We want solidarity in an age of inequality

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We want solidarity in the age of inequality

By Hazel Healy

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© Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images.

The first New Internationalist magazine came out in 1973. It was simple, it cost 25p and it had an interview with Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of independent Zambia.

The 1970s was a time of optimism: more African states becoming independent, idealistic leaders demanding change, UK living standards rising. Everyone thought a new global economic order was right and just, even politicians.

Internationalism, then, meant fighting for "basic needs for everyone" – it should not only be people in the rich north of the world who have clean water and enough food and lived long enough to see their children become adults. For our magazine, it also meant educating developed countries about the real causes of poverty in the world. Inequalities were not(as Kaunda and several other leaders said) an accident of history, but the result of economic relationships that helped the countries in the north.

In some ways, this has not changed much; but the balance of power has changed. The global south has rich people too – Oxfam says that 5% of Indians own 50% of the country's wealth. But the gap between the richest and poorest countries has grown; and the people with no political power, and people who are isolated and discriminated against – still lose. So Peter Adamson, the founder of New Internationalist, said the 21st century is the age of inequality. He wanted us to help the poorest 20%.

What do these changes mean for internationalists? There are some big ideas in our 40th anniversary blogs. One problem people talk about a lot is the idea of development. It can mean many things: multinational companies taking land by force from women farmers in Mozambique, or property growth in China. Many people who say development is getting more resources and rights for poor people want to stop using the word.

Nick Dearden is director of World Development Movement (WDM). They are fighting against the causes of world poverty. The organisation started in the 1970s. Nick says the organisation is planning to change their name. Also, he says how bad it is to put solidarity together with charity. This means internationalists help, but poverty is not changed. If there is no respect and fighting for the same thing, the people who get the charity will always be victims a long way away.

This problem happens all the time. One worker from an international NGO told us that a supporter stopped giving money after seeing that the people had mobile phones. This is like saying that we want the Africans to have no power of their own lives.

Mariéme Jamme, a businesswoman from Senegal does not like the way Comic Relief show poor people in Africa. She has asked for a ban. People in poor countries often say they do not want the money if they show their country so badly, even when they need the money so much.

Avaaz, the online campaign group, does not always respect people. It has had a lot of good results, making the world see many local problems. But recently, to fight against child labour in India, it had a picture of a poor child saying “crying child”. We need to respect the people and the reality more.

And we cannot have solidarity without history. Then you can get popular campaigns like US NGO Invisible Children's Kony 2012. Their videos against the terrible Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader, Joseph Kony, went around the world. And Ugandans were shocked because it made the problem too simple and said the US would save them.

Global solidarity often has problems, and New Internationalist and WDM are not the only organisations discussing their identity. The Sheffield Institute for International Development has changed their area to “global justice”. Professor Jean Grugel says we need to fight against injustice where it starts. We need to look at the structural political and economic changes we need to make a fairer world.

So internationalists can think more about justice. Inequality is increasing all the time. When we see the richest 1% in Britain, this should be enough for British people to understand that we need solidarity in our country and in other countries.

We can look at Britain's history. Don Flynn (Migrants Rights Network), remembers giving our leaflets to people who worked in the docks in Liverpool to make them fight against Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech (against immigration). He sees the same spirit of solidarity growing now the world is connected for new generations.

We need an internationalism that knows a lot and feels a lot, but we must not be sentimental and sensationalist. We need to make things more complex, not simpler.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2014/09/03/global-solidarity/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).