What can I do?

5 May

My last post was despairing.  I ended with the statement that I didn’t know what to do about the awful ways that people treat each other.  Since then I have carried on, continued living my life and letting that question sit unanswered in the back of my mind.

Sometimes, when something disastrous happens it seems clear what we can do.  The recent Nepal earthquake has been devastating, and yet I know that there is no blame to be laid for the horror, this was a natural disaster, and I can donate money to the excellent organisations that support people in disaster areas, like the Disasters Emergency Commission.  I can help in some tiny way – but it is people like me donating in a small way that lead to millions of pounds of support being raised.

When it comes to a situation where people are causing the suffering, and the origin or rights and wrongs of the conflicts are tricky to trace through historical accident and grey areas, it is much harder to know what to do.  Yes, you can give money to the organisations that support the misplaced, the refugees.  You can even support the work of organisations that support refugees or asylum seekers that make it to this country.  You could definitely start by NOT demonising people who try to get to safe countries to seek asylum, unlike most of the UK press (I’m looking at you Daily Mail and The Sun).

But that doesn’t stop the suffering, that doesn’t end the conflict.  There is no neat way to resolve the power struggles, corrupt governments, rebels who are also terrorists, externally funded militias, the interests of other preying nations or corporations.  How can we make any kind of change to these underlying evils?  How can we do that without martial intervention, invasion, drone attacks, more and more death?

I don’t know.  I still don’t know what I personally want to do, which ways I can best make an impact.  So instead I have started thinking about the means by which I might make an impact.  As a free person in a largely democratic country, earning a living that makes me relatively very wealthy compared to far too many in the world, I have two powers.  I have the power of the consumer, and I have the power of the vote.  In other words, the only thing that those who hold the power really want from a plebeian like me is my democratic support (VOTE!) and my support as a consumer (MONEY TALKS!)

First off: money.  This is going to take some time.  The concept of shopping ethically is not new, for decades people have been compiling lists of providers and their ethical credentials.  I want to buy from suppliers who pay a fair wage for labour, support a minimum wage (a living wage) in the countries they buy from, don’t harm animals, limit the environmental damage their business causes, and who obey the law and pay their taxes.  It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is to check those criteria.  Most of the shops and suppliers that sell to us do the bare minimum in terms of informing us about the ethics of their business.  They think that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting someone.

Top priority to move on with for me (I’m already vegan and try to buy from independent businesses and locally where I can) is to stop spending my money with companies that support the arms trade.  The UK has merrily sold arms to all sorts of dodgy regimes, including Syria, in the past.  Even now, British companies with the support of the UK government are selling weapons to countries with appalling human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, and countries which are illegally occupying lands not theirs, such as Israel.  The UK’s flagship arms company, BAE Systems, not only sells to murderous regimes but has also had to buy its way out of corruption allegations.  Who knew arms dealers would be so despicable?

So after the money, the vote.  This Thursday is the UK’s general election, and a chance for the UK electorate to make its voice heard.  I swear now that I will never vote for a candidate who supports the UK’s role in the international arms trade.  Arms for defence are one thing, selling weapons that have any risk of being used against civilians is another.  It’s only a small act from me, but my conscience won’t let me do otherwise.

The UK government fully supports the UK arms trade, with UK Trade and Investment Defense and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO – a non-ministerial government department) hosting and sending people to international arms fairs such as this one in the Gulf.  This organisation is tax payer funded and exists to support private UK businesses to sell weapons overseas.  What part of that is okay?  Particularly in a so called capitalist system, where private companies should be sorting out their own damn commerce, not being supported by un-elected government officials.

I know that my little vote won’t lead to the end of such dirty hook ups between our government and companies who value profit over humanity, and that my little money won’t be enough to instill ethical practise in global corporations, but it’s all I can do at the moment.  Maybe one day enough of us will use our little bits of power, cash and the ballot, to make a stand against warmongering and corruption.  Maybe not.  Either way, for me its a start, a way to try to feel like it isn’t all utterly hopeless.

Make sure you vote on Thursday if you are entitled to do so, our power is small but we must use it when we can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: