Saturday, 28 February 2009

APATHY RULES IN THE UK? NO WAY - Western Morning News article about the Plymouth Occupation


APATHY RULES? My left buttock-cheek. It is not political apathy that so afflicts this country. It is how to channel political energy towards effective change. Apathy? It is a word for the naysayers and cynics; for those who can only think in two-dimensional terms.
I witnessed its opposite at a local level in Plymouth this week when students occupied a room at the university for four days in protest at the Israeli air strikes on Gaza – and made a difference. They “voted with their feet”.
The result is that the university has agreed to grant scholarships to up to six students from the bombed Gaza University.
The students defied those who said it could not be done. They proved to the barstool and sitting-room complainers that it is they who are naive, it is they who need to “get a life”, it is they who are detached from reality.
Replicate such an achievement many times over and what progress could be made? Translate it on to a larger stage – national or international – and what might be achieved?
My point here is that nothing was ever changed by people pulling the duvet back over their heads or retreating into another pint. Politics is about the art of the possible. And whether that is about getting active over the closure of a local hospital or post office, or the privatisation of services, the raining down of bombs on civilians, or the barbarism of war, the same principle applies.
In this respect, I see little evidence of Apathy in the UK.
Where people are mostly disenchanted is with conventional and mainstream politics. They regard it as so disconnected from their concerns and needs – so removed as to occupy an orbit all of its own – that they hardly even bother to seek its representation. They vote with their feet, they organise themselves, they make their voices heard on their own terms.
This is what is called bottom-up democracy, as opposed to that misbegotten one that occupies Westminster.
It is why the Parliamentary political class are in such a state of fear and panic. They are in crisis. Their bankruptcy and democratic illegitimacy has been demonstrated exhaustively over recent decades. The last 12 years of New Labour have merely served to magnify the impression.
So it is that as we career into recession they become more desperate in their tactics to maintain control and to save their scalps. The louder the noise on the streets, the more they resort to authoritarian policy and reflex. The more desperate people become economically, the more they veer towards scapegoating and trying to tap populist nerve ends.
What, they may wonder, would happen if at the next General Election the turnout was a record low? Even by their own decayed standards, their crisis of illegitimacy would be acute.
Far more so than even now when a Prime Minister who no-one voted for parades himself as the only politician who can rescue us from the abyss.
At junctures such as this, this entrenched minority in Westminster revert to form.
They seek to remind us that “there is no alternative!” It is a choice between us or nothing, they say, as if it were handed down on tablets of stone that this decrepit system of government and social order should be the limit of our horizons.
They can start wars and bankrupt us; they can turn deceit into the normal currency of political debate. Yet still we are told – do not reject us outright, do not uproot the foundations.
Part of this deception involves peddling that word “apathy” as a General Election comes closer. Think of how your forebears fought and sacrificed themselves for the right to vote, we will be told. Think that this is what democracy means. Then, whatever you do, vote for one of us.
I rather reckon that my forebears – and many other people to the present day – have struggled far greater for an invigorated democracy. And I doubt that they would have regarded what we have now as much more than a parasitical burden on it; a cargo to be jettisoned.
For just what does the existing state of affairs have to offer us in our lifetimes except more of the same?
And what does that encourage? The kind of despondency, defeatism and alienation by which they ensure their continuity.
This is not what politics is all about. It is not something that should be defined on the careerist terms of those who seek office above us. Rather, it should be a language of our own writing.
That means doing far more of what we are best at – having the confidence to protest in either the smallest or greatest number. Doing more of what those students in Plymouth did this week. They made a difference in practical and symbolic terms. They roused others. And out of that something more can grow.
Vote, if you like, at the polls, but whatever you do – always vote with your feet.

- Neil Young, Western Morning News

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