Saturday, July 9, 2005

It's Always Something...

I swear to God Live 8 feels like a lifetime ago.

Here's the good news: I think I'm closer to the conclusion that I'm really really excited about the kind of work that I do. Not Executive Assistant duties, but the whole activism thang. We started this week on such a high. We had worked so hard for so long for this incredible week of events leading up to the G8 meeting in Scotland. Our grassroots and policy people were focused on the concerts and the One Campaign, as well as a whole global movement of awareness-raising events. Our program people were not just tracking their own issues (trade, debt cancellation, disaster relief, all that fun stuff.), but working together to focus our concerns on this one huge event. I was knee-deep in the not very sexy world of logistics and travel arrangements to send people to Edinburgh, but I felt like I was doing my part. Actually going to the concerts and seeing that people were absorbing the message was hugely gratifying to us. We weren't so naive as to believe that some kind of miracle was going to come out of the Summit, but there was no doubt that the collective effort or our organizations and the groups that we worked with had caught the attention of the most powerful people on Earth. We were excited to see what they would do.

So that's why the events on July 7 in London were such a gut punch on so many levels.

I usually don't turn on the news until about 10 minutes before I'm ready to leave in the morning. I'm really not one to break down into tears. That's really not my style. But I was so gutted by what I saw on the television, that I started sobbing into my oatmeal. I seriously considered not going in, but there was work to do. Predictably, the mood at work was very, very glum. Like everyone else, we were all sad for London, which had been having such a glorious week up to that point with the concerts and the G8 and the Olympics. I had been listening to my favorite London radio station all that week, and they were just ecstatic. Now they were completely bewildered and traumatized. Having lived there, and being very well acquainted with the targeted areas, and knowing a thing or two about living in a traumatized city, I was taking it rather hard on that front.

But there was another angle for us at work as well. The focus of the G8 Summit shifted dramatically. When Tony Blair left Gleneagles, we all felt like all our hopes of something being done about global poverty left with him. We had come so far in the past week, and because of the actions of a few petty and thoughtless individuals, another beautiful city that I loved was in tears and all the work that so many people had done all over the world looked to be ruined. We were sad for the Londoners, for the Africans, for the organizers -- we were just devastated.

So we waited. Our people in Scotland were fairly pessimistic. So many people there were based in London, that Edinburgh emptied out quite a bit. The media calls that had been so focused on the Make Poverty History push stopped coming to them. Our staff were sitting in hotels, just waiting for something, anything, to come out of the Summit that they could react to. Then they announced the $50 billion aid package to Africa.

There are two ways you could look at this. On the critical side, $50 billion by 2010 falls way, way short of the targets that these countries had set for themselves five years ago. There is no guarantee or practical plan for actually coming through with the aid, so it could just be a chance for a fantastic headline that will never be realized, which happens quite a bit. Many of the other primary issues that the activists were pushing for, such as increased fair trade, were given lip service at best, ignored at worst.

But then there's the bright side (which, I'm sorry to say, the good people that I work with are usually disinclined to acknowledge. We're not happy if we're not miserable, it seems at times). Global poverty and Africa were given more attention than they ever had been in previous years. The whole world may have gotten distracted on the day of the Summit, but more people know about these issues than they had previously. Like I said to one despondent colleague, we're not as far as we were a week ago, but we're a hell of a lot farther than we were a year ago.

So again, the good news is that I have a passion. The bad news is that because of that, my heart is broken this week. Someone at work said that we would all be a lot less stressed if we just didn't care. But then I don't think life would be half as interesting, and the payoffs, when they come, wouldn't be nearly as sublime.

There's another huge policy meeting at the UN in September, focused on the Millennium Development Goals to end global poverty. Time to get to work...