of 6 Billion Meetings
June 21-25, 2002
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Jennifer deGroot, coordinator of UNPAC's Women and Economy
project recently attended the G6B counter-conference which
preceded the G8 meetings in Calgary June 26-27, 2002.
As barricades went up around the latest secretive and elitist
meeting of the world's political and economic superpowers,
a very different gathering was taking place only 50 km away.
Not the G8 but the G6B, a conference organizers hoped would
capture the will not of 8 men but of 6 billion people - the
entire global citizenry. Nearly 1500 people gathered over
five days to discuss the impact of the G8 economic policies
on the world's poorest peoples, and to share their collective
belief that a different world is possible.
I attended this counter summit to hear how my sisters and
brothers from around the world are responding to the economic
fundamentalism perpetuated by liberalized trade. As a citizen
of Canada, I felt called to listen to how policies put forward
by my own government are impacting peoples around the world.
At the same time, as one who works hard to create alternatives
in my own community, I welcomed the opportunity to hear of
economic alternatives being created in villages, neighbourhoods,
and country-sides across the globe.
I heard stories confirming my suspicions that the economic
policies discussed by G8 leaders create a world in which human
rights violations are not only commonplace but acceptable.
Statistics such as 300,000 African lives directly lost due
to the diamond industry (and 2-3 million indirectly)
or the fact that the G8 countries supply 80% of the arms that
Africans use to kill each other
or the one million African
students who lost their teachers to AIDS last year. These
will stay with me.
At the same time I refuse to brush over as insignificant the
stories of re-creation that are taking place in different
corners of the earth, efforts to repair what has been broken
and create communities in which all people have a place and
there is no need for killing. Sareth Fernando of Sri Lanka
talked of a society devastated by World Bank policies and
enforced trade, and the work he is doing to re-create a country
true to its Buddhists roots in which, "Greed leads to
suffering and accumulation is foolishness." Thandiwe
Nkono of Zimbabwe described her experiences empowering rural
citizens to create their own means of self-reliance in a country
in which 2/5 of the adult population is HIV+. Nyararai Magudu's
arms into ploughshares project has already collected 200,000
of Mozambique's 10 million illicit arms and turned them into
These were powerful stories of hope for me.
I was also encouraged by the strength of the African speakers'
demand that instead of a New Partnership for African Development
(NePAD) - the plan which Canada's Prime Minister planned to
promote at the G8 meetings - the old partnership be dealt
with fairly and with consistency. Africans repeatedly asked
that the debt be cancelled to end the obscenity of more money
going towards debt-repayment than on health and education.
Emily Sikazwe of Zambia put it most clearly: "There is
a terrorism that has been unleashed on our people for years.
That terrorism is debt." Sikazwe pleaded with Canadians
to end the burden of unfair debt saying, "Through the
tears of African women, we have paid."
Africans also demanded reparations for slavery and colonization.
Zimbabwean Davie Malangiza asked, "It says we should
start the race of liberalization as equals but how can we
when our leg was broken during colonization?" Finally,
they asked for an end to the arms trade. All but two countries
in Africa spend more money on arms than on health and education,
arms supplied by G8 countries and often given as a form of
"aid." The strength of a people devastated by centuries
of oppression who now find themselves as the latest pawn on
a few leaders' chess board, provide a powerful example of
"It is time for you to wake up and see what is done in
your name," was the message I heard from Tanzanian human
rights defender Tundu Lissu. Canadians were repeatedly urged
to speak to our elected representatives encouraging them to
adopt economic policies that create life rather than death.
As I left Calgary, the red carpet was literally being rolled
out over the tarmac while the Queen's Guard marched forward
to welcome an honoured guest before he was flown off to Kananaskis
in a four helicopter entourage. Other temporarily grounded
passengers expressed awe and admiration. The scene was pregnant
with despair - to see such opulence after all I had just heard.
I could hardly feel more helpless. One conference speaker
asked me, "Do you think they'll listen to any of our
ideas?" I didn't know how to respond. It hardly seems
likely. Yet our current system is in crisis. I have heard
the people crying out, and I have seen the earth resisting.
If Africans can hope and imagine, so can I. I came home with
renewed vigour to continue the work of creating alternative
communities but also to speak to my elected representatives
and share the stories I had heard with them and others. This
becomes my awesome responsibility.
Next day I spend an hour lying "dead" with a dozen
others on the scorching sidewalk in front of a busy downtown
Winnipeg office-building as part of a "Die-In" aimed
to demonstrate the effects of G8 economic policies on the
most vulnerable of the world's citizens. I lay with sweat
pouring down my face and eyes closed, vulnerable to the whims
of security guards and pedestrians' heels, trusting that my
unmoving body would be a message of resistance to a world
with more greed than imagination, more helplessness than hope.
An hour later I "awoke" to speak with the press
who wanted to know how I would persuade people who didn't
care that they should care. I answered that I had no choice.
I have heard the cries of the people. I must speak.
For more information:
To read the Recommendations for G8 leaders that came out of
the G6B conference as well as Stephen Lewis' powerful speech
which opened the conference, visit
G6B. To learn more about the G8 visit
G8 Action Kit.