Reinventing power (NI 360) may rate as one of the most inspiring NI issues produced so far. The real struggles of the 21st century are being (and will be) fought at a grassroots level. They do not exist because politically minded people came together and decided that 'anticapitalism', 'anti-globalization' or 'antineoliberalism' was the way forward. The poor have been abandoned by the global capitalist system but also, for many years, they've even been excluded from the proposed political solutions. They've found out the hard way that the only way they'll get help is if they help themselves.
'People power' involves taking responsibility for your actions
The hierarchical power structure used to maintain the neoliberal economic system can be described in terms of inclusion and exclusion, a carrot of inclusion (be it wealth, status or power) is used jointly with a stick of exclusion. The Included are not necessarily ' evil' or 'uncaring': they are simply blind. I am an able-bodied white man. As such I should endeavour to accept that each pigeonhole, being 'male', being 'able-bodied' and being ' Caucasian', will give me extra privilege. To act ethically I must be open to the experiences of women, the disabled and ethnic minorities and be aware that the only way by which I can really help is by changing myself. It is not enough for me simply to highlight the opinions of the Excluded (ie claim to be a feminist or anti-racist); solidarity is commendable but in itself changes nothing. Being an able-bodied white male I must be responsible for a position of authority I neither approve of nor asked for.
At the same time I am poor and uneducated with little prospect of escaping a rundown council estate in one of the deprived areas of the country. So there are also some middleclass people who might like to understand their complicity in my suffering. 'People power' involves taking responsibility for your own actions. Only by being open to the Excluded can we let the grassroots message travel upward to those who exclude us.
Katharine Ainger (Keynote, Reinventing power, NI 360) tentatively invokes a futurescape where social and economic problems will be increasingly solved through 'local control' and 'mutual aid'. But I would suggest there is an inherent problem with local groups 'doing it for themselves'.
Ms Ainger alludes to it when she speaks of the complexity of the 'real, functioning social order'. Who will local groups answer to when individuals are excluded from the benefits of action on the grounds of gender, race, sexuality, disability or religion? How would such informal organizations be effectively policed to prevent such discrimination? Or are we to believe the 'intelligent mob' has transcended social prejudices?
I warmly welcome Katherine Ainger's egalitarian vision, but unless mutual aid projects embrace proactive social education, I fear the rise of local democracy may only further the cause of mutual exclusion.
West Yorkshire, England
I found Peter Wetzel's letter (NI 360) defending execution in Cuba frankly nauseating. He claims that Cuba had sufficient reason because those executed had 'put lives at risk'. The judicially murdered, he says, were 'beginning to threaten the Cuban population as a whole', and the 'dissidents' were 'simply mercenaries living affluently in the pay of Washington'. If we are to accept his explanation, the Americans were far more responsible for the executions than the Castro Government.
Can't we all just accept that the deliberate judicial putting to death of people by the State is an abomination? And whichever state does it says as much about itself as do any of those 'achievements' which Peter cites and says 'must be defended'.
He believes the Cubans did 'what they had to do and not what they wished to do'. What more classic justification is there for any kind of repression by any deplorable dictatorship anywhere in the world?
Readers will no doubt be saddened to learn that Uzbek human-rights activist Ruslan Sharipov (Currents, NI 360) was jailed for five years on charges of homosexuality as you went to press. Saddened, but not surprised - attacks on progressive forces by US client dictators so often follow in the train of American foreign policy throughout the Islamic world.
Sounds of division
I found Sounds of dissent (NI 359) an inspiring read (and listen). However, it may have been worth having an article on the way music can also be used to divide people and as an instrument of hate. The use of music by the far right is very worrying - the Protestant drum bands in Northern Ireland and the use of folk music by Serbian right wingers are examples of how music can be used for political means far removed from peace and justice.
I have a collection of lectures by Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Angela Davis and other voices of dissent. I've been donating them to public libraries throughout the US and would like to get them into libraries in other countries. If anybody is interested in a free collection of tapes for their library, they can contact me at [email protected]. I'll even pay the shipping.
And if people would like to affect the dialogue of the American Empire, please write letters to editors of our press. After years of reading the thoughts of the NI community, I know you all have much to contribute to this country's often provincial discussion.
Denver, Colorado, US
Re the US Missile Defense Agency's Coloring Book (Seriously, NI 359): I found out this book was issued during Public Service Recognition Week held some time in May this year to encourage people to remember the good things that US federal and state agencies do for them (ahem). Another website that offers a colouring book is www.army.mil/coolstuff/coloring/ - nice tanks and helicopters to colour in: cool stuff indeed.
Rock star furore
Why did the NI bother wasting a page whining about the detainees in Guantánamo Bay (NI 359)? Hey, imprisoning people is cool. Just look at the 'Rock Star kidnap' cartoon in the same issue. If your cartoonist thinks that millionaire rock stars Bono, Sting and Geldof, who've shown their commitment on issues of Third World poverty and debt, deserve to be kidnapped, what does he think your typical right-wing millionaire deserves? A firing squad?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
making fun of people's speech is insulting and unnecessary
My husband was annoyed at the 'imitation' of Bob Geldof's accent and I found it distasteful. Making fun of people's speech, whether they are wealthy millionaires or not is insulting and unnecessary. The speech of people of colour used to be represented in this way.
Brian and Anna O'Connor
Victor Harbor, Australia
I don't know much about Bob Geldof and Bono. I don't particularly like their music. I know they have made lots of money. I know they are internationally known for their publicity work on issues such as debt and inequality. I don't know how valid or radical that work is. I don't know what proportion of their $45 million they share with others - do you?
What I do know for sure is that they are both Irish and that your crude caricature of the dialect of English spoken by Irish people is offensive and unacceptable. It was reminiscent of the lowest moments of anti-Irish prejudice in cartoons by Punch in the 19th century or British newspapers in the late 20th century. I had hoped we had moved beyond the use of ethnic characteristics as ways to ridicule people.
Polyp replies – I'm sorry that you feel the cartoon was racist, but you're automatically assuming the aim was to mock Geldof and Bono for being Irish. whereas the real intention was simply to imitate their accents. A cartoonist always caricatures someone's appearance, and the same goes for their voice, be it Russian, South African or American. If 'Rock Star Kidnap' were a TV sketch, you wouldn't expect the actors to make these characters sound English, surely? I accept that offensive caricatures of Irish voices do try to make the character sound 'thick', but in this case I was very careful to ensure I strictly stuck to imitating the voices of those individuals, and not a generic type - that's why Bono was given a much milder accent than Geldof. Although it makes no difference to the logic of the argument, you might be interested to hear my parents were both born in Ireland.
AIDS in Africa
I write in as one of the 'misguided' working on HIV/AIDS in Africa since the late 1980s (Currents, NI 359). Two points drew my concern. First, many of us have always recognized the anal route in sexual transmission of HIV in Africa, and have long included it in educational and behaviour change messages for heterosexual couples, men having sex with men, sex workers and their clients and in work with street boys. True, more emphasis is needed on making it safer. Second, the throwaway comment that unsafe medical practices 'probably caused most of the spread of HIV in Africa' is seriously misleading. Heterosexual sex, particularly between older men and younger women and between men and loosely defined sex workers or girlfriends, is only too clearly the major route of transmission, to judge by extensive data. The belated recognition that unsterile injections and other unsafe medical practices have also contributed more than previously recognized is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
HIV/AIDS Advisor for UNFPA for Southern Africa,