Five years ago today, I was in Birmingham for something special — a human chain of 70,000 people around the eight most powerful men in the world to call for the cancellation of the debts of the world’s poorest nations.
It was a glorious day — the sun was shining and the trees were a fresh spring green. As the thousands of people arrived by train, coach and all sorts of bizarre forms of transport, the city streets gradually turned white and red with Jubilee 2000 t-shirts.
At 3pm people spread around the city centre to make a human chain that stretched for 10km along main roads and backstreets, over bridges and under subways. And then they made a lot of noise. I remember seeing nuns, students, children, pensioners as well as a smattering of the great and the good. I remember the buzz when the call came from Tony Blair’s people asking for a meeting. And later in the evening I remember almost collapsing with exhaustion in a curry restaurant (which to this day I’ve never found again) with the team who organised the event.
I’m here in Birmingham again today, not involved in the planning this time and having had considerably more sleep last night than the equivalent five years ago. The Jubilee Debt Campaign (one of the successors to J2000) have got people back together again, in part to ask whether we made a difference five years ago. It’s a rather more sober affair and the weather is a bit more typical for Birmingham — grey and drizzling. But it is quite emotional to see many of the people who were here on that day again and Bob Geldof being here has added a bit of star quality.
When I think about the effect the chain had I’m torn. A lot has been achieved certainly — 26 countries are spending 40 percent less on debt payments today. But psychologically it seems world leaders think they’ve done enough. Of course they’re nowhere near. Many countries that desperately need debt relief have got nothing and the IMF are still pushing policies on poor countries that rich countries would not dream of inflicting on themselves.
But if you ask did we make a difference that day, my answer is yes. I think the world changed and a unique network was created, people who were touched by the event, perhaps it’s a little bit dormant at the moment… but I’m fairly sure it will return.