In spring 1995, before the debt crisis was a front-page story, a small group of people representing mainline Protestant churches, peace churches, and Catholic orders and organizations met in Washington, D.C., to brainstorm about creative and effective ways that the U.S. church community could challenge the policies of the international financial institutions. The upstart, ad-hoc group named itself the Religious Working Group on the World Bank & IMF (RWG).
The mandate of the RWG—most of whose members had close contact with people living and working in the "Two Thirds" World—extended across a spectrum of economic justice issues, particularly structural adjustment programs and the debt. However, members soon realized that the crushing debt of the world’s most impoverished countries was a priority and deserved extra attention. They also realized that to continue their work on debt, a strategy needed to be created that would include a broader base than Christian churches. Many members of the RWG were in contact with the coordinators of the Jubilee 2000/UK campaign, and when the British appealed to the folks in the United States to pick up the Jubilee banner, the RWG complied.
At the June 1997 G7 meeting in Denver, when the world’s seven richest countries gathered to discuss the world economic system, RWG members and others concerned about debt cancellation announced the formation of the Jubilee 2000/USA campaign. By December 1997, a campaign platform had been written, additional organizations recruited to join, and the first staff person hired.
THE U.S. AND BRITISH Jubilee 2000 campaigns "have a common vision," said Jo Marie Griesgraber, director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern and the chair of the Jubilee 2000/USA executive committee. "We want to make debt relief a reality. We want concrete results. We want to get rid of all unpayable debts without the burden of structural adjustment programs."
The Jubilee 2000/USA campaign, now staffed with three Washington, D.C.-based employees and two regional organizers, functions "in a different context" from the Jubilee 2000/UK campaign, said Griesgraber. "Parliament has a different role in leveraging the World Bank and IMFà.Because of the size [of the United States] and being the only superpower, [the United States] has a special role." The British campaign, she said, does a great job in outreach in popular culture and "brings the cultural icons." The emphasis in the United States, Griesbraber said, is the "policy context."
Another difference in the two campaigns is simply scale. "There are 70 million people in the U.K. There are 270 million people in the United States," said Griesgraber. "Our work is much more complex. The hardest thing to do is to translate [the debt crisis] to a broad American public. It’s hard for people in this country to grasp what it means to be exceedingly poor. It’s remote and complex and people say, ‘Why should I care?’"
The strength of the grassroots campaign, Griesgraber said, "is the member organizations, their vision, their strength, their commitment. There’s tremendous cooperation between religious and environmental groups. [The campaign] spans the political horizon and keeps the common goal—definitive debt relief—in focus." No matter what happens to the coalition, "the member organizations will keep working for debt relief."
The remainder of the campaign, which ends December 31, 2000, will focus on raising debt cancellation concerns at the July G7 meeting in Tokyo and at the U.N. Millennium Forum, scheduled for May 22-26 in New York. "We’ll also be raising the issue with candidates, both congressional and presidential," said Dan Driscoll Shaw, the campaign’s national organizer.
Congress and the administration have moved toward partial debt relief, but Jubilee 2000/USA will continue to push for further and deeper relief. "It’s crucial that Congress fully fund the president’s request" of $810 million, Driscoll Shaw said. Two current pieces of legislation on debt relief (S.1690 and HR1095) are the "next step, not the last step," said Driscoll Shaw. "What we want is definitive debt relief in this Jubilee year."
JUDY COODE is communications manager for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington, D.C. For up-to-date analysis and action alerts, contact Jubilee 2000/USA, 222 East Capitol St. NE, Washington, DC 20003; (202) 783-3566; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.j2000usa.org.