I recently became involved in the Jubilee 2000 campaign and travelled to Cologne for the G8 Summit in June to show my support and do what I could for them. In the end I was one of a chosen delegation who submitted the petition to the G8 from Jubilee 2000 along with Bono, Bishop Rodriguez, Youssou N'Dour and five women representing five continents. There were 17 million signatures on that petition, there were 50,000 people in a human chain around Cologne and yet we were patronised, trivialised and bullied by both the G8 and the media.
The reason I became involved in Jubilee 2000 is because it is the most formidable and constructive force yet to tackle the issue of unpayable Third World debt, the unaccountable behaviour of the IMF and the World Bank, the West's stranglehold on the poorest countries of the world, and the tragic consequences of their actions on the poorest people in the world. It has the support of the Pope, the Dalai Lama and thousands of extremely powerful and influential charities including Christian Aid and Oxfam. It has motivated BBC 1 to broadcast a Comic Relief show where no money was asked for, just a telephone number given to voice your support for cancelling debts.
The security played cat and mouse with Jubilee 2000 throughout the day changing the planned route for the delegation every half an hour. Escorted by security with earpieces and armed green polizei we arrived at a checkpoint, were searched for weapons and asked for our passports then hurried to meet a waiting Gerhard Schroeder who stood with the smile of a used car salesman, his hair immaculate in the breeze. We bumbled across the press forecourt and lined up for parade all handshakes and stupified silence.
Bishop Rodriguez said three lines that in the absence of a microphone were lost in the breeze. Schroeder competed with the din of fast winding shutters, and then all hell broke loose as Bono stepped up and started his speech about it being a funny old world where pop stars are the only way politicians and the press will sit up and take notice.
All the shutters spluttered frantically and zoom lenses beckoned him to look this way and that, like a movie premier photocall. He and Schroeder and whoever else happened to be in shot obeyed whilst Youssou and myself held up a huge banner for the coalition trying to keep it upright and visible to the journalists who were still fixated on Bono. Then Schroeder reached his hand out to me.
I had not really been paying attention until this point, as I had been keeping an eye on the door leading into the summit building and the sober suited officials peering out with mild interest and amusement. I had been thinking how the night before Ann Pettifor told me about the G8 proposal, about how it's not enough but that the spin-doctors are out in force demanding our congratulations. "It is a difficult game to play" she had told me ñ we do not want to ruin the work that has already been done and offend those who claim to be on our side.
The deal is effectively little more than creative book-keeping on debts that are already not being serviced. It still retains IMF draconian demands for the world's poorest countries to spend less on health care and education, to free up their precious resources, while still betting the countries performance against any potential debt relief.
And now Schroeder is holding out his hand to shake mine, but I have nothing to thank him or the G8 for and I've got no idea why I am here. They have given us crumbs.
With a thousand cameras and four snipers on the rooftops I think it is wise to shake his hand.
As Schroeder leaves the press pounce on Bono who hides his alarm behind his orangeblack shades and busks his way through inane questions which barely touch the subject at the heart of the day.
" What do you think of Kosovo, Bono?" Some sweaty guy with a microphone extension asks and then someone else shouts: "What do you think of the riots in the city of London and isn't it harmful to your campaign?" Bono hands this to me, "that was organized by Reclaim the Streets and this is organized by Jubilee 2000. You are a journalist and you should be able to tell the difference."
The British government would wish us to know how hard they are trying. It is probably true that both the UK and USA are the most willing to help Jubilee 2000. It seems very apparent that Japan is not interested, having itself been far more generous with aid in the past. Behind the scenes there is a lot of diplomatic work going on, all of which is way above my head.
What I cannot understand however, is a media which has the nerve to condescend and dismiss as naïve and simplistic a growing global movement where so many have pledged their names. (Yes, that's right. We just got out of bed one morning and thought 'now that would be a good idea, that would solve the worlds problems now wouldn't it, and what a nice idea to do it in the year 2000,mmm lovely'. Jubilee 2000 doesn't have any specialists of their own. Oh no, they just sit around all day in the office, waving flags and counting signatures.)
It seems we are not deemed to be in a position to comment on such higher global forces; we are merely the grateful recipients of economic wisdom, those tough competitive forces we hear so much about. These are the hard facts of life in a 'global' economy. Somehow the chief economists with the power of life and death over the world's poorest countries, exist on higher moral plane and we irritating mortals should submit to it as the will of the gods. And a willing, complicit media will dutifully dismiss us.
A willing complicit media will hound Bono like the bloody pied piper as we are sent this way and that, routes being changed by a security hellbent on making things as difficult and ridiculous as possible for us. Thousands of kids chasing his autograph, thousands of journalists err.... also wanting his autograph, fighting like cats and dogs for a soundbite, asking him drivelling nothings, shoving Ann Pettifor to the side so aggressively that she was genuinely scared out of her wits.
And on the day before a willing complicit media will happily dismiss the Carnival Against Capitalism as a bunch of anarchists, even though much of the demonstration passed peacefully until our beloved riot police with unnumbered uniforms arrived. And even though this was only one event in a cleverly orchestrated global day of action.
On Saturday with protesters in the far distance of the camera frame, Tony Blair stood in front of us and told us how the news was good, we should be thankful, 70 billion dollars is a good step forward at this time. The British government went looking for good news to tell the folks back home, Blair had been embarrassed by the G8 resolutions on GM food, was still smarting from the Euro elections and along with the rest of the G8 was giving this debt cancellation the hard sell.
These are merely tasty crumbs flung off the G8's banquet table to appease the crowd.
There were 17 million names on worldwide petition, there were 50,000 people forming a human chain around the G8 Summit and, according to the British media, this was not news. They just took the government spin and said thankyou.
Instead we were overdosed with images of royal nuptials. Instead Jubilee 2000 was mixed up with the spontaneous protest of Reclaim the Streets or J18 the previous night, and by inference both parties dismissed.
Perhaps if we had done what J18 and Reclaim the Streets did in the City of London on Friday, caught the authorities off guard, hadn't played by the script, hadn't been hijacked by the spin doctors then we would have got more coverage? But then what sort of coverage would that have been?
What the media and the G8 are underestimating is the breadth and diversity of resistance to the unaccountable actions of the IMF and the World Bank. What is also being underestimated is the breadth of support for Jubilee 2000. They would be wise to stop condescending and start listening.
Copyright Thom Yorke. Not for reproduction without permission. June 1999.