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Change Starts Here

Where are "we" on the global justice map?

by Leah Kaplan Robins

"Global justice” is a phrase we use a lot at AJWS. Pursuing “global change,” working on “global issues” and making a “global” impact are popular terms for describing what we do. But when we say “global” in this sense, we usually don’t mean the entire globe; rather, just the “Global South”—or, in other words, the developing world. Global has become a euphemism for the poorer half of our planet.

To be truly global, we have to complete the circle. Pursuing global justice isn’t only about supporting human rights activists working on the other side of the world. It’s also about effecting change in our own towns and communities, and doing what we can—from here—to fight poverty and injustice far away. This process has to begin with a close examination of our own role in perpetuating or ameliorating the inequalities and injustices that plague our fellow humans.

Let’s start with our government. American laws and policies on trade, foreign aid and diplomacy have far reaching impacts on people in the developing world—both positive and negative. In 2010, for example, our State Department used its tremendous power to help successfully stall a draconian Ugandan law that demonized LGBTI people. In Haiti, U.S. food aid saved lives on one hand, but created long-term dependence and harmed small-scale Haitian farmers on the other. In El Salvador, North American free trade policies are allowing a multinational mining corporation to sue for millions of dollars in an attempt to undo environmental advances hard-won by AJWS grantees.

Our actions as individuals have similar consequences. Our consumption can provide jobs, empower marginalized people and promote sound environmental practices; or it can perpetuate exploitation, pollute the earth and siphon water from the aquifers of indigenous communities that don’t have the political power to prevent it.

Many of us feel paralyzed by the ubiquity and unequal nature of our global connection to other people. It seems we can’t drive, shop or eat without fear of harming someone thousands of miles away. But giving in to this paralysis just deepens the rift between “us” and “them”—“here” and “there.” It puts up artificial walls between people and countries when, instead, we should be looking at how to turn our global connections from sources of injustice into powerful tools for change. The best solution is to choose to act—to actively take advantage of the connectivity that exists (and is growing all the time) to take down barriers between classes and cultures, opportunity and the lack thereof. Of course, we don’t have to fix all of the world’s ills ourselves, but we have to recognize that we have the power to do something about some of them: our government’s trade policies are threatening rural communities in Colombia? Protest them. Our food aid system isn’t passing the “do no harm” test? Tell Congress we want to do better. You’d like to improve services for people living in poverty in our own country? Speak up.

AJWS’s community is full of people who are taking these kinds of action— whether on the Hill, in local government, in farmers’ markets and soup kitchens, or in classrooms and synagogues. Some are members of Pursue—AJWS’s network of social changemakers, or Global Circle— our community of young professionals interested in fighting poverty through philanthropy. Others are alumni of our international service programs or donors or members of Jewish communities across the U.S. What many of them have in common is that they’re doing this work in the name of the Jewish imperative to help the stranger, heal the world and create just systems of civil society within and outside our borders.

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About AJWS

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.

AJWS has received an “A” rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy since 2004 and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for nine years. AJWS also meets all 20 of Better Business Bureau’s standards for charity accountability.


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