Two weeks ago I went with my friend Rory Mondshein to United Nations conference at the very UN Headquarters itself. It was very cold that day and security was as tight as if we were in an airport. The conference room was really big. Every table had a microphone and an earpiece for translations. Everyone was formally dressed. I met two of Rory’s other friends Abu and Emily.
Originally I was skeptical about how effective the UN is. Now I my skepticism is only partly satisfied. The conference began with its top leaders like Peter Yao, vice president, congratulating themselves and the UN. “We have done so much last year but there is still so much to do. This year is the year of bold action. We have a small window of time to make a difference but we can do it!” Honestly I don’t mind this, as pep talks are necessary to keep members going.
The conference did touch on many global issues that should be at least acknowledged as a reality by even people who aren’t UN members. Their first agenda was addressing global warming and reaching some sustainable development goals. Because of the polar vortexes called by global warming, Lebanon’s people endured their first winter and, because of their poverty, had only makeshift shelters to endure the cold winter. The UN promised that it would create a cleaner, healthier, safer world for all. It sounded like a pretty big promise to me and there was little talk about how they would go about their plan. All they did was briefly mention renewably energy like solar panels and electric cars.
Their second agenda was to address global poverty. Many of them rightly pointed out that global poverty existed because of endless conflicts in the third world, conflicts caused by first world countries occupying them and stealing their wealth. The third world of poverty and endless war is a nursery for religious fanaticism, genocide, and hate crimes. They proposed addressing all the different systems that cause such widespread poverty, unaware that our nation is the system, or at least one of the major systems. They promised to end global poverty within a generation. Once more, I am a bit skeptical. They also addressed women’s rights, LGBT rights, and POC rights, a problem they closely associated with worldwide poverty.
All the different speakers then addressed these issues in more detail and provided their own insights into possible solutions.
H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General, said the UN couldn’t exist without supports from other nations, including America, the most powerful nation and authority in the UN. He mentioned how tens of thousands of young men and women from the UN rescue people oppressed in North Korea. South Korea might not even exist without their help, another claim I found to be exaggerated. We must fight against racism, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, hate crimes, and war crimes, he insisted. Why do people do such heinous things? His answers were bad governments, failed leadership, inequality, and desperation. Why is there inequality? Because of war, which marginalizes people and causes them to be sick.
He addressed female POC, which he called a minority among minorities. He brought up a speech by Obama, which he summarized by saying people kill because of ideology, not because of religion. He is not completely right, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt because I’m sure he was merely simplifying the speech. Nevertheless, I am relieved my president understands that warlords in the third world kill each other because of ideologies, extreme poverty, and geopolitical pressures put upon them by the first world, not only because of religion.
He concluded by saying we have the plan to end global violence and poverty, we just need resources. He is wrong. We do have the resources. America is the most powerful country in the world. What we don’t have is the initiative to make global change. What we do have is a fat and corrupt country run by capitalists interested only in their short-term gains.
Jackson Cougan pointed out how about half of all US spending is on it’s military. Instead, we should move to spending more on climate change rather than national security that is hardly threatened. The reason we don’t do so is because we don’t really comprehend how devastating global warming will be if we don’t heed the warnings. A previous panelist (I don’t remember his name) showed how global temperatures rose from 1900 to 2000, a trend that drastically went out of hand since the 1980s. He even said that people born after 1987 would never experience the Earth’s average temperature since the last ice age. Jackson Cougan also addressed nuclear waste, how we need to create signs so that even people ten thousand years later will understand them.
Jeanne Betsock Stillman, President of UNA-USA Southern New York, discussed feminism and intersectionality. Poverty has a woman’s face and violence against women is worldwide. Women worldwide face sexual harassment, even in schools, and in countries like Saudi Arabia have acid thrown in their faces for going to school. She asked all the women in the conference who have been molested in high school to raise their hands. More than half of them did. But men aren’t born perpetrators, she insisted. Men taught these behaviors by mothers, fathers, teachers, and coaches. They are molded into being unreflecting, angry, and entitled. Regarding all people’s rights, another speaker stated that religious fundamentalists kept scapegoating marginalized, vulnerable people. It really has nothing to do with the people themselves. It has to do with wanting to stay in power, and reacting to perceived losses. She said it was almost like a ritualistic bloodletting.
Jessica Stern of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Convention addressed LGBT issues, actually LGBTQI as to not exclude transsexuals, gender queer people, and intersex people. Just the fact that she can speak openly about LGBTQI rights without fear is very meaningful. When we get dressed we don’t think about whether we will come home tonight alive. This is a privilege many LGBTQI people worldwide lack. In many parts of the world LGBTQI people risk their lives for their activism. The UN, for many LGBTQI people, is a miracle. They can’t get their voices heard by their local governments, but they can have their voices heard in the UN.
Padmini Mini was the last speaker I remember. She addressed the issue of global health. There are many physical and mental illnesses around the world due problems within the city such as poverty, environment degradation, and infrastructure problems. Thus it is necessary to promote human health around the globe. The first few generations of people who populated the Earth to over six billion people are now beginning to age, so a new challenge will be to create a safe environment for them. Diseases affect the poor the most of them can’t access vaccines or medicines. Diseases like Ebola should not concern only Africa and the US, they should concern the world. They are global issues.