A Centre for Research on Latin American and the Caribbean (CERLAC) research fellow was the only Canadian invited to participate in a World Meeting of Popular Movements that brought more than 100 grassroots activists from all around the world to Rome.
A member of its Extractive Industries Research Group, CERLAC Fellow Judith Marshall was joined by a diverse group, ranging from cardboard recyclers in Buenos Aires to the homeless in Mumbai and peasant farmers fighting land grabs by mining and agro-industry to indignados in Spain struggling against austerity agendas.
The presence of the poor and excluded “who fight for land, housing and work” – the theme of the meeting – came about as an initiative of Pope Francis. He had already involved the church in the struggles of the poor in Argentina before becoming Pope.
The Pope is considered one of the strongest critics of the current global system, seeing the growing levels of social exclusion and unemployment as rooted in speculative financial capital, a consumer culture of waste, individual greed over collective well-being and wanton destruction of nature – all driven by the unregulated power of global corporations. The grassroots participants echoed his concerns, condemning neoliberal policies that create sacrifice zones for the weak and the poor to re-stabilize a global economy that mainly benefits the rich.
Pope Francis spoke of whole generations of young people in Europe with no future. He decried youth unemployment in Italy, which has reached 40 per cent, as the young are being sacrificed to restore economic balance sheets, along with children and the elderly who do not produce. The deity money and not the human person has come to occupy the centre of the global system.
Marshall, who wrote her doctoral thesis at OISE on workplace literacy in Mozambique, worked for 20 years with the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, a labour international social justice fund that has supported projects with the homeless and accompanied community fights against land grabs by the mining companies that she is now researching. She found the Rome meetings a deeply hopeful experience. The invasion of the Vatican by articulate protagonists from grassroots movements from every continent may strengthen the Pope’s own option for the poor. Those who participated were reinforced by establishing more global connections among themselves and by news of a forthcoming Papal Encyclical on Ecology.
“We returned strengthened by knowing that Pope Francis’ pungent critique of the current world order would continue to reverberate at global level,” said Marshall.
By York political science Professor Emerita Liisa North, coordinator, CERLAC Documentation Centre