Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Sunday, July 03, 2005

One Harry Potter, two trainspotters and a demonstration of people power; Dispatches from the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh

'It's about telling the leaders we want the debt to be cancelled, that we want trade to be fair, but its also about showing solidarity with people in Africa, standing up for people who have been ignored for hundreds of years'. Those words of Caroline, 20, a voluntary worker in Leeds summed up the feelings of many people I spoke to on the journey up to Edinburgh. Like many others on the train, she had come with friends from her Church, and all of them were committed and passionate about 'making poverty history'. Gareth, a young worker, optimistically spoke of the public reaction surrounding the MPH campaign. 'Its just cool to see people getting hold of something. It takes an event like todays to get people to think "Lets do something here".' The Christians on the train ranged from members of the Mother's Union to young students who had 'took a bit of time off school' in the build up to the war on Iraq in 2003. There were many families, and almost everyone was dressed in white. Many of them had taken part in the protests at Birmingham in 1998 when the G8 last met in Britain, but for others it was their first national demonstration. A group of young school students, their faces painted with slogans, represented the real spirit of this new generation, shattering the stereotypes of young people as 'anti-social yobs' as they are often portrayed by the media and politicians. One of them, Elinor, 17, noted that when the politicians were kids, 'there were things for them to do - our generation is left with a kind of hopelessness, but I think its really wonderful that so many other young people gave up their Saturday and are making the effort to go up to Edinburgh.'

The train itself was described as 'heritage', which meant it was quite slow and often stopped for apparently no reason in random places. Yet when we finally reached York, the two trainspotters who were there (at 7am Saturday morning!) couldn't believe their luck, manically taking pictures. Apparently, the train had been used in the Harry Potter movie and had a 'Hogwarts' template on the side as well. Yet the train was not just full of Harry Potter reading families on what Gordon Brown called a 'moral crusade'. There was a group of Ethiopians, for example and I spoke to two mature African students living in Leeds, Furious Chitongo from Zimbabwe and Fideus Chebe from Cameroon. Furious was highly critical of the role of multinational capital in Africa, noting that the IMF met with Mugabe last month to discuss business. It was good that the G8 leaders were talking about debt relief but she felt 'they may be doing it for their own hidden agendas'. Fideus said 'we have to reconceptualise what poverty is - it is not just about money, not just about gift aid, it is about justice, democracy, decency, human rights and freedom.' He felt that 'real politics' was 'people power', not what the politicians did and said.

Also on the train up was Juan Carlos Galvis, a human rights officer for SINALTRAINAL, a Food and Drink Workers Union in Columbia. He was in Britain as part of a speaking tour for the Columbia Solidarity Campaign and to raise awareness about the human rights abuses there, including assassinations and intimidation of trade unionists. In Columbia, an average of 19 people, many civilians, die in political violence every day. 'There is no justice, impunity reins' as a result of state sponsored terrorism. Right wing paramilitaries were rampant. He wanted in particular to raise the issue of the international boycott of Coca- Cola, and their day of action coming up on the 22nd July. I asked him what he thought of Coke's attempt to sponsor Live Aid. He said it was an 'amoral calculation' but he was not surpised as the company do the same in Columbia. 'They sow terror inside the plant while using its money to sow a good image outside.' His message for those also protesting against the G8? 'In order to oppose globalisation we have to globalise our solidarity. We have to take the initiative into our own hands. We can build a better world than the one dictated to us by multinational companies.' The magificent demonstration of people power in Edinburgh, as about 300,000 people marched in possibly the biggest demonstration in Scottish history, shows once again that another world is possible.

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