The march called by the Make Poverty History campaign already looks set to be enormous, according to development charity Christian Aid.
Martin Drewry, head of campaigns at Christian Aid says, “My sense of the level of interest is that it’s absolutely phenomenal and is growing all the time, particularly from new audiences.” He describes “a core of people” drawn from a pool of about 30,000 regular anti-poverty activists. “They will be there.”
But they will be joined by much wider layers of people who are drawn to the Make Poverty History demo, he believes.
People connect the Make Poverty History campaign with everything from Band Aid and Comic Relief to the Vicar of Dibley comedy programme — which highlighted the campaign at New Year — and Nelson Mandela.
“It’s reaching out on a level that we wouldn’t manage to achieve in any other year. A very large percentage of the people coming will be coming to their first demo,” Martin says.
“What’s happening is the development movement is coming of age politically. There’s the core few tens of thousands who are politicised, who understand the problems of free trade, who understand what liberalisation means and why forcing it on poor countries is wrong. Those people have a very important role in the movement — to educate the newcomers.”
Newer activists may see simply giving more money as a solution to global poverty, Martin says, but that is not the crucial issue.
“Most of all it’s about fighting the forces of neo-liberalism that are forcing poor countries to privatise their services and open their markets to the rich countries’ businesses. That’s the real issue.”
Martin says, “I think the tone of the Make Poverty History demo will depend on what happens between now and then.
“In the public eye, there’s a sense that the government is championing the world’s poor, that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are doing something for the world’s poor countries, and the question is can they be successful in persuading other governments to support them.
“That’s very far from the truth of the matter. In reality, the government is indeed prepared to give more money in aid and debt relief than other governments.
“But it is still using its influence to force poor countries to adopt free trade and privatisation — which we argue is the biggest cause of mass poverty.”
Martin urges people to join the protest for two reasons.
Martin says, “The first is to show the massive amount of global concern that ending mass poverty is the biggest challenge that this or any other generation will face.
“Second and most importantly, to change the policies of our government which are not sufficiently pro-poor.”
He adds, “The key message that Christian Aid wants to communicate is that to end mass poverty we need trade justice not free trade.”