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Congratulations! by a New Internationalist writer


Colin Knowles under a Creative Commons Licence

Mari Marcel Thekaekara explains what New Internationalist means to her, and why she is celebrating the success of the Community Share Offer.

I’m a bit shy about asking friends for money for ‘my’ causes, because I’m conscious that folks might go ‘Oh no! Here she comes again!’

But when the NI crowdfunding flyer came round, offering the chance to invest in New Internationalist and become a co-owner in an ethical global media movement, I was forced to think. I feel a part of NI because I have written for the magazine (and, later, website) since 1989. But I’m not on the staff, so I think it’s okay for me to spell out why I have always enjoyed reading the NI and felt honoured when co-editor Chris Brazier asked me to try out for a column almost 30 years ago.

I began reading NI in the 1970s. I had been politicized growing up in communist West Bengal. But I had seen that the idea of communism was better in theory than in practice. Like Christianity, not many people really followed the spirit of the original teachings. Growing up in Calcutta, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had seen too much mindless bloodshed in the name of extremist Marxism.

The NI was my sort of magazine, and it introduced me to several issues for the first time. Climate change, seeds being commercialized by large corporations, stealing seeds from farmers. I had lived with communist propaganda for years (though capitalists do it better: their bullshit, starting with Hollywood, is more believable and cleverer) so some issues of NI sounded to me like pinko exaggeration. Been there, heard that.

Switch to the millennium. Mea culpa. NI was merely prophetic. All those dire warnings which most people dismissed 40 years ago are now hitting us hard where it hurts. Only the really obtuse will deny the effects of global warming and climate change today. In 1992, south Indian farmers belonging to the Karnataka Rajya Ryotha Sangha, a powerful peasant union, stormed a seed-processing plant in Bellary, Karnataka, owned by the US transnational Cargill Seeds. In Bangalore, in December 1992, farmers set fire to another Cargill office. They were protesting against US access to India’s gene bank for plants. The farmers considered they had a right to do this because they felt Cargill was stealing an ancient heritage that belonged to farmers all over the world. The sale of terminator seeds was, in their view, piracy and an attack on global farming communities. The farmers created their own ‘worldwide web’ to fight back.

I wrote about these things in a 1990 NI column, because by then farmers everywhere were protesting. What seemed like NI science fiction in the 1970s became the visible, terrifying scenario of the 1990s. And by the millennium, everyone could see the effects of climate change and could see that the poisoning of the entire food chain – starting with the wholesale spraying of toxic chemicals and pesticides on most agricultural produce – was linked to the epidemic of cancer now prevalent all over the earth. Seven-year-old girls are attaining puberty because cows are fed growth hormones. Extreme capitalism is as lethal as extreme communism.

It is a grim scenario, no doubt.

But I’m grateful that NI exists, because it raised awareness before most people had heard of these issues. And because NI gave space to writers who, in the 1970s, would not otherwise have been able to sound those early warning bells. Most editors and newspapers would have dismissed them as cranks.

So I’m celebrating the fact that NI has managed to raise the requisite amount to keep up its high ethical standards, its values, its uncompromising quest for social justice and the global fight against poverty.

NI co-editors have also been among the nicest I have ever dealt with. Courteous, sensitive, sending copy back for me to approve their edits. They have been an unbelievable lot. But that’s another story.

For now, cheers! I wish I was in Oxford to celebrate with the team. But I’m pretty sure their global readership will be singing hosannas. And it is a wonderful feeling to know we made it!