The Northside got its first dose of G-20 angst last night, although in polite form.
The New Hazlett Theater hosted the second panel discussion in a two-part series called The Peoples’ Summit on Sept. 21.
Panel speakers, representing a hodgepodge of labor, anti-poverty and healthcare views, ran the gamut from local to international activists.
The discussion’s subtitle — Ending World Poverty, Reversing Economic Decline in Our Communities — was meant to focus panelist’s discussion on the link between international and local social justice issues, said moderator Craig Stevens.
Keynote speaker Privilege Hang’andu, from debt reduction group Jubilee Zambia, spoke about the wealth inequities between the United States and Africa.
“As the G-20 meets in Pittsburgh and spends $10 million in 36 hours on security, there are children in Africa and throughout the world that cannot go to school,” Hang’andu said.
He called the world’s poor “the real Nobel Prize winners” and said that international leaders failed to understand how resilient the poor are.
Hang’andu said that changing trade policy, especially reducing U.S. subsidies to American farmers, would improve the lives of the world’s poor far more than mere aid. He called it ridiculous that some African countries have been forced to pay back debt taken on by colonial powers before independence.
After Zambia received debt forgiveness, or a jubilee, in 2005, Hang’andu said that the government had the financial ability to hire more civil servants, raise salaries and start constructing more roads and infrastructure.
“We might disagree on what is a just society, but we can all agree on certain elements of injustice,” said Hang’andu, referencing Harvard economist Amartya, “a hungry child, siphoning resources form poor countries, injustice to women.”
Carl Redwood of the One Hill Coalition spoke about how G-20 delegates talk about development in poor countries and areas just like the social justice crowd. The difference, he said, was that those people think only of the profits in development.
He illustrated his comments by mentioning his group’s work in securing a community benefits agreement for the Hill District last year during negotiations on the Penguin’s new stadium.“The Penguins got $750 million [from the city], and we had to struggle for a year to get $10 million [for the community],” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Redwood said that for too long, the social justice community has relied on organized labor to bear the costs of activism and advocacy. With labor’s power waning, the activist crowd needs to carry more responsibility for themselves.
“We have to be better organized than the profit seekers,” he said.
Molly Rush, of the Thomas Merton Center and Pennsylvanians for Single-Payer Health Care, spoke of her role in lobbying for a universal healthcare bill for the state. She said that Pennsylvania is the closest state to establishing such a system.
“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the state package is more likely to pass [than the national bill],” which Rush said was full of pork for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. She mentioned that the five senators that helped write the recent healthcare bill with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., only represent 3 percent of the nation, but did not allow other Democrats’ input.
John Canning of Northside United, Tim Stevens of the Black Political Empowerment Project and Maria Somma of United Steelworkers also took part in the panel discussion.
The event was followed by a question and answer period with the crowd, which numbered about 100.
For more information on future events, check the New Hazlett Theater’s website.