Poverty, unequal pay, refugee status, same-sex marriage, racism, human rights — what’s the common denominator?
All have been and continue to be the subject of practical and intellectual conflict, the powerful versus the rest of us.
It has always been the case that the wealthy few hold sway — whether you define wealth in terms of monetary riches, resource or power. At current estimates, more than 80% of the world’s population is living in poverty, despite the fact that we have enough food, resource, knowledge, technology and money to more than take care of the world’s seven billion strong population.
And despite a century of progress in women’s rights, racial equality, human rights law, politics and economics, we still live in an age where there is a vast and growing underclass of people who have yet to see any meaningful change in their daily lives.
Why? And what can we do to ensure that we evolve rather than regress? Crucially, how do we maintain hope in our collective future?
These might sound like grand utopian challenges and the solutions sure aren't easy but global inequality is just as urgent a concern as food shortages and diminishing resources — all are problems created by our twisted genius of a species, and problems that are going to beset millions more of us as the world population grows at the exponential rates currently predicted.
Strength in numbers
In his excellent analysis of how identity politics have been used to divide and conquer peoples and nations throughout human history — ‘Who Are We?’ — author and journalist Gary Younge suggests that the grand ambitions of working towards a common humanity are noble enough but redistribution of resource, and overturning the power structures even in so-called democracies, is the first step we should be aiming for:
“Eradicating these imbalances is as much in the interests of the West as in those of the global South, not to mention the increasing pockets of relative desperation that live within the West. Through inequities in trade abroad and iniquities of social policy at home, we are creating a local and international underclass with little or no stake in a system that little or no interest in them.”
If there’s one thing history has taught us that counters our relentless propensity for conflict, it’s that revolutions, protests and mass movements can reinstate the power of ‘the people’.
In the past five years alone, we have seen much that gives cause for hope. Millions of people worldwide have been taking to the streets — the Occupy movements in New York and London, protests in Athens fuelled by the economic fall-out, the toppling of Mubarak by protesters in Egypt, the riots that swept England after the police shooting of Mark Duggan.
From the Arab Spring to the Hong Kong protests, Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for education to Ethiopia’s BEZA Anti-AIDS youth group — grassroots change is being orchestrated by the people who need it most.
The power of words
These are the stories we need to hear, stories of resilience, bravery, courage and hope that alter the tone of the conversation while also facilitating practical change. As strategic adviser for Oxfam Duncan Green says in his piece for Blog Action Day, we need to hear more stories that talk about defeating inequality in positive terms:
“An exclusive focus on injustice can be demobilizing, even patronising, if we fail to understand and celebrate the numerous struggles going on to confront it, from global victories such as trade union rights, the abolition of slavery or women’s suffrage, to the unsung liberation of a woman in Eastern Congo, speaking up for the first time.”