We joined more than 30 cities around the world mobilising to highlight the crisis of inequality and to put forward their solutions for a fairer society, as part of the Fight Inequality Alliance's 2019 Week of Action. These gatherings took place just as the world’s super-rich and powerful cosied up at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos - a very different type of gathering.
One month on, we have put together a short film featuring highlights from the festival.
In looking through the footage from the event, I was able to reflect on the talks, performances and the activists who each contributed something so personal, powerful and inspirational to the event.
This blog serves as some initial reflections on the festival and the global picture for mobilising against inequality.
My personal highlights
The screening of an animation short created by Yujie Xu featuring the voices of Katherine, Simon, Martin and Muna; current service users at St Charles Hospital, in addition to being activists, poets, parents and musicians. The speakers each explore what a fair and equal society would look like to them, and what it would mean for their health and happiness. In the film, Katherine says that she doesn't want to be ruled by an elite 10%, and goes on to talk about how inequality manifests itself in mental health.
2. Activists from Grenfell United, Justice4Grenfell and Westway23 in discussion
The most powerful and moving part of the evening for me was the screening of My Grenfell Year, followed by a discussion on the lack of justice achieved by survivors over a year later. The conversation brought real insight into the devastating effects of inequality on human lives, and the reluctance of the elites to tackle inequality, even after witnessing one of the starkest examples of its deadliness in our time. Earlier in the day, Lionel, only eight-years-old, had recited his poem (featured in the book Poetry 4 Grenfell), in which he asked audience members to 'remember them how they lived, not how they died'.
That pertinent reminder of the brutality of inequality and the erasing of the lives of victims highlighted the need for everyone to get behind the activists fighting every day to make sure this never happens again. The panellists urged audience members to attend the silent walks that take place on the 14th of every month.
3. The destructive impact of private financing
Luke Espiritu, Labour Leader from the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Solidarity of Filipino Workers), came over to London from Manila to join a discussion on workers' rights and privatisation of public services. Luke spoke about the effects of precarity and flexibilisation of labour on Filipino workers, as well as the impact of private-public partnerships, guised as 'development' projects, that prioritise profit over the most basic needs of some of the world's poorest people.
Linking together PPPs and workers' rights, he said that the creeping control of private companies over the provision of water, electricity, health and education is affecting Filipinos not just through lower wages and job precarity, but through the reduction in quality of life as a direct 'threat to survival'.
The global movement
On 12th February, Kenyan hip hop star and activist Juliani released his powerful new track Hatutakoma - We The People, Fight Inequality. Juliani's music video features video footage and stills from January's various protests, festivals and mobilisations. From Nairobi to Manila to Guadalajara, to Delhi to London and many countries beyond, tens of thousands gathered in slums and cities across the world in contrast to the opulence of Davos, putting forward their solutions to inequality and celebrating their resilience through music and cultural expression.
National alliances have also produced their own short films, with Kenya FIA showcasing highlights from the #UsawaFestival in Dandora, Nairobi and Mexico's alliance producing a film in which activists protesting on El Colli shared their messages to the elites at Davos.
Changing the narrative
The viral success of Rutger Bregman's honest review of Davos signals that global dissatisfaction with rising inequality and corporate greed has reached a tipping point. Bregman said that being at Davos was like being "at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water", an analogy referring to the radio silence on the key problems of tax avoidance in favour of lofty discussions of 'justice' and 'fairness' that fail to address the structural causes.
Those of us who were present at any one of the global mobilisations on the 19th will know that what Bregman said is no different to what our speakers and attendees said, but the reach of his words may help contribute to a wider understanding that the Davos elites are in fact the *worst* placed to offer effective solutions to inequality and climate chaos. Those with a vested financial interest in upholding an unequal and unjust global economic system will never be the people to lead this fight, it is ordinary people living at the sharpest end of inequality and mobilising for change who have the real solutions.
I'm feeling very excited to be part of building this movement in the UK, across Europe and around the world, and to contribute to an even bigger and more powerful mobilisation to coincide with Davos 2020.
Rianna Gargiulo - Campaigns Officer
The Equality Trust is the UK and Europe convener of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a growing collective of more than 100 international and national non-profit organisations, activists, trade unions and social movements who are deeply concerned about the shocking levels of inequality.
Contact Rianna to find out more about the alliance and to join the movement.