Friday 20 February 2009

Morecambe Bay disaster poem: how charity works

Having been invited to participate in a fund-raising event commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Morecambe Bay disaster (5th February), I was going to write something about it here.

But seeing how it was derailed from its original purpose by power and money, not to mention the power of money, I've thought long and hard about the role of charity in blinding us to the issues and maintaining the status quo.

It was to be a star-studded gala full of high-rolling movers and shakers. But the idea of reading out letters from the orphaned children of the victims to an audience largely composed of the Establishment who make these rules and set the agenda, made me feel ill. After all, aren't I supposed to be comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and not the other way round? I spent a sleepless night wondering if I could stand there onstage and make the powerful feel good about themselves. Images of Malcolm McDowell in the last reel of If abounded. I decided to withdraw.

Although the charity doubled its target and the survivors' children are assured of an education until the age of 20, something the charity should rightly be proud of, the original aim of the event was to also raise awareness about unauthorised workers and so try to prevent future Morecambe Bays occurring. Human history is a history of migration. Yet while capital knows no frontiers and is allowed to go anywhere in the world in pursuit of cheap labour, labour must stay home and starve. But this perspective was dropped and the planned presswork suddenly stopped as other interests took over.

My instinct proved right when I read one of the articles put out by the wealthy acting spokesperson of the charity, a Chinese entrepreneur, in which he called for a halt to "'aspiring' illegal immigrants" leaving China; stated that Britain has zero tolerance towards economic migrants, which is a bit of an insult to the British; and telling the Chinese associations their job is to dissuade Chinese from coming here. What wasn't said is that this applies to poor Chinese. If you are rich, the world is your oyster and you can go where you like. As does the author of the article.

So I wrote this poem.

I Am Rich and You Are Poor
Lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors
February 2009

I am rich and you are poor,
I travel, you seek a foreign shore,
You have needs but I have more.
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

The world’s an oyster, a wondrous thing,
Find the pearl, make an angel sing,
To swinish herds it’s all just bling
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

I’ve news for you, I’ll beg, implore,
You aren’t walking through that door,
You figure what frontiers are for.
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

I am rich and you are skint
You slave for pennies, I made a mint
This world loves those who’re carved from flint
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

I weep for you, I sympathise
Look, tears are welling in my eyes
You’re coming here to seek the prize,
But tales of gold are pretty lies
You want to be where you’re despised?
You’ll be lucky if you’re serving fries,
Yes, me, well I have cash to buy
Whatever I want, I get to fly

Not hide in a truck, rolling in muck
Relying on luck to make a buck
Stuck in a rut with the doors all shut
Banging on gates and the ladder pulled up.
Sucked down in the sands
You ebb with the tides
White under the moon
You shine in the sea

I am rich and you are poor
Bottom of the barrel while I’m top drawer.
I will help you stay where you are
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

I am rich, you’re stony broke
I am special, you’re an anonymous bloke
We’ll only love, respect, honour, support, hold you, care for your loved ones, when you croak
Hey, let’s all give to charidee

STOP PRESS: Marina Hyde's trenchant take on charity and the Fortune Forum which proposes tax cuts for the rich to help the poor.


David Hillman said...

This was a brave decision. It’s sometimes difficult to know what is the right thing to do.
You've thought long and hard about the role of charity in blinding us to the issues and maintaining the status quo.

I’ve been thinking about these things in complaining to the BBc about banning the DEC charity appeal. Now the BBC trust has backed the Director General, saying-
“the DG posited that broadcasting images of Gazan civilians’ suffering could very well be seen by some reasonable observers as showing support for the Palestinian cause. The Trust considered that it was reasonable for the DG to give substantial weight to this consideration. “

To translate into plain English Showing the suffering of the civilians would be taking the Palestinians side. So Israel is condemned by the facts and the truth the BBC must not take sides with the facts and the truth.

When I was raising money for Medical Aid for Palestine I told people that when I went to Palestine during the Israeli war against Lebanon, and that one of the first things I saw in Ramallah was young Palestinian children raising money for the schoolchildren of Lebanon. It is sometimes the poorest that give the most to such causes – but not as charity to make themselves feel good, but as solidarity.
Speek truth to power, someone said.

David Hillman

claude said...

Fair play to you Madam Miaow.
The Moracambe disaster was one of the most depressing moments of the last 50 years.

And David Hillman above has a point when he mentions the role of charity in blinding us to the issues and maintaining the status quo. I don't suppose anyone remembers Flag Day by the Housemartins...?

Back to the Morecamb disaster.
I remember thinking on that day that maybe people's attitudes towards immigration would change a little and that immigrants wouldn't just be seem as a bunch of anonymous greedy invaders swamping our shores to snatch council flats. People would finally learn that the nastiest jobs weren't being done by the invisible fairy.

Nowt. It's even worse now. You get your average football oik cheering his foreign-owned star-studded team where 10 players are from abroad and that's fine. Because they're all loaded people and make our oik happy on a Saturday.
He will read the foreign-owned Sun and drive a foreign owned car.

But the simple idea that people may come here for a better future and we should stop constantly seeing them as a 'threat' is just to much for some people to deal with.

And note how the attitude is also taking a more sinister turn. First it was "I don't mind if they come here to work, it's those on benefits I resent". Now, even those that come here to work are seen as scum.

Am I being overly gloomy?

claude said...

Please excuse my spelling mistakes above -I read it back 7 times, but obviously it wasn't enough...