Kailash Satyarthi: The Nobel Radical

Today's announcement of the co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize was probably met with two reactions around the United States: "Oh, cool, Malala" and "Who the fuck's the old guy?" You can read all about how Kailash Satyarsthi is basically a kick-ass superhero who, through organizations and through direct action, rescues kids from horrific child labor, especially in India. But let's not overlook that in order to have the vision he has of a world where children go to school instead of making shit for the West (or for bourgeois people everywhere), he necessarily sees that there's things fucked up that need to change and that radical action is required.

So let's go back a bit, to October 2001, to a conference in Paris for the High Level Group on Education for All group of UNESCO, where Satayarthi, already having led the Global March Against Child Labor in 1998, gave a speech. Let's listen in:

"I thought today the whole world, the international media and leaders everywhere are engaged on the issue of terrorism. I asked myself how much money are we compelled to spend on bombs and food packets and what not in combating the evil of terrorism today. Had we spent a small sum supporting the people of Afghanistan through meaningful education, the Taliban and the terrorist camps would never have been created.

"Today we are also talking of reducing social spending due to the ongoing situation, but let me tell you again a word of caution. If we leave any country or any community deprived of education, we are responsible for their denial of access to the mainstream of the global economy and global knowledge, and that is going to become the greatest danger to world peace.

"Yesterday's truth was that you cannot sleep in peace if your neighbour is hungry, but today's truth is you cannot even live or work in peace if your neighbour is kept uneducated. We are living in an era of knowledge capitalism. Globalization has brought many prospects to the world, but it has created a power troika where the power of state, market and knowledge are married together. The only weapon the poorest of the world can effectively use is the power of knowledge, the power of education.

"Education could be seen as a program, a project, a social welfare measure, a charity,or a public service, as this is a centuries-old popular perception, which is interpreted and reflected in various forms.

"But the children I work with and live with, the children who have been victims of slavery and prostitution, bought and sold like animals, many of them even born in slavery as their parents were slaves, education is the key for their liberation.

"Sometimes education is life itself..."

Yeah, you're right - it's not that out there. The shame of it is that we live in a time when supporting education over bombs, treating other nations as our neighbors, and educating the poor so that they may rise out of poverty and slavery are viewed as radical. If you care about the issues of Malala and of Satayarthi, you have to come back to economic justice, you have to think in an expansive way about capitalism (or, really, about a post-capitalism world). Economic justice and education go hand in hand. If you ignore that, you're just assuring that the things they fight for won't change.