A crowd-funding initiative to help Greece proves that anything is possible if people work together, writes Helen Walne.
Headline writers of a certain age have been having a field day with the Greek debacle. Taking inspiration from that 1978 musical featuring John Travolta in full chin ditch and Olivia Newton John in Lycra camel toe, the headlines have ranged from “Greece is the word” and “Better shape up” to the poetically nuanced “Greece lightning”.
On the surface, the Greek situation does indeed resemble the plot line of that most excellent cinematic offering. Dark, brooding prime minister Alex Tsipras (aka Danny Zuko) falls in love with the wholesome and Sandy shores of his country. He has swagger, bravado and very thick eyebrows. To prove his love for the Sandy shores, he fights off EU bullies (Angela Merkel in a leather jumpsuit and Francois Hollande in Chanel), wins the affection of his people and they all spend the night dancing, singing and eating dolmades.
So far, so vine. However, now it might seem the sequel could be a dark film noir featuring dwindling cash reserves, a paucity of good feta, starving goats, starving children and the invasion of drunk Brits looking for cheap holidays.
Economists say Greece has various options that involve words such as “alternative collateral” and “sourcing liquidity”. They sound like Matt Damon movies.
However, one option they have ignored is Thom Feeney. This 29-year-old Londoner, who would look badass with a ducktail, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to rescue the Greek economy. He sat down – possibly with a few Stellas – and worked out that if everyone in Europe donated €3 (about R40), the crisis would be solved. If the campaign is successful, each donor will receive a gift according to the amount they put in: a €3 pledge will get you a postcard of Tsipras sent from Greece; a €6 pledge will land you a feta and olive salad; a €12 pledge a small bottle ouzo and €25 a bottle of Greek wine.
At last check, the campaign had raised almost €2 million in eight days.
It’s an audacious plan, and even if it doesn’t succeed, the support it has garnered – as well as the sanction of the Greek people for Tsipras’s defiance against the EU – reflects a desire for change; for things to be done differently.
Stumbling around in the dark looking for a solar lamp, I thought about Eskom. The power utility has a R225 billion shortfall for the next five years. That’s about €16 billion. If we set up a crowdfunding campaign and asked everyone in Europe to pledge €21, we’d be able to keep the lights on. Then, because I found a stray beer at the back of the fridge, I thought about other crowdfunding opportunities in South Africa: poverty alleviation; improved schools; better hospitals; job creation. We could offer gifts of koeksisters, wine, biltong and beer.
Then I let my mind wander to the extremities of possibility. Fire pools for all! Trips to Sweden for everyone! Nice hairdos all round! Expensive curtains for all! A buyout of the SABC! Trains that don’t sound like rats being squeaked to death! Organic skincare for everyone! Free chops! No more political chops! Holiday homes for all!
Aristotle, that clever man from Greece, wrote: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
Those other not-so-clever individuals from Grease sang: “We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong, remembered forever as shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom, chang chang changitty chang sha-bop, that’s the way it should be, wah-oooh, yeah!”
The Greece crowdfunding campaign might be a pipe dream, and I can already hear Eddie from Edgemead moaning that he already crowdfunds our country through his taxes, but the thought that citizens of the world can band together and collectively do something to change the status quo is powerfully uplifting. It’s mad and idealistic, but it’s got a groove, it’s got meaning.
* Helen Walne is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Cape Town.