Tag Archives: cultural change

Hate speech and activism

Here’s a thing I’ve seen too often. A woman does or says something unacceptable. She is rightly called out for it. But then the tone changes and it becomes an opportunity for anti-female hate. Rather than talking about the issues, words like bitch, witch, and cunt enter the mix. We will hear that she’s old, fat, ugly, unshaggable. In the worst cases, there will be threats of rape, violence and even death. This has got to stop, because there is nothing, nothing a person can say that makes it ok to threaten them.

There are a number of things that happen when this occurs. Firstly, it derails the actual issue. Whatever we should have been talking about gets lost in the noise of hate speech. That’s not good activism. Tory women subject to threats online became a bigger story last year than the shit they had been dealing out. That’s not a win for your cause. Hate speech justifies more hate back at you. That’s not a win for your cause. There isn’t a good cause out there well served by directing hate towards women. Nor is there a good cause well served by perpetuating rape culture.

Last time I did a stall in the street, and old Labour supporter- a guy – explained to me that this kind of political situation is what you get when women are allowed power, because women are basically awful. I’m not prepared to accept that. I’m not prepared to let Theresa May be judged for her gender rather than her actions. It’s her actions, and lethal inaction we should be calling out, for as long as it takes to get real change. Hating her for being a woman doesn’t actually help.

It’s all too tempting to give the person holding your banner a free pass. They are on your side, apparently, they turned up to support your cause and bash your enemies and so we accept them and even welcome them. It doesn’t help that we treat so many issues as fights, us and them, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Except they aren’t, and what we’re doing is giving room for haters and people who are totally at odds with our causes and values.

If your allies are using hate speech and making threats of death and rape, they are not your allies. They just happen to hate your opponent more than they hate you. They find your banner a convenient thing to hide behind. They may even be there for the harm they can do to your cause. I’ve seen it so many times online this year – people on the right complaining about the vile hate speech and threats coming from the left. Making death threats to Tory women does not advance any cause for the common good, it harms it.

Do we trust everyone who turns up and says they are with us? Do we trust everyone who claims to be our ally that they really are that? It seems rather naive to me. The people holding your banner have the most power to destroy your credibility, especially if you stand by and let them do it.

We have to stop giving free passes to anyone who claims to be ‘on our side’. When you’re working for cultural change, the ends do not justify the means. If the means take you in exactly the wrong direction, then what you’re doing is creating a cultural change that goes in exactly the wrong direction. You don’t make people safer by making death threats. You don’t further your cause by letting people with a hate agenda speak loudly on its behalf.

We have to start dealing with each other based on how we behave, not based on whose side anyone says they are on. If we see our ‘enemies’ as inhuman and deserving the worst we can do to them, we have lost already. To win at radical cultural change, we have to persuade. We have to argue over the ideas and the methods. We have to deal with the issues. Hate speech doesn’t do that. Ever. We have to be the change we want to see and our methods matter, which means we have to speak up against hate no matter where it comes from. We have to say no, this person does not speak for me. No, this behaviour is not acceptable.

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Not so quiet revolution

Last weekend, the British Labour party voted a passably left wing chap to be their new leader. This is pretty revolutionary, because for a long time now, the right wing media have been telling this country that only the right wing people are electable and only the right wing approach to economics is viable and acceptable. We’ve been painfully short of alternative stories. Yet in spite of the media barrage, Jeremy Corbyn is in.

It looks like his first challenge is going to be to sort out a party in which there are people who have no idea what the world ‘Labour’ might pertain to. We know this because a bunch of them just abstained from an important vote on worker’s rights. The majority of us either work for a living, or are, due to circumstances beyond our control, unable to do so (age being one of those factors). And yet we’ve been persuaded, and the political elite have persuaded themselves, that the right way to run a country is to squeeze the majority for the benefit of the few.

There are a lot of us. We the people who do not have our own jets, cannot afford to buy the time of politicians, do not have a media empire to put forth our views. We are the majority. To the tune of about 99%. What the right wing has cunningly done is set us up against each other, encouraging those who are working to hate those who are not working, those who have some to be afraid of those who have less. We of the 99% have more in common than not, and although we suffer to varying degrees in this system, most of us are not benefiting from it much. It’s difficult to see how this works when your daily news feed preaches a very different story.

I’m not a Labour supporter, but I like Jeremy Corbyn. I like him because he talks of solidarity, of working together and taking care of each other. He uses words like ‘decency’ and clearly knows what those words mean. He talks about people, shared humanity, common need. Rather than encouraging people to be afraid of each other, his words are about encouraging people to help each other. Culturally, this is a whole other thing.

I’m tired of the politics of fear. I’m tired of this constant flow of propaganda that tells us to cling tightly to what we have while looking around nervously in case someone wants to take it from us. It should be a matter of shame to have an excess when others are suffering. We need to stop obsessing about who ‘deserves’ help because this is designed to reinforce the idea that most people who are in trouble don’t deserve help. We need to look at who needs help, and then help them. We have the resources, we need the political will. Now at least we have a different set of stories in the mix and some political will. It’s a start.

I very much doubt I’ll be voting Labour any time soon, because I’m a committed member of the Green Party. What I will be doing though, is taking every opportunity to stand up for a different kind of world. Hope not hate. Help not resentment. Solidarity. Compassion. Working together to make things better for all of us. I believe we can do a good deal better than we are at the moment. I believe there are better ways of living, and after Jeremy Corbyn’s win at the weekend, I am cheered to realise that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who feel much the same way. Their party politics are neither here nor there. What matters is the culture shift, changing the political agenda, and challenging the toxic right wing stories of fear and institutionalised mean-spiritedness that we have at the moment.