It’s a question that we at RESULTS have asked ourselves over and over during this last year or so. In an increasingly polarised, angry and unsafe world, how do those of us who want to stay positive and keep fighting poverty actually manage to do that, keeping motivated as we go, and achieving real and lasting change?
Do we have to be extraordinary people, with especially clear vision, sense of purpose and drive? Do we need to be super-activists to win against the combined pressure of the cynics and the me-firsters? Do we need to be especially resilient and robust?
I believe that we don’t – but we do need to take some lessons from people who’ve done extraordinary things; who have felt the pain at times or made extraordinary sacrifices, and who have achieved far more than the average campaigner. The Pankhursts, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King may not be realistic role-models, but they are extraordinary mentors.
And there are examples closer to home. Bruce Crowther, together with his wife and baby-sitter, formed the Garstang Oxfam Group back in 1992 that led to the creation of Fair Trade Towns when they made the Lancashire market town of Garstang the first Fair Trade Town in 2000. He then went out to sell the idea to sceptical institutions (including the INGOs), spending the next quarter of a century to help build the movement, and spreading the word to all corners of the world, so that now there are over 2,000 Fair Trade Towns and many hundreds of thousands of Fair Trade campaigners with a clarity of mission that before he came along, we simply didn’t have.
Bruce has given up his job, faced scepticism, inertia and hostility, and admits that it’s all taken its toll. Now, not all of us can make this kind of sacrifice, or – let’s face it – have the extraordinary commitment and inspirational power that Bruce has. But let’s learn from his example. He had a mission. He saw what he wanted to do. He saw that deeply unfair trading practices are an extension of the slave trade that brought Europe riches, as well as luxury goods subsidised by the exploitation of labourers in far-off lands. And so he stepped forward and used his skills and commitment to bring the project to fruition.
Those of us who have only played a small part in the Fair Trade movement – such as sitting on a town steering committee, insisting on using Fair Trade products at work, or helping at the odd campaigning stall – nevertheless stand alongside Bruce and share his vision. We can take our part of the credit for the success we see in the huge growth in the availability of Fair Trade products since the early 1990s. Without our individual contributions, the bigger picture wouldn’t have emerged. Our piece may be small, but it’s necessary. And all of us, no matter what we did, made the same moral choice to respond to the cry of the exploited labourer: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’
As campaigners, many of us quote that famous saying of Margaret Mead about a small group of concerned citizens making change, not because we need to have faith in its truth, but because we know it to be true, from history, and from our own experience.
How many letters, visits and phone calls to MPs helped persuade a new and sceptical Secretary of State to spend £1.1 billion of taxpayers’ money on the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria in 2016? Not that many; maybe only a few dozen. The things we do to make change happen don’t always have to be as huge as Bruce’s lifetime labour of love. But if we’re smart, connected up right, and inspired to do just one thing, then we can move mountains.
I sometimes worry that 2030, that deadline we’ve set ourselves for overcoming extreme poverty, isn’t far away. But then I remember that it doesn’t take many of us to persuade a small number of power-holders to do the right thing, and to use their own personal and political power for change. And then the cynics, the selfish and the violent lose their power over me, and I can breathe again.