If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

October 6, 2009




 

 


In his 1972 message celebrating the World Day of Peace, Pope Paul VI used this statement to emphasize the unbreakable connection between peace and justice. They are so connected that most Nobel Peace Prize winners spend their lives working for social, political, and economic justice. 

At his press conference in Pittsburgh at the end of the G-20 summit,  President Obama noted that the protesters have a generic objection to capitalism, but added that the free market is not the source of all the ills in the world. That may be true, but capitalists and their behavior are profoundly linked to most of our ills. The pure source of the world’s ills is the utter disregard for justice. 

Justice is the moral standard through which we act and treat others fairly. Our courts strive to achieve legal justice for those involved in civil and criminal disputes. Political justice permits everyone to participate in government and public issues. The U.S. Constitution, as amended, promises political justice. Economic justice is the equal opportunity for all members of the community to achieve a decent standard of living. Labor unions work for economic justice. We will achieve social justice when we apply justice to all aspects of society, for everyone.

The G-20 nations  represent 85 percent of the world’s economy and 78 percent of its population. They meet to arrange the world economy to their own benefit. So far, they have disregarded the world’s poorest people and poorest nations.

Those who protested the G-20 summit seek justice. They protest or advocate every issue, from war, climate change, hunger, torture, and health care to a free Tibet, poverty, sweatshops, comprehensive economic restructuring, and college football playoffs. The Pittsburgh Police and their cohorts disregarded all varieties of justice, including the Constitution  that they swore to uphold. The results were despicable. They are well documented and I won’t go into details here.

The right to justice is balanced by personal and social responsibility. Each of us has the personal responsibility to do our best to support ourselves, our families, and our communities. When someone’s best falls short of reasonable goals, the rest of us share a social responsibility to pick up the slack. For the most part, we’ve chosen to do that through our network of public and private social service programs. When we achieve true social justice, then the rest of the problems will take care of themselves.

So how do we get from here to there? 
The G-20  leaders’ statements, issued at the end of the summit, emphasize efforts to attain “strong, sustainable, and balanced growth”, to reinstate some regulations on financial institutions, and to designate the G-20,  rather than the G-8, as the primary forum for economic cooperation.

That’s a small step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. There are 195 nations in the world. One hundred ninety two of them belong to the United Nations.  I think they should all participate in the discussions, too. But can you imagine any city hosting a G-195 summit? Rather than the G-20 replacing the G-8, perhaps the UN Economic and Social Council  should be the vehicle for those efforts.

As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” There are actions that we all can take, every day. We should start with education. American schools teach very little about social, political, and economic systems, cultures, or disputes. Our school boards treat economic and political education the same way they treat sex education – “If we don’t teach it, then they won’t want to do it.” 

Most Americans have a vague impression that “communism”, “socialism”, and “fascism” are evil, but they don’t know why because they can’t define them. So anything they fear – and they fear many things – is labeled with one of those terms. And they’re usually wrong. I recently heard someone claim that socialism is the opposite of freedom. If only he knew that we are all socialists. We must improve the social, economic, and political education in our schools.

We can practice what we preach. As I’ve always told my son, no matter what anyone else does, you do what’s right. Several years ago, I bought a refrigerator magnet in a dollar store. I see it every day, telling me to “Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.” We can be sensible and responsible in our actions every day. Temper tantrums are not productive.

All of the principles of social justice are included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.    Every UN member nation, and 52,357 individuals, have accepted the declaration, which was adopted in 1948.  You can sign it  too. Yes, I did.

As I said before, the G-20 has a moral responsibility.  I asked President Obama what steps the G-20 leaders will take to solicit public input on their policies and discussions in the future.  I haven’t received a reply yet. I’m not holding my breath.


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
-  Martin Luther King, Jr.  -

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Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

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