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oranges and apples wealth and poverty

Today, like everyday, a woman will carry a box of oranges, apples or maybe bananas to a street corner in Comas, a working class suburb of Lima, Peru.

Today, like everyday, a woman will carry a box of oranges, apples or maybe bananas to a street corner in Comas, a working class suburb of Lima, Peru.

Sitting on a crate, or possibly just the curb, she will attempt to parlay her daily investment of eight or 10 nuevo soles ($3 or so), into enough cash to feed her family and still have the money needed to buy another box of fruit from the central market early in the next morning and bus it back to her corner again.

This scene is being repeated on innumerable street corners around the world. I have seen women like her in dozens of countries. You might have too. They struggle each and everyday just to get by. According to 2008 World Bank statistics, almost half of the world’s population subsists on $2.50 a day, or less.

Mohamed Bouazizi from a small provincial town in Tunisia became his family’s main support at 10 years of age.

Loading a push cart daily with produce from a town supermarket, he would trek to a street corner five kilometres away to hawk his fruit and vegetables.

He did this while trying to stay in school.

Police harassment, the confiscation of his cart and his futile attempt to get it back led a 26-year-old Mohamed to a final act of desperation and defiance this past December.

In front of town offices, he lit himself ablaze. His death galvanized a nation struggling with high youth unemployment, rising food prices, gross domestic inequality and a lack of effective democratic mechanisms to address their concerns.

A dictator fled.

Emboldened by the changes the self-immolation of a street vendor inspired in Tunisia, Egyptians sought redress for their grievances as well.

The cries of “freedom, liberty, bread” filled the streets in Cairo, Egypt, after Friday prayers last week.

Their example, in turn, ignited other protests rooted in similar concerns throughout the region.

Will these cries spread even further?

Some commentators like Stephen Leahy, in an Inter Press Service article last week, linked, “Wall Street investment firms and banks, along with their kin in London and Europe” and their disastrous pursuit of profit before people’s basic needs to the sharp rise in food prices.

“At a time when there has been no significant change in the global food supply or in food demand, the average cost of buying food shot up 32 per cent from June to December 2010, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Nothing but price speculation can explain wheat prices jumping 70 per cent from June to December last year when global wheat stocks were stable, experts say.”

In the same article Robert Fox, of Oxfam Canada, stated, “There is no food shortage in the world. Food is simply priced out of the reach of the world’s poorest people.”

Leahy goes on, “Billions of dollars are being made by investors in a speculative “food bubble” that’s created record food prices, starving millions and destabilizing countries.”

Huge bank bonuses and enormous speculator profits extracted at the expense of the poor are seen as inevitable.

A BBC report quoted London-based headhunter John Purcell bluntly stating on the subject of billions in bonuses, “It might be politically uncomfortable and possibly socially disturbing, but it’s realistic economics and I think we’ve just got to suck it up. That’s the way it is.”

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon mirrored that sentiment. Monday, he’s is quoted in an Alternet story saying that those payouts are a sign of “the foundation of a broad-based economic recovery.”

North African protesters in the millions don’t share that sentiment. Neither should we.

Another way must be possible that puts people and their basic needs, such as food, shelter or clean water before profit.

Our voices need to be raised here in the Yukon when we see local examples of these same forces at work.

In that way, we can truly be in solidarity with the rising global cry for justice.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact