Tag Archives: political

Reluctantly Political

I had no ambitions to get into politics. I’ve spent most of my life wanting politics to be something that happened quietly and productively, somewhere else, leaving me free to get on with writing books and exploring Druidry and generally doing the stuff I value.

I have no desire to be in charge of anything. I’ve had small tastes of power, in Pagan volunteer roles laden with responsibility. I did not get much of a power kick. I did get a lot of anxiety about doing the job well enough, and managing the responsibilities. I’ll run things if needs be, but leadership is not something I enjoy for its own sake, only for what might usefully be achieved.

Politics is an invasive business. It is not prepared to leave me alone to get on with my work. It is politicians who sort out the laws to protect creative content. I understand from The Society of Authors that the UK affords the shoddiest creator-protection in Europe. VAT on ebooks really hasn’t helped, thank you politicians. Laws about ‘orphan’ works have further undermined copyright. Then there’s all the blocking and banning, and as a Druid author I have to worry that growing censorship will shut down access to my site, and if companies are allowed to buy and sell access more specifically, that could squash me. Then there’s the Trans Atlantic Trade Agreement, which I feel threatened by. As an author, politics has not left me to get on with it.

As a Druid, the natural world matters to me. I see both the sacred and the pragmatic aspects of our essential, life-support systems. I see how politicians are willing to sacrifice the clean air and the safe water for the sake of a quick buck. I see how economic growth is valued above tackling climate change, and as a Druid, this makes me very uneasy. How can I go around being a Druid and be non-political, when politics is trashing the planet?

I would be the first to tell you that I don’t have the knowledge or the training to handle politics. Then I look at the people in positions of power. Climate change denier Paterson in the Environment job. Gove handling teaching, who hasn’t grasped that you can’t make all children perform above average. Osbourn, whose austerity cuts turn out to be very expensive indeed. It’s hard to protest that I’m not clever or informed enough to do a better job, in face of what I see happening.

So I joined the Green Party some years ago, and last year I took on a much more active role, and I’m going to be doing a lot of campaign work. I’ll be supporting EU candidate Molly Scott Cato, economics spokesperson, with a doctorate in economics. She’s knowledgeable, and sensible and doesn’t spend her time shouting random abuse or airing unsubstantiated opinions. I like informed, evidence-based policy, and I like people in positions of leadership and responsibility who know more about it than I do.

I’m tired of people in power who are just in if for the power trip and the opportunity to make themselves and their friends very rich. I’m tired of having to listen to uninformed fantasy and drivel from people who refuse to read, listen or think but who are so overconfident in their own prowess that they still feel entitled to tell the rest of us what to do. I want politicians who are wise, noble, well-informed, responsible and good human beings. That means, until we get to that place, I’ve got to pile in, and try to make some kind of difference. Then, hopefully, there will be some sane and relaxed space in which I can get back into the rest of the business of being an author and Druid.

Why you need to get political

This is not a bid to convert you to any political party or perspective, just to the idea of politics. I’m finding a lot of people for whom politics is ‘too depressing’ or ‘pointless’ and if that’s you, please read this. It will not contain any actual politics, only ideas about politics.

It is all too easy to see the ruling classes as some kind of separate species, whose affluence and power divides them from the rest of us. There’s so little difference between the main parties most places, that voting hardly seems to make any odds. New faces, same old shit. I have a great deal of sympathy with Russell Brand, Billy Connolly etc that ‘voting only encourages them.’

The word I want you to think about in this context, is ‘them’. If you live in a democracy then in theory, there is no ‘them’, only us. In theory, anyone can get involved and make changes. The problem is that most of us sit round wringing our hands in despair, feeling powerless and useless, and like there’s no point even trying. We switch off the news because it’s too depressing. I have been there, I have done it, I know what it is to feel utter futility and misery in the face of politics. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it really isn’t the answer.

There are now a number of campaigning groups around the world, that do not have anything to do with traditional parties: Sumofus, Change.org, 38degrees avaaz, and no doubt others. (add them to the comments if there are groups you’re keen on that I’ve forgotten.) Petitioning, harassing and challenging conventional politics, these outfits have the tyrants in the UK so frightened that they’re trying to bring in gagging laws. 38degrees is bigger than any of the UK political parties. Hate politics? Hate politicians? Sick of feeling powerless? Get yourself over to one of these groups, and make some noise, and watch the wins. These groups confer opportunities to back whatever campaigns matter most to you, to start your own, to level the playing field. They do make a difference. A blend of consumer power, public shaming and fear of what we’ll do at the polling stations gives these groups real power.

You could join a political party. There are loads, many of them small, idealistic, crazy and unlikely to win anything, but they make one hell of a good protest, and if enough of us defect to little parties, we will destroy the vice-like grip large parties have on our countries. There is still scope for democracy to work, but we need to actually vote, with our feet, our cash, and our energy. Find a lovely crazy party that you can get along with. Join it. Stand for election. Make some noise. Stand as an independent. If you prefer.

If you’re really mad and brave, join one of the big parties. They all have falling memberships, which means in theory the voice of the individual is growing. You could join, go to meetings, vote on ideas, propose policies. After all, every policy a party has starts somewhere. Why not with you?
You can. Remembering that you can is not easy. Real differences can be made. Whether you like the Greens or not, Caroline Lucas as a lone Green MP gets more news time and more national influence than any back bencher from the main three parties. She demonstrates what can be done if you have the will and the determination. Lone independent politicians frequently punch above their weight, too.

There is no need for hand-wringing and hopelessness. Pick a place to stand. One you can bear. One that feels comfortable, manageable, useful enough. Go and make a difference. I promise you, that as soon as you act, you will be making a difference. What keeps the same stupid attitudes and people in places of power, is our collective disbelief that we can change anything. History is full of public movements that made radical change. Not so very long ago most people did not get to vote. We got shot of feudalism. We won the unwinnable fight to give the poor and women the vote, when it had seemed most of us would be disenfranchised forever. We had a Labour movement, we can have another. We have an environmental movement. Other countries have managed to enfranchise their original peoples. Anything can happen.

I’m sure lots of people told Mandela and Ghandi they were wasting their time and it couldn’t be done. We do not have to quit. We do not have to accept what we’re given, and anything you do will make a difference. The giving up in apathy contributes to keeping in power those who abuse our trust. Whatever you do, give up on apathy, it is no answer. Rebel, resist, reimagine on whatever terms suit you, but do not support what you hate by letting it beat you.

Everyone is lovely

For a long time I’ve struggled with the idea that I ought to be able to feel that everyone is lovely, as good as they can be right now, doing the best they can and worthy of respect. I want to believe it, but people have this unfortunate habit of making that really difficult for me. I’ve started to realise there is a curious and uncomfortable political dimension to all of this, which I’m still grappling with, but want to offer up in the tentative form I’ve got.

Everyone is lovely. Actually this seems to be a very partial sort of statement and people who apply it have often drawn a circle around ‘the people’ that does not include everyone. The Working Classes, the Christians, the Pagans, the Welsh… it doesn’t really matter where you draw the circle, but it matters a lot that you draw it. You believe in the people inside the circle, in their innate worth and beauty, in their future. You support their rights. History is full of stories of this shape.

The trouble, as I have said with people, is this nasty habit of not living up to expectation. No body of people is universally and dependably anything much. Humans are frail, fallible, not always alert to their best interests and not reliably onboard with ‘visionary’ ideas about what they should be wanting. Most of the time, this is not much of a problem, and those few zealots for their chosen people just sit around wondering why no one wants to put them in charge.

The problems start when you do get the would-be glorious leaders in charge. The working class still isn’t radical enough. The Christians still aren’t fundamentalist enough. The Welsh just aren’t aggressively Welsh enough… most people are not in fact hungry for Cultural Revolution. They just want a quiet life. The next apparently logical step is that you have to make them do it. For their own good. Because it’s best for them. You have to make them only speak the pure language, and only learn the right history. You have to make them march, and fight and abandon their children for the good of the cause. You have to frighten them into betraying their neighbours as not being proper fanatics, and on it goes, and the bodies start mounting up.

Some of the world’s worst atrocities have been born out of Utopian thinking. The leaders who have created Hell on Earth have, without exception, been promising Paradise. An imaginary paradise for the chosen few in which all wrongs will be driven off by getting rid of those who are not chosen, and making the chosen manifest their destiny. The destiny a small minority have seen fit to envisage. There’s a destructive anger that comes from the massive difference between the fantasy of ‘the chosen people’ (whoever they are this time) and the reality of a bunch of actual people who are no better or worse than anyone else.

Trying to believe that everyone is lovely, actually seems like a first step in a very wrong direction, to me. All people should be entitled to the same basic human rights, but that’s the extent of the commonality. Some people are cruel, and some do not care. Some revel in their wilful ignorance and some are smug in their superiority. People can be really quite shitty. I do not love everyone. I am not going to try and love everyone because I would be unavoidable partial if I did try. When we start making assessments of collective qualities and worth, we are on a very slippery slope. Better, I think, to be able to recognise the difference and diversity. ‘The People’ do not exist, no matter how you try to draw a circle around a few of them/us. We are all individuals and the more able we are to carry on quietly being individuals, the less likely I think we are to end up killing each other.

Political Druid

This is a tricky area for me. On one hand I believe that every choice we make inevitably has a political aspect to it – whether we notice it or not. I also believe that if we’re doing the Druid thing right, then everything we do has a spiritual aspect to it as well. Often, they intertwine. The choice to honour your relationship with the land by living carefully and responsibly, also has political implications. At the same time I am deeply uneasy about any approach that hardwires religion into politics, has religious leaders spouting political messages or otherwise tangles up power structures from either side – as has all too often been the case between church and state all over the place. You don’t need a formal relationship for it to be an issue. The chances of anyone getting into the Whitehouse without professing Christianity, are troublingly slim. I have nothing against Christians, but it shouldn’t be a needed qualification for anything outside of the Church.

I would never say there is one right way to manifest your Druidry, and this is especially true when it comes to thinking about ourselves as political creatures. I do think we have an obligation to inform ourselves as best we can so that our decisions are as well based as we can get them. How that works out in practice has got to vary. Where you are, what matters most to you and who there is on the ground to work with are critical considerations. For a person in the UK but outside of England, with a deep investment in culture, the parties of independence might make a lot of sense as something to support. If your local MP is a politician of conviction who works hard for their constituents, there’s every reason to put that ahead of party politics. You may find it makes more sense to pour your energy in at the most local level, or into awareness raising work unaffiliated to any party. Groups like 38 degrees, charities, and the like can be deeply political in their work without getting into the murky waters of party politics.

As I see it, it matters far more that you engage, than where you decide it makes sense to do so. Follow your heart, your awen, follow the need of your land, and tribe. Do the things you are called to do. That may take you into petitions and protests, experiments with currency, local markets, co-operatives, land charities and innumerable other things that really could use your energy.

For me, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, it means writing for the Green Party. Most of the time, I’m working at a really local level, talking about issues that affect an area of land I could cycle across. I’m not a great cyclist, I might add. It’s a job deeply involved with the place I live and the people around me, which feels like where I should be. If you follow me on facebook and twitter you’ll see I’m putting more time into Stroud issues, and one of the places I’m doing that, is here – http://ruscombegreen.blogspot.co.uk I’m not the only contributor.

However, with European elections looming, I know I’m going to be working on a whole other scale, and a really unfamiliar one at that. The lead Green candidate for the south west, is local to me – Molly Scott Cato. All of a sudden that ‘think local’ job turns out to be something much bigger, with implications for a world stage. I’m a little daunted, but aware I’m just one of a team on this job and that plenty of far more experienced people than me will be leading the way.

It is however, a measure of how easy it is to become involved. In the space of less than a year I’ll make a journey from being barely involved in politics at all, to having a tiny part in something that has the power to affect the world stage. I’ve seen it happen other places, too. People follow their inspiration and the work that calls to them, and they go from small work to high profile, high impact activities. Take Jack Monroe, who blogged about her horrendous experiences as a single mum in a poverty trap, and is now talking at political conferences, and garnering media interest http://agirlcalledjack.com/2013/09/15/for-fairness-sustainability-and-for-the-future-gpconf-speech-in-brighton-14th-september/

So often, we don’t act because we don’t think we can make any kind of meaningful difference. We can. However you do it, for whatever cause cries out to you, step up. The world of politics, formal and informal has been dominated by markets, corporations and profit margins for too long. Politics needs people who give a damn about something other than the bottom line. It doesn’t matter where or how you manifest that, just that you do.

Personal and political

I’m following on from yesterday’s blog, and Jayne’s comment about it. “So many people out there who obviously have grievances and feel the need to bore other people with them. What has happened with sharing your problems with those closest to you?”

I’d like to begin with a counter quote from George Eliot, “There is no private life that has not been determined by a wider public life.” (From Felix Holt the Radical 1866).

We all exist in a social and political context. That which afflicts one person, often afflicts others too. Aside from the pettiest of our personal gripes, many of the things we experience have their causes at least in part in wider systems and social structures. The most personal things are often the most political.

When my grandmother was a girl, no one talked about child abuse. It was kept private, spoken only to those closest to you. The same was true of rape, and domestic violence. We chuckle about the silliness of modern health and safety laws, but death in factories used to be common place. And I know there were plenty of people who felt it inappropriate to talk about rape, and child abuse, and poor people dying thanks to unsafe working conditions. Silence upholds the abuser. It supports a system that enables violence and misery to continue.

We may have moved on from then, but we’re a long way from being the open, compassionate society I dream of. We still stigmatise mental health problems. There is no shortage of anti pagan intolerance out there, along with plenty of other faith, race, gender and class based hatred. We do not fix that in silence either. When there is fear of rebuke, isolation and stigmatisation, it’s very hard for people to talk even to those closest to them, about their problems. The more socially acceptable it is to admit to difficulty, the easier it is for those private conversations to take place.

Not everyone has someone close they can trust. There are people who kill themselves as a direct consequence of this. I would rather listen to any amount of someone’s personal woes, and support them, than risk pushing away someone who, for all I know, could be wondering if there is any point in them continuing to live. Not everyone has people around them with answers. The ‘only gay in the village’ scenario. The ‘only pagan in the family’. Or perhaps ‘the only person on our estate who is going to uni next year.’ There can be all kinds of dramatic upheavals and changes in a person’s life that alienates them from their usual support network. Sometimes it can be very hard to burden those closest to you with secrets, or with pain. One of the best things about the internet, I think, is the way it’s enabled people to find fellow travellers, whatever they are facing. Bereaved parents. Transgender folk. People suffering chronic and obscure illnesses. And too many others to list.

When someone stands up in public and says ‘I do not like this thing that has happened in my life, it is not ok,’ the world changes. It used to be totally socially acceptable for men to beat their wives. If no one had ever spoken up, or spoken out, if every female victim had kept that private and dutifully avoided washing her dirty laundry in public, it would probably still be totally socially acceptable and there would be a lot more of it going on.

I remember when I was a child, very few people would publically admit to being pagan, because they were afraid of the consequences. We could have sat silently on that one, too. Fortunately for me, and those other pagans of younger generations, we can be ‘out’ with a fair degree of safety, because of those brave souls who spoke up first.
New ideas, evolutions and revolutions do not spring into life, fully formed and with a glorious leader ready to enact them. They grow slowly, out of sharing. People dare to imagine that what is currently normal may not be best. They dare to dream of a better world. And then, only then, can there be scope for making it happen. In the UK, Mind and others have a campaign to encourage people to be more open about mental health issues. One in ten of us can expect to be hit by something in our lives. We need to be able to talk to each other.

We don’t get social change by suffering stoically, in silence. We don’t build a better world by telling people off for ‘whinging’ about things that are not yet right. Sure, there are people who devote a lot of time and energy to grumbling over pointless things, but perhaps if it was easier and more normal to talk about bigger issues, fewer people would feel the need to focus on the small problems that can more readily be aired. It’s easy to complain about other people. It’s hard to make change. But when people are talking to each other, all manner of things become possible. Sorry Jayne, if my sharing personal things offends you. But you don’t have to come here and you don’t have to read. I would say to anyone, if you don’t like something and it isn’t harming anyone, you have the freedom to go somewhere else. I’m not obligatory.

The trouble with revolutions

I’ve read enough to know that largely revolutions don’t work. Rally the troops, get all excited, kill some people, burn something… and end up with some new despotism with an unfamiliar face. I’ve read a fair bit of autobiography around China’s cultural revolution, the rush of enthusiasm, the hope, the bitter betrayal that followed. It doesn’t seem so far from the wild optimism and brutal bloodshed France went through. Wild, desperate attempts to seize power and make it all better quite often don’t.

Which when you’ve a revolutionary streak, is not happy news.

Fast revolutions don’t work. What is born in anger and brutality, is not likely to evolve into enlightened progress. I’m not someone who believes that the ends justify the means. If you look at history, it seems obvious to me that how you do a thing really informs what you get at the end. Violence begets violence. That which we build out of hatred, anger and resentment will not serve to warm our hearts much in the future.

The best revolutions are slow and quiet. They sneak in. I think about passive resistance and quiet acts of non-cooperation. A little civil disobedience can go a long way. Or wilful obedience. Sometimes nothing can be more subversive than doing as you were told. Precisely and literally. And not doing anything else.

We need change. I’m reading articles in newspapers about how the world is run to benefit the 1% who have the most, a UK education minister blaming feminism for the rising gap between rich and poor. We live in a system that is designed to serve the wealthy. We are playing a game where they make the rules, design the board, own all the pieces. Guess what? The game is rigged. We’re shown the few who sing, act or dance their way to fleeting fame and fortune to keep us believing that anyone can get out of the gutter if they’re young, attractive and lucky. It nourishes our illusions.

It’s not the physical poverty we need to tackle in this country at least. Compared to our recent ancestors, most westerners are obscenely well off. Our poverty lies in our lifestyles, how we feel. What use is money if you are miserable? What good is it playing a game you cannot win, to serve the needs of an elite few?

I’d lay good money if enough of us got angry we could storm the banks, burn a few politicians, put someone new on the throne. Give it a little while for the shine to wear off, and we’d find ourselves in the same system with a new set of faces under the hats of the elite. That’s not progress. Being the person on the throne is not a win, and only when we recognise that can we start to change the rules of the game. It’s only while we aspire to be like the people who seem to have everything, that we remain slaves of their system. Once you stop wanting to be them, its possible to rethink everything.

I want to live in a fair and sustainable world, where need is considered more important than greed, compassion is not equated with weakness, and money is not political power. I want to live in a world where beauty matters more than the bottom line, where quality means more than a quick buck. I want a whole different reality from the one we’ve got.

I am not alone.

Reading blogs and newspapers, seeing the growing disquiet amongst people all over the world, I know there are a lot of folk out there hungry for change. No dramatic uprisings. No bloodletting. No putting a new despot on the throne this time. What we need is a quiet revolution. It starts on the inside. It starts inside our own heads. It is the act of rejecting assumption and trying to figure out how things ought to be. And then, through small action, through personal choice, through our day to day choices, going after that vision of a better world. Throw away the unwinnable game. Chuck out the rules of the few designed to keep the many on a leash. Dream of something better.

Clap your hands if you believe in revolutions.

Clap quietly.