What exactly is Dinyar Godrej advocating in his article on NGOs (NI 478)? His basic criticism seems to be that NGOs have not as yet managed to abolish capitalism. No-one can argue with that. But the underlying implication appears to be that Oxfam et al should abandon raising money for schools and medical facilities and concentrate on bringing about the revolution. I suggest that people in the Global South who are in good health and reasonably well-educated are more likely to come together to take political action than those whose energy is sapped by hunger and ill-health. Some NGOs – Christian Aid for one – already support partners who enable communities to fight for rights that are being denied them by their own governments.
NGOs, as charities, are expected to be non-political, but he concludes with the sentence, ‘They might as well get their hands truly dirty.’ The consequences of this, in the UK at least, is investigation by the Charity Commission, leading to possible loss of charitable status, and no doubt then of supporters as well. That is precisely why some of the UK-based overseas aid charities, as they were called at the time, including Oxfam, set up in 1970 the World Development Movement, which is not a charity but a campaigning organization, and about to be rebranded as Global Justice Now.
Waiting for the pitchforks
I have been aware for some time now of the steady co-opting of NGOs by corporations and national governments (NI 478). It is a thoroughly depressing development in the virtually universal corruption of all economic activities to favour the global plutocrats.
I am reminded of the TED Talk by Nick Hanaeur, ‘Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming.’ Thomas Piketty’s recent tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century also suggests that, like so many times before, global capitalism has re-entered a phase where we are well down the path towards a ‘pitchforks’ solution and there is again no indication that plutocrats are the least bit interested in exploring alternatives to avoid it.
Truly unlimited greed unmoderated by governance in the interest of the broader society.
November’s edition (NI 477) has to be the most gripping and immediately relevant set of articles in a long while. If there was anything I didn’t understand about the immorality of Big Oil – and there was much – I now understand a bit better. Information from Jess Worth about not just the hoped-for collapse of Big Oil but the much more hopeful prospects for alternative energy, helps turn despair felt by many into a real goal to aim for.
But please don’t leave it at that. Come back to this, our most pressing problem again, and soon. And give us information about what we can do to move it on. Not just demos and political action, although that too, but practical leads about how we can take positive personal action.
Taking the initiative
Oil companies have a past history of ‘greenwash’. Back in the 1950s, I was fascinated by Shell’s monthly posters of wild flowers of the countryside which decorated our junior school walls. Indeed the fascination with the wild flowers has persisted, though not the liking for fossil fuels.
Israel’s war on Gaza has never ceased. With so many hospitals and houses destroyed, people left with no place to shelter as heavy rains pour down, the water not safe to drink, and no medicines to treat the wounded, people will continue to die.
The importance of Dr Jabr’s article (‘A deeper pain’, NI 477) is that she points out the constant psychological warfare being inflicted on all Palestinians, but most dramatically on Gazans. Israel is at war with Palestinians’ self-image, their historical memories, their culture, their dreams of a better life, and their self-respect.
The price tag
Kate Smurthwaite’s defence of Raif Badawi and of free speech (NI 477) is entirely admirable. However, I’d like to add some notes from the other side of the pond. Here in the US where everything is free market, including the judiciary, ‘free speech’ is used by big capital as a bludgeon to subdue democracy. Why would anyone, for example, vote against GMO labelling? Well, they probably would not have, but the Court has declared corporations are people and money is speech, so business people can spend millions saturating voters with the false claim that approving such a bill would cause prices to skyrocket. Then although 90 per cent of the people favoured gun control legislation, our congress voted against it, deafened as they were by the roar of money-as-speech stuffing the pockets of ‘our’ representatives.