An apathetic mainstream media, an ambivalent political class and a broad populace who have become spectators rather than actors in their daily lives, have created the mistaken impression that Britain is taking its austerity hammering lying down. This could not be further from the truth. Many of the most disenfranchised groups in UK society are rising, rebellion is fomenting, and flames of dissidence are licking the powder keg of mainstream mood. So why doesn’t it feel like it?
Where is the Fight Back?
The current government and the economic model they support are impoverishing whole sections of UK society:
- The number of young people without work for longer than two years is at its highest in twenty years, the cost of living is rising at four times the rate of wages,
- This Christmas 80,000 children will be homeless
- 600,000 more children will be living in poverty by the next election.
All while the government hails the fastest growing economy in the western world. Economic growth on the back of poverty wages and cuts to the welfare state which are leaving people destitute. This is serious. It is quite literally a matter of life and death.
So, where is the fight back? Why aren’t people in the streets?
They are. But it’s no picnic out there.
The Police State
They have found their right to protest revoked by successive parliaments under the guise of anti-terror legislation. On top of that, they are confronted by a militarised, political police force that uses brute force, chemical agents, helicopters, intelligence squads sporting cameras and making snatch and grab arrests, armoured vehicles, horses, dogs and the real threat of arrest. This, combined with a toxic media narrative about ‘trouble making’ protesters has succeeded in making protest a personally dangerous and largely unpopular act to engage in.
The ‘Play Nice’ Problem
The purpose of protest and civil disobedience is to get in the way, disrupt the ordinary goings on and draw people’s attention to an issue. However, a protest is nowadays defined as somehow bad and wrong if it actually does this. In short, you have the right to protest, so long as you don’t actually protest. By all means, knit quietly in a corner for world peace, or make a daisy chain to end poverty – but make no noise, get in nobody’s way and for goodness sake’s don’t be angry! This has put pressure on protest movements to be fluffy and ineffectual if they want positive media coverage or popular support (despite the fact that they will make no actual difference).
The Absence of Mass Support
As a part of Occupy London, it astounds me when people who were never there, and never attended a single related protest say things like ‘Well, I was hoping Occupy were going to do something about all this but then it just fizzled out’.
Firstly, what an abdication of any responsibility! This willingness to allow a group of people just like themselves to carry the entire burden of responsibility for change. But latterly, Occupy didn’t ‘fizzle out’. The camps were raided by police and bailiffs in the dark of night, people were dragged screaming from their tents and the full force of the police state came down upon their heads. But this is the sort of withering platitudes one can expect of all those spectators in the stands.
Are you on the Pitch, or in the Stands?
How do you know whether you are viewing yourself as a spectator or an actor in the development of our world?
You can spot the differences by the questions you ask.
How do you think it will all pan out?
Why isn’t anyone rising up?
How on earth is all this allowed to happen without a fight back?
These are the questions which, if you ask them, call you into action – and are therefore the questions of a person who is not watching passively, but getting involved:
What can I do?
How can I help make this work?
How can I call others into action?
There is nothing wrong with being a spectator by the way. There is no moral judgement here. The problem occurs when you don’t realise you are a spectator. Having an opinion on the action on the pitch, doesn’t mean you are playing the game. Your action is not amounting to anything more than the spectator next to you with a divergent opinion – you are both just shouting into the wind. So feeling like your ‘progressive’ opinion is more important than their opposing one just makes you a self-righteous spectator. Not part of the actual game of change.
Your anger, your fury, your sadness, your empathy – all of it counts for absolutely nothing on the pitch. You are the background noise. If you want a say in the development of a movement for change, then you have to step off the stands and join in. This might mean dragging some other spectators down with you.
Why is No One Rising Up?
The situation we have here is that a significant number of the population, the mainstream media and the political class are not even in the stands – they are at home in their front room, with their feet up, watching a different channel altogether. They can easily fall into the assumption that nothing is happening.
A very great deal is happening.
The students rose up in their tens of thousands in 2010, to defend their right to an education without incurring enormous debts through tuition fees. They were met with some of the most violent policing seen on UK streets in modern history. The Prime Minister dismissed these young people as a ‘feral mob’, the press joined in and public sentiment slavishly turned against the peaceful student protesters.
There have been several mass public sector strikes together with protest marches over the last three years. On the 30th November 2011,more than 2 million public sector workers went on strike when more than 30 unions united. The strike closed more than three quarters of schools in England, as well as courts, museums, libraries and jobcentres, disrupted transport, hospitals and Government departments, led to around 15% of driving tests being cancelled. Physiotherapists, headteachers, librarians, lollipop ladies, refuse collectors, weather forecasters and scientists were among those involved as hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of the capital and their hometowns in protest. November 30th is now marked each year with such a protest.
This summer has seen wave after wave of teachers’ strikes, as teaching staff make their opposition to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to break up the national system of education, allow unqualified teachers into the classrooms, sells off playing fields and cuts physical education while a childhood obesity crisis occurs, and denigrates the profession, pay and pension of the teachers themselves. Nearly 3,500 schools shut just last month as part of these strikes.
Universities up and down the land closed for 24 hours just days ago as thousands of staff from cleaners to lecturers joined a national strike over attacks on their pay, pensions and university funding.
Disabled activist groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Black Triangle and others have been mounting acts of civil disobedience in the face of social security cuts impoverishing sick and disabled people. They have chained their wheelchairs together to close busy London roads, they held the ’10,000 Cuts and Counting’ ceremony of remembrance outside parliament where they read out the names of the thousands of sick and disabled people that have died undergoing the government’s ‘work capability assessments’.
When the Arms Fair came to London it was met by organised and determined protest. Several activists are now facing prosecution, while the illegal arms manufacturers they demonstrated to oppose are free to sell illegal weapons on UK soil.
Thousands of activists descended on Balcombe village, West Sussex to oppose the government’s plans to introduce hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) in the UK despite clear issues of environmental damage, water pollution and corruption.
Protest, strikes and civil disobedience are an almost daily occurrence up and down the country constantly. So what is this feeling that says it’s not enough?
The Missing Ingredient is You
If demonstrations, strikes, protest marches, Occupations and other acts of civil disobedience are happening all around – why are so many acting as if nothing is happening? Why is there this feeling, expressed by so many, that the UK is just meekly submitting to a corrupt, elitist government dismantling its welfare state, civil liberties and public services?
Imagine all those asking this question are in their lounge, and a fire has been set in an upstairs room of the house. They cannot see the fire, they cannot feel the heat of its flames, and they cannot smell its smoke. To all intents and purposes there is no fire, for them, right now. But that does not mean there is no fire. Either they will discover the fire, or the fire will discover them.
Spectators, if you want to see a fight back, you have to move.
So far, the fight is largely being left to the hardest hit and a significant number who have come off the benches to support them.
No movement can deliver the kind of killer blow that destroys a government or a whole political or economic system without mass, popular support. It needs the spectators to get off the side lines and throw their whole weight into the thing. Only that can create the momentum, the energy and the unbearable tension which moves worlds onward past periods of injustice. So don’t ask ‘where is the fight back?’
Find it, join it and make damn sure everybody else does.
Don’t get angry, get involved!
Nov 5th Protests – join them
DPAC – join them
Boycott Workfare – join them
Occupy London – join them
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