable

Nick Dearden, current Director of JDC, spoke of the success of JDC over the years in putting pressure on the G8 and holding governments to account. The most important change had not in fact been the $130 debt relief achieved but rather the change in values – the principle that debt should not always be repaid, irrespective of circumstances or consequences. That was still relevant for another generation since we now had a debt crisis on our own doorstep, with the worst features of the Latin American experience applied to Europe. It was not acceptable for the poorest to be paying the price of the errors of the rich. Justice required not just a one-off cancellation of debt but, in the pattern of the biblical Jubilee, a continuous process within the world economy. A spiritual renewal was needed, the equivalent today of the abolition of slavery, something once thought utopian but which actually happened. We needed to think the impossible and embark on a major fight against soaring inequality and deep levels of world poverty. He expressed his thanks for the past and looked forward to further cooperation in the future.

John Nightingale


JDC MULTIFAITH organised its first women’s only event to celebrate International Women’s Day and and draw attention to the need for action on Global Poverty.

It was an inspiring experience to be part of a meeting with seventy women from 9 different faith groups taking part.

The programme was very varied beginning with poems and drama before moving into song.You can see photos on the web links given above.

The high light of  evening for me was to hear the stories from Jewish, Sikh,Hindu  Christian and Muslim women about how they are making a difference to the world. All could relate to how their faith was instrumental in tackling issues such as international debt, fair trade, education for all, health and peace.

The “star” of the evening was the keynote speaker Shabana Mahmood MP who set out her own faith story of being an activist at local and national level.Most of the audience were attending their first JDC event and left very encouraging messages  about how much they had learnt during the evening and the sence of enpowerment they felt  by being together. Now the task is to tackle the issues with  other similar meetings. In fact one outcome is an invitation to repeat the programme.  Praise indeed.

More and more women are coming on board to add their voice to the multifaith gathering on March 10th.

Our keynote  Muslim speaker Shabana Mahmood MP is now joined by our musical leaders  Jackie Roxborough and Sonja Froebel

They form the – Shimmering Tree a recently formed multi-cultural organisation which brings together musicians of all abilities from different communities and cultures, in order to share their musical traditions. It aims to create a melting pot of musical experience. they have already had their work on the  BBC TODAY programme and featured in lots of multifaith projects in Birmingham

At our JDC  event we shall be making use of everyone’s language and form of  song, might even try out some drumming but no musical instruments just our well-tried voices.

It will be a really enjoyable evening creating some fun music together  and hearing stories from women of all the major faith groups. More details of the story tellers to follow but do get your friends to book their place. We have 30 places already taken, do spread the word, we need to have at least 50 women joining this  celebration of International Women’s Day.

Its going to be a whole new experience for us when on Thursday afternoon  30th September  the Jubilee Debt Campaign group  will welcome Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development and MP for Sutton Coldfield to the Nishkam Centre in Birmingham to put some of our concerns directly to a Minister of the crown.. I do hope he is in listening mode.
Birmingham has a proud history in the movement for debt cancellation as demonstrated  in 1998 as the leaders of the G8 countries met in Birmingham. Thousands of campaigners for debt relief linked arms around the City to raise awareness of the crippling debts afflicting some of the poorest countries in the world and as a symbolic gesture of solidarity.  We have achieved a great deal since then but must continue to press all governments to show compassion
The Minister will be welcomed by Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh  Chairman, Nishkam Centre and meet representatives from  Islamic Relief, The Methodist Relief and Development Fund, Oxfam, Christian Aid  and other local  faith groups.  The Secretary of Sate will speak first but then over an hour will be devoted to questions from activists.
Jubilee Debt Campaign is an example of “change makers” who have been successful in making a difference that has improved the life of millions across the planet. Perhaps we were the first example of the “BIG SOCIETY”?

Here are a few pictures taken at the event.

New pictures of our latest demonstration  – Stand up Against Povety are posted to day in the blog gallery below.

The regular Saturday church service at St Martin’s in the Bullring concluded with a very noisy demonstration by over a hundred campaigners of different faiths. The Faiths act fellows of Birmingham and many Jubilee Debt Campaign supporter from the city joined forces to stop shoppers in their tracks and make a big noise about the Millennium Development goals( MDG’s).

The aim was to draw attention to the fact that world leaders are about to meet in New York and we want them to deliver on the promises made  in the Millennium year of 2000 to end extreme poverty by 2015

Do watch the news this week and add your voice to the call for action against poverty

The latest outrage on  international debt has been demonstrated the during  the last few weeks. In the British High Court two Vulture Funds were awarded $20 million for a debt that dates back to 1978.  For a country that sits in the bottom 15 for worst living standards in the world, that $20 million siphoned off by the Vulture Funds is equal to 105% of the country’s education budget and 155% of its health budget in 2008. The country Liberia Is currently headed by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first democratically elected women head of state in Africa. The country has shown itself to be a model of responsible borrowing since the end of its war.  Despite the illegitimacy of Liberia’s loans, taken out by dictatorial governments and used to fuel and finance the 14 years of civil war, the new democratic government has done all it can to start fresh by clearing its past debts.

Suddenly out of the blue come this devastating blow from our High court when, Wall Capital Ltd. and Hamsah Investments, sued Liberia and were awarded $20 million.  These Vulture Funds held the rights to a $6 million debt from 1978, which has been passed through many hands and has an unclear record of spending and repayment – the money may have even financed and fuelled the civil war.

Attempts by Jubilee campaigners to stop our courts and those in USA taking part in rewarding these vultures   failed when the British government did not include the necessary measures in the Queens speech. Nothing can it seems be done to undo this gross in justice to the people of Liberia, but we now have to find a means of stopping other Vultures landing in London and eating the flesh from other poor people.

One gallant MP might just make this possible – if you lobby your MP to help his private members bill through the House of Commons. Andrew Gwynne could save hundreds of thousands of people from the damaging effects of this and prevent the rich investors going in for the kill on other weak and powerless countries in the same position as Liberia.

Do get in touch with your MP and make your views known If you go to find your MP Please take full advantage of being able to have your say. Lets cull the vultures and stop any more law suits in Uk. Jubilee USA are doing their part  to stop similar actions in the law courts there too.

Hilary Oliver, Fair Trader, Ombersley Rd Methodist Church, Worcester gives apersonal impression of the meeting in Worcester

A colourful, lively and good-humoured meeting took place at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Worcester, on September 15th, when Michael Foster Mike Foster(Minister for International Development and MP for Worcester) and Nick Dearden, (Director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign) nickgave key speeches on Forgiving Debts and Towards Responsibility in the Market Place.

Jubilee Debt Campaign supporters from Birmingham and Worcester were joined by local leaders and representatives from Christian Aid, Trade Justice and many denominations of other Worcester churches. Paul Jackson, (newly appointed to a Chair in Birmingham University’s International Dept,) was also present, as a member of Ombersley Rd Methodist, Worcester, as was another member, Dot Johnson, whose tireless and inspirational campaigning work has recently led to a Christian Aid award.   All combined to make a united, committed and very informed audience.

The meeting was ably chaired by the Revd John Johansen-Berg (International Director of Community for Reconciliation who interspersed stories, examples and particular situations, at relevant times, from his own years of experience.

Nick Dearden mesmerised his listeners with words that freely flowed both with passion and with detailed knowledge. While citing the predicaments of so many developing countries, he acknowledged gratefully his belief that our Government IS convinced of the necessity of Debt Cancellation of unpayable debts. He assured us of the enormous impact of the Debt Relief Scheme and that debt cancellation money has NOT been used to line the pockets of dictators but to increase, for example, the number of teachers and midwives and improve rural infrastructure.

Last January, the Vulture Fund Campaign began and by July, the Government had already consulted JDC on how these could be stopped. (DfID had put pressure on the Treasury.) Nick now wanted to see expansion to countries other than those who also benefit from debt relief.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign still exists, as it has just been a starting point to “address the iniquities of the global economy to the developing world”.

One hundred billion dollars of debt has been cancelled so far, but a further 400 hundred billion is still needed to allow developing countries to achieve the Millennium Development goals for their people. So many are still spending more on repaying debts than on their education budgets and so on.

(A wry note was added here that not so long ago, this would have seemed a colossal sum of money, but is now viewed somewhat differently since the credit crunch and staggering amounts seen re the banking market.  .  .  !!!)

The idea is that debtors and creditors should come together with neutral arbitrators to allow the debtors a voice to find a just, fair method and amount of repayment.

(Again, this last year of debts suddenly faced by ourselves, has clearly shown it’s not the debtors who have necessarily been the irresponsible ones, but those giving the loans in the first place!)

Loans will still continue to be a necessity of course, but with radical restructuring to ensure not ending up back in the first place. Nick cited Norway (with its shipping business) as an example to follow; it has started the ball rolling with 100 million dollars of debt cancellation.  Sustainable development must be the new way to go, he concluded.

Mike Foster picked up on this and agreed that the aim must be fair and sustainable development in the midst of global recession and climate change.  He outlined the Government’s and Department’s policies, targets and recent practices.   At Copenhagen, they will call for a global fund of 100 billion dollars per year to help developing countries through.

But how best to do this?  And how best to empower those on the ground to force a more enlightened and transparent government where needed? Questions from the audience prompted further discussion and comments from both speakers.

Some of the points raised included:

  • What about aid delivered via general budget support to corrupt systems?             What happens when it is via the Food Programme instead?

–  Sector-based budget support can direct more specific funding but the problem is, it’s the donors then holding Governments to account, rather than their own people. Except that, of course, the provision of schools, clinics etc may enlighten people and thus lead to more control over the economic and financial workings of their country.)

  • Can we have some good news to convince the man on the street and encourage all us “little me”s in the battle to win hearts and minds?

–                     Haiti’s debt relief at last; Ecuador and Bolivia’s participatory budgeting;

–                     The Bank of the South as an alternative to the World Bank

–                     Public attitude to Fair Trade has changed; where once seen as a charity it is now viewed as smart business sense (about 70% of households now make a conscious decision to buy Fair Trade and the F/T label has reached £1 billion of certified income.

–                     All the “little me”s banded together DO make a difference; especially at events like G8 Birmingham human chain and Gleneagles Summit.

–                      The postcard campaigns DO work but individual, personal letters are far more effective. It is much better, for example, to ask your MP to ask the relevant Minister about your concerns, rather than simply demand an Early Day Motion on . . .  (and beware of circular e-mails, especially with “fill in your name here” un-deleted!!)

And so, finally, what now?

Well, we will be watching with anxious interest the outcomes at Copenhagen, the progress of the Government’s stated policies and yes, Mr Foster, we will still be flying the flag with our rainbow scarves (despite another of the MP’s tips, that these would pre-alert any otherwise unsuspecting politician as to the issue with which they’re about to be confronted!!)

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