The March

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I’m still nursing the last vestiges of my sunburn from Saturday, and I’ve now had time to develop my photos and my thoughts on the affair.

It was a long and hot day: with 225,000 people there it took a good 5 hours from the start of the march leaving to the last marchers leaving (yup, getting started). I know of quite a few people who gave up waiting for the march and stayed on the Meadows. We decided to, and then as we were thinking about going home the queues had reduced from the mental two and a half hours to a more manageable twenty minutes, so we went for the walk. Glad we did, too.

225,000 people turned out to peacefully, generally amicably make a point. And make it they did. I just hope that the events in Edinburgh of the days since then won’t be the ones that stick in people’s minds.

Like some others I’ve been wondering, though - and this is something that’s come up in a number of conversations I’ve had this week.

To how many of those 225,000 people will this continue to be a real, immediate emergency, and for how many will spending an easy, pleasant summer’s day walking round the town be sufficient to satisfy their nagging guilt about their place in the world? If that sounds harsh, forgive me. When I think of middle-class guilt being easily assuaged, I think too of myself. That’s my caveat: everything I’m thinking is tough, and costly to live out, and I’m really, really bad at it. Just ask my wife.

The MPH campaign lists three aims: Trade Justice, Drop the Debt, More and Better Aid.

Debt relief and aid are the well-known ones, and the ones that get talked about most. That’s because they’re the easy ones. They’re the ones that could well be of immediate benefit.

But trade justice…

On Saturday I saw people carrying around banners proclaiming ‘Fair Trade Not Free Trade’, and it struck me the sheer weight of that. After all, our western/northern societies are pretty much founded on the principle of free trade and free markets. So to speak out against that, well, that’s perhaps a little controversial. That challenges some of the most basic assumptions about how our world should work. Politically, it’s a tough one for our leaders to take on. Let’s just say that I don’t think they’re going to touch that one up at Gleneagles this week, even if it would be the one that had the greatest long-term effect.

But let’s come back to our middle-class guilt. We can leave the Meadows after Saturday feeling rather pleased with ourselves. We were there. We did our bit. We stood in solidarity with the poor and the exploited of the world. We can climb into our cars and drive to our out-of-town shopping centres and consume in comfort.

Or we can keep it going. What if 225,000 people consumed conscientiously? Invested and banked ethically? Actually considered how everything they do can either reinforce or challenge the way of this world? It’s a tiny, tiny proportion of the people in the UK, but there were still a whole lot of us there.

The trouble with this, of course, is the cost. For example (just one small example), to buy fairly traded biscuits costs substantially more. Or consider that the banks that hold themselves accountable to a careful ethical policy don’t tend to be the ones that have a branch on every street corner (for another example, the Co-operative Bank has but a single branch in Scotland).

We cannot pretend that these are issues solely for the politicians. We are part of the problem, but that means we have the opportunity to act, in however small a way it may seem.

A final thought from Brodie:

So here's the question - do I think that my being there will help end poverty? The simple answer is no - "the poor you will always have with you" (Matt 26:11). This statement of Jesus is not a reason do then do nothing about poverty, but rather was recognition that until he returns and heaven and earth collide (Rev 21), there will always be those who by their greed, corruption and selfishness will condemn others to poverty. We do however have our part to play, we need to "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).

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(The full photoset is on Flickr.)