I promised myself I wouldn’t get too worked up about the pop concert that was happening in London the same time as the 200,000-strong demonstration in Edinburgh, but then you start to read some of the absolutely infruriating imbecilities being batted around about Live 8, like:
- “They managed to create a very hard hitting message without compromising the music.” Because you wouldn’t want your day spoiled in any way by pictures of dying Africans, would you? Fuckwit.
- (on the ?1000-a-seat front row tickets) “It’s completely hypocritical, we are trying to save people from poverty and they are here having bought the privilege. If we had wanted to watch it on TV we would have stayed at home.” – well then why the fuck didn’t you stay at home and donate the money that you spent on the text message(s) that you sent in, which are just as much buying privilege as those in the front row? Idiot.
- “I’m here to see the old school acts like Pink Floyd and Madonna, and hopefully make some menial difference through a text message”; “It’s all about the music today. I’m looking to see U2, Coldplay, Pink Floyd and the Scissor Sisters” (both in infoboxes in today’s Observer, though the web version hasn’t included them) Neither of these quotes needs any further comment.
Okay, perhaps I’m being harsh, you might say, and cherry-picking the most moronic soundbites, just to prove a point. And you’d be right, because I did. But there’s a more fundamental point – what really was the point of all those concerts yesterday? There’s the defence that they’re not there to raise money (especially as the Hyde Park gig has had to pay off the Prince’s Trust to the tune of ?1.6m for treading on their toes), but to raise “awareness”. But awareness of what? We all know Africa has been pretty fucked over, but how has it come this way? And how can we help Africa out of it? While it might be unfair for me to isolate individual hapless concert-goers and demand they know all the ins and outs, it’s at least reasonable to expect some sort of leadership from those who have organised it, for them to tell us what they feel has gone wrong in Africa and how it can be put right. Well, here’s Bob Geldof’s (and Bono’s and Richard Curtis’) message to the G8 leaders:
“For God’s sake, take this seriously. Don’t behave normally. Don’t look for compromises. Be great. Do more than expected, not the least you can get away with. You know what will really make a difference, what will turn extreme poverty around, what will actually begin to save the lives of millions of men, women and children. Do it. Please do it. The world is watching.”
Thoe first five sentences would not look out of place on a motivational poster in an accountancy firm’s office; the rest is equally vapid. There is nothing, not one single word in the entire letter admonishing past failures of the G8 (or the World Bank, or the IMF) in Africa, not one demand to change existing policy, in fact nothing about what to do at all. The phrase “Make Poverty History” has been turned from an expression of a worthwhile goal into a meaningless mantra. It has been hijacked by a series of millionaire publicity-hungry preening primadonnas who haven’t the wit or talent to do anything but “I know, we’ll organise another fucking pop concert and make ourselves look like angels”, instead of trying to grasp the very real issues that need to be debated.
At the same time as the self-congratulatory love-in in Hyde Park, a Guardian commentator noted about the rally in Edinburgh:
“This is a very strange protest – a mass mobilisation that is essentially in support of government policy to cancel developing world debt and double aid.”
This is the second-most bullshit statement quoted here, after Geldof’s fairy-tale letter. Because as someone who was there, who not only marched but attended the stalls and tents and heard a few of the speeches at the rally, I can say that this was not the case. There was plenty of acknowledgement of all the good action done by the government so far, but also plenty about the good things it hasn’t yet done. People were campaigning against the strings attached to debt relief, such as ruinous privatisation of public utilities. They were calling for further increases in aid, for the outright scrapping of farm subsidies, in the EU and the US, not just gestures at “reform”. There were questions about seed patents, retroviral drugs, clean water, fair trade, protection of capital markets and corruption as well as broader issues such as the environment, the pax Americana and the “war on terror”. While in London people sat back and let Geldof spout half-understood, over-simplified pro-government sentiments at an infantilised audience, in Edinburgh there were plenty of people with the intelligence and the enthusiasm to question such simple gestures and understand the nuances and complexities of the issue, who actually got off their arses and did something about it.
It’s easy to sneer, you might think. But it’s even easier to mouth empty platitudes and remain ignorant of the real problems. Put simply, when it comes to issues like this, good intentions are not good enough. And Bob Geldof is an attention-seeking idiot. But the point about intentions is the more important one.
Partly inspired by this quite good John Harris article on the ‘Dianification’ of the global development movement.