Emmaus International

Emmaus International is launching its first World Forum of Alternatives led with the most excluded, this September in Geneva. A few months in advance of this important event, we have talked to sociologist and alter-globalist, Jean Ziegler, also author of the book, Capitalism explained to my granddaughter, in the hope that she will see the end of it.

This major event will bring together all the members of the Emmaus movement as well as grassroots activists from the world over, to help develop our advocacy work and make the voice of Emmaus International heard at the United Nations, during the plenary session of the Human Rights Council. Interview with Jean Ziegler to kick off the Forum.

Jean Ziegler ONU2

You are a politician, sociologist and writer, and you're particularly involved in the alter-globalist movement. At what stage in your life did you first encounter Emmaus?

I met Abbé Pierre for the first time in the 60's, on a work camp. It was in Nanterre [near Paris], and Emmaus needed volunteers to build homes, so I got involved. I then went back to Switzerland, where I became the first ever chair of the Emmaus Geneva community. Afterwards, I kept close ties with Abbé Pierre and Georges Chevieux, one of Abbé Pierre's close friends, who is still the heart and soul of Emmaus Switzerland. When I was running to become a member of the federal parliament, Abbé Pierre came specially from Paris to support me during an important rally at the University of Geneva - his support was crucial.As a person, Abbé Pierre, through his teachings and formidable capacity for empathy, will always be a shining example to me. He's the one who stops me from becoming discouraged, apathetic and tempted to give up the struggle.

What does the Emmaus movement mean to you?

For me, amongst all other social movements, Emmaus is the most interesting and one of the most convincing. It embodies values that are universal, through this wonderful strategy of regaining dignity through working in a community. It gives the poorest a way of overcoming poverty and humiliation by themselves.

How can Emmaus make an alternative voice heard, in an economic system that's widening inequalities and discrimination?

We're living in dangerous times. Neoliberalism is cementing over people's consciences and imposes the idea on us that market forces are the only makers of history and deciders of humanity's destiny. It's what Abbé Pierre used to call "contemporary obscurantism".  Globalised financial capitalism is so powerful it creates profound alienation and manages to convince individuals that they are helpless and unable to do anything to fight this cannibalistic order. But there's no such thing as helplessness in a democracy.Emmaus is living proof that there's no such thing as helplessness! Emmaus is made up of men and women who come from the very bottom of the pile - some of the poorest, most humiliated, most exploited people, who've suffered life's hard knocks. Emmaus is made up of men and women, who collectively decide to use their sheer willpower to shatter this powerlessness. People who decide to use sheer willpower to reclaim their dignity. Emmaus, is all about rejecting powerlessness.

In today's world, with growing racism and declining global democracy, what role can Emmaus International play?

The Emmaus movement is a light in the darkness of the night. A terrible night! At a time when the fundamental principles of international law are in tatters, racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic movements are making advances, even in our democratic societies, Emmaus rejects the idea of turning its back on the world, proving that we can instead choose international solidarity.  For example, European communities provide assistance to communities located in Third World countries - these cross-border ties of solidarity are key to our movement. This is exactly why Emmaus's voice is now more important than ever before.  It's the rally cry for social justice and solidarity.

Emmaus International is holding the first World Forum of Alternatives led with the most excluded, to help build its advocacy work and make the "voice of the voiceless" heard at the United Nations. What do you think about this initiative?

I lend it my full support - the idea of this Forum is wonderful. In fact, it should have been done long ago! Emmaus urgently needs to speak during the session of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations' highest body in the area of human rights. Holding this Forum of Alternatives in Geneva – the human rights capital – is a great thing, as Emmaus is sending out an important message about the triumph of values of solidarity and of autonomy through getting back into work, and of hope, whilst rejecting the world of joblessness, contempt, and financialisation of human relationships. Emmaus is a symbol of hope, another world, and is the path we need to follow!

Credits: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre