Choose Love Cuts Funding For Calais Shows Limits Of Celebrity Philanthropy | Daniel Trille
PIn the event of a humanitarian emergency in any part of the world, the needs will appear remarkably consistent. Once people escape immediate danger, they need food, shelter, clothing, and medical assistance – things, in other words, that support us physically. The most pressing questions are how to procure the required items and services and how to distribute them effectively.
However, what determines whether an emergency is resolved quickly or whether it persists is politics. And if you want to see what happens when political solutions fail, then the scrubland of the north coast of France, just across the English Channel from England, is an enlightening place to watch.
The recent decision by Choose Love – a celebrity-backed charity created in the aftermath of the 2015 European refugee crisis – to withdraw most of its funding for aid projects based in northern France, has not does not indicate that the needs have changed in nature. An estimated 2,000 migrants are camping in and around Calais, looking for a way to reach the UK – less than when the crisis was at its peak in 2015 and 2016, but more than others moments in the past. Many of these people are destitute; As winter approaches, local aid organizations, which provide everything from clean water and cooking supplies to recharging phones, have launched an urgent appeal to fill the funding gap.
Yet while the situation on the ground has not changed significantly, the context in which aid is delivered has changed. Politicians never wanted migrants to go to Calais. For at least two decades, the French authorities, encouraged by the British, have tried to make living conditions as difficult as possible, by demolishing camps and expelling squats. But the outpouring of public sympathy in 2015 – when hundreds of thousands of people across Europe demonstrated in support of the refugees, and many more joined in the volunteer efforts to provide material aid – forced them to temporarily retreat.
Choose Love was founded, initially as Help Refugees, amid this wave of sympathy, by a trio of media savvy activists. It has won the support of celebrities such as Chris Martin of Coldplay and actors Olivia Colman and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and raises funds in part by selling trendy branded goods online and at a London store on Carnaby Street. Today, the association has expanded to work with refugees in 22 countries and has raised £ 35million.
Now politicians are once again talking about migrants in Calais as an inconvenience that must be eliminated – by pushing people back rather than establishing routes to safety. In a recent statement, the UK Home Office hinted that humanitarian volunteers in northern France were part of the problem, telling the Guardian on November 3: “It is dangerous to encourage these Channel crossings, which are illegal, unnecessary and facilitated by violent criminal gangs. taking advantage of misery. This corresponds to the more hostile attitude of European governments in recent years towards aid workers whose actions they find embarrassing: this month, Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini, two volunteers who saved lives in the Aegean Sea, were tried. in Greece for trafficking, money laundering, fraud and espionage.
In a statement posted on his Instagram page, Choose Love said he was forced to make “tough decisions” during a strategic review, and that factors such as the pandemic prompted the decision to pull out on a large scale. part of Calais. (Funding will still be given to two charities working with unaccompanied minors in northern France.) But his decision tells us something broader about the limits of this type of humanitarian activism, which seeks to mobilize the community. power of branding and celebrity support. It can be a powerful way to raise funds and distribute resources in a targeted manner – but what happens when attention shifts elsewhere, leaving a political problem unresolved?
The promise of this kind of action is that it gives us the opportunity to solve the world’s problems with minimal disruption to our own privileged lifestyles, or the system that enables them. As the late theorist Mark Fisher wrote in his book Capitalist Realism, it is a form of social protest, but one that offers the “fantasy … that Western consumerism, far from being intrinsically involved in global systemic inequalities, could himself solve them. All we have to do is buy the right products.
Fisher’s argument is not that celebrity-led activism is inherently false or hypocritical, as opposed to other more “genuine” forms. Rather, it embodies a culture in which we are encouraged to see ourselves as consumers rather than political subjects. In the triumphant era of global capitalism, before the crash of 2008, this model of action aimed high. Live 8, a 2005 benefit concert series that marked the 20th anniversary of the first Live Aid, called for nothing less than the end of global poverty. Bono’s Product Red, a fundraising partnership with corporate brands launched the following year, went further. “Philanthropy is like hippie music, holding hands,” said the U2 frontman. “Red is more like punk rock, hip-hop, it should look like hard trading.”
The picture is now more fragmented. A new class of global billionaires don’t even need the illusion of popular consent, using their vast wealth to pursue individual passions, from space travel to disease eradication. Campaigns that capture the popular imagination, meanwhile, are now more likely to focus on crises closer to home. Think of the fundraisers that have dominated UK public attention in recent years: We have been asked not only to help keep refugees alive on our doorstep, but also to raise money for the NHS and prevent children from starving to death during school vacations – tasks that our government, one of the richest in the world, should be able to do. It is more evident than ever that charity is a response to a failing system, not a sign of its success.
Choose Love is the product of a time when thousands of ordinary people intervened in a situation they found unfair. His priorities may have changed, but this situation persists. Calais is not the scene of a natural disaster, but a place where governments have deliberately created scarcity for political ends. This goes to the heart of a debate about how states control migration, which itself is a proxy for the broader issues of war, global inequality and – increasingly – the climate crisis. In this context, the simple but urgent act of providing aid to others takes on potentially greater importance, as it challenges the established way of doing things. We should continue to bring this aid to Calais – but we should also ask ourselves why it is necessary in the first place.