Sunday, February 20, 2011


Today is World Day of Social Justice, created by the United Nations to encourage people to think about how social justice is connected to the eradication of poverty, social and economic exclusion, and unemployment.
In 1995 the World Summit for Social Development was held in Copenhagen.  At the meeting more than a hundred political leaders pledged to make the eradication of poverty; full employment; stable, safe and just societies overriding objectives for their countries.  Leaders met again in 2005.  Then in 2007 the UN named the day and it was first observed in 2009.
It’s easy to talk and set goals, simple to name a day.  It’s significant action for change that appears to be difficult for politicians.
With recent and ongoing events in Egypt, I’m reminded of other historic times when ordinary people took to the streets to speak with one voice about their wants and needs: the Hungarian Revolution of 1959, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and Tiananmen Square, 1989.  In all three instances people spontaneously began to gather and call for change.  In Hungary it ended after 19 days when Russian tanks rolled in.  Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Russians were killed and 200,000 Hungarians fled.  In China, the army moved in after seven weeks and started shooting.  Following that there were widespread arrests and foreign journalists were banned.
For a better result we can turn back to Hungary, which in the summer of 1989 opened its borders.  This resulted in floods of East Germans making their way west through Hungary.  Students in Leipzig, Germany began to protest and ask for the wall to be opened.  On November 9, the Minister of Propaganda announced at a press conference that the wall would be open for ‘private trips abroad.’  The news spread immediately and thousands of East Germans began to gather at the wall in Berlin that evening demanding passage.  Border guards were confused, didn’t know what to do and allowed people through; let them climb onto the wall, drink champagne and so on.  The wall was figuratively and soon literally gone, and it didn’t take long for Germany to be reunited.
I hope for a good result for the people of Egypt, but it will take time.  Germany’s problems didn’t go away with the fall of the wall – they just changed, but at least the people made their voices heard and succeeded in making a peaceful change.
We still have too much poverty, and high food prices are causing significant hardship in many parts of the world.  In other words, the goals of the Day of Social Justice are yet to be met.  Here in Canada we face those and other problems as well, although we have a much higher standard of living and a better society than some other countries.
We are very lucky to live here and though many times I don’t agree with politicians or political and social processes, I think we are privileged to have the vote – municipal, provincial, federal.  We have protests in the street on occasion, for specific issues, but we can get rid of leaders we don’t want or respect more easily.  In a recent by-election in Saskatoon, the vote was very low (which apparently is common in municipal politics), but there was a slight increase from previous by elections.  And a much younger candidate won the seat, due perhaps to her use of social media.  If enough people vote we can get rid of politicians we don’t want, and create a more just society.

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