Based on personal commitment and its founder’s beliefs, the movement gradually developed strong collective advocacy, regularly updated according to changes in society and in harmony with its grassroots work with the most vulnerable.
The 1969 Universal Manifesto set out the foundations for the Emmaus movement, its methods and core objectives. This summary text intended to unite the pre-existing groups, some which had been active for 20 years, in the same movement, yet it remained very general and could be open to interpretation, particularly on the subject of “political” guidelines, which are not explicitly addressed. From the outset, the social aim is clear: “serve first those who suffer most”.
As early as 1974, during the General Assembly of Emmaus International, one of the workshops observed “that within Emmaus, some groups apply a particular religion or party policy, which could lead to the use of violence or indoctrination of some kind…” and concludes by proposing that the Emmaus groups should refrain from taking a “strictly confessional or political stance”. However, this position generated considerable controversy at the General Assembly, which tasked the Board (known at the time as the “administrative commission”) with resolving the problem.
The movement’s elected representatives then worked on drafting a text that would embody the desire for advocacy work to denounce injustice, as expressed by its founders, and in particular by Abbé Pierre, while at the same time effectively establishing a framework for dealing with possible abuses. After internal consultation, a text was proposed and adopted by the 1979 General Assembly. Under the title “Scope and Limits of Emmaus’ Social Commitment”, this text precisely states the political objectives of the movement in much clearer terms.
Emmaus adopted the stance as being “with” people considered to be marginalised, excluded and oppressed, and in a more general way, with “the most suffering members of society”. The logical consequence of this commitment is that Emmaus “will always be in conflict with those who, consciously or unconsciously, are the cause of these sufferings”. And while immediate action to alleviate poverty is obviously essential, it must be accompanied by action to help the most vulnerable “to claim their just rights” and make “their own voice” heard.
These elements are always at the heart of Emmaus’ mission: working “with” and not “for”; and as important as the social work carried out is, it must not be detached from “political” action aimed at “destroying the causes of all forms of poverty“.
The movement then updated the terms of these assertions in a text drawn up between 1994 and 1999, at the height of the expansion of neo-liberal ideas. Entitled “Solidarity commitments”, this text speaks out against a world “divided by poverty and inequality” where “people suffer from exclusion, oppression and exploitation” and proposes an alternative: a world where it would be possible to live “in harmony, sharing a life where everyone is treated equally and can live in dignity”.
The Emmaus movement is therefore part of a process that began in the late 1990s, known as alter-globalisation. The General Assembly of 1999 published a very clear statement on this matter, entitled “Against the globalisation of poverty”, and the movement was present at many meetings of the World Social Forum (2003 Porto Alegre, 2004 Mumbai, 2005 Porto Alegre, 2009 Belem, 2011 Dakar, 2013 and 2015 Tunis), along with many regional and topic-based initiatives at these forums.
This will to tackle the causes of poverty and not only alleviate suffering, led the movement to group all its actions under three struggles in 2016: