Social change movement becomes its own global brand
MAKE Poverty History, with its glorious promise for social change, has become a global brand. Some deride the movement as "wristband idealism" — the bands have sold like hot cakes, with 800,000 circulating in Australia — the grassroots push from Britain has travelled well Down Under.
Yesterday's 600-strong crowd at an all-day forum in Melbourne included students, parents with strollers, pensioners and even a pinstripe or two. On campuses, youthful idealists report that there is talk between lectures about the campaign's push for better trade terms and the end of famine in Africa.
Tonight, the Australian leg of Make Poverty History — led by World Vision's Tim Costello and Oxfam chief Andrew Hewett — will undergo a crescendo at a concert. On Saturday, while the suits representing central bankers and finance ministers descend on G20, there will be a counter "festival". But when the carnival ends, what is the future of the movement?
In Britain, Make Poverty History as a formal entity disbanded in January with most of participants affirming they had agreed only to come together for a limited time, spanning Britain's presidency of the EU and the G8.
Australian organisers, however, say there are "no plans" to decommission. "The Australian Government still has a long way to go to get to the place the Blair Government in the UK is in terms of its contribution to overseas aid," said a spokesman.
Professor Paul James, director of RMIT's Globalism Institute, believes despite cynicism about posturing pop stars, the campaign has "possibilities of being profound".
He sees the potential stemming from the fact that the talk is about solutions — such as debt reduction — on a structural level, rather than just concentrating on individual effort such as child sponsorship or even popular pitches to buy a goat or cow for a Third World family. "It draws people into discussions about what really can be done," he says.
So far, however, the campaign has only helped awaken public consciousness.
The pop star Annie Lennox recently summed up the conundrum: "The Make Poverty History campaign is truly a historic event. But its very name begs the question. When? Achieving our aim will take an incredibly focused effort."