Campaigners light up Whitehall in vigil for trade justice
Stars from stage, screen and the music industry joined more than 25,000 anti-poverty campaigners in an all night candlelit vigil in London on Friday, to take the message of trade justice, not free trade, to politicians of all parties.
Inspirational speeches and performances from Ronan Keating, Vanessa Redgrave, Pete Postlethwaite and Beverley Knight, kicked off the all night event, organised by the Trade Justice Movement.
The stars were joined at the Westminster Abbey opening event by trade campaigners from the developing world plus musicians from Rwanda and gospel group the Kingdom Choir.
People of all ages travelled to Westminster to voice their support for trade justice, from seasoned campaigners, to first timers such as twelve-year-old Issac Hartman and his father Paul. All shared a common passion, as expressed by Isaac who said, "There is too much poverty in the world. It's not right."
Campaigner Chris Gramstadt from Christchurch in Woking said; "I hope that this event will alert the conscience of our government to realise that trade justice is a massive issue on our agenda. For me, poverty is the single most important issue because of the number of lives at stake. Joined together with Christian prayer, I believe we can make a difference."
He added, "If trade rules are made fairer, we will see a difference in the lives of third world farmers. They need a head start, rules that favour them, combined with aid and debt relief."
At 11.30pm, thousands of campaigners formed a massive human white band - the symbol of the Make Poverty History campaign - around Parliament Square, with candles, lanterns and glow sticks. The procession then headed for Downing Street where at the strike of midnight, the crowds observed a minute's silence in memory of the millions of people across the world whose lives are impacted by unfair trade rules.
Shortly after midnight, a huge wall of noise broke the silence as campaigners shouted, whistled and banged drums to voice their call for trade justice.
While many campaigners maintained the candlelit vigil outside Downing Street throughout the early hours, venues across Whitehall and Westminster hosted music and comedy events, films and debates.
At sunrise, Andrew Gwaivangmin, of Tearfund partner Rurcon in Nigeria, delivered a giant white band to No.10 Downing Street, signed by thousands of trade justice campaigners throughout the night.
"I am really humbled because I can see that people really care about poverty in the developing world and the issues affecting us as a result of free trade. There is real determination for something to be done. The fact that people are willing to spend the whole night here calling for change makes it an important issue. It is a big privilege to be here," said Andrew Gwaivangmin.
On Saturday morning, as weary campaigners headed home for well deserved sleep, trade justice delegates met with representatives of the three main political parties to outline their call of trade justice.
"This is a wake-up call for political leaders of all the main parties - if elected, they must make sure urgent action is taken if we are to have justice in international trade and start to make poverty history in 2005," said Glen Tarman, Trade Justice Movement Coordinator.
Said one young campaigner from All Saints Church in Kings Cross, "This event is very important because of the general election in three weeks. People in the UK are not only interested in lower taxes. It's important that Christians are proactive about God's heart for justice."
Alison Stockdale, from St John's Baptist Church in West Wickham, Kent, said, "I hope it will let the government know that poverty is something we feel very strongly about. People in poor countries often can't speak up for fairness but we can."
Trade Justice is one of the core demands of the Make Poverty History campaign, the largest mobilisation against global poverty this country has seen, supported by more than 400 campaign groups, faith groups, trade unions and aid agencies, including Tearfund. Make Poverty History is calling on the world leaders to deliver on trade justice, more and better aid and debt cancellation in 2005.