G20 summit protects some, not others

The following is another in a series of entries from Geez correspondents at the G20 economic summit in Cannes, France. It is written by Chris Derksen Hiebert, whose day job is to work in the area of ethics and social justice with World Vision. – Aiden Enns, editor, Geez magazine.

Heavily protected politicians

My role at World Vision involves participation in many global summits, like the “G’s” (the G8 and 20, not Geez) the annual United National General Assembly, and other similar events where the leaders of the world meet. One reality of this experience is the constant presence of an enormous amount of heavily armed security. The image of convoys of large black SUVs with heavily armed body guards escorting political leaders is engrained in my mind. It’s a reminder that some lives are clearly thought to be more valuable than others. The G20 in Cannes is certainly living up to this pattern, and I would give the French the “Palme d’or” for having the best dressed security forces on the planet (with apologies to Italy).

So, too, this G20 has the full range of civil society engagement, from those who reject the whole notion of the G20 and protest at its gates, to the anarchists who protest everything as a matter of principle, to the organizations like World Vision who believe that constructive engagement is the best way to make progress on issues of social justice.

Outside agitators, inside advocators

Personally, I believe that all of these forms of engagement, with the exception of those who use violence, are legitimate and necessary. One could even argue, I suppose, that those that chain themselves to the barriers create space for those of us who work more from the inside. Sort of a good cop, bad cop scenario. And it is certainly true that biblical examples — like Jesus in the temple and the angry words of the prophets — don’t shy away from speaking truth to power directly, with very strong words and actions.

In our case, we are always prepared to speak out strongly when our governments fall short on policy and actions that support justice for the world’s poor. But we have found that our best success in actually impacting policy decisions requires a careful, engaging approach. We accept that politicians are political animals who will be influenced in their decisions by a number of factors and interests not all of which we like. In fact, understanding their context and the competing pressures that are on them is absolutely key to discerning what is politically possible.

This kind of pragmatic approach can be tough for those of us who hold strong ideals, and it is certainly not very interesting for the media who are driven by stories that depict conflict. But it does recognize the humanity of political actors and holds out the belief that redemption is possible for everyone and everything, including bad policy that holds back justice for the poor.

Chris Derksen Hiebert Cannes, France

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