Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa – Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

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12 responses

3 12 2011
klem

“Just because I do not agree with the #occupy movement as it exists here does not mean I am less progressive, less informed or less caring about the world we live in.

I disagree, I think that’s exactly what it means. If you took a $60k hit last year, that means you were probably part of the 1% yourself. No wonder you don’t agree with the Occupy movement.

5 12 2011
the referral

Actually, Klem, you couldn’t be more wrong. Earning more than $100k + super does not put you in the 1 per cent. Far from it. Owing to mental health issues (which I have written about here, if you would care to read further), I have not been able to work for much of the year. I have no savings & I have finally found a new job, earning $70k including super (so take home of about $40k). I can no longer pay my student & other loans and face bankruptcy. But that’s ok, because like many single women, I have been rejected for mortgages several times, so I have no assets. I don’t know your circumstances, so I won’t make any other comment than this: think before you make snide comments & assumptions about the lives of others. Congratulations.

25 10 2011
malbrown2

Occupy Melb/Syd and the rest is a good thing for those who have forgotten how to protest and for those who have yet to learn.
Apart from that, I think you are mostly right, (again).
Thanks.

23 10 2011
730reportland

Oooops — seems I created a bit of a misunderstanding. If this is so, please accept my SORRY. I was not having any type of go at you. — Your last paragraph, 2nd line is — “Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you.“ — The last line on my previous comment should better read if I had said — “That`s my best guess at what the poster means to me“ — Instead of just – “That`s my best guess“ — I hope I didn`t annoy you.

23 10 2011
the referral

Sorry – absolutely no offence or annoyance (this will teach me for writing when drunk & replying to comments when I’m hungover!)
I think I’ve been at cross-purposes myself as I asked a few questions:
“Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions …
… I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent.”
The last par does put an emphasis on reacting to the image – which you did, & I totally appreciate you for taking the time to do so. I might have to edit it so the sentences run together – because I want a reaction to the image and how it fits in with the #occupy movement in Australia.
Cheers
Kimberley

23 10 2011
730reportland

I am not an occupier, but I do at some levels understand where they are coming from. I also suspect you are overlooking that most of us have no inside knowledge of how the machine works, where you on (some, many lots?) of areas does. — You ask about where are the occupiers solutions on X, but you may need to apply a little self-expectation management to your calls for answers. — We, the public, outside the machine, are kept ignorant by Oceans of bad information from Government, Lobbyists and the embedded media, who produce as much white noise as possible. — Capitalism and so-called Democracy do not work in many areas, for the majority of us, even if we are not exactly aware of how or why. — If you go to the Doctor to get stitches for a cut hand, the Doctor doesn`t say you cut your hand, you sew it up.

23 10 2011
Harry Lockstead

I think the two images are not oppositional, they are complimentary. They show two problems that have the same root cause.

23 10 2011
the referral

Can you expand on that? At this stage, I can only guess that the complementary aspect of the images you’re referring to is poverty. Also, I didn’t say they were oppositional. I said they were lazy & clichéd. You could give a year – a decade’s – worth of the Robin Hood tax proposal (which I am in favour of) to African nations and it would not necessarily improve people’s quality of life, longevity or power, continent-wide. Please suggest an idea that you think would help. In the second case – the fat kiddies – is it right to keep post-colonialist nations – such as India – away from the riches capitalist, colonialist countries and corporations enjoy so people stay in some romanticised Western ideal as to what is acceptable and what isn’t? When you think of the 1 per cent, do they even stop to think that there are plenty of people in the Global South who fit that description, or does that make you uncomfortable? One of the unintended consequences of the growth of the Indian middle class has been a spike in the NCDs that afflict ‘wealthy’ societies; in the example I used, 78 million people with Type 2 diabetes – but who are we to decide who gets to eat at a chain hamburger restaurant and who doesn’t? Does the strength of the capitalist economies of the BRIC countries unnerve people? Each has different models of government (personally, I’d go with Brazil’s) and rank in terms of governance and corruption – but is a multi-billionaire in India as better or worse multi-billionaire than one in Australia? That is why I contend that the #occupy movement as it exists in Australian cities, making posters such as ‘Capitalism doesn’t work’ need to address why it doesn’t ;and, more importantly, demonstrates that the ’99 per cent’ slogan accurately reflects the problems or benefits we face as a nation.

23 10 2011
Denis Wright (@deniswright)

Kimbo – drunk or sober, you’re magnificent. I’m going to retweet this a dozen times at unsuitable intervals and every person who reads it carefully will know why, and they will retweet it too.

I swallowed it in a mouthful; I am going back now to digest it properly, like an old cow chewing its cud. Then I might feel worthy of commenting, if everyone else hasn’t said it all by then.

D.

23 10 2011
the referral

Thanks as ever, my welcome stranger. Digest and come back to me. x

23 10 2011
730reportland

Starving African in an area with grass may mean no drought. He may be starving because starvation is used as a weapon against him. His country may have blood diamonds, oil, coffee or other resources. His Government may be corrupted and militia`s armed by our 1% — Meanwhile our obese children may exist by consuming fast food provided by time poor, wage slave parents working for the 1% We can expect the 1% fought like all f**k to not label or inform their consumers of the chemicals in this food, the cruelty to the meat supply, the GM of the crop. To the benefit of 1% — That`s my best guess.

23 10 2011
the referral

Hi & thanks for reading (& the like), but most of all, for commenting. That said, I asked people to offer ideas, solutions, not reasons that these problems exist. I didn’t write that the African child may be starving in an area of no drought. I used drought as an example of a very easily understood reason that anyone can understand may cause famine. You know, I know, about inter- and intra-country conflict zones, child soldiering, blood minerals, SALW trafficking. I wrote that food insecurity may be caused by inept governments & non-state actors (I could have added more, given examples but I was off my trolley).
Similarly, I wrote that the reason for a lot of child obesity is the fact that poor people are more likely to go without fresh food. Raj Patel makes these points far better than I can in his excellent book, ‘The Value of Nothing’; but children whose parents are time and resource poor are less likely to have safe play areas, and more likely to eat rubbish, mass-produced, pre-packaged, convenience food. I absolutely agree with your point about the food industry’s incredible ability to silence critics, attack people who want change, and better, more accurate information available for all consumers. It’s unconscionable in my opinion. What I would love to see is how we as a society tackle these issues. My small, individual effort was to go back to uni, study & get a Masters & finally – about 15 months after I graduated – get a job with a global health NFP whose researchers are doing incredible work (I’m not a researcher BTW, I’m their new media officer – I try & get as much exposure for them so we can raise money to continue projects and start new ones). I could earn triple figures working for a corporation, but I don’t want to. To be completely open, I took a $60k hit on what I was earning a year ago. It has left me in financial difficulties but I don’t care. I want to do something that I believe in and will enjoy. Just because I do not agree with the #occupy movement as it exists here does not mean I am less progressive, less informed or less caring about the world we live in. I found this poster a lazy juxtaposition of clichéd images. It summed up to me a few days of watching people I like and admire via social media become increasingly nasty to each other, to the point of disavowing and denigrating people previously held up as progressive darlings (not me) because they dare to hold a dissenting opinion and give voice to that though discussion and debate. If the #occupy movements and their supporters are prepared to sleep rough, be arrested, assaulted in the belief that change can occur by peaceful sit ins and protests against government & big business, I strongly believe that such messages can be better communicated and put into action. What good comes from whiteboarding a list of problems? Criticise, debate, dissent – but offer ideas that may truly assist the 99 per cent, worldwide.

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