Fortunately the security folk at the bottom of the escalator in Montreal’s Palais des Congres didn’t check name tags. The one I wore in the plastic pouch hanging around my neck said I was named Bernard. A few minutes later, after a fast ride up to the main conference hall level, I met another more credible impersonator. She had my daughter’s name tag on and age-wise certainly look more like a youth organization’s representative than I did.
Both of us were taking advantage of Apathy is Boring’s (www.apathyisboring.com) passes to the CIVICUS World Assembly held in Montreal a couple of weeks back. None of the name tag’s three principals could attend the assembly’s Saturday sessions. The passes naturally made it around the necks of other staff or supporters that could take advantage of this impressive gathering of speakers and participants from around the world.
CIVICUS, a Johannesburg, South Africa-based organization dedicated to citizen participation, partnered with the similarly focused Institut du Nouveau Monde in Quebec to hold the four-day event. Founded in 1993 CIVICUS sees itself as an international alliance “strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.” The theme of their 9th World Assembly was “Acting Together for a Just World.”(See www.civicusassembly.org)
From the morning’s opening plenary session in one of the cavernous halls of the Palais des Congres on, a certainly sober, almost pessimistic assessment of the current state of the world definitely pervaded discussions. As Naomi Hossain from the Institute of Development Studies in England told a workshop I sat in on: “Recent events have crystallized the view that the speed with which economic shocks are transmitted around the world has accelerated, that these shocks are increasingly multiple in source and impact, and the risk of future shocks of this global, complex nature is high.”
The shocks or crises Hossain noted, I learned, have been variously characterized. The Brookings Institute calls it the Long Crisis of Globalization. The International Monetary Fund labelled it the Triple F’ crisis for food, fuel and financial, now a fourth F for fiscal has been added. The Global Public Policy Network dubbed it Hydra-headed Crisis.
Climate change and the great gap between rich and poor on our planet layered over the other crises however they are described. All these expressions of our current reality try to understand the rapid transformations occurring in our social, economic and political relations across the world. They also all point, more fundamentally, to the failure of the mechanisms of global governance or the lack of them now in place.
Speakers lamented the fact that the space offered by the current economic crisis for fundamental change to our financial structures which might have favoured the great lower and middle class planetary majority, has all but closed. ‘Fiscal consolidation’ has become the new term for structural adjustment. It aims to place the burden of propping up the system, as it always has, on the powerless and the vulnerable, mainly the poor and women.
Hossain stated that “Humpty Dumpty has been put back together but he is much more fragile and top heavy.” As Sanjeev Khagram of the University of Washington caustically noted, “Banks still rule the world.” John Gaventa, political sociologist and current chair of Oxfam Great Britain’s Council of Trustees, said, “If there is anything that we have learned about this crisis is that there will be another.”
The honest, forthright assessments of our collective predicament, though foreboding, left me at the end of my time there surprisingly optimistic. The issues were out in the open. People were talking about them and through their discussions thinking of new ways to foster the global citizenship needed to deal with them .
Yukoners can respond to the flood disaster in Pakistan by supporting international relief efforts through organizations such as Development and Peace (via Sacred Heart Cathedral if people wish) or the Red Cross. The Canadian government has stated that it will match, 1 to 1, dollars donated by citizens to recognized organizations for this emergency until September 12.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.