A Kairos Moment: Global unity through the struggle against poverty


by Jordan Cowell


Entiéndanlo, entiéndanlo,

Nuestros ríos no se venden.

Entiéndanlo, entiéndanlo

Guatemala no se vende.

Entiéndanlo, entiéndanlo

Nuestros pueblos no se venden.


Listen, listen,

Our rivers are not for sale,

Listen, listen,

Guatemala is not for sale,

Listen, listen,

Our people are not for sale.

CUSLAR’s 50th Anniversary celebration closed on the evening of September 25 as Cuslareños, past and present, joined in song.

Shailly Gupta Barnes of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary learned this song from a Mayan leader from Guatemala, whose movement is at the forefront of a struggle against a mining company attempting to exert itself on their land.

The song’s message encapsulates the strength and unity of a collective protecting themselves and their land against a capitalist system that values profit over people.

In her speech, Barnes connected her work to combat poverty on a global scale with the goals and ideals shared by CUSLAR.

Poverty affects people both economically and socially, and “because the economy and society are now global, we work on a global level,” said Barnes. The Kairos network is growing, she noted, currently reaching 30 different states within the United States as well as 17 countries.

Barnes explained the organization’s name through the meaning of the word kairos: “It is a Greek term that indicates a break in time. Chronos is chronological time, and kairos is a breaking in of time, and sometimes, the breaking through.”

“These are moments that happen in history where something, or God if you believe in God, is breaking into the world as there is emotion and movement breaking out of the conditions that are existing. And so we see the moment that we are in in the United States but also in the world as one of these kairos moments.”

“And there have been kairos moments in all of human history, and because they are moments, they come and they pass. We feel that if there is an opportunity that if we understand this moment, the potential for real transformational movement exists.”

Barnes emphasized the importance of acting upon this kairos moment of today in the fight against global poverty. She underscored the integral role of the United States in relation to the rest of the world.

“Because of the unique place that the United States plays within the world, economically, militarily, and culturally, we see a particular need to catalyze this movement here in the United States.”

In the wide struggle against poverty, the Kairos Center brings together “grassroots formations of the organized poor and dispossessed who are on front lines of major struggles against hunger, homelessness, healthcare violations, discrimination based on race, gender, immigration status, militarism and ecological devastation.”

Barnes noted the necessity of collaborating with and learning from neighboring groups in the Americas. This necessity stems from the large role the United States government has played in the Americas, past and present, by contributing to repressive dictatorships in Latin America as well as foreign policies that have proven devastating for the affected nations.

By reframing these “north and south divides” that permeate common ways of thinking and by analyzing who benefits from and who suffers from the current structure, it becomes possible to strategize a move towards global unity.

Barnes aims to link people in solidarity through the realization that poverty cuts across race lines. One element of the Kairos Center is the Poor People’s Campaign of Today, a project inspired by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1967 and 1968.

King had the vision to unite the poor across race and other lines of division, and to use this collective strength to end what he called the “triple evils” of racism, militarism, and poverty. He was assassinated before he was able to realize this goal, but today the Kairos Center carries forward this legacy, spreading it to a global level.

The global movement to extinguish poverty is both possible and necessary, according to Barnes. First, the inequalities in the United States need to be integrated into the global conversation.

By connecting the United States to the rest of the world –treating this nation as an essential piece of the global movement rather than an isolated entity — the “us versus them” framework shifts. Global strength depends on breaking down these divides.

Second, Barnes highlighted the importance of solidarity and support across borders in regards to natural and manmade disasters. The devastating conditions of today differ from past eras, as newer technologies “wreak havoc on the natural world that we can’t recover from, especially if we are alienated from other parts of the world.”

Third, Barnes recognized that universal devastations — conditions such as poverty, which touches nearly every corner of the globe — cannot be resolved by organizations or movements that are only centered locally.

Global unity must extend beyond mere support of other groups. Rather, stated Barnes, it is about “fundamentally re-conceptualizing how we work together across borders and rethinking what the basis of that global unity is.”

“Our struggles are not just interconnected, they’re interdependent. If we don’t all win, none of us win, so we can’t be pitted against each other. This implies a revolution of how we understand human rights.”

According to Barnes, it goes beyond winning our struggles because we are bound by a shared liberation, which we must reach together, to be truly free.

About Shailly

Shailly Gupta Barnes has a long history working with poor and marginalized communities: in a West African farming community, as part of a legal team to fight for Colombian waste pickers’ rights, as a member of the Poverty Initiative in the United States, and now as Program Manager at the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. The Kairos Center uses human rights and religion as important channels to build a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.

Reflecting on global strength and a common liberation
by Jordan Cowell

I think back to Saturday morning, September 26, when the Cuslareños, old and new, poured into Anabel Taylor Hall to share hot coffee, warm words and a passionate discussion of social issues in which each person is visibly, personally invested. It was powerful to be surrounded by these caring, engaged and informed world citizens. They are people who share similar values and goals as the ones I have held close to me but have not quite yet figured out how to act upon. These are people who care about people. CUSLAR and the Kairos Center share the goal of creating mutual understanding across borders and fostering a sense of global support and unity.

In her speech, Shailly Gupta Barnes recognizes that before a successful movement can take place, there needs to be a shift in consciousness. She demands a shift in our entire system of thinking. This notion struck me, and I believe it is true that if we attempt to combat these issues by approaching them from the same frame of thought we always have, we cannot make a true productive change. This change stems from values, ideology and recognizing our strengths and struggles in connection to the strengths and struggles of other people. We really do share victories and defeats.

Reflecting upon Barnes’ words, it becomes clear that we cannot beat poverty if we treat it as an isolated entity. It is connected to a web of other societal and systematic inequalities, each of which needs to be targeted to kill the monster, so to speak. We must address racism, ecological destruction, capitalism, militarism and sexism, to name a few.

Tackling all of these issues seems a daunting and impossible task at times, but when it comes down to it, reinforcing authentic human connection and mutual understanding are an essential starting point. By appealing to our humanity and addressing the humanity in others, we can progress together — despite the geographical, religious, cultural or political differences that may seem impenetrable at times. This is how we can create global unity and move towards Barnes’ notion of a common liberation.

Jordan Cowell is a senior at Ithaca College, studying Culture & Communication and Sociology.

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