The big call to action: Watching “The Big Sellout”

Photo courtesy of thebigsellout.org.

Today in Wealth & Poverty we watched “The Big Sellout“, watch this trailer of sorts.  It was a very interesting and thought-provoking film.

The documentary focuses on privatization in several countries: Soweto, South Africa, Brighton, Great Britain, Manila, Philippines and Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The film talks about larger corporations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation.  These larger corporations enforce policies that are supposed to make poorer countries develop.  I thought it was so interesting how the larger corporations were framed — in a very negative light.  The documentary, director and people interviewed seemed to be saying that these larger corporations are in their business only for the money, and they’re pushing for privatization because they profit.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) refused to be interviewed for the documentary and instead asked to be represented by a ridiculous video clip about a fictional country, Ruritania, that they are helping.  The IMF lost credibility through this move.

The documentary is a great look into how privatization affects the little man, the people living in these countries, these communities that the larger corporations write laws for and give loans to from so far away.  I think this is an example of how creating and enforcing laws on people far away is inefficient and detrimental because the lawmakers/policymakers are not observing how the people the laws affect are living (their culture) and how the laws are affecting them.  They write laws and make policies and decisions based on Western thought, ideologies, ideals and as the documentary was saying, mostly based on whatever will make them profit.  This is an example of how being disconnected from the people you are supposedly helping is so detrimental.  I have come to believe that it is extremely important to make and keep up a relationship with the people you are helping (community service, social justice, activist, loans, in any sense).

In Soweto, one man, Bongani, teamed up with a few people and became Operation: Kanyisa (roughly translated to turn the lights back on).  Eskom, the privatized electricity company, increased the price of electricity.  Since most people couldn’t pay, Eskom was cutting off the power of 20,o00 houses per month at one point.  Bongani went to those houses that were been cut off and fixed the wires to reconnect those people’s houses to electricity, until the company cuts it off again.  It is quite an operation and call to action that Bongani took.  It was a vision, he said.

The story that focused on the community in Bolivia fighting for their right to water, fighting against the privatization of water — and winning — is so empowering.  It shows that people can actually fight for and protest for what they want — proving the sayings of power in numbers, power in people, true.  It took them a long time, six months, and a lot of arrests and people wounded, but in the end they kept their ownership of water.  It is stories like these that show it is possible.

Throughout the film I was wondering what can I do to change the situation of these people?  What can I do?

  • Become educated on these issues.  Read articles, essays, books, watch documentaries such as this one, films, Youtube and Vimeo films and so on.
  • Become involved in an activist group on campus and in my life.
  • Donate to trusted, maybe smaller charities, such as Marc Gold’s 100 Friends, as they are more likely to have more culturally-sensitive responses.
  • Make my own smaller, mini-charity, as Gold suggests.
  • Keep thinking about ways to get involved, make a difference, help others.  If you know of ways or if you are getting involved in your local community or in the larger world, let me know.  Leave a comment.
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