What a weekend! On Saturday, I attended the People's March for Economic and Social Justice in Santa Barbara, California, with Jim Hightower and Arianna Huffington. Several people asked me to post the speech I delivered here, so without further ado, here it is! (Great thanks to all who attended and organized an inspirational afternoon.)
Sure it is possible to argue for a world trade system that puts basic human rights and the environment at its core. It's possible but it's damned hard when you have the most powerful corporations in the world raging against you. It’s certainly enough to make me feel a bit edgy.
Yes, it's possible when we realize for the first time in our history of humanity, economic values have now superseded every other human value, and the language of economics is like a gang of burglars breaking and entering our brain and stealing our sense of compassion.
Yes, and yes again it is possible for trade justice to thrive if we stop becoming passive spectators and become actors, better still if we start rewriting the play. We then can become the hope we are looking for.
However, saying all that I do not want be labeled a consumer or a hungry consumer or a compassionate consumer or a vigilante consumer. And neither should you. I am a human merely being and was not put on this planet for the sole purpose of keeping the economy vibrant. I will not tolerate that. I will not be hostage in a world where nothing is considered sacred least of all the sense of justice. We are thoughtful and creative individuals just having to co-exist at this moment in our history with a mega corporate culture.
Change will never come about by our governments, they are economic governments and do not measure their greatness by how they treat the weak and the frail. It will not come about by businesses that now are center stage, more creative, richer and organized than any other social institution. And still continue to show no more developed emotions than fear and greed.
Change has always come about by moral dissenters and to the persistence of small-committed groups of people willing to fail over long periods of time until that rare, wonderful moment when the dam of oppression, indifference and greed finally cracks and those in power finally accept what people have been saying all along that there now has to be a revolution in kindness.
It will be a lifetime’s work to clear away all the fatuous fantasies and false promises that have been painted on our minds layer after layer, year after year, on the millions of billboards, in print and electronic ads in a language of myth and persuasion. Without doubt it has been a brilliant strategy that has worked. And if we still accept what we are told it is apparently inevitable -- that is, the future is marketed to us by the media and our political and economic leaders -- then we merely become the audience of our own moral demise.
It is time to declare that trade lacking justice, equity decency and compassion is no longer acceptable. Economics, efficiency perceptions and brutish power calculations no longer suffice, the bottom line has bottomed out,
The most radical act of individualism in which we can engage today is to come together with other individuals -- as church, neighborhood, city and organization -- in order to undercover the biggest secret our media and politicians keep from us - that we are not alone.
As we stand here, today at this gathering, thousands of students, unions, interfaith groups are orchestrating the biggest campaign in history of the United States for the abolition of sweatshops and child slavery. All over the world we will ask the questions, raise the concerns, and share the ambivalences that might illuminate the way to a wiser and more just community.
We could fill the air with the sound of voices not afraid to speak of justice and decency and encourage those that profess to guide us -- politicians, writers, academics and preachers -- to join in our concerns, rather than continue to lease their authority as if we were just spectators with no use other than to vote about 10 times in our life and with no other purpose than to shop.
If we could come together to discover a common ground for trade justice it might mean reporters treating ideas as news. It might mean a media more critical of the corrupt and less sarcastic about the idealistic, it might mean compiling indicators of a good and just society rather than those of a prosperous and efficient one. It might mean a country that asked "why" as often as it asked "when" or "how much," and a culture that was concerned about the way something was done as well as what that something was.
So now onto my advice... Show up at your Congressman's home and don't leave until they have come out to discuss the issue, walk into a chain store and speak to the management about sweatshop labor issues, do this when others are in earshot. Find out the names and mailing addresses of the Congressmen you want to target and write to them everyday for a month -- just a three-sentence post card asking them to consider the issue. AND maybe we need to stop sitting at conferences like this where people already agree what's wrong and seek out people you disagree with, armed with facts and engage in real debate. Let's stop complaining and start doing something to make a difference.
Finally it might be a country that, just in time, paused to asked the question: what is the right, just moral thing for us to do? And we might find that by just asking the question, we had already become a better people.