When ‘Raising Consciousness’ Ain’t Enough
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
The images of voracious famine leaking out of the steamy deserts of the Northwest African nation of Niger, cuts to the soul’s quick.
Babies barely able to grasp a breath. Mothers with breasts as flat, and milkless as boys. Men and women, dizzy with hunger, laid low in the barren dust, awaiting whatever release that either death or food may bring. Fathers weeping because there is a relentless drought, and there is nothing—nothing—to feed one’s wife, one’s children, one’s aged mother.
This is Niger, 2005, and according to broadcast reports, it will take about 4 weeks, or perhaps more, for any food relief to reach the nation.
It is a telling reflection of the lives we live that here, in the heart of the Empire, there are millions of people who have so much to eat, that the fastest growing health threat is morbid obesity, and it’s equally serious cousin, diabetes. Billions of dollars are spent annually on the latest fad diet, carbo diets, Atkins diets, grapefruit diets, and, if I’m not mistaken, a donut diet (OK—I’m joking about the last one. But just barely.)
What’s wrong with this picture? How the world is organized, and how the world’s economic business is done, is what’s wrong. Clearly, some people have too much; others have nothing.
One also couldn’t look face-on at these pictures, without thinking, almost immediately, of the recent worldwide music concerts which were designed to raise consciousness—not money!—about the starving millions in Africa. As I looked at these famished people, babies so weak and drawn by hunger that they could no longer eat, as one girl’s tender mouth was a nest of parasites eating her tiny body alive, I wondered about the concerts that were designed to raise consciousness about the plight of the starving.
It reminded me that we live in an age when TV becomes, not merely an image, but a fact.
Millionaire musicians stage concerts around the globe, pulling in billions to the international media conglomerates, showing how nice and progressive and caring these stations are, while perhaps 600,000 people, in one country, will starve to death by week’s end.
Madness. Media madness. Corporate madness. Capitalist madness.
With perhaps one-hundredth of one percent of the monies used to stage the broadcast blockbuster event, virtually all of these people could’ve been fed, and saved, to live, at least through the rainy season. No doubt, those heart-rending pictures of human suffering will yet raise billions for organizations, NGOs, and charity agencies, and will continue to do so, long after these specific men, women and children, will have ceased living on this earth.
Briefly consider the state of the world’s wealth and poverty:
• 1.3 billion people lack access to clean water; 1.2 billion live on less than a dollar a day; 840 million are malnourished.
• More than 20,000 people die each day from hunger-related diseases.
• The richest three people in the world have assets greater than the combined output of the 48 poorest countries.
We live in a world where madness passes for normalcy, where the raging logic of the marketplace leaves tens, and hundreds of millions of people, in dire peril. And the gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially, daily.
Yet, like little Neros, we play musical accompaniments to massacres of hunger, which can be prevented with virtual ease. But, this is Africa; Niger, poor people, agricultural people. These are expendable people. These are but flickering images on a screen.
—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, August 3, 2005