"Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.”
-- U2, “Crumbs From Your Table”
To that list, we can add how we tend to forget how privileged we are. As we walk around consumed with our typically self-imposed problems, how often do we consider those born without a hint of hope?
Yesterday, my wife and I went to see “Born Into Brothels” at the amazing Film Forum theater in New York’s West Village. The children are unforgettable...but this is not a feel-good Pollyanna fable of rich and poor. I’m not sure when and if it will be playing nationwide, but “Born Into Brothels” is a must-see documentary...a film that will leave you trying (in vain) to make sense of your life of relative privilege.
Seeing “Born Into Brothels” came close on the heels of my involvement in Operation: Bolivia. A writer friend Rich Joseph and his wife Lisa were planning to visit the Bolivian Children’s Mission in January. They asked me to help out with a fundraiser. The result was an evening of cause of effect held last week in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.
We raised money and consciousness. Rich and Lisa will personally deliver the money and buy the goods for children in South America’s poorest nation. Will this challenge the social conditions that allow for global poverty on a planet of abundant resources? I doubt it. Will it offer immediate help and relief for humans in need? Definitely. Are these goals mutually exclusive? If you think so, go see “Born Into Brothels” and decide if your ten-years-in-the-making manifesto takes precedence. Go to the Bolivian Children’s Mission website, look into the eyes of those kids, and get back to me about it.
Creating a global movement, engaging in direct action, waking up the indoctrinated masses...these are all efforts that deserve tireless support. But not one of them will offer a shred of relief to those on the edge right now. We must find time for all forms of activism...and last week in Brooklyn, that is what I told the crowd.
I told them Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America and 60% of its population is made up of indigenous people (some call it coincidence).
I told them that despite the fact that Bolivia sits on some of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, 70% of its 8.6 million inhabitants live below the poverty line...and nearly one child in ten dies before the age of 5.
When we hear statistics like this, we tend to respond with pity...and maybe even disdain that those damn Third Worlders can’t get their act together.
Thanks to the corporate media, we’re trained to perceive hunger and malnutrition as virtual acts of god. Too many people, not enough food—toss in an earthquake, hurricane, or drought and voila: misery. Predatory global capitalism is not even on the radar screen when it comes to placing blame.
This reaction to Third World misery ignores the role America plays...the role WE play. NAFTA, WTO, World Bank, IMF...I can’t say what any these mean to you but you can be damn sure they mean an awful lot to those 70% in Bolivia...and literally billions elsewhere.
Our world produces more than enough food to provide every single person the opportunity to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Instead, at least a billion people on the planet subsist on the equivalent of one US dollar a day or less.
You might be thinking: What the hell do I have to do with prostitution in India or poverty in Bolivia? Well, if so, I’m really glad you asked.
Che Guevara once explained: “The amount of poverty and suffering required for the emergence of a Rockefeller, and the amount of depravity that the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude entails, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible to make the people in general see this.”
If we trust the news we get from the corporate media, we play a role. If we cheer our country’s behavior uncritically, we play a role. If we buy goods made by sweatshop labor, prison labor, and slave labor, we play a role. If we’re more interested in the new Paris Hilton sex video than how our tax dollars are spent, we play a role.
Our tax dollars are used to condemn 70% of the population of Bolivia to a life of misery while we spend our time worrying about how many free minutes we get on our cell phone. We Americans typically ignore our responsibilities and our obligations as citizens of the world’s most powerful nation and we also ignore what the rest of the world has to offer and to teach us. The great distraction machines make sure of that: “Hello America. Don’t worry about Bolivia. Here’s another Paris Hilton sex video. Bolt your door, sit on your couch, and watch that instead.”
There’s a line in the song, “Middle of the Road” by the Pretenders: “When you own a big chunk of the bloody Third World...the babies just come with the scenery.”
What’s that...you don’t own anything here or in the Third World? Here’s the equation, friends: Our tax dollars (and our rhetoric and/or our support) fund and enable U.S. domination of institutions like the World Bank. As a result, the developing world spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in aid.
That means untold billions are allocated toward paying off debt to powerful Western banks instead of being invested in water systems, infrastructure to rural communities, education, and health care.
When will we wake up, step up, and act up? When we will stand up and shout: Not in our name? What will motivate us? How much evidence do we need? Try this:
The recently released UNICEF report on the State of the World’s Children found that:
* One in six of the children on the planet was severely hungry.
* One in seven had no access to health care.
* One in five had no safe water.
* One in three had no toilet or sanitation facilities at home.
* 640 million children did not have adequate shelter.
* 140 million children, the majority of them girls, had never been to school.
More than 10 million child deaths were recorded in 2003, with an estimated 29,158 children under 5 dying from mostly preventable causes every day.
29,158. Under 5. Every day. From preventable causes.
The next time you’re at a baseball game or rock concert, glance around and get a feel for what 29,158 looks like.
For the first time in history, there are as many underweight people in the world as there are overweight people: 1.1 billion of each.
Let’s play juxtapositions:
Every 2 seconds a child starves to death/There are 1600 diet books in circulation in America.
Every 2 seconds a child starves to death/14 times as many people could be fed by using the same land currently reserved for livestock grazing (stop underestimating the power and impact of the vegetarian lifestyle).
Meanwhile, running parallel to all this poverty and starvation, the U.S. spends $1 million a minute on war.
One million dollars a minute...on war.
A million here, a million there...pretty soon, we’re talking about real money. And what does this buy?
During the 1990s, for example, an average of 2,174 people died each day due to war. Nine of out ten were civilians. Five out of ten of those civilians were children. Whether killed by poverty or by war, they’re being punished for crimes that did not commit.
Do the math: How much of our money was spent on war and how many children starved to death while you read this article? Anyone got a calculator?
The question on so many people’s lips these days is: “Why do they hate us?”
Better question: How could they not hate us?
We give them an excellent reason every 2 seconds and a million more reasons every single minute. There are no innocent bystanders when your money, rhetoric, or silence supports the world’s most powerful military and the corporate status quo.
I know I’m not the only one thinking how much this system sucks...but is it so hard to imagine better ways to spend that one million dollars per minute?
The UN says the basic nutrition and health needs of the world’s poorest people would cost only $13 billion a year.
$13 billion is roughly 10% of what the U.S. has spent on the war in Iraq so far.
Here’s a novel idea: How about we stop blowing up babies in the Third World and start feeding them instead?
I’m not talking about being a good little capitalist and buying guilt relief with a check to bloated non-profit. I’m asking you to start by donating money to Operation: Bolivia. Not a penny will go to a CEO’s salary or an advertising budget. For example, money is already being spent on head lice remedies.
Rich and Lisa are leaving on January 2. Time is not on our side. Send donations ASAP, and make all checks payable to:
Richard Joseph Castagna
Be sure to include your e-mail address so Rich and Lisa can send updates (and perhaps photos) about how and where your $$$ is being spent.
A tiny step, yes...but the first of many, I promise.
This holiday season, in the midst of mall parking lots filled with SUVs laden with expensive gifts...it all starts with just a crumb from your table.
Mickey Z. is the author of two brand new books: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press) and A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Library Empyreal/Wildside Press). For more information, please visit: http://mickeyz.net.
Other Recent Articles by Mickey Z.
with a Tupamaro