Halloween 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of New Internationalist magazine. To commemorate this event, they organised a panel discussion to answer the question ‘What Does it Mean to be an Internationalist Today?’ As a recent subscriber to the magazine, I was fortunate to be invited to celebrate their birthday milestone by eating cake, drinking wine and listening in on a few bright ideas…
New Internationalist (NI) formed in 1973, following the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. This historic moment amongst others led to the birth of an international movement concerned with implementing and protecting human rights. Current co-editor Hazel Healy briefed the audience about NI’s history, revealing that their original aim was to commit to the establishment of international relations. Forty years on, and Healy explained that their mission has changed and adapted according to the needs of our present society. Now the magazine focuses instead on tackling the imbalance of global power, hoping to encourage equality and instil a sense of global responsibility in order to achieve peaceful cohabiting.. The event acted as a platform for people of all backgrounds to come together, discuss the achievements of the magazine and consider NI’s future direction. The panel hosted an array of talents, with specialists of different interests and knowledge; authors, consultants, researchers, scholars, campaigners and entrepreneurs. 7 participants featured; Dan Smith, Jessica Horn, John Hilary, Nitasha Kaul, Asad Rehman ,Mariéme Jamme and a special video appearance from Jonathon Glennie. After each briefly introduced themselves, Hannah Pool went on to coordinate the discussion, posing various questions regarding NI and our current global situation, so that each participant could answer including their research and opinion.
To begin the discussion, Pool questioned the term ‘internationalism’. Although each of the panel had their personal definitions, it was mutually decided that with the impact of technology, the meaning has changed and evolved over time. Often, internationalism is considered a political movement that advocates a greater economic and political cooperation among nations, with the focus remaining on politics. However, Smith suggested that internationalism today has shifted from politics to people, and more particularly, to the importance of the individual. Therefore this leads us to think that the definition reflects upon society. Currently, with advancements in technology, we are able to communicate more readily between nations and thus, the implementation and protection of human rights is more possible, particularly through means such as international intervention. However, Horn argued that with technology, comes the loss of imagination – the lack of dreaming and creativity. In order to advertise internationalism, we must remember the importance of imagination in the fight for change. Internationalists primarily function on a personal level, dreaming for change for themselves, thus we must continue to ignite this creative flame in order to realise global change.
This in turn led the panel to question what is internationalism – a feeling, a movement, a political ideology? Perhaps internationalism can embrace the notion of solidarity, by creating a global community in which interests and rights can be protected and respected. Perhaps ‘new-age’ internationalism, based on the interests of people and not politics, would be motivated by compassion and not profit? However, Hilary reasoned that internationalism should first and foremost involve political action. In order for this movement to succeed, differing nations must align themselves with international political struggles and work with those that are oppressed. Furthermore, they should challenge their national actions and power, and consider the international impact of their national decisions.
Consider racism. Although there is a significant decrease in colonialism and we have come a long way to supposedly accept and establish a society no longer bound by race, there are still exceptions and opinions that would suggest otherwise. Therefore, the fight is on-going. It is crucial for us to ask ourselves, despite the 40-year landmark, how internationalist are we? Whilst we redefine ‘internationalism’, we should also reconsider our national priorities and review policies that favour first-world prospects, such as the US war on drugs to name but one. In reality, international inequality – dividing the rich from the poor – is rapidly increasing. In order to control this divide, we must stop prioritising national interests, limit using natural resources and facilitate fairer distribution of wealth. Glennie suggested creating a truly internal political platform to allow for discourse and to standardise the way of living in developing countries. Controversially, Kaul recognised that internationalism should eliminate borders, and called to impose a radical imperial anti-sovereignty. In order to create such a platform, we must think beyond the national state and reconsider the traditional and aged social order. Kaul suggests a reorganisation of the transnational political elites, questioning whether there is a link between knowledge and power. Perhaps it is time to rethink democracy? For, presently there is a disconnection between knowledge and people; we must rebrand the struggle in order to make it accessible and relevant to our generation and our society. Kind of what Russell Brand was saying with his comments about a social revolution! The world and all its nations are undeniably connected; therefore internationalism represents the united effort to fight global issues. Rehman claimed that 2013 is a period of movement, that now – if ever – is the time to act. With emerging reports, such as last month’s ICIC report and increasing events regarding global issues such as Reclaim Power Month (Oct/Nov), it is becoming increasingly easier to raise awareness and get people involved. Rehman said
“Internationalism is not a choice; it should be how we define our struggle”
Following this introductory discussion, Pool redirected the panel to think what the NI’s future will be like, considering the technological advancements over the past 40 years. Undoubtedly, technology has the potential to increase and distribute knowledge. However it is unknown whether this will be able to eliminate fear in society and how this will affect the local culture. Already, the panel recognised the potential threat to locals and stressed the importance of preserving their culture. However, Kaul was quick to comment that minority and local groups may be increasingly subject to economic victimisation through the developments of technology. Thus, it is important to already consider the strengthening of policies in order to guarantee future protection.
Despite fear of the impact that technology will have on the local cultures, all the panellists agreed that technology has the potential to collapse the social order as it restores power to all and allows everyone to be represented more equally. This in itself will provide a great global shift, as those oppressed can (finally) express themselves. Yet, we must consider whether technology will redistribute power and wealth through representation. Increased communication between nations as a result of technology, will allow for the creation of ‘local realities’ and thus move us away from the dominant and powerful Eurocentric mind-set. This may result in new learning from international local cultures. However, Horn noted that technological platforms are mainly controlled by transnational companies, thus leading us to question whether this really is a step forward and away from the patriarchal-enforced world stage? Rehman who is a campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FotE) reveals that in effect, FotE is an exemplary independent federation. It succeeds in operating as an influential corporation yet remains internationalist, liberal and democratic, managing to represent the views of its employees. Perhaps FotE can be a model for the future of NI? Both attempt (and succeed!) in marking the distinct shift in power by seeking advice from the South, rather than the frequently sought North. In this way, technology should not be the difference, but the change in power as to how companies and people operate. Furthermore, technology can and should be used in a way to educate locals – through empowerment, connection and engagement with personal and global issues.
Finally, Pool answered questions from the crowd. The audience were most concerned with the labour behind the label so to speak, asking whether our power is only economic. This question referred to the buying power of the western consumer – how they remain uneducated and unaware of the inequalities that exist in the fashion industry, particularly teenage girls shopping absent-mindedly in department stores. As a society, we do not feel part of our global citizenship. Often we are not aware of the ‘other’ nor understand their struggle. Therefore, we cannot relate.to their reality. We need solidarity across borders and to remove the role of the nation in order to realise our role as global citizen. In this way, the local realities – made more accessible through technology – encourage us to recognise our personal global citizenship. Already, there is an increased awareness of our global responsibilities that trump that of the individual, such as climate change. It is thus important to fight at a local and global level, which is why campaigns showcasing global advertising are so important, such as those of Oxfam, WWF and Greenpeace. Social production opens new avenues for reproduction, and thus provides hope to unite the global community. Therefore, technological advancements will hopefully pave a way for understanding and communication between nations.
“Ignorance is not bliss… it is curable”
Overall, the panel provided a stimulating debate both amongst themselves and with the audience, leaving a lot of food for thought. After the discussion, there was a Meet-and-greet session, in which we were invited to wine and nibbles and to continue nurturing our ideas. It was an impersonal, friendly and approachable setting – an exemplary way to pass and share the global responsibility to the future generation that attended.