July 03, 2005

Politics: Is 8 Enough?

Well, the Live 8 concerts have been up and done now. I didn't watch much of it myself, as house and yard work beckoned. Some liked the show; some didn't; others were openly critical of (and even hostile to) either the event or the people taking part.

This strikes me as odd. So I think I'll talk about the various forms of criticism that I've seen.

One criticism, and I think the most valid, is that giving money to "Africa" is hardly a precise objective. If you were a banker, would you grant a loan to someone whose plans are "To... I dunno. Do stuff."? Probably not. Plus, much of the problem in the most troubled regions isn't so much resources as it is the poeple controling them: fantastically corrupt Presidents, rebellious warlords and mercenary groups are rife. Just handing over money doesn't means it's going to be used as it's intended, is it?

Certainly not. So money isn't going to be "just handed over", much like the money from Live Aid wasn't: it has been used to fund projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, and the Sudan. After twenty years, the projects are still impoving the lives of those who live in pretty abysmal conditions. The point of this concert series, which the organiser and performers repeated again and again, was that they didn't want money. Odd to hear, I know, but there you have it.

What they want is this: pressure. They are specifically targeting the G8 summit meeting in Scotland a few days from now. What with all those leaders being from democracies (well, in Putins case that may be a bit theoretical), the populations in those countries can put pressure on the leaders to actually help those regions in Africa that are in need. Specifically: they want cancelled debts, an increase in aid, and fair trade with wealthier nations.

But doesn't "increasing aid" mean exactly that: more money?

Yep. But more to the point, they want the aid to be in investment in some regions, technology in others, and for cryin' out loud could we stop sending out-of-date perscriptions and breast implants? Thanks. They want trade to actually be fair, instead of (for instance) the insane policies of the World Bank, which has been crippling poorer economies since the eighties.

Well, one of the stupider complaints goes, Live Aid didn't stop poverty, so this obviously can't either!

Not only did Live Aid (and subsequent musical benefits) get hundreds of thousands of people food and medicine, but it focused attention on poverty around the world. The works that are still being funded by the old Live Aid concerts are helping people, most importantly with clean drinking water. Live Aid was meant as a "quick fix", a response to an emergency: when someone is haemorrhaging, first you stop the bleeding. Perhaps you can tell K'naan, one of the performers in Barrie, that it's not worth the time:

Following his performance K'naan reflected on what it was like to be part of the event, aimed at raising awareness of poverty in developing countries such as his homeland.

"It's monumental, because you know we're a community that needs some changes," he said backstage, "so I'm really glad to be here."

Then there is the standard whine whenever artists do, well, anything other than look pretty: "They're just doing it for themselves!"


Okay, I'm going to say this once, nice and slow: charities happen all the fucking time. There are constant fundraisers going on, in whatever community you live in, for all sorts of causes. Burn units for local hospitals; the downtown food bank; a library; a high school gym. Whatever. What's relevant here is:

Who cares?

What page of the newspaper did it make it to? If any of them are even mentioned? And do you bother to read about it if you're not directly involved? If your community is big enough to have a daily paper, think some Girl Guide bake sale is going to be front news? Maybe if they set themselves on fire...

Now, what do you think would happen if Madonna happened to be in town, and was seen selling cookies? Or Brad Pitt? Or Brett Farve? Think that maybe, just maybe that would be a story?

THAT is what celebrities can bring, and they also put up with the pathetic mewling of cynics who hope that greed is the biggest motivator in peoples lives. Bono has probably the most critics, and that's part and parcel with his ability to draw crowds: he's been working to alleviate third-world debt for years now, and he knows more about it than 99.5% of the population; but he's a singer, so he must be stupid, right? And he's popular, too, so he's only worthy of derision.

If you were asked to help out some cause you believed in, just by doing whatever it is you do anyways, wouldn't you? Of course, an appeal to the ego never hurts:

"While poverty exists, there is no true freedom.

"History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks. I say to all those leaders, do not look the other way. Do not hesitate. It is easy to make promises but never go to action. We ask those leaders to demonstrate their commitment and not engage with hollow promises. We want action.

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom."

Nelson Mandela


posted by Thursday at 11:42 pm


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