Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Sampling of Yeterday's G-20 Protests

When I arrived at Women's Tent City, economics Prof. Jennifer C. Olmsted of Drew University was delivering a lecture on the present situation in Palestine.

Without railing exactly against Israel, she was explaining how the enforced isolation of Palestinians from the global economy is making it difficult to thrive there, and strengthening the hand of Hamas as the only organization that ever seems to be standing up for them.

"What does this have to do with the G-20?" I asked her.

That stymied her a little. She was invited to speak at the event by friends and friends-of-friends at Code Pink, to educate about her areas of expertise: poverty and womens' issues in the developing world.

When I asked "What would you have me ask of G-20 leaders?", she recalled news of French President Nicholas Sarkozy developing a new economic indicator based on the work of Joseph Stiglitz which takes into account more than simple Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and urging other G-20 nations to adopt the same. She was curious whether the United States would care to adopt and start calculating and comparing economies on that basis.

However, when it came to issues that the G-20 deals with, she was more concerned with what the G-20 overlooks.


At the New Hazlet Theater on the North Side, Privilege Hang'andu of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Zambia delivered a more impassioned talk about the challenges facing the continent of Africa, most of which relate to the immense debt its nations owe to Western nations and institutions -- some of which date back to the colonial period.

The statistics for hunger deaths and malnutrition, and AIDS deaths, were startling. Sub-Saharan Africa comprises 60% of the world's HIV/AIDS cases, while containing just 10% of the world's population. Yet pharmaceutical companies resist the development and even distribution of existent generic medicines. Poor nations are instructed to open their markets to compete "fairly" with the rest of the world, without subsidizing their own industries -- while the United States continues to subsidize its own farmers to up to 50% of their costs.

In light of this, Hang'andu notes that only one African country is a member of the G-20 -- South Africa -- a nation which he testifies that not only do most Africans not consider truly part of "Africa", but whose own citizens tend to look down on the rest of the continent as "Africans".

Time and again, he made a similar point: if the G-20 does not address poverty in Africa, if it does not address the debt burden keeping Africa suffused in poverty, it will be a failure. If its development agenda does not include the poor, it will be a failed, non-development agenda.

That's when it hit me. It's not that the G-20 sits around scheming evil designs and making decisions which do harm to the world. It's that they aren't scheming nearly enough.

Here it is, at last, an historical meeting, the leaders of the twenty most prosperous nations in the world, all in one room, all this trouble to get together, all this expense -- and it is not seen to concern itself with anything of urgency. It's not what the G-20 is doing, but what it's not doing. If you're going to bother putting Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao on a semi-annual traveling ensemble roadshow, and their finance ministers on a quarterly promotional undercard, why not spend the energy on things that "really matter" -- hunger, disease, poverty, war and peace? Why piddle around with economic stimulus and bank regulations?

Even when the "global" economy was churning like a machine, it was hardly affecting these problems in any serious way. It had huge blind spots, and surprise, some of those led to big headaches.

It was suggested even that the "$10 million the G-20 spent on security in the past two days" would be better spent on bread and penicillin. I think that's a better and more accurate way to conceive of opposition to the G-20 than "replacing capitalism" or whatever it is that the fringe groups who've managed to hijack the dialogue are making it.

1 comment:

  1. Just heard a thing on NPR's All Things Considered that President Sarkozy is getting vocally impatient about climate control and actually probably pretty pissed (paraphrasing of course) to the point of taking very veiled digs at President Obama. Already threatened to walk out. At least someone is trying to politicize the Summit, which can only be a good thing.