Global Discontent beckoning the Global Street
Dr Rachael Rudolph
Fires blazing and people are rising, with discontent abound. Wars waging and conflicts are on going, with people dying and states attempting to reassert their control over this period of uncertainty. Where are we heading?
Hunger, homelessness and poverty are common ills afflicting societies around the world from the West to the East and from the North to the South. Depending upon where one is from or living, as well as to his or her experiences, the images that come to mind may vary. Last year when I queried my students, all of whom were attending a private college in rural Virginia, most referenced a place in Africa or Central and South America. Few cited those living on the streets in the urban areas throughout the United States or in London.
Just the other day, while driving through one of the better areas in Palm Beach, Florida, there were three homeless men standing on different corners begging for food or work. As I sat at the light, I watched people in the other cars surrounding my own. They looked down, over and anywhere other than at the man standing in the middle of our intersection. He was scruffy looking, with his hair matted from being uncombed, clothes dirty, and walked with a limp. The car immediately next to my own rolled up the window.
Maybe it was fear that the man would dare outright to ask for some change, since his sign appeared not to have an impact. Were they ashamed to see such poverty? Do they think that ignoring the problem of homelessness will just make it go away? Should they not be concerned that those begging and living on the streets are becoming even more visible and that the numbers are increasing?
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, budget cuts in the US are expected to increase vulnerability and homelessness. Many ordinary individuals, when queried, cite problems of drugs or just the outright refusal of people to get a job as reasons for the plight of those living on the streets. There are some on the streets for those reasons, but it is not the case for the overwhelming majority. The main reason for homelessness, at least in the United States, is the inability to find affordable housing. As bankruptcies, foreclosures, unemployment and the inability to pay property taxes increase, so too will those who find themselves without a home. The US is not alone, as the trend is increasing.
Like homelessness, poverty has been a long-standing problem around the world. In the US alone, there are 16.7 million children living in poverty, with 2009 marking the highest point in 15 years. The numbers are expected to increase, as the economy worsens and spending for social programs are slashed in order to pay other government expenditures. To drive the image home, education, health and housing are just some of those areas where funding is expected to be cut.
Elected officials will continue to receive their six figure salaries and health care benefits, while the ordinary people will continue to worry whether it will be this month they find themselves without a home or job, and if they will indeed be entering the halls, and joining the silent chorus of, the poverty-stricken. The reality of the elected official compared to that of the ordinary individual is far apart and different. How can politicians make and implement policies for, when they are not reflective of, the people?
For years, many ordinary folk claim the reason they do not vote or follow politics is that those in political office do not represent them or their interest. The counter often heard to this statement is that, “well if you vote, then there could be change and there would be a candidate representative of your interests.” Is it that simple? No, of course it is not.
Those elected to office are the elite within society and are reflective of their interests. Moreover, the costs of running in an election ensure that someone from the elite will be elected and their souls will have already been beholden and sold before entering the halls of power. Very rare are there officials that we can honestly say are reflective of the ordinary man or woman. The underlying political problem, unfortunately, is systemic and the only fix is structural.
There will not be systemic change until there is societal change. Instead of turning our heads at the homeless man or woman standing the street, we need to talk to and hold out our hand. There can no longer be the turning away from those shedding tears or struggling to survive. Wipe their tears, shed your own, and hold hands in the drive for survival, for we are, and of, the people. Stop allowing feelings of helplessness be the justification for your inaction. There is always something that can and needs to be done.
Through community initiatives, cooperatives and other local oriented drives, we can do what our governments and politicians are unable to do, and simultaneously build the underlying infrastructure needed for systemic change. We can join the streets of protest that are breaking out all over the world. Those on the streets are not just others who, like you, are struggling and discontent with the status quo. They are the people with whom one needs to work with in order to make a difference and to bring about true change and reform.
From Africa to the Americas and from Europe to the Middle East our grievances and plights may vary but they are similar in degrees. Is it not time for us to join hands and work together to end the self-interested and elite driven policies crafted and implemented by those not of and for the people? Are not our common goals to challenge states that dictate to rather than cooperate with the people of the international community; to put an end to a state-centric international system dominated by a few rather than a majority and to make respected space for non-state actors; and, to reverse the culture of impunity that has pervaded the international arena and the current nation-state system for far too long?
It is time for change and only the global street can bring it about to make a difference. In the absence of cooperation, the people will remain weak and our rights, dignity and freedom will continue to be eroded and trampled upon by those neither reflective nor representative of the people. Will you allow yourself to be imprisoned and shackled before you even realize it was all a mirage designed to keep you subordinate? Are we human; are we one; and, are we the people of the global street? Maybe we are nobody, existing in a world by and for the political elite and destined to be silenced by bonds of servitude. It is your future, your destiny and only you can decide, as change begins, first and foremost, from within.
Dr Rachael Rudolph is Head of International Relations at Facilitate Global. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.