“I wish you Egypt so you can decolonise your minds” says the Palestinian Human Rights Campaigner Omar Barghouti, to a packed plenary in Shoreditch Town Hall. It is the final rally of the 6 Billion Ways Conference, a day of workshops, speakers and music from across the world. In so doing he captures the mood of a day in a single sentence. Both decolonisation of the mind and the revolution in Egypt have proven central themes of 6 Billion Ways conference as a whole, as they will during the final rally.
Part of the challenge is simply believing that change is possible at all. As Egyptian Revolutionary Gigi Ibrahim expains – before it happened many people did not believe what happened in Egypt possible. But then there was a turning point: “In Tahrir Square I saw an army of soldiers running towards the people. Then just for a moment, a split moment, people looked at each other and the next thing, people were chasing state security away”.
Jubilee Debt Campaign Director Nick Dearden hopes we can learn something in the UK, declaring “We need movements that are capable of challenging why the powerful are powerful”. Former Red Pepper editor Hilary Wainwright also looks at the UK movement which she compares to a souffle (“You never know if it is going to rise or not”) or a jazz group (“We need to respond creatively to uncertainty, but we still need an underlying structure”)
A word of warning however is offered by Meena Rahman of Friends of the Earth Malaysia: “When we won our independence we thought we were rid of the British. We had political independence but not economic independence. Our Government had black skins but white minds.” She was part of the 1985 revolution in the Phillippines when the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown by the people, only to be replaced by someone not so politically ruthless, but equally as neo-liberal.
The advice is taken, but doesn’t take a way from the positive mood. In line with the way that struggles against neo-liberalism in Tunisia and Egypt are inspiring others, the presence of Middle Esatern revolutionaries brings something of their spirit to London’s East End.
The final word however goes to Friends of the Earth International chair Nnimmo Bassey, who was recently awarded the ‘alternative Nobel Peace Prize’ the Right Livelihood Award for his work in Nigeria. Drawing links between struggles against neo-liberalism and for democracy across the world, he declares “the context may be different, but the content is the same. My struggle is your struggle, my humanity is your humanity, my fight is your fight…when we have had a good dream, it is not the time to sleep…we must resist, mobilise and transform”.
Tim Gee’s first book Counterpower, is available for pre-order.