Putting people first in Bristol

It's always a bit surprising to be in at the beginning. A regional meeting of Put People First in Bristol last Tuesday, 17 March, was no exception.

The first surprise was that each of us thought the meeting was being organized by the others. So we should really have been surprised to meet anyone else at all.

The second surprise was that NGOs, trade unions and environmental groups were there in more or less equal force - and seemed to agree on most things.

Sure, we were lucky to have initial contributions from Joanne Kaye-Smith from the local region of Britain's largest union, Unison; Nick Dearden, Director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign; John Hilary, Director of War on Want; and Jane Laurie from the huge Stop Climate Chaos coalition and the intriguing Climate Friendly Bradford-on-Avon.

The third surprise was that we got very useful analysis and discussion, not least of the plentiful positive options on offer – and, of course, about how to get ourselves halfway decently organized for the future. The local BBC were even there filming us, and other film-makers will shortly be posting something on this website.

Lest you have by any chance allowed yourself to forget (particularly if you live in Britain), Put People First is a platform of over 100 organizations, including New Internationalist. Its immediate purpose is to mobilize for a national demonstration on 28 March, which has also been declared a Global Day of Action by the World Social Forum.

On 2 April the G20 heads of government (including US President Obama) meet in London to consider what to do about the financial meltdown – over which most of them have, of course, been presiding as well.

The Put People First demonstration on the preceding Saturday, 28 March, is to remind them of what matters most: decent jobs and public services for all; an end to global poverty and inequality; building a green economy.

If the recent preparatory meeting of G20 Finance Ministers in Sussex is anything to go by, they'll need a lot of reminding. The Finance Ministers recommend, apparently, doing 'anything necessary' to... well, do very much the same thing as before.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, however, we've ended up 'recapitalizing' the bankrupt financial system and owing the banks' debts for them – potentially, many trillions of dollars.

That means, at some point in the not-too-distant future, huge increases in unjust taxes and massive cuts in public services, while the private banks get filthy rich all over again. The sooner we get ready to resist that, the better. And the more positive, local alternatives we can develop in the mean time the better still.

At least one message coming out of Bristol is that almost anyone could do just as well as, and probably a lot better than, we did. They'll be having a go in Edinburgh and maybe Leeds next week - my colleague Chris Brazier will be there.

If you live within spitting distance of London, or anywhere else in the world where something's planned for 28 March, make sure you get there. You might even be in for a surprise.

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