This is a speech given by Cllr John Cotton, Leader of Birmingham City Council, at the tree planting ceremony in City Centre Gardens, Birmingham on 24 January 2024.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I’d like to thank Debt Justice for inviting me along today to an event that serves as a reminder of something that is – and always will be – special about Birmingham.
As we all know, this is a city that is mobilised and energised by injustice and inequality, and as we saw on 16 May 1998, we don’t just talk a good game – we take action.
That was of course the day when 70,000 people from around the UK and indeed the world converged on this city to call on global leaders to ‘drop the debt’.
The atmosphere in Birmingham that day was electric and I’m proud that the City Council supported the organisers of an unforgettable human chain that sent a resounding message to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and the other G8 leaders.
This was people power at its best and was without doubt a key moment in the global jubilee debt campaign that eventually secured debt relief to the tune of 130 billion Dollars for lower income countries.
Just think of the difference that has made across the globe. The poverty and inequalities tackled. The hope given to so many people of a better future.
One day in Birmingham that changed the world for the better.
But of course, while much has changed, the issues that energised so many people 26 years ago still persist.
And today’s event serves as a reminder that the lottery of where and when we are born still goes such a long way to shaping our lives and life chances.
There is still so much injustice and inequality – at home and abroad – and we continue to need people power to highlight and force change.
So I’m delighted to be here to accept the gift from Debt Justice.
And the tree will serve as a lasting reminder of the power of compassion and the importance of speaking out.
A reminder that together we can create pressure for change.
And make that change happen.