“There should be a health warning on Make Poverty History campaigning materials — ‘Handle with care, this could change your life’.”
That statement from Elaine Gisbourne was the beginning of one of the most effective contributions at last weekend’s conference in Manchester.
Elaine described how a group of women living in a small Lancashire village had become enthused about fighting for global justice, and how she was determined to continue that campaign in Edinburgh in July.
Elaine and others from Holy Trinity Church in Freckleton lobbied their MP, Michael Jack, over world trade injustice. They were so persistent that eventually he invited them to visit the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva.
Elaine says, “We found ourselves on the steps of the WTO — five women — a teacher, a retired nursery nurse, a grandmother, a retired PA and myself, a physio with three children.”
They bombarded top WTO officials with calls for fundamental change in the way that world trade operates.
“It was the final meeting of the day which affected us most deeply. We spent two hours with the man who alone represented six African countries. It was humbling to have the opportunity to hear the reality of life inside the WTO. He was competing against more wealthy and better resourced countries.
“We left Geneva with a renewed passion for campaigning. We only had to recall the tired and frustrated African representative.
“He had been encouraged when we explained about our campaigning. He didn’t realise so many people knew or cared about what was going on. We have continued to write letters, lobby our MPs, join local and national events.
“As long as a parent has to choose between giving their child dirty water to drink, which may give them diarrhoea and cause their death, or not giving them water at all, we will continue to campaign and support the poorest, most vulnerable and most precious lives.”
Elaine is one example of the many people whose lives have been transformed by campaigns over debt, aid and trade. Just as with much of the anti-war movement, the involvement of women is significant.
Of the 21 coach coordinators who gave their details on Saturday, three quarters are women. These people are not going to Edinburgh to praise Gordon Brown. They are going to bury any politician who fails to sign up to a radical set of demands for change.