Steven A. Grasse has insisted for weeks that he’s completely serious about getting the British government to pay back $58 trillion in colonialism reparations.
After talking to “The Temple News,” it’s clear that he’s not.
Grasse and his Center City-based organization,
the International Coalition for British Reparations, waited for the weekend of Prince Charles and the Duchess Camilla’s visit to Philadelphia in late January to announce plans for their new petition, which asks the United Kingdom’s government to pay out the world’s citizens for centuries of imperialism, war and diseases.
The coalition’s plan would see the $58 trillion split out evenly at $8,350 for every living human being on the planet.Sound crazy? Well, yeah. But to this point, Grasse, whose day job is as an advertising executive in Philadelphia, has been adamant that he truly expects the Brits to come up with the cash.
So why’s he changing his tune? “The Temple News” spoke with Grasse to find out, and to hear his take on Iraq, Charles and Camilla’s visit and the best part – living in Philadelphia.
The Temple News: Your organization is based in Philadelphia. What’s your favorite thing about the city?
Steven A. Grasse: It’s the birthplace of freedom. My family’s been in Philadelphia since 1708. We escaped British tyranny.
TTN: You purposely waited until Charles and Camilla’s visit to Philadelphia to announce your campaign. Did it strike you as at all bizarre how warmly they were received? Some locals were saying it was the best day of their lives.
SG: They’ve done a very good job of selling themselves. I think they represent to people that utopian past, the way you want it to be imagined. Kings and queens and palaces and all those things that are very quaint and nice. Do I think Charles and Camilla are evil tyrants that have destroyed the earth? No, but on some level, they represent that. Yes they’re cute, but there’s a lot of bad history there too.
TTN: All right, so why does the British government owe the world reparations?
SG: Anyone who knows anything about history will know that they’re behind everything.
Basically it started with being frustrated as an American hearing that everything’s our fault. We haven’t even been around that long. And I think I find it curious that some of the loudest complainers are people in England, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, do you guys have any idea of your own history? Do you know what you’ve done?
TTN: Do you think the British are trying to shake off their own culpability?
SG: Oh absolutely. And I think that in a lot of ways, it’s not their fault, because they’ve all been taught the same mythology: that the British brought schools, medicine, hygiene and roads to the dark regions of the world. And that’s like us as Americans saying we’re bringing democracy to Iraq. Paved with good intentions, but sometimes the result isn’t gonna happen that way.
TTN: But why just Britain? They may have been the first imperial power, but they certainly weren’t the only ones.
SG: There’s a culture of blame. Everyone’s looking to point the finger at somebody, like, ‘It’s all your fault!’ And we’re just raising the ante with that, saying, how ridiculous can it get? So in some ways, it is political commentary.
Do we really expect to get $58 trillion from the British government? No! I mean, who knows? It’s just really fascinating to me how easy it is to push people’s buttons.
TTN: Sso wait, you don’t actually expect them to pay? Because on your Wweb site, you say you definitely expect them to pay.sg: Sure I expect them to pay! Will they?
TTN: Wwe doubt it.
SG: I do, too.
TTN: Fair enough. what’s the ultimate point then?
SG: The ultimate point of this is to raise awareness. Before you start blathering about who did what, know what you’re talking about. I think on the Web site we purposely say some crazy s–t, like how England’s personally responsible for the Black Plague. You won’t believe how many e-mails we got about that. ‘Excuse me, sir!’ So in some ways, I’m trying to provoke people.
Like, the English created the Industrial Revolution, which caused global warming. I mean, come on, it’s a very roundabout way of thinking. We’re just saying, America is responsible for the planet getting warmer, but the Industrial Revolution began like 250 years ago, so it’s taken 250 years for the world to get this way. So how is it our fault? That’s the point.
TTN: Hhow did you come up with the idea for this campaign?
SG: I was in London. I make movies, too – really bad movies. It was called, “Bikini Bandits Save Christmas.” And I was at the Raindance Film Festival, and I was the director-
in-residence with Terry Jones from “Monty Python.”
And I showed my movie, and I did a Q&A afterward, and every question was about how it felt to be an American living in a ‘Nazi society.’ And I was like, what the f–k are you talking about? I want to talk about my movie. And I just thought, I got to do something here.
TTN: You say on the site that with the war in Iiraq, British mistakes are costing American lives right now.
SG: To a degree. I spoke at Syracuse last year. And when I spoke, I said I was working on this book about [how] England’s to blame. And the students were just horrified, like ‘What do you mean? We’re to blame for everything!’
And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so sad.’ Americans don’t feel patriotic at all. They feel ashamed.
TTN: Just to clarify, you still feel America has a lot of responsibility to face up to, right? sg: Absolutely. Every country does. Every country has skeletons in their closet.
TTN: Why should college students want to get involved?
SG: I want American students to be proud of who they are and where they’re from. I’m not saying they should burn British flags. I’m saying they should learn about how the world got the way it is and understand the true history of the world, and [that] will make them feel differently about current events.
TTN: Besides signing your online petition, what else can they do?
SG: Read. Spread the word. Become a friend on our Myspace page. We have all this stuff on YouTube, spread it around. Get people to know about it. And, of course, buy my book. It comes out April 23, the Queen’s birthday.
For more information: visit www.britishreparations. com or myspace.com/britishreparations Buy the book: “The Evil Empire,” available April 23 (The Queen Mother’s birthday).
Ashwin Verghese can be reached at email@example.com.