So here we have the Daily Mail ‘newspaper’, churning out it’s daily message of hate, division and misinformation. How do we address the fact that it has a circulation of about one and half million? (and still more online). How do we deal with the lies and part truths it peddles?
I wish I had any kind of answer to that.
Malcolm says we should read the Daily Mail regularly to understand and know what we’re up against. I can’t argue with that, he’s right. But neither can I bring myself to do it. The distortions and untruths leave me feeling diminished and defeated, and I can’t see how that helps anyone.
I was shocked when recently a good friend told us that his youngest child, an academic in his late twenties, gets most of his ‘news’ from Facebook. I was relieved when I asked the same question of our sons and their partners and was told The Guardian and the BBC, with an explanation about the unreliability of many other sources of ‘information’ – the self-referential bubbles that, through algorithms, simply reinforce what we think we already know.
This weekend as I read some of the comments on blogs I enjoy, I was shocked and sickened to read the many hate-full comments, including repeated assertions, clearly strongly believed, that most of the millions protesting on the day of and the day after the inauguration were ‘paid to be there’. I have no idea whether or how to respond to such non-sense – do I reply and counter? do I allow such things to remain said unchallenged? and if I respond, how do I do so without myself become one of the haters?
I ponder, and so far come up with no answers.
2. TAKE CONTROL
I had written a whole piece to go here on buying books – locally, not through Amazon and the like, money stays in our community, UK tax gets paid, blah blah blah.
And then came the US inauguration, and the subsequent press ‘briefing’. And suddenly it is no longer possible to believe that maybe, just maybe, this administration will not be as bad and as scary as I feared, that it will somehow rein in the worst excesses. Because when you watch and hear the US President’s press secretary denying the verifiable evidence and facts, that we can see in front of our eyes, in favour of some kind of ‘alternative facts’ (I prefer to use the normal description – lies), well now we know for sure that we’re in a different ball game altogether.
Back in at the end of the 19 century my great grandparents and many like them escaped oppressive anti-semitic regimes in eastern Europe and came to England (and to the US), bringing my grandparents (then very young children) with them.
Back in the 1930s and 1940s my uncles played their own part in fighting the looming and growing spectre of fascism here and in Europe. They were part of the Battle of Cable Street, when activists fought to prevent Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through a largely Jewish community. (While we’re there, lets not forget that the Daily Mail supported both the British Union of Fascists and Hitler – plus ça change….). My grandparents had a bakers shop in Cable Street and the family lived on the premises. My mum, who was only 7 years old at the time, always remembered vividly what that was like (even through the fog of dementia). My uncles all fought for this country and against fascism in Europe during WW2.
And now we ourselves have the biggest battle of our own lifetimes on our hands: simultaneously a battle against oppression, nationalism, the diminishing of democracy, and climate change.
So, whatever we can do, however seemingly small (like where we spend our money) is now absolutely important. I am convinced that we each must take a stand and resist in every way we are able to, and that every small step we can take is vitally important.
This is not how I expected to spend my 60s, but I can’t just walk away. And even if I wanted to, there is no ‘away’. “No man is an island”.
On Friday, the day of the inauguration, I went to Pulteney Bridge as promised, and found others with whom I was able to take a stand for Building Bridges Not Walls. The others had arranged press coverage, and we were interviewed by our local paper. I was initially floored when the journalist asked each of us “what do you do?”. Responding “I’m retired” seemed not enough, and I found myself without thought saying “I’m retired and an activist”.
Goodness, I’ve never thought of myself as an activist, I don’t know where that came from. I’m not even sure what it means.
But I’ve given it a lot of thought since, and it’s a badge that for now I’ll wear proudly and actively.
On the whole fascists and oppressors don’t announce themselves as such – we have to discern for ourselves who and what they really are, and for that I believe we have to judge by what they do as well as by what they say.
I hesitate to draw direct comparisons, but Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Hitler and Goebbels clearly had their appeal to many ordinary people in their time, who either took up their views or were prepared to given them a chance, or just look the other way and cultivate their gardens (or were to frightened to resist).
Scary times indeed. The one thing that gives me hope and optimism is that there are so many of us willing to take a stand, even though we don’t always share the same views on every issue. And the old saying that ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ has never been more true. We must not allow our opposition and resistance to become fragmented.
(And to round off a positive and optimistic morning, I met up for the first time with a lovely like-minded blogger, Kathryn. She too is trying to change the world, and writes an inspiring blog which you can check out here. So good to make new connections, learn new things – and all in good company).
3. BUILD COMMUNITY
Sometimes we don’t realise that the things that come (relatively) easy to us, feel really difficult for others.
Part of my paid work (before I retired) involved working alongside school leaders where significant improvements were needed in an important aspect of the school’s work.
My aim was to help them understand how things needed to be and why, understand what they needed to do, break the work down into manageable chunks, and leave them feeling empowered to cope with what was sometimes a lot of work on top of an already massive workload. Then I worked alongside them supporting them through the process.
One of the great pleasures of my job was going back when they were finished and seeing the change and growth that had happened – and that they were pleased they had done it. Because the subject area was potentially very high risk, having it all in good order actually removed a whole layer of stress for them and their colleagues.
Something I have been doing more of since I retired is using those professional skills and experience to support people in my community. For me this has meant spending time reviewing organisational systems, policies and procedures, and working practices for several organisations. But it applies equally to our personal lives.
In the last couple of months of 2016 I went to 3 funerals, all for friends or acquaintances living in my community. Having been through the process myself twice in recent years, I offered to talk one of the bereaved friends through the process of dealing with paperwork she needed to tackle as executor. She seemed to find it helpful, and I was able to reassure her about some of the processes. Along the way she mentioned that another friend was struggling to get started on dealing with her husband’s probate, so I offered to do the same with her. I’m booked in to meet her soon over a cup of coffee, and I’m confident that by the time I leave she’ll have a good idea of what she needs to do and, more importantly, feel able to get started and tackle it. And I’m also sure that when we meet up again, she’ll have made loads of progress and feel a lot better about the whole thing.
I suppose what I’m saying is, sometimes the things we can do in and for our community aren’t necessarily the things anyone can see or that are obvious, and they’ll be different for each one of us. But they all count, and are all small parts of the bridges our communities need to be able to survive.
4. LOOK AFTER THE PLANET
I’ve stopped taking milk in my tea. I don’t miss it in the slightest.
A tiny drop in the ocean, I hear you say. And you’re absolutely right.
But. I measured how much milk I was drinking in my 5 cups of tea a day. It came to 22ml of milk a day. That works out as 154ml a week. Which equates to 8 litres a year.
Again, barely anything in the big scheme of things. But if everyone did something similar, the cumulative effect would be great. And so it is with all the small changes: individually we are nothing, together we are great (or at least, we can be if we choose to be so).
(Oh how puny this feels as I write it. And yet I have to start somewhere. And this is certainly so very easy compared to the rest of the stuff).