Celebrate International Women’s Day differently

Today is International Women’s Day, marked around the world in many different ways.

It’s also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution – on 8 March 1917, female textile workers protested in Petrograd, forcing the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Russian women won the right to vote.

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Cast a look on social media today and you’ll be inundated with photos, videos, memes, statistics, quotes and a host of other visuals commemorating women’s achievements through the ages, the further struggles that lie ahead, the reality of women’s oppression around the world today, or – sometimes – funny jokes. Many of these are informative, heart-breaking, inspiring and/or important to share.

But so many are mere platitudes, which illicit a response for all of five seconds before they’re gone from your mind. Like these ones, from Instagram and the official IWD page:

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This will form the bulk of most people’s contributions today; a simple message (sometimes with grammatical errors) saying ‘Happy Women’s Day’, and a few cheerleader-esque platitudes, and fin.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, simply because that’s the way most of us mark a special day/holiday on social media. I wanted to take the chance today to write about what it means for me, and why some of the ways in which IWD is ‘celebrated’ make me uncomfortable.

First of all, a cursory glance at social media or at the many protests taking place globally today (check out #DayWithoutWomen on Twitter and Instagram for some truly powerful photos and symbols of resistance) will show you that most of those partaking are women. That’s antithetical to a movement as powerful as feminism.

Feminism is about equality, opportunity, choice and freedom.

That’s universal, so I don’t like to see that mostly women are sharing these posts, or wishing each other, or being the most visible participants.

However, that’s an issue of the feminist movement as a whole, not necessarily with today – but it’s one of the many glaring examples of where we need to ensure we’re a more inclusive movement. During the Budapest Women’s March in January for example, about 95% of those attending were women, despite the organisers being men from Greenpeace. What’s wrong with today, and with the movement, that it’s seen to involve or target women, rather than address fundamental issues about opportunity, freedom and justice?

Secondly, these platitudes. What do they say of our struggle to date, of the millions of women around the world who have given their lives, freedoms and rights so we’re allowed the rights we have today (and so I can blog about it right now?)

It feels cheap, somehow, to quote a Beyoncé song or post a tokenistic picture of super-heroines. If we’re going down the diversity route, where is the Maori Wonder Woman? Where’s the tall, fat woman? Where’s the Native American, the south Asian, the hijab-clad Muslim Wonder Woman?

Attempts to get shares on social media, or reblogs of zippy soundbites, are not what we need. We need today to be about more than that, and for an actual commitment from more than just women to the longer term causes.

Feminism:

My dad, one of the first real feminists in my life and a constant source of strength and inspiration (fine, I may be a little biased) shared a series of Tweets which perfectly encapsulates the day and how we ought to think more about our movement.

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Third, I notice that people speak about women’s rights, opportunities and achievements only on this day. The struggle for equality and freedom is ongoing, and we can’t reserve all our activism, passion or anger for just one day. We should champion achievements, highlight the road ahead and speak about these issues constantly if we’re to make any impact.

We’ll post a picture, maybe share an article or two, and for the most part, I see so many people leave their activism there – it’s called clicktivism for a reason, and it’s not enough.

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So to that end, I’ve thought about ways we can make our dedication to the issues underlying today’s celebration more relevant and lasting – the easiest way is to donate to an organisation near you, volunteer time, arrange campaigns and join coalitions in your area. I’ve trawled the internet and my own database of resources, and here are some ideas for ways in which we can be of service to our global sisterhood beyond today.

 

CAF America shares this inspiring set of ways to educate yourself on the issues facing women, and the work done to combat it, here.

UN Women’s focus this year is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 505-50 by 2030.’ Read more about their campaign here, the events they’re hosting and the wealth of resources to support representation in the work place.

Women in the global workforce

Courtesy UN Women

Womankind UK shares this page of resources, with links to their global partners.

You can filter by geography, and learn more about the work of each of these incredible groups. Here are some examples:

Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)

AWRC strives to help women improve their economic and social well-being and enables them to become active in decision-making processes. They encourage them to stand up for their rights and be active and confident members within their families and communities.

The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre)

The Gender Centre is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of women. It works with both women’s groups and other organisations providing support and training in areas such as implementing women’s rights, project planning and campaigning. The Gender Centre was established in 1995 to make sure women’s rights were included in development programmes in Ghana.

WHR Nepal campaigners

Courtesy Womankind UK

Here are some excellent globally-focussed groups working on women’s empowerment, access rights, championing leadership and representation, or working towards equality and justice:

 

Women for Women International

A nonprofit that works with women who have experienced war, civil strife and other conflicts, providing them with the tools and resources to become financially independent and self-sufficient, WfWI was founded in 1993 and has helped more than 351,000 women through direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development. They currently operate in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. Women for Women International offers a one year program that teaches job skills and business training to women in conflict, in addition to facilitating group therapy sessions for war survivors.

 

Every Mother Counts

An advocacy and mobilization campaign to reduce maternal mortality, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of women and girls worldwide by educating and supporting maternal mortality reduction. Hundreds of thousands of women die each year from pregnancy complications or childbirth difficulties, 90% of these deaths are preventable. No Woman, No Cry is a documentary by Christy Turlington that shares the stories of at-risk pregnant women from around the globe. The film spreads the message of the need for  resources and education to reduce maternal mortality. The nonprofit also collects old mobile phones to be donated to health care providers in rural areas to provide better communication and medical services.

 

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development is an international, feminist, membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. AWID provides comprehensive information and analysis on women’s human rights and global issues.

 

Samahope

Millions of people worldwide lack access to basic surgical care. Local doctors and resources are stretched thin to provide medical care on a large scale. To address this issue, Samahope enables supporters worldwide to fund these doctors through crowdfunding. Donations underwrite treatments for birth injuries, burns, birth defects, blindness and trauma-based injuries. The platform has activated more than 3,000 donors to impact the lives of over 6,000 patients.

 

Dressember

In 2013, Dressember’s fifth year, the organization aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. That year, 1,233 registered participants around the world rallied to collectively raise over $165,000. Participation doubled the next year, and the campaign raised more than $465,000. Starting in 2015, the campaign will increase its partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations.

 

Girls Who Code

Seventy-four percent of middle schools girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but only 0.4 percent of high school girls choose computer science as their major. Girls Who Code aims to empower girls with the computer science education and skill sets needed to pursue 21st century opportunities. The deputy public advocate of New York City, Reshma Saujani, the organization’s founder and CEO, started Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology. In 2014, its programs served 375 girls in multiple cities. Some 90 percent continued to pursue computer science or a closely related field as their major or minor, and 77 percent changed paths because of their time with Girls Who Code. By moving toward gender parity in computing fields, more girls will be equipped with the tools they need to innovate and incite social change.

 

Ultraviolet Edge Initiative

The Ultraviolet Edge is a global initiative of Urban Decay Cosmetics to empower women. By helping to fund organizations that fight for the rights of women everywhere, Urban Decay encourages all women to embrace their individuality in everything they do.

 

Women’s Partnership Market

Women’s Partnership Market supports grassroots organizations like Women’s Global to empower female entrepreneurs through access to business training and microfinance to address the root causes of poverty.

 

 

Bustle’s list of groups also includes some international organisations, such as:

We respect, protect and promote the dignity of our clients and their communities.

Courtesy Camfed

Camfed

International nonprofit Camfed has been pioneering girls’ education programs in sub-Saharan Africa since 1993. According to its website, the organization’s programs have directly supported more than a million students through primary and secondary school. To donate, head over to the Camfed website.

Engeder Health

Family planning is a pressing issue for women, and that’s the focus of global nonprofit EngenderHealth, along with STI prevention and maternal health. Check out the organization for yourself and donate here.

Pro Mujer:

Founded in Bolivia in 1990, Pro Mujer is a women’s development organization distributing small loans to women in Latin America. Since its creation, Pro Mujer has loaned out more than $2.8 billion, $340 million of which was distributed last year. Donate here.

Pathfinder: 

According to its website, global nonprofit Pathfinder “envisions a world where everyone has access to contraception, where there are zero new HIV infections, where no woman dies from preventable pregnancy-related complications, and where everyone leads a healthy sexual and reproductive life.” The organization is dedicated to worldwide sexual health using a groundbreaking community-based model. Donate here.

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#Freedom2Me

In celebration of the end of World War Two 70 years ago, the Anne Frank House have launched a fascinating social media campaign called ‘Freedom 2 Me’. Since then, governments, policy-makers, international institutions and civil society around the world has struggled with some horrific examples of human freedoms being curtailed, and basic human rights ignored.

Can we truly say we have let go of the barbaric methods of the past, when modern day slavery, gender discrimination, sexual crimes, war crimes, torture and a multitude of other horrors are still very much a reality in our world?

This campaign is asking us to share what the idea of freedom means to us – as individuals or as a collective of humans.

What does freedom even mean? Is freedom defined the same way in every country? Do some people have more freedoms than others? It seems like a lot of people take freedom for granted. Not everybody in the world is free. In what way are you limited in your freedom and what kind of freedom would you wish for the future?

Share these ideas via social media – through their Facebook page, and on your own social media with the hashtag ‘#Freedom2Me’. Here’s mine!

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International Women’s Day: Global Political Rights

Check out this fantastic interactive map from The Guardian, which shows the status of global political rights for women:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/datablog/interactive/2013/mar/08/international-womens-day-political-rights

YouTube – Palestinian Refugees Speak

Regardless of your political views, the fact that Palestinians civilians get killed and wounded daily is undeniable. Settlements are getting larger, the attacks are escalating in scale and the casualties of war are catastrophic.

The Guardian investigated war crimes in Gaza and here is their report.

Even with the most objective of journalists, it’s hard to assert that both sides are equally violent. Certainly, there are casualties in Israel and Palestine, but if we compare numbers it simply does not match up.

Israel’s military might – backed by the US government -, as well as its economic hold over the Palestinian territories, mean that it can always respond to a threat the way it sees fit, to ensure minimal domestic casualties and maximum damage to the other side.

This isn’t a judgement call on Israeli politics – but we all remember the attacks on Lebanon in 2005. Much of the world considered Israel’s response to the killing of a few soldiers wildly disproportionate and unprovoked.

Every country has a right to defend itself, but with Israel surrounded by enemies on all sides, many of whom would gladly destroy it in a heartbeat, she must be cautious. It’s dangerous to anger your neighbours with huge attacks and military responses; not only will you be seen to be unreasonably aggressive, but you’re also inviting more attacks.

In any case, attacks like the ones you will see below are simply unforgivable. A war between two nations must be fought between the two militaries with as few civilian casualties as possible. Such is the nature of conventional warfare, and this is accepted by the international community. Civilian attacks should be minimal if at all, as they have not volunteered to fight and give their lives for their country.

This should be the first step in reforming military policy in Israel, for its own sake. Media reports on the devastating refugee situation in Palestine and the daily bombings they have to endure will not reduce in number; if Israel wishes people were more empathetic to their situation, surely their own behaviour should be modified?

A note of caution before you watch this video – it’s heartbreakingly painful. Highly recommended viewing, but difficult to watch. It’s from a documentary titled ‘Occupation 101’ which is powerful and brilliantly done.

Take some time to reflect and think about what’s discussed and let me know what you think.

Op/Ed: Excuse me waiter, there are no ethics in my coffee

Starbucks has come under fire over the years for being part of a global empire of capitalism, greed, corruption and predatory business practices.

And the coffee isn’t even that great.

Dylan Moran jokes that Americans expand their empire by “slowly, and very carefully, building a Starbucks around” the poor of the world.

So with all that, what has Starbucks actually managed to achieve in terms of ethical business practices? Here’s an extract from the Corporate Social Responsibility Report from 2007, listing out Starbucks’ priorities and goals by group.

Source: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2007

In its own words: “We always figured that putting people before products just made good common sense. So far, it’s been working out for us. Our relationships with farmers yield the highest quality coffees. The connections we make in communities create a loyal following. And the support we provide our barristas pays off everyday.”

Their mission is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time… It [their coffee] has always been, and will always be, about quality. We’re passionate about ethically sourcing the finest coffee beans, roasting them with great care, and improving the lives of people who grow them. We care deeply about all of this; our work is never done.

“Every store is part of a community, and we take our responsibility to be good neighbors seriously. We want to be invited in wherever we do business. We can be a force for positive action— bringing together our partners, customers, and the community to contribute every day. Now we see that our responsibility—and our potential for good—is even larger. The world is looking to Starbucks to set the new standard, yet again. We will lead.”

Bold, ambitious and a touch over-zealous perhaps. Everything a solid mission statement should be, motivating its employees to do better and assuring its clientele of the quality of its output.

They’ve emphasised their “Business Ethics & Compliance” and are keen to talk about their sourcing and the ethical means by which they conduct their business. But what about their actual business practices? Going through the annual reports and their annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report (CSR), there are some glaring discrepancies between the image they want everyone to have of the company and the reality.

Starbucks has 31 coffees available on the ‘menu’.

Of them, 15 have specified countries of origin.

That leaves 16 unspecified points – these are found in Starbucks’ blends.

Some digging reveals that these blends come from anywhere between two and six different communities. Let’s say that there are 4 communities which each of these blends come from.

The countries and areas mentioned as sources are Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia in Africa; Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in Asia; Yemen in the Middle East; Guatemala, Brasil, Mexico and Colombia in Latin America; and Italy and France in Europe.

Even if we allow for just one farm per country listed above – highly improbable, as there are likely to be dozens of cooperatives involved in supplying Starbucks globally -, that leaves us with a bare minimum of 75 different farms, cooperatives and communities around the world.

Research shows the real figure is closer to around 900 farms supplying Starbucks with its coffee, around the globe.

Starbucks gives $1.32 per bag of coffee powder or beans to the farmer.

A bag of coffee costs anything from $8.95 to $14.95.

Source: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2007

A handful of Starbucks coffees are Fairtrade-certified. This means that only a few of these farming communities have direct access to Starbucks buyers.

Let’s consider the point above, that it’s impossible to have one farmer per coffee brand. So let’s assume that there are 4 farms.

Fairtrade-certified products aim for a better deal for producers by cutting out middlemen.

Source: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2007

6% of Starbucks coffee is Fairtrade-certified.

That’s around 1.86 coffee brands, out of 31.

From that $1.32, for that small percentage, it’s entirely possible that all of it will go to Starbucks’ Fairtrade-certified farmers.

But what about the remaining 29.14 brands of coffee?

If we apply the same calculation that Starbucks gives us of $1.32, the amount that actually reaches producers is shockingly low.

According to the Fairtrade website, the middlemen involved in the production route of a non-Fairtrade product are at least 10 times that of Fairtrade products.

Assuming that there are 10 middlemen in this process and that each of them gets the same cut of profits (once again unlikely as those who are most involved in its processing, shipping, packaging, etc get paid more), let’s see what the figures amount to.

$1.32 “per farmer”

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11 [10 middlemen and the farmer]

= 0.12¢ per middleman and for the farmer.

The Starbucks Foundation is the ‘global responsibility’ chapter of the company. That’s where you go to find out whatever you need to know about their ethical sourcing and production as well as the community building work.

Source: CSR 2007

The Foundation’s website lists these projects as its focus:

Supporting young people as they create change in their local communities. In 2008, The Starbucks Foundation began supporting young people as they strived to create change in their local communities through the Starbucks™ Shared Planet Youth Action Grants.

Collaborating on projects that support social investments in coffee-, tea- and cocoa-producing communities. Starbucks supports sustainable programs that meet these communities’ specific needs. Projects have included improving access to education and agricultural training, microfinance and microcredit services, improving biodiversity conservation, and increasing levels of health, nutrition and water sanitation.

Helping children around the world get clean water, and raising awareness of the world water crisis through Ethos Water. Starbucks acquired Ethos Water in 2005. For each bottle of Ethos™ water sold, a contribution of $0.05 in the U.S. and C$0.10 in Canada is made to the Ethos Water Fund within The Starbucks Foundation. These funds are invested in sustainable, integrated programs in partnership with carefully selected NGO partners. Starbucks has set a goal of contributing $10 million by 2010.

In 2005, the Starbucks Foundation pledged $5 million to establish the Starbucks China Education Project atGive2Asia, an organization that facilitates and encourages charitable giving to meet needs in Asia.

Gulf Coast Recovery After hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the Foundation and Starbucks Coffee Company pledged $5 million over five years to assist in the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

While these may sound noble and grand, investigations have revealed that while Starbucks boasts large profits and revenue, little of this money ever reaches the communities they aim to support. You need only browse the plethora of articles on Starbucks’ CSR to see others’ research on this.

Not enough money is channeled to these communities for them to benefit from them – in fact, the China Education Project is just an office with a telephone.

Source: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2007

These goals are further expanded below. Their progress is charted using the circular symbol. A fully shaded circle means that all those goals were achieved, while a white circle means they weren’t. Goals are broken down into categories like products, society, environment, workplace and diversity.

CSR, 2007

These initiatives give Starbucks the appearance of one of the most ethical companies in the world. Solid, concrete aims and goals, and if nothing else, the will to do good by their suppliers. They seem to have a desire to make their company an example to others, and to bring positive change to farmers in the developing world.

However, by their own admission, they have failed to achieve between 70% and 85% of their ethical goals.

On top of that, between 3 and 5 million pounds of their annual coffee purchases are Fairtrade-certified.

When Starbucks buys over 67,000,000 pounds of coffee a year, that is a shockingly small amount of ethical coffee.

 

Of their Fairtrade coffees, a handful pay their suppliers according to this model.

This doesn’t mean Starbucks doesn’t aspire to be an ethical company. The Corporate Responsibility department is massive.

However, 6% of your coffees being Fairtrade, whilst boasting of the company’s largesse, is grossly misleading.

Go into your local Starbucks, and ask your barrista whether the coffee he/she uses on a daily basis is fairly traded. Chances are it won’t be.

The only coffees that are, are the handful available to purchase as grounds or whole beans.

Starbucks’ most commonly-used coffees, and what goes into their daily soy latte frappuccino mocha with whipped cream, is just your average, run-of-the-mill coffee.

Their range of Fairtrade coffees needs expanding. They need a real engagement with their communities and a greater volume of coffees following the supplier payment method above. Their figures show that this wouldn’t adversely affect their sales – it’s more a question of initiative and shifting business practices.

Amnesty International Report 2008

60 years ago, our world leaders signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York, which pledged, among other things, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” These are the following few articles:

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The rest of the text can be found here {http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/} but those articles have been the most significant ones in the years following the signing.

Amnesty International, established in 1961, has campaigned around the world to draw attention to violations of human rights and help combat them. They release regular reports and their recent one focused on the developments in human rights since the signing of the Declaration in December 1948. I found it particularly interesting, because for an organisation like Amnesty, who distribute well-researched and respected information in a range of media, this one seemed oddly lacking. A 6-minute audio or video presentation condenses what AI view to be the most shameful violations of human rights to a (monotonously read) list. Five people contribute to the report – the narrator, a Burmese monk, a Kenyan villager, Irene Khan (AI’s secretary general) and Malcolm Nance (former counter-terrorist advisor to the White House).

I heard and watched this report as a pod- and vod-cast, and was disappointed by their black assessment of the stark state of human suffering in the last 60 years. If you check their website however, AI provide a lot more information, including videos, documents, press releases, petitions and features. {http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/video-and-audio/video-60th-anniversary-universal-declaration-human-rights-200812}

Be that as it may, the tone throughout all this material remains the same – Amnesty International are more critical of government failure than necessary, and insist on focussing on the areas of negative growth rather than on the progress made.

If we look at the cases they discussed, we’re talking about Burma, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Colombia and Iraq. The Burmese case was most discussed, since it’s arguably one of the most topical cases in today’s news. Democracy in Burma ended in 1962 when General Ne Win began a coup d’état and introduced a one-party socialist system with complete nationalisation. The military took over completely and organised themselves to form the Burma Socialist Programme Party; their rule has been absolute and tyrannical since then. Any protests at all are met with violence, oftentimes death – which has led to huge volumes of non-Burmese nationals fleeing for their lives.

By 1988, the situation was out of hand and the problems spread to economics. People can handle being suppressed politically (at least to an extent), but you can’t take away basic freedoms, replace them with poverty and expect no repercussions. On 8 August 1988, the real uprising began, and the Ne Win’s BSPP was replaced by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), who introduced martial law in 1989 and had complete control over everyday activities and life in the country.

After almost 30 rules of tyranny, Burma had its first democratic elections in May 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy won a landslide victory, but SLORC refused to step down. They put Suu Kyi under house arrest and imposed even stricter controls on daily life in Burma, making it impossible to live in peace and safety.

This has been the situation since 1990, so it’s no wonder that Burma is the top of almost every human rights organisation in the world.

However, AI seemed to suggest, with their report, that this was comparable to other human rights atrocities which it simply isn’t. Israel/Palestine and Iraq are political, and more progress is being made in other conflict zones than they’re given credit for.

Yes, little has improved in recent years. We can certainly point to more than a handful of nations with human rights violations like this – Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Gambia, Australia, Iran, Pakistan etc – where little has changed and where much work is still needed. But let’s not group all nations with human rights issues with these, let’s not get miserable and defeatist about everything.

So what is there for us to be optimistic about then, you ask. Well, look at it this way. 60 years ago, who would have been able to point to South Africa on a map? What could they have told you about the pain of indigenous life in Australia? Who would have cared about gender discrimination in the Middle East? Isn’t it something that today, we know what the problems are, we can put a voice, face and a story to the issues around?

Shouldn’t we be proud that we not only know so much about what’s going on around us in so many corners of the world? And, more than that, so many of us care? And that there are opportunties for us to do something about it – volunteer, campaign, donate, petition, urge others to take up the cause? The fact that I can write it and you can read it, pass the word on, think about what you can contriubte to the international community. That’s our progress, that’s what we’ve achieved. We’ve made it possible to mobilise a global community of compassionate and caring people, and we empathise with others. We aren’t content to leave the status quo as it is, there are people everyday fighting, laying their lives on the line so that things can change.

So fine, the situation in a lot of countries isn’t getting better and for that, we know who to point the fingers at, we know who the aggressors are and we have a picture of what the end result should be. Our success as everyday people is that we can do, and are doing, that which was not possible 60 years ago – as ordinary folk, we are changing the world.