Monthly Archives: November 2013

New Internationalist Halloween Panel

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.

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Remember Remember, the 5th of November

Fireworks night is a popular celebration with many happily embracing the creeping cold, armed with heavy layers, food and wine, or perhaps a lover. Traditionally, we marvel at the display, ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’ accordingly, enthused by the bright lights.

Demonstrators London 2013

However, this year’s November the 5th saw a return to the historical meaning behind the yearly-scheduled spectacle. The Anonymous Operation group (AnonOps) organised for a protest to take place worldwide, calling this movement Million Mask March. The idea was for the public to unite against the government in a non-violent way to remind the State of the people’s power. It would be a continuation of #OpVendetta, a call to extend the earlier international 15-M, Arab Spring and Occupy Movements. London’s event was located opposite the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it served as a direct reminder of Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the government through his Gunpowder Plot of 1605. London’s 2013 meeting thus also acted as an indirect threat, revealing the cracks and discontentment in our current society and leading many to question our future political stability.

Participating in the protest, I was amongst those who met at 6pm at Trafalgar Square, London. From here, there was a short, mostly silent march to Parliament with all sorts of passionate protestors holding up signs to publicise their beliefs. People wore masks and headpieces in an attempt to cover their faces and remain anonymous, as was the intended protocol for the protest. Once we reached Parliament, we established ourselves, taking to the streets and filling the Square. We remained like this for a few hours, with people chanting on megaphones, milling amongst themselves and becoming familiar with the different arguments.

In reality, the protest brought together a mixed group of people; even Russell Brand attended (his usual look decorated with the Anonymous mask). There were those who used it as an opportunity to self-promote – I bought a rap CD about the Bedroom Tax [find out more at http://www.girofunk.org] – and those who pragmatically distributed information and leaflets about politics and upcoming events, such as the People’s Assembly… There were passionate, radical protestors, many of whom were rather aggressive in their demonstrations and often confronted and provoked the police, but they were content to be amongst other more peaceful demonstrators, such as those who sought protection for badgers (a surprisingly large group!), students, friends who were reunited unintentionally and people that played music – both on the drums and through the megaphone (Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley was a popular song choice). At one point there was a clearing and one woman started fire dancing to music, much to the enjoyment of the crowd, until the police broke up the spectacle. Later on, two girls dressed revealingly in rags and wearing what looked like Halloween make-up enacted a contemporary dance, snaking between the audience and the police, distributing snippets of information scrawled with handwritten messages such as “When the bodies are tuned together, we win”. The audience drew their own conclusions as to the purpose of the dance. People were united and free to talk to one another, ask questions and exchange ideas. In my eyes, the police were very understanding towards demonstrators; they passively accepted the protest and all its spectacles, instead peacefully watching it unfold in front of them, stepping in only to prevent danger, minimise conflicts and reorganise traffic.

Fire Dancer

Truthfully speaking, I thought the protest lacked structure. The Anonymous movement is iconic for its lack of leadership. Instead it favours “a loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives”[i], which is characterised by supporters wearing the appropriately stylised Guy Fawkes masks. Although anonymity is a trademark feature of this protest, anonymity created ambiguity among fellow demonstrators. Despite the conjunction of interests – from badgers to austerity cuts – there lacked a concise united feeling. People in attendance seemed confused by the various approaches offered and there was disorganisation spreading ideas about the post-protest assembly. Eventually, people became divided by rumours of a wrap-up meeting on the other side of the river. Some eagerly followed the alleged gossip, longing for a summary of the protest and some explanation to strengthen their sense of belonging. However, this confusion resulted in dividing the crowds and ultimately led to the early end of the protest.

Despite this seeming lack of united front, the protest was a success. The relatively peaceful carnival-esq vibe that ensued after the march reflected the original intentions and ideas of AnonOps. The Facebook page previously expressed that they wanted to “change the rules [of protesting], by turning this ‘new tradition’ of petition into more of a festival of ideas, performance art and symbolic new age discussion that has formed the political views of the youth of today.”[ii] In this sense, AnonOps achieved exactly what they set out to create. Effectively, a street party took place outside the Houses of Parliaments, and only 11 people were arrested, despite an estimated 2,000 in attendance. And of course, the detention of individuals is what the media concentrates on…

AnonOps have been running this yearly march since 2011 with numbers growing almost double each year! It is important to generate support for this movement, in order to mobilise social change and to be able to express the needs and desire of the public. Fireworks are a symbolic metaphor for the public’s voice, so let us be heard!

Join Next Year’s Event

Info re: Million Mask March

Info re: AnonOps

Info re: Gunpowder Plot, 1605

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