I met up with my brother and some old friends for an excellent evening at the Twenty20 cricket yesterday. Three of us retired to a nearby pub and I decided after several pints of beer, that it would be an opportune moment to find out some of my pals’ political views. The result was an enjoyable and animated couple of hours, the main sticking points being whether or not we need a leader to fight against injustice and how effective the actions we take as individuals can be. At least, that’s how I remember it, it’s just as likely that my friends were asking me what I thought of Crystal Palace’s chances next season, to which I responded with a tirade of “we can make a difference!!” and an invitation to start a socialist revolution.
Whatever the actual nature of our conversation, it got me thinking. I feel that there’s a common anger and sense of injustice about inequality. The rich keep getting richer, including those who played a big part in causing the recession. The rest of us quibble over who deserves what pension, libraries are closing, tuition fees rocketing, VAT increased and people losing their jobs. This is unjust. I like to think that not many would argue.
Do we need a leader to fight back? A leader would be handy certainly, someone to rally behind and inspire the masses. However, we, the masses, need to stump up some of our own inspiration too, we can’t wait on the appearance of The Great Revolutionary.
So what can we do? Well, here’s a far-from-exhaustive list of starters.
1) Find the time. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you work 9 to 5 or longer. Yes, once you’ve put the kids to bed all you want to do is put your feet up. Yes, someone else could do it. In amongst all that, if you can do small things, you never know what the impact may be. This is an opportune moment to insert my favourite quote, Robert Kennedy to students in South Africa during apartheid “You can make a difference. Each time a man or a woman stands up for an ideal, acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples can create a current, which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Start sending a few ripples.
2) Armchair activism. We all know that time is in short supply and often, so is energy. But you don’t actually have to leave your house to influence things. Write to your MP, or even easier, email them. Most MP’s have their own website with a way to message them. They represent you, they are there to carry forward your views. I emailed my MP, I got a detailed, albeit predictable reply through the mail but also a promise that my concerns would be forwarded to George Osbourne. A few months later, a I got a further response from The Treasury. This on it’s own won’t change anything, but the more messages that land on MPs desks, the louder we are heard. And you never know, something you write might strike a chord with someone, somewhere, who may be in a position to do something about it.
3) Protest. Protest. Protest. You remember that crowd of scruffy chaps with their placards outside your local Town Hall? Or the 450,000 marching through London? The ones who you think didn’t acheive anything? They were saying that they’re not happy with injustice. They were raising the profile of the debate, keeping the matter on the agenda and exerting pressure on the government for future decisions. Check out Johann Hari’s podcast, Episode 5 “Why everyone should be protesting”. From 9 minutes 20 seconds, he tells a wonderful story about a protest. Listen to it.
4) Get involved. Go on, you can do it. At the price of an evening a month, you could attend local political party meetings or take your pick from any number of other orgnisations. An example is the Equality Trust, a very active group born out the influential book, The Spirit Level. Probably the most high profile group at the moment is UK Uncut. If you’re struggling to make the time and you come across an organisation that you’d like to support – tell them. They will almost certainly understand your predicament and may have some ideas for how you can be involved and support them to suit your capacity.
5) Keep talking. Keep spreading the word, tell your pals, tweet, post on facebook, blog, send out smoke signals. If things are to change, attitudes must change, only by changing attitudes will more people understand injustice and take action against it.
I’ll leave you with another quote, Gandhi;
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that is important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, nor in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean that you stop doing the right thing. You may never even know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be nothing.”