Older Brothers and The Proposition

The comment that “It does not really concern us” is a common enough response from some older Brothers to The Proposition: A Way into the Future. For those of us who, for reasons of age and health, are unable to be involved in the proposed new missions in the developing world it seems a reasonable first reaction. But a closer reading reveals a number of ways in which older Brothers, to whom this article is chiefly addressed, can be part of it all. One of them is described here.

Advocacy as a ministry

Items 1 to 4 of the Proposition make these points:

  1. 1.Every Brother will be affected.
  2. 2.The main areas of involvement will be in the developing world. Brothers in the more developed world are also challenged to support this direction.
  3. 3.Brothers will embody the new story of the Universe, a new understanding of Jesus and the example of Edmund Rice.
  4. 4.Brothers [will be] in radical solidarity with the Earth and with people made poor. This will lead the Brothers to engage in advocacy for both.

Items 1-3 provide the rationale and the spirituality for the action described in Item 4: advocacy. Advocacy is the act of publicly supporting or recommending a particular cause or policy. In our context it has to do with promoting change of unjust structures, policies, or practices to bring them more into line with the values of the Gospel. Doing this ‘publicly’ does not necessarily mean taking part in a demonstration or street march, or waving a banner in public. It means doing something with others, as part of a community of like-minded people. In this internet age this is really easy to do.

Advocacy through the internet

Advocacy through the internet is action that many older Brothers can be involved in. Some are already. It is action that is directly in line with the general thrust of the Congregation, and which can be undertaken in ways and at times to suit your own convenience. It has been proven to be remarkably effective and it is very rewarding.

Those who do not use a computer or do not have access to the internet would need to find someone to help them get set up with an e-mail account and some basic skills, but this should not be too difficult.

Web-based advocacy groups

There are many groups around the world that organize on-line petitions for particular social justice and earth justice causes, these two often being closely related. Some websites are very specific in their focus – e.g. the website 350.org devotes all its energy to advocating measures to deal with climate change – but most cover a wide range of social and environmental justice issues. Four popular ones with large numbers of people involved are Avaaz, Care2, SumOfUs, and Change.org. There are many more.

In order to become involved you need to log on to an organization’s website and register, or ‘subscribe’. This does not cost anything. To subscribe is simply to have your name entered on the organization’s data base so you will receive an e-mail message inviting you to add your name to a petition when a particular cause is being promoted. Adding your name (or ‘signing’) is very simple, in some cases needing only one click of your mouse. Whether you choose to support a cause is entirely up to you. This is important, and it is necessary to find out about the issue you are being invited to support by reading the information provided because occasionally the organization may take a moral position on something that you would object to – in which case you can simply press ‘Delete’. You will probably find that this does not happen often.

Sometimes when you have signed a petition the website will automatically then ask you for financial support but once again you have complete freedom as to whether to make a donation to support the cause or not. There is no obligation to do so.

Is this form of advocacy worthwhile? Definitely yes! There are lots of good-news stories.

Some good-news stories

Recently 1.5 million supporters of Avaaz (which has a total of 20 million subscribers) and of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) succeeded in convincing Thailand’s Prime Minister to shut down the country’s ivory trade, so stopping the slaughter of elephants for their tusks. Before that Avaaz succeeded in stopping a global proposal to legalise the slaughter of whales.  Amnesty International was recently instrumental in generating national and international protest against the sentence of flogging imposed by the Juvenile Court in the Maldives on a 15 year old girl who had been sexually abused. The government of the Maldives has added its voice to the protest and committed itself to protecting the child. Amnesty International also helped bring about the recent release of two prisoners of conscience, one in the Philippines, one in India.

In Australia we have seen in recent times several examples of government response to advocacy of various actions groups, in the establishment of an extensive network of marine parks for the protection of off-shore habitats, and the pausing of controversial proposals and practices in New South Wales related to coal seam gas mining and the opening of national parks to amateur hunters.

In South Africa the world’s largest petition organization, Change.org, has recently succeeded in getting the Minister of Justice to begin working with local activists to find solutions to the ‘corrective rape’ epidemic. The TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) is widely regarded as the most important AIDS activist organization in the world and the most successful of South Africa’s post-apartheid social movements. It was responsible in 2003 for the dramatic turn-around in government policy about the supply of anti-retroviral drugs for prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS by forming a ‘network of influence’ of individuals and groups both nationally and globally.

Where to start

Try one or more of the following petition sites by clicking on the link or copying the web address into your browser. When the website comes up, find out where to register – there may be space for your e-mail address etc., or you may have to click on a button labelled ‘Sign In’, ‘Get Involved’, or some such. Once you have registered it would be good to explore some of the current petitions advertised. In future you should receive e-mail messages notifying you of new ones. After a while you may find that hardly a day goes by without a new petition appearing in your Inbox, giving you the chance to do something significant each time.

Most petitions take only a minute or two to respond to, but in doing so you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to strengthen the influence of like-minded people around the world on those who make decisions that can mean life or death for others, or for our mutual home, the Earth.

The following list of suggested websites has been assembled with reference to South Africa and Australia, but Brothers in other parts of the world should have no trouble in finding their own regional variants of sites that offer regional differences, such as 350.org, Amnesty International, etc.

The four websites below differ from those above in offering lots of information about various social justice, environmental, and other issues of concern, but without acting directly as advocacy sites themselves. Instead, some of them provide links to other sites on which you can take action…

Conclusion

In adopting this very simple and non-demanding ministry, older Brothers will be supporting the work of our younger Brothers in the developing world, and putting flesh on our new vision of the universe and our new understanding of Jesus in the world. You will be placing yourself in solidarity with the Earth and with people made poor, and embarking on a ministry to promote peace and justice and to foster the coming of the Kingdom that Jesus longed for and that Edmund spent his life helping to bring about.

Christian Brothers Kevin McDonnell (Mulgoa, Australia) and Terry Dowling (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

......................................... KevinMcDonnell250Kevin McDonnell ............... Terry Dowling250Terry Dowling

 

Republished June 2013 from Oceania’s Newsletter to the Brothers, vol. 7 no. 4.