So many disasters. So many conflicts. So much suffering. And when a disaster ends or a conflict fades away, the suffering still remains.
At the World Trade Organization meeting held in Hong Kong in December 2005, the powerful and wealthy national leaders gathered to make decisions and policies that will have a tremendously negative affect on many millions of common people all over the world. Those who will suffer the most from these decisions and policies were given no space to voice their concerns and to offer alternatives.
They were shut out of a process that is advertised to be democratic. How long can people suffer physically and psychologically before they lose hope in having their voices heard? How long before they decide that there is no longer space to talk and so they must take other actions? I am reminded of a statement by Pat Schroeder. "When men talk about defense, they always claim to be protecting women and children, but they never ask the women and children what they think." Will our world leaders ever feel it necessary to provide space to those they claim to be helping to express their own desires and options for economic, social and political development?
These events frustrate and anger us. Is there hope at all for a better world? I can not believe that God would create a world in which there is no hope. We simply have to look for it and draw our energy from it. During the WTO meetings, the hope I saw was in the multitude of small, informal meetings taking place on the grounds of Victoria Park. People from different countries, ethnicities, occupations, faiths and languages sat together to talk. They begin to understand each other better and to see the commonalities in their lives. Here, in this "People's University", hope was as evident and as warm as the sun that washed over the grounds. If only those national leaders sitting in the plush conference rooms would have taken the time to come, sit on the grass and dialogue, wonderful things could have happened and policies that respect the lives and work of farmers, factory laborers, and students could have emerged.
It was the simple farmers from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America who expressed deep concern, not just for those who produce food but also for those of us who are consumers and want healthy, safe food. Domestic workers discussed the issues of economic justice that touch the lives of working women all over the world. Factory workers shared the difficulties of caring properly for their families when their low wages are not nearly enough to cover food, housing, health and educational needs.
These people came, not for political purposes but to help all of us understand the injustices of the WTO policies in terms of human rights and human dignity and to build a new world of justice. They are the ones who are expressions of hope in our conflicted world, simply because they do believe that a more just and peaceful world is possible. It is imperative that national leaders, as well as we ourselves, take the time to listen to them and take their message seriously.
When Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa spoke at a meeting in India he concluded:
"Even in hardnosed cynical cultures it is amazing that those we admire, indeed revere, are not the macho, the aggressive, the successful. No, the people we hold almost universally in high regard are such as a Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and why? Because they are good. We have internal antennae which home in on goodness because you see we are created for goodness, for love, for gentleness, for compassion, for sharing. We are almost the ultimate paradox -- the finite created for the infinite. St Augustine of Hippo said. 'Thou (God) hast created us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.' We are created by God, like God, for God. We have each a God hunger which only God can satisfy. We have a God shaped space which only God can fill. "
The WTO meetings ended much as people expected. Policies were quickly created that will, in the end, benefit mostly the already rich and powerful. Democracy was dealt another shattering blow as the voices the WTO representatives claim to represent were kept so far away from the meeting venue that not even their largest banners could be seen or read.
After the Watts riots in the US, Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying, "Violence is the language of the unheard." Organizations like the WTO, World Bank, IMF and other globally influential institutions refuse to hear the voices of the people. Will violence be the only language the poor and oppressed are finally left with?