Religion and Antiglobalization Activism: The Case of the Debt Movement
On November 6, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a foreign aid bill fully funding debt relief for poor countries. The Office of Social Development and World Peace of the US Catholic Bishops hailed the occasion by cheering, “We won on debt!” It attributed the “tremendous victory” to a grassroots campaign led by religious groups that had been based “on a quixotic belief that we could turn the Scriptural call of Jubilee into concrete commitments on debt by our government.” Describing the range of activities in which Catholics had been involved, the office took some credit for the US Catholic community, which had “played a central role in this victory.” Somewhat later, Presbyterians similarly noted their role in advocating debt forgiveness and their participation at all levels of the campaign from the beginning. “Jubilee 2000,” commented Rev. Gary Cook, “demonstrated once again the power of scripture to shape what we often call ‘secular history.' ”
The Clinton signing represented the culmination of an intense global campaign. When third world countries became burdened with debt in the 1980s, a loose group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to call for restructuring and forgiveness of external debt. In the United States, these included shifting and short-lived coalitions, such as the Debt Crisis Network (1985–90); in Europe, Oxfam ...