On old loves and the stupid things they do …I must confess that I was a very loyal teenage fan of Bono, [I literally have every single cd they ever produced and have seen them in concert 3 times. Twice in one summer!] I couldn’t even count the many nights of lonely teenage angst in which I found comfort in the soaring and liberatory sounds of classic U2 anthems. I remember that particular feeling of loading into my walkman the Joshua Tree tape, putting on the headphones in my dark room and letting the musical intro to the first track build in my ears. By the time Bono’s voice broke in with the first lyrics of "where the streets have no name", my heart would already have been transported. sigh.
Many years have passed since I was that girl. And Bono is no longer just that guy with the relentless passionate voice. Over the last several years, I've been following this whole discourse around debt relief and the millennium jubilee thing closely. I must confess further, that late one night in the dark hours before Fajr, I signed on to the http://www.makepovertyhistory.ca site. But no, I do not own and will not wear the trendy white wristband, which are apparently being manufactured by forced prison labour in China. And yes the stark ads with the famous people snapping their fingers to indicate the monotony of continuous child deaths from hunger are indeed, compelling and powerful.
But the more I read about this project and the global spectacle it is creating, the more I understand that this project is rooted firmly in the discourse of charity. And like Naomi Klein and others have so eloquently pointed out, the South does not need charity. It needs liberation from the neo-liberal economic regime that is systematically stealing its wealth and starving its people.
But it is so very much less threatening and less destabilizing to argue for charity, it confirms all of the feelings of largesse and superiority that the North and Northerners need to feel. It is far more substantial and far more unsettling to that same segment of the planet, if a movement is constructed around the idea of northern responsibility and complicity in the starvation of the children of the Global South.
The unasked question, which is the massive white elephant in the room, is "why are the children dying?"
And the answer is ultimately, because "we" in the North, are starving them. We are consuming more than our fair share and leaving a stinky rotting footprint on the earth. And there is a very real and very explicit economic system that is structured in such a way as to maintain and entrench this disparity and that allows the North to continue on its mad consumerist rampage.
What we need is a social movement here in the North, that doesn’t restrict its focus on what percentage of what budget number our governments are willing to "donate". But rather, we need a social movement that will focus on challenging our complicity in the systematic theft of the wealth of the Global South. Yes, give the aid. 0.7% sure. But beyond that remove the strings of neo-liberal restructuring that the aid will be linked to. Cancel the debt. Not just the interest on the debt. Cancel the whole freaking debt.
And then let’s begin a discussion about reparations for all that was stolen, confiscated and destroyed during the various colonial occupations.
And I don’t just mean the art.
A friend of mine sent this quote to me today:
"We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population ...our real task in the coming period is to...maintain this position of disparity.
We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization." - George Kennan, Head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff - 24 February 1948, Document PPS23