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Celebrating Debt Justice in Birmingham

A Tree of Memory and Hope

At 11.30am on Wednesday 24th January a tree is to be planted in the City Centre Gardens in memory of the Human Chain of seventy thousand people around the city centre in May 1998. They influenced the G8 leaders to start a programme which resulted in the cancellation of $130 billion of debt held by governments of poor countries. As a result, millions more children were able to go to school and there were far fewer deaths of mothers and babies in childbirth.

Councillor John Cotton, Leader of Birmingham City Council is to preside in recognition of the great support given by the Council and the West Midlands Police on that day. There had been uncertainty about how many people would turn up and how they would behave or misbehave. In the event all was peaceful and cheerful, quiet even, except around three pm when whistles, cheers, rattles and drums split the air. Many who were then Birmingham residents remember it well.

The cancellation of debts is a continuing theme in human history. From time-to-time divisions between rich and poor become unsupportable, often through exploitation. Balance needs to be restored to avoid destitution and violence, for the sake not just of the victims but of society as a whole. Just now the main problem is climate debt. The rapid increase in global heating brings devastation through floods, droughts and hurricanes, especially in poor tropical countries, which then need money to repair the damage and reduce their own carbon footprint. Here in Birmingham the Council is trying to reduce our carbon footprint to zero and help poorer residents better insulate their houses, while it deals with its own debt – a challenge which affects us all.

The memorial tree is to remind us of Birmingham’s part in a human chain of loving concern which did once break the shackles of debt, and to give us the hope for the future that, with our help, human and planetary values can triumph over merely financial ones.

John Nightingale

Photos used with permission from Debt Justice

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