AROUND 150 activists from across the south west of England met in Exeter last Saturday to discuss how to build the Make Poverty History campaign. Constantino Casasbuenas, a policy adviser to Oxfam, opened the conference. He argued that the purpose of the campaign was to unite all those who could no longer tolerate the deaths of 30,000 children a day around the world from preventable illness.
He said that the campaign was building on the outpouring of public solidarity with the victims of the Asian tsunami, and that 2005 was, “a year to act, and not just to talk”.
The conference then broke down into workshops looking at specific issues such as fair trade, debt cancellation, water privatisation in poor countries, and targeting multinational corporations. Workshops also looked at the practicalities of campaigning. Activists from most of the cities, towns and villages in the South West related how they had already been out campaigning in their local communities over issues of poverty and debt.
Activists discussed the practicalities of getting people from the South West to the mass demonstration in Edinburgh during the G8 summit in July.
Julie Millar, Christian Aid’s organiser for Plymouth and Cornwall, said that church halls across Edinburgh would be made available to provide overnight accommodation for protesters.
The conference closed with an action plenary, drawing together conclusions that had been reached during the workshops, and proposing upcoming actions.
These included the organisation of transport to the G8 demonstration, and a week of local stalls to pull more people into the campaign. The action plenary also had caucuses for different groups, including one for Exeter University that was attended by 25 students.
Activists went away with a renewed determination that echoed Nelson Mandela’s words printed on the conference programme, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.”