First published at http://www.selvesandothers.org
Here is a thought for you… there is a certain species of man, his role being undefined or undefinable, that those in power, unsure of what to do with him, grab, put a hook through his finger and leave dangling on a line for his fellow men to grab onto.
Now the truth is I don’t know where that thought came from. I woke up with it this morning after I was struggling to think of what to say in this article last night.
And there he was in my mind, brave Bob, from the 80s, banging the table, send us the fucking money (even though he didn’t really say that). Where did he come from? What was this hairy thing that had come out of nowhere to remind us all that there was a world outside our homes, offices and schools?
Here was someone actually trying to do something. Making us all feel that we were doing something too.
Ahhhh, I think we have discovered where the problem begins.
Making us feel that we were doing something.
What was Bob starting in the 80s? A caring revolution? It certainly felt that way for those of us who were young at the time and didn’t know enough to see through the bullshit.
And many many more were mollified – let them know its Christmas, we are the world, 20 quid donated and all is right again. Or, at least they won’t upset us with those pictures of the babies with the swollen stomachs and the flies anymore.
Do something, by not doing very much at all. Send your money now he said, and thousands, millions did.
Thank you, he said. You really made a difference.
But we didn’t. It just continued to get worse, but Bob’s saintliness continued to grow.
In the 20 years that followed, so many other things sprang up. Comic relief, Sport Aid and many more. The NGO sector ballooned to a size it has never known before. Charity standing orders, sponsor a child, Oxfam will even send you a free pen so you can fill in the form immediately, and all the guilt is dissipated. Or suppressed.
And all the while, the Western governments policies toward the third world were changing. The Bretton Woods Institutions were making policies designed to loot the third world for its wealth. There was no more Communist threat so the subsidies designed to keep the developing nations on side against the red menace were slashed. Markets were opened, resources were plundered. The NGOs and the charities became a sticking plaster over a bullet wound.
Bob was still flying round the world though, showing us all the good that these sticking plasters were doing, and going to new places to show us where more were needed.
He was meeting the people in power, and telling them straight that if they didn’t do something then he would have to have another concert and make them look bad again.
And on and on it continued, and the G8 came to Scotland.
Bob gets in the mix early, so the leaders, not wanting to look bad, join in. Bob is photographed after an MTV interview with his head on Blair’s shoulder looking like a dog having its belly scratched. He believes Tony is a good man, and really wants to help. But we must keep the pressure on…by having a party.
Sing and dance he said, not while you are facing the water cannons and the dogs, but so you don’t have to. If we party hard enough then they will have to change things won’t they?
Partying is absolution he said, it is the end rather than the means. A party is all it takes. A corporate-sponsored cocaine- fuelled celebrity wankfest will change the world. You can even buy McDonalds on your way there. We can bring Bill Gates on and introduce him as the greatest philanthropist in the world. You don’t even have to give any money this time. Just wear white, hell, you can even buy your new white t-shirt at the gap. It will help to give some people jobs. Madonna will ask us if we are ready for a revolution.
Don’t worry that asking Bush and Blair to deal with poverty problems in the worlds poorest nations is akin to asking a superbug to run a hospital. Party hard enough and it will all come good, or you will be so drunk that you won’t notice anymore.
Don’t worry about the war. We won’t even let people bring you down by talking about the war. Our organizers will make sure that those people are not allowed on the stage. We will even say that the issues of poverty and war are unrelated. It is better, after all, to look at starving Africans who are dying because the rain didn’t come than to look at blown up Middle Eastern children who are dying because of your indifference.
Don’t worry if you think I am taking too big a role in this. Some of the nice NGOs can come along for the ride too. They can join the campaign. They have been working in the field for a long time and know the problems more than most. Their donations might go up a bit. It doesn’t really matter if the need for all those donations becomes more crucial because it will be a good party.
Don’t worry if you think we are too closely involved with the powers that be – even Gandhi and MLK had a dialogue with the power people. True, they didn’t phone them up and ask permission first if they wanted to register people to vote or march through a salt mine but that just shows how much things have progressed now doesn’t it?
Don’t worry that I am now ‘Sir’ Bob and ‘Sir’ is a title given to those who serve the state. If they gave it to me surely that shows they really want to help the people in poor countries doesn’t it?
Don’t worry that we are not letting anyone African near the stage or the microphones.
Don’t worry about the nagging doubts at the back of your mind that even though it is utterly inadequate, the money you spent today could have been better used if you had donated it to someone.
Don’t worry about the fact that if you had all chosen to buy nothing, eat nothing and not go to work for a couple of days this would have worried the G8 far more than the sort of nothing you are doing today (empathizing with someones lack of things to consume by consuming more).
Don’t worry about all those nasty anarchists trying to frighten your children. We will help the police to brutalise them and the media to vilify them. The Daily Mail will call them “gangs of masked extremists.” We will make it appear that they are something between Al-qaeda and football hooligans, even though it is us who are begging for scraps from the table of those who instigated an illegal war.
And at the end of it all they will let me, yes ME, Sir Bob, your representative, into the G8 to have a quick word with them before the real meetings…and they might not even laugh in my face.
Just don’t worry, ok?
They were talking about how they were going to march on […], march on the […], march on the […], march on the […] and tie it up – bring it to a halt and not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport to lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land. I’m telling you what they said – that was revolution, that was revolution, that was the revolution. It was the grassroots out there in the street; it scared the white man to death; scared the white power structure in […] to death – I was there. When they found out that this steamroller was going to come down on the capital they called in these national leaders that you respect and told them call it off. [The power structure] said ‘look you all are letting this thing go too far’ and old […] said ‘Boss I can’t stop it I because I didn’t start it.’
I’m telling you what they said. They said ‘I’m not even in it much less at the head of it.’ They said ‘these [people] are doing things on their own; they’re running ahead of us.’ And that old, shrewd fox, he said ‘if you all aren’t in it I’ll put you in it. I’ll put you at the head of it, I’ll endorse it, I’ll welcome it, I’ll help it, I’ll join it.’
“This is what they did with the march on […], they joined it, became part of it, took it over. And as they took it over it lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march – it became a picnic, a circus, nothing but a circus – with clowns and all.
The passage above was Malcolm X was speaking a couple of months after the March on Washington. It is a source of debate how much was actually achieved by that march. At least, at the end of it came a piece of oratory that no one who has heard it is likely to forget. This time there was only Chris Martin from Coldplay, who I have seen painted in some papers as a hardline radical, saying that “this [the concert] is the greatest thing organised in the history of the world.” Possible overstatement? After all funerals, when organised correctly, can be more fun than a Mariah Carey concert.
Geldof, like the marchers may have helped in getting people to believe that something has to be done. However, he has done nothing to help them understand why these problems persist, who is causing them and whether or not something is actually being done about them. On the last of those points in particular he has been counter-productive.
At the end of it all, here are some of the things Bob said…
“10 out of 10 on aid, eight out of 10 on debt.”
“Never before have so many people forced a change of policy onto a global agenda. If anyone had said eight weeks ago will we get a doubling of aid, will we get a deal on debt, people would have said ‘no’,.”
“without equivocation the greatest G8 summit there has ever been for Africa”.
He said this even though many of the NGOs that were part of his Make Poverty History campaign asked him not to.
Here is a quick representative sample of what some of the mainstream NGOs said…
Action Aid – (by no means the most radical of NGOs) “What Africa needed from the G8 was a giant leap forward, all it got was tiny steps. The deal that has been announced falls way short of our demands. We have some aid, but not enough, some debt relief but not enough and virtually nothing on trade. Once again Africa’s people have been short-changed”.
Global Call to Action Against Poverty –were angry that the promise to deliver $50bn extra aid by 2010 was “like waiting 5 years before responding to the tsunami”.
Jubilee Debt Campaign – “G8 debt deal is not 100 per cent debt cancellation” it “immediately benefits only 18 countries” and “reinforces the harmful economic policy conditions enforced through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative”
Here is what some of the more radical ones said…
World Development Movement – “an insult to the hundreds of thousands of campaigners… a disaster for the world’s poor. The agreements on trade, debt, aid and climate change are nowhere near sufficient to tackle the global poverty and environmental crisis we face.”
50 Years is Enough – “By retaining the HIPC structure, the G8 perpetuates the requirement that countries submit to demands for economic disarmament in favor of promoting the interests of foreign capital before they can get the consequential debt considered for cancellation.”
War on Want –“[the G8 has] given less than 10% of our demand on debt cancellation and not even a fifth of what we called for on aid. On trade, the G8 has hardened its stance, forcing more countries to open their markets and threatening millions with the misery of poverty. When the moment came to act, the G8 turned their backs on the world’s poor.”
Jubilee South – “The multilateral debt cancellation being proposed is still clearly tied to compliance with conditionalities which exacerbate poverty, open our countries further for exploitation and plunder, and perpetuate the domination of the South.”
No change of policy came, there was a soundbite or two, a cleverly disguised ‘same again’ financial package that in some cases left people worse off than before. Even the few promises that were made were quickly forgotten, or reneged upon. The Italian government very quickly said it probably couldn’t meet its promises. Gordon Brown admitted that there wasn’t really much new money- it was just money brought forward.
The lack of positive outcomes from it all may be disappointing/disgusting/infuriating/inhuman (delete as applicable) but it is not surprising. Why would the caretakers of an economic system that is responsible for the majority of world poverty suddenly alter their views based on a pop concert and a walk around town? The strategy of co-opting the more moderate elements of a campaign in order to freeze out the radicals is as old as the hills. What on earth convinced the NGOs that jumped into bed with Blair that things would be any different this time?
Just maybe, it was Bob.
Couple the muzzling of the NGOs with a failed rock stars predilection for getting publicity howsoever it can be gotten and we are left with a potent recipe for impotence.
All that was achieved was that the government was forced to up the marketing ante to an enormous and enormously powerful marketing campaign and another successful hoodwink was performed on the populace.
After judging last years summit a success, I wonder what would happen if Bob was left to judge himself…
“You can’t trust politicians. It doesn’t matter who makes a political speech. It’s all lies… and it applies to any rock star who wants to make a political speech as well.”
“People will always reach over the impenetrable roar of political discourse to help a human on the other side.”
I started this out as an academic style article but I changed my mind because there are a few things it would have been just too easy to mention.
It would have been too easy to point out that Geldof’s own production company Ten Alps provided the two big screens in Hyde Park and is closely associated with the government and has made programmes for the Department for Education and Skills and that the exposure it got from Live 8 could not fail to help it.
It would have been too easy to point out that even though he said a somewhat controversial line to her he was an admirer of Margaret Thatcher… “She lashed out at every institution she saw. The Monarchy, The old Tory party, the old Labour Party. She was a Punk.”
It would have been too easy to point out that the Planet 24 TV company he was involved in is responsible for subjecting the nation to CHRIS FUCKING EVANS.
It would have been too easy to point out that although performers were not paid it is alleged that some received gifts up to the value of $1,700 and that the Prince’s trust was paid 1.6 million pounds to cancel its party in the park.
I was going to mention that stuff but it would have been too easy.