Put People First rally exceeds coalition's expectations

By staff writers
March 29, 2009

Nearly 40,000 people marched in central London yesterday to demand that the G20 leaders meeting in the capital this week face the need for major changes to the international financial system.

'Jobs, justice and climate' was the common cry of the rainbow coalition that gathered at the Embankment and processed in a carnival atmosphere to a rally in Hyde Park.

The turnout was four times that anticipated by the Put People First platform which drew together trade unionists, development agencies, church and faith groups, political organisations of different hues, and civic bodies.

Social networking sites like Twitter were used by marchers to keep each other updated on the progress of the event throughout the day.

Among the Christian groups sponsoring the event were Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, the Salvation Army, World Vision and the think-tank Ekklesia.

Prior to the march, an ecumenical service took place at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

The Anglican Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, told the congregation: “It is an interconnected world. If we take more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources and if we contribute to climate change then it is going to be the most vulnerable and poorest people in the world who suffer first.”

He said that future generations would pay the price if leaders failed to adequately respond to the current “global emergency”, adding: “We’ve mortgaged some of our children’s tomorrow to fund our today.”

Other speakers at the service included the Rev Joel Edwards from Micah Challenge International, former head of the Evangelical Alliance UK, and Fr Joe Komakoma, secretary general of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Zambia.

At the rally itself, Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber said that there had never before been such a wide coalition brought together with a single direct message for world leaders.

He declared: "The old ideas of unregulated free markets do not work, and have brought the world's economy to near-collapse, failed to fight poverty and have done far too little to move to a low-carbon economy."

He continued: "Of course, the G20 will not solve everything in a day's work, but leaders must sign up to boost the world economy and govern it better, and show us that they are trying to build a better world."

Claire Melamed of ActionAid said the organisers were delighted with the turnout. "We're really pleased. As a development organisation, we are hearing every day about people losing jobs and not being able to feed their children as this economic crisis depends. We want the G20 to listen to us - this began as a financial crisis and its turning into a humanitarian one. Let's not forget the world's poorest next week."

Several thousand police officers were on duty throughout the day. Put People First had expressed concern that police were spreading stories that the demonstrations would be overtaken by violent anarchists.

In the event, everything went off entirely peacefully, as the organisers had predicted.

"If the global economy is to be remade in a way that puts human need rather than human greed first, politicians and bankers are going to have to listen more to ordinary people who are seeking to make a difference through workplaces, local communities, faith groups and civic organisations," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia.

He added: "In the current climate ground-up action has something special to offer. At the margins, and in less affluent sectors of Christianity, is a rich tradition of alternative economic practices. These include microfinance, local currencies, non-monetary trading schemes, fair trade, green energy, co-operative housing, credit unions, and socially based investment, pension and insurance schemes where money can be leant not for profit, but for the good of the recipient.

"In this way risk can be carried by communities rather than individuals, and vulnerabilities limited."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.