The above picture, and many variations of it, have been floating around the internet. It is both helpful and unhelpful.
Yes, many (or even most) of the protestors are in good position relative to many others in our world. But it must be asked – why are people in developing nations in the position they are in?
Many poor farmers around the world have been doomed to poverty by the trade policies of the US and other Western nations. Four West African countries–Burkina Faso, Mall, Chad, and Benin–have called on the United States to cut the $1-3 billion it spends each year subsidizing American cotton growers, which then allows them to undercut the market for the rest of the world’s cotton farmers.
The World Policy Journal notes:
The protectionist policies of rich countries are indeed a serious issue for Africa, where farming accounts for about 70 percent of total employment and is the main source of income for the vast majority of those living in or near poverty. The 30 member countries of the OECD spend a combined $235 billion per year to support their agricultural producers, but only about $60 billion on foreign aid (about one-fifth of which goes to Africa). Subsidies, tariffs, and nontariff barriers distort global prices and restrict access to rich-country markets.
The global trading system discriminates against the world’s poorest nations, making their products less competitive and undermining opportunities for growth, employment, and, ultimately, economic and social development. Additionally, intransigence on the part of rich countries over agricultural reform also indirectly harms poor countries due to its effects on broader trade negotiations. According to one estimate, unimpeded global trade would boost developing country income by about $200 billion a year in the long term.
The New York Times, for example, argues that African farmers are “rightfully outraged that a nation [the United States] that enjoys all the benefits of open markets for its industrial products keeps putting up walls around its farmers.”
Many people say again and again the free market system is the best there is. Perhaps. But it is interesting that the market is actually free only when it benefits us. If it appears otherwise, we are quick to make it a closed market, or rig the system in our favor.
Additionally, Organizations like the IMF and the World Bank conspire to get developing nations so deep in debt that they are in a hole they can never get out of, while we then condescendingly show up with charitable aid to help them, while never working to change the system which impoverished them in the first place.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of people have died in brutal civil wars led by warlords who are fighting over resources they can sell to Western corporations to make our iPhones and what-have-you. We do nothing, because it benefits us to have them fight over who gets to sell us their minerals (and other resources).
Places where we do get involved militarily are often because our access to such resources (particularly oil) are jeopardized. (Let alone the fact that war itself is an incredible profit-making system for Western companies who lobby for rich government contracts).
We have a system which feeds off the resources and people around the world so that we can live in the society we do. A system in which wealthy elites manipulate the laws at the expense of the majority of this country as well as the rest of the world.
In his book, Not Sure, CRC pastor John Suk notes:
Even a brief review of history makes it clear that so-called Christian nations have never had a great track record when it comes to ministering to the “least of these,” whether they were colonial subjects in Indonesia or India, or the slaves they traded in the Atlantic triangle, or the poor farmers around the world that Western nations have doomed to poverty by their protectionist agricultural trade policies.
…Western nations that have militarily occupied Haiti for generations, that have robbed Haiti of its wealth while protecting the interests of their Western corporations, that supported repressive dictators in the interest of stability while self-righteously and hypocritically declaring allegiance to human rights and democracy – these Western nations are delivering massive amounts of disaster relief to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Unfortunately, it is a case of far too little, too late, to effect the lasting change that might one day help Haiti achieve even a modicum of prosperity and peace. When it comes to the least of these, Western nations seem to have a habit of beating them to within an inch of their lives, and then shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust while binding their wounds.
The fallacy that this photo perpetuates is that protesters are out there only because of their own situation. The protest is not primarily about any one single person’s situation! It is about a system – the system that helps create the starving realities in many nations – the same system that perpetuates corruption in our own. People are protesting on behalf of people like the hungry people in the above photo, as well as the people living at subsistence level (or worse) in our own.
It is absurd to suggest that we should not protest these abuses until we are as poor as the rest of the world. In fact, speaking out might even be the Christ-like thing to do.