Artisans of Democracy

An old co-worker from the Fourth World Movement (FWM) and I are meeting monthly to explore our role as allies in the struggle against extreme poverty.

We are reading a book together: Artisans of Democracy: How Ordinary People, Families in Extreme Poverty, and Social Institutions Become Allies to Overcome Social Exclusion, by Jona M. Rosenfeld and Bruno Tardieu, (c)2000 University Press of America.

I’m going to try to blog a little about the chapter we read each month. We already covered:
“Restoring Dialogue Between School and All Parents”
“No More Power Cuts: Electricity is a Public Service”
“We Stand By You No Matter What: The Saga of a Small Business and a Homeless Employee”
This month’s chapter was “The Media & The Voiceless: One Ethic For All,” by Jurg Meyer, a reporter for the Baseler Zeitung newspaper in Switzerland since the late 1960’s. It is the story of how one journalist pulled the levers that changed the way the national media view the very poor in their country:
  • to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected, including the right to privacy, the right to not have unproved accusations printed publicly, to have the right to respond and redress, especially for people who do not have the power to enforce their rights.
  • to reflect the hopes and efforts of very poor people to improve their own lives and those who have a harder time than themselves.

From the introduction:
“In our information age, the way people and groups are represented in the media helps determine the place they hold in the economy and in the democratic process.”

Before: The Baseler Zeitung is the largest German-language daily newspaper in Switzerland, a country that at the time of the story denied the existence of poverty in its midst; the newspaper was no different.”

After: When a full report on the nature of poverty and the lives of the poor was published in the Sunday section of the Baseler Zeitung [in 1972], Swiss citizens were stunned. Very poor families began to be viewed as individuals and as citizens; they started to call on the newspaper to let the many injustices visited on them be publicized. Journalists started to reflect on their practice and its impact on the poorest citizens. This process challenged and changed the very ethic of the newspaper, as it did that of other major Swiss news media.”

One of the things my friend and I noticed were that this chapter didn’t reflect the difficulties in this process nearly as much as the previous chapter about the small carpenter’s shop working with a homeless employee. It all sounds rather magical, “I wrote this story and voilá the whole country came to see my point.” I don’t think that is really how it happened, and I don’t think the author intended that effect. I think this may be related to the fact that the story is about a process that began thirty years earlier, and some of the hardships have been skipped over. He did acknowledge the complexity of intervening in people’s lives, none of which are simple or one sided.

Another thing we wondered about is how much influence the presence of Fr. Joseph Wresinski, the charismatic founder of the Fourth World Movement, had on the people who encountered him personally (like Jurg Meyer) and the difference for those of us who joined the Movement after his death. When my friend and I joined in the early 90’s, the long-term volunteers were still all in various stages of mourning, four years after his death. Today, there is a better sense of perspective, but it remains to be seen how the FWM will hold together and carry on through the next generation without Fr. Joseph’s personal touch.

Some of my lingering questions are:

How can I be a lever of change in my own community or profession?

How can I help very poor people to be heard? On my blog? In social service fundraising?

How can I transmit what I learned from Fr. Joseph’s writings and speeches and the people he taught?

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Blogger XavierVz said...

Hi Robin, I am not sure wether you know that Jurg Meyer turned 70 last week. There was a party around him with people of very different backgrounds in Basel ! Take care, Xavier V

6/15/2008 3:11 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

No, I didn't know about the party. I hope it was a good time - Chris and I send our best wishes for the coming year! Thanks for commenting, Xavier.

6/16/2008 1:10 PM  

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