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World Day of Social Justice: The People's Revolution is On The March
by Rene Wadlow
2011-02-20 10:52:54
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The United Nations General Assembly, on the initiative of Nurbch Jeenbrev, the Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the U.N. in New York, has proclaimed 20 February as the “World Day of Social Justice” with an emphasis on the reduction of poverty. The “war” on global poverty has had its share of victories.  Life expectancy at birth has risen in many developing countries.  Education for some has resulted in rising incomes, but such education has left the uneducated further behind.

Economic growth does not help the poor much in countries where the distribution of wealth is highly unequal.  The poor in many countries do not enjoy the benefits of boom times, but they shoulder the costs when there is an economic recession.  As traditional family or clan-based welfare systems decline without new government-funded institutions put into place, many are marginalized.

This year the second World Day of Social Justice comes as the people’s revolution sweeps through the Arab lands of North Africa and the Middle East.  The cry of the Tunisian uprising — “Liberty-Work-Dignity” — finds its expression in many countries as people organize non-violently for new societies.

The term “the People’s Revolution” was officially used by Henry A. Wallace, then Vice-President of the United States in setting out US war aims in 1942.  This was the first time that the war aims of a country were not stated in terms of “national interest” and limited to the demands that had produced the start of the war.  Wallace, who had first been the Secretary of Agriculture and who had to deal with the severe depression facing US agriculture, was proposing a world-wide New Deal based on the cooperative action of all of humanity. Wallace said “The people’s revolution is on the march.  When the freedom-loving people march — when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and to see the produce of their land through their own organizations, when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively, and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them truths of the real world in which they live — when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead…The people are on the march toward ever fuller freedom, toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul.”

Today in the demands of “Liberty-Work-Dignity” we hear the demands of farmers to own land under sure conditions, to receive a fair price for their crops as well as the right to organize to protect their interests.  We hear the crises of industrial and urban workers to be able to organize and to have their work appreciated for its full value. We hear the demands of students and the young for an education that opens minds and prepares for meaningful work.

The people’s revolution is on the march. While the forces of the status quo are still strong and often heavily armed, the energy has shifted from the rulers to the people.  The demands of those in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt have given courage to others who now are in streets where few ever expected to hear crises of protest.

The governments of the USA and Western Europe who spend a good deal of money on “intelligence agencies” were largely surprised by the speed with which the protests have spread. No doubt the Chinese and the Russians were also surprised but have been less willing to admit that they do not understand social movements unrelated to their old ideologies.

It is also probable that the Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan when he helped celebrate the first World Day of Social Justice in 2010 did not think he was setting the stage for the people’s revolution.  The U.N. General Assembly proclaims a good number of Days without creating many waves beyond New York City.  But the concept of Social Justice has articulated and focused deep demands for liberty, jobs, and dignity.

Some have been surprised – even alarmed – that the people’s revolution in Tunisia and Egypt did not have recognized leaders or an organized political party structure.  But the people’s revolution is not that of an elite willing to replace the existing ruling elite.  The people’s revolution is a wave of all moving together, with deep currents below the surface. The tide moves with only a few visible waves but the aspirations are collective.  No doubt, there will be individualized leadership, and demands will be formulated into political-party platforms, but the collective demands for social justice and dignity is what makes the difference between the people’s revolution and a military coup.  This is the true meaning of this year’s World Day of Social Justice.


Rene Wadlow,
Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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