Like many, I’ve been pondering what if anything I personally can do to counter the growing sense of powerlessness in an increasingly challenging domestic and world political context.
That’s not an easy thing to do, in the face of so much rapid change, and so much that runs counter to my lawyerly ‘lets weigh up the facts and make a rational decision’ way of thinking.
So far I’ve reached four decisions. I hope there’ll be more further down the line.
- LISTEN – thinking about the political choices people have made, it seems to me to be as much about what people feel as what is fact. Or maybe more. And that’s before we even enter the debate about what is fact and what is fiction (and no, I’m not going to go there). Which leads me to think that we have to try even harder than we ever have to understand why people feel as they do, before we can begin to encourage and persuade them to feel / think differently. And also to acknowledge that their feelings and beliefs are as real as our own. Unless we’re prepared to listen and really hear, we will all stay in the same place, i.e. on different sides of a big wall shouting at each other. And let me be clear, we have to actually make an effort to make contact with those who don’t share our views. (Though I personally draw the line before reading the Daily Mail – I just can’t take the venom and hate there, and whilst it may be where many get their ‘understanding’ of the world from, I think the views expressed there emanate from a privileged elite, not from ordinary people’s lived experiences).
- TAKE CONTROL – when there is so much that we cannot take control of, it’s even more important than ever to take control of those things that we do actually have some control over. And one of those things, especially in the world we live in, is how we and where we spend our money. So yes, I will choose to spend my money in small local businesses in preference to big chains. I will choose to spend my money on ethical products in preference to those that are more damaging to people and our planet. I will choose to spend my money with businesses that pay their taxes, that pay their people a fair wage, and that don’t exploit the people who work for them. And I will let the companies I choose not to support know why. You may say that these things are small fry compared to the big problems of the world, but I’m not convinced. Because they do two things: they allow us to feel our own power again; and they hurt the companies where they feel it most (their reputation; their bottom line). Especially if more and more of us do it.
- BUILD COMMUNITY – given what we’ve read about how the elections in both the UK and the US played out, maybe this is the most important thing we can do. I am fortunate to have both time and money to contribute, and I shall continue to do so. But actually every single one of us can do something towards this, no matter how much or how little time or money we have. Because it can be as simple as smiling at strangers and saying hello. But it can also be as demanding as volunteering within our communities, helping those who have less than we do, showing solidarity with the disadvantaged in our communities and outside them. And acknowledging the vast chasm that exists between the haves and the have nots both here and throughout the world
- LOOK AFTER THE PLANET – because let’s face it, the new faces of politics show no signs that they will, and I for one am not about to give up and roll over and let them get on with trashing the one planet we have. So my resolve is stiffened, and I will take whatever small steps I can to make a difference. One of those is to cut down still further on eating and drinking farmed meat and dairy products. I’m not ready to cut them out completely, and I remain convinced (for now at least) that there are some arguments for continuing to produce some meat and some dairy. But maybe that will change. I know I will find cutting down on dairy really hard, but I’m going to give it a go anyway (but not overnight, it will be a gradual process over the next year).
My history with protest goes back a long way. As a child, I remember visiting my older cousins on an Aldermaston March in the 1960s. I’m old enough to remember being horrified by TV news footage of first John F Kennedy then Martin Luther King then Robert Kennedy’s assassinations. I recall the demonstrations in the US against the Vietnam war, and the atrocities in that war and many others since. I boycotted South African goods during the long years of apartheid. I’ve been on countless marches and demonstrations, signed innumerable petitions. I protested at Greenham Common.
I’ve also been involved in lots and lots of community projects over the years, and played my small part in helping to make change. I know from my own experience that change is possible, and usually happens from the bottom up, not top down. Those in power rarely willingly relinquish their power and privilege. I’m not seeing evidence of trickle-down change happening.
In my lifetime I have seen colossal change, usually brought about by pressure from people like me and you. The end of apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela moving from being imprisoned to being President of his country. The election of the first black President of the US, not once but twice. Legalisation of same-sex marriage.
The biggest difference for me now is that, at 61, I don’t feel I have the luxury of time for all this to play itself out. I’m impatient to see improvements in my lifetime. I hope you are too. Because it will take commitment and action from all of us, each in our own way.