Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reflection on 2013: part 2 - By Justin Latif

Over the next week or so, I’m going to regale you with some of my reflections on what has been both an exciting and exhausting year as the office administrator for The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit. So here is part two...

Much of my year has been consumed by the organisational behemoth that is Just Action (click here for more info). This year we planned to put on the biggest and most sensational Just Action ever. We had international key note speakers, a Habitat for Humanity house build, plus a host of other well-known New Zealand experts and practitioners from a variety of spheres. We also attempted something rarely done in large conferences, which was to given every attendee the opportunity to contribute to a final summary of action points through the ReflectioNZ groups. 

The mantra constantly preached in our office was to create a ‘seamless social justice experience’ and to do this we tried to ensure every aspect of the event pointed the attendee towards thoughts of living more justly. It’s hard to say if we achieved such a lofty ideal, but here are some of the things we did to ensure this: 

- each delegate got a piece of chocolate either made by the fair trade business Trade Aid, or by a local businessman who had recovered from addiction to create an organic food business.

- each delegate got a pen made of biodegradable plastic and cupboard.

- each delegate got a jute bag made by Indian women who had just left the New Dehli sex industry.

- all the coffee and tea was certified organic and fair trade and no unethically farmed fruit was used for the meals. 

- the t-shirts were also made in India using organic cotton by workers who were paid a living wage. 

- with our speaker from the USA, we off-set the carbon their flight produced by purchasing carbon credits from a locally owned foresty company. 

- all our gifts were fair-trade or made locally and where possible, used organic ingredients and materials.

Despite all this, I’m sure there were ways we could have done more. 

One of the special bonuses of organising this event was liaising with the great speakers we invited. I had a number of skype meetings with Dr John Perkins. He’s been someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, so to be able to ask him about particular questions I’ve had about his books and ministry was very cool. My wife and I were also blessed to have Shane and Katie-Jo Claiborne stay with us while he was here for the conference. They are such a great couple. Their infectious love of life, pure humility and energy for justice was hugely inspiring. 

There weren’t too many major issues in the preparations, but one that comes to mind was setting up the video conference call for Dr Perkins to address our audience from the US. For whatever reason, the American company we used took an age to find a location in Mississippi that we could have Dr Perkins address us from. And just when we thought everything was all go, I get an email at 5am, five hours before he’s due to speak, telling me they were going to begin the video conference link an hour before he was scheduled. I quickly fired off some emails and a major scheduling drama was avoided.

Being part of such a big and complex event promoting social justice was a real privilege. In many ways, I feel quite lucky, that an ex-journalist with no event management experience, was given such a huge responsibility. So if you went, I hope it was just as enjoyable for you. 

I talked to many people over the two days who seemed incredibly inspired by the event – in particular by Shane Claiborne. He was funny, erudite, incisive and also amazingly accessible to a range of people. His talks made me reflect on how it seems that those of us in the social justice world can be too bashful or self-effacing when it comes to promoting the ideals we believe in. This can actually be to our determent as society misses out on hearing our perspective and instead the louder voices of the hegemony take precedence. But seeing how a high profile event like Just Action connected a wider sphere of people to social justice helped to temper my qualms that we were overly commodifying these messages of justice. Whether people turn their inspiration into action is out of our hands, but I believe such conferences as these serve as sign to what can be, rather than a solution to the problems that we see.

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