It is that rare moment when a few powerful politicians have the chance to do the right thing – to lift the burden of odious debt from the necks of the world’s poorest people.
As the Live 8 concerts, the huge marches and the massive Internet petitions make clear, the people of the world are ready for real change.
When the G8 nations meet this week in Scotland, they could decide to cancel 100 percent of the debt not just for 18 poor nations, but for 40 or 60. They could decide to get serious about their pledges to devote a mere 0.7 percent of their GNP to foreign aid. They could decide that the wealthiest economies in the history of the world – built largely on the backs of free slave labor and stolen colonial wealth – could afford to pay the relatively trivial amounts it would cost to put all the world’s children into schools, or pay for the 70-cent treated mosquito netting that would stave off millions of tropical deaths from malaria.
One politician holds the key. One world leader finds himself at the crossroads of history, staring down that lightly traveled path where he could do well for himself by doing good for others. Prime Minister Blair can emerge from the war in Iraq and the revelations of the Downing Street minutes to seize this rarest of opportunities – to help himself while helping the world. It’s time for Tony Blair to roar like a British lion.
He can do this by challenging George W. Bush to support serious debt relief and environmental plans. He can do this by being as firm about his demands to cancel the World Bank and IMF debt as Bush was insisting that Blair stick by his side on the Iraq war. He can do this by forcing the United States to move to higher ground on debt cancellation and global warming, convincing the United States to find common ground with the rest of humanity, pressuring the United States to do better by those Jesus called “the least of these.” And because he stood so close to Bush on the Iraq war, Tony Blair is perhaps the only person in the world who can actually change Bush’s mind; who can make that phone call and that strong personal appeal; who can quietly but firmly, or loudly and publicly, call in his debts and make it clear that this is the payback he wants. Many of us have disagreed strongly with Prime Minister Blair’s stance on Iraq. In February of 2003, I even traveled to London to march with 2 million others to Hyde Park, just to say no to the looming war. I have repeatedly criticized Tony Blair’s alliance with George Bush on the war, and I will continue to do so until the occupation has ended.
But I am also a reverend. I believe in the Christian concept of redemption, as I know Tony Blair also does. I believe that we all make mistakes, yet we all have the potential for good. And I stand ready to praise Tony Blair this week, if he takes a stand on behalf of good and reaches out for redemption.
Do it, Mr. Prime Minister. History calls, and the world calls out.
Do it. England owes it to Africa. You owe it to Mandela.
Use all your leverage and diplomacy to advance economic and environmental justice for Africa and Latin America. Be the lion of the United Kingdom and the world – you don’t owe George W. Bush anything more.
After all, he just publicly declared that you should expect no special treatment at the G8 summit this week.
This could be your time. This could be freedom time for millions of the world’s poorest people. This week could be Africa’s Jubilee time.
As the Bible tells us, in Lev. 25:10, we should “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you.”
Roar, Tony. This chance may not come again. Keep hope alive.
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., is the founder of the National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a former candidate for president, and a global civil rights leader.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Tom Paine.com, July 6, 2005