So we’re coming up to 2 years since the Coalition government was formed and began chipping away at Britain. They’ve raised tuition fees, cut pensions, attacked strikers, illegalised squatting, forcibly ejected occupations, demonised strikers, incited riots, supported a Workfare scheme, spent billions on the Olympics and the Royal Weddings, cut disability benefits, evicted a major traveller site, bombed a foreign country, sought to privatise the NHS, education and roads and even taxed our pasties! Not bad for only a couple of years.
A year ago, we felt this ConDem government was weak. The student demos has just died down, but the march and occupations on 26th March felt like the activists had really upset the government and the Unions were poised for mobilisation. Now, it seems people are beginning to accept what they must have done in the early 80s: The Tories are in, just try and deal with it for x amount of years and vote for Labour next time. There are still very dedicated activists, Unionists and organisations out there, but it seems nothing large-scale has happened for a while. Defeatism seems a little too rife.
To combat this, I want to flag up some instances in literature. I call these Little Victories. I recently read Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup & Barely. Written in 1956 and revived last year at the Royal Court, the play shows three decades of a small Jewish household in London rooted in Communism. As the blurb states, “[Wesker thinkers internationally, yet feels domestically” (Kenneth Tyson, The Observer). 1936 is a time for fighting in unity, the first few scenes show the fight back against Mosley’s Black Shirts and the police and a community thriving in left-wing politics. However despite this, various the struggles, the failures, setbacks and disillusioned ex-comrades mean that by 1956 the family is a splintered, and the movement with it. The main character, Sarah Kahn, is nursing an old and fragile husband with estranged family and friends. But despite all this, as Sarah Khan pleads to her son in the final scene, “You’ve got to care or you’ll die”. As the domestic falls apart, so too has the movement. But her will still drives on, and her control over what she has left is proof that the movement still has sway. As long as she is determined to strive on a domestic level, then the battle still continues on the grand scale.
Take another example, Torchwood’s Children of Earth mini-series in which the government of Great Britain send the children with the lowest school test scores as fodder to appease intergalactic alien junkies. At the very end, one small Welsh estate fights back against their children being taken away, leading to pitched battles in the street. Whilst all over the country, children are blindly being herded from their suspicious, but passive, parents, at least one small group takes matters into their own hands. Similarly I recently saw The Hunger Games, and marvelled at the scene where District 11 rise up in anger over the 12-year old Rue being killed for sport. A little spark can start a fire.
There are various other examples, scenes from Prison Break to She, The Ultimate Weapon and I’m sure countless others, but what I’m getting at is the smaller victories and battles feed into the larger movement.
If there are no large scale protests or action, when there is no giant city-wide event to manage, we must remember to make sure our house is in order. Wait for the national action, but focus on the local. Think internationally, feel domestically. As Al Baker sings “Get to know your neighbours, that’s what it’s all about/we’ll all be a whole lot better when the oil all runs out”.
Small scale action, protests, rallies and organised talks help to build and pin us together. I’m not saying blindly fight through, jade yourself to defeatism and wear yourself out. But every little action has a reaction, every little thought and writing and protest does feel into the larger stage.
The activists in York are all on friendly terms, we have a drink together, we chat about politics, we welcome anyone into the little movement. So when it comes to organising something like Nov 30th or March 26th, it feels like an extended family. Whether there’s 20 of us on a little protest of 200 outside the Minster or 2000 outside Parliament if we have built this family community during the quieter times, it will sustain us in the radical times.
And a note on Trenton Oldfield who yesterday forced the Cambridge vs. Oxford Boat Race to stop and restart. Whilst I like a theatrical protest, the problem is his manifesto seems incredibly long-winded. Him acting alone shows courage and individuality, but unfortunately makes him appear a solo ‘nutter’ without a group or organisation backing him up, which doesn’t help his anti-elitism stance. Compare to the Disabled People Against Cuts action a few weeks ago. It was a collective and colourful demonstration against a specific welfare reform with a defiant aim supported by thousands across the country getting a message across. Trenton’s disruption of the Boat Race sadly does not have this specific aim, only to highlight the elitism of OxBridge and London, something we who follow Boat Races or reports on Boat Races already sort of know. I don’t necessarily think this is much of a victory for anyone, though he’s along the right lines, but I feel civil disobedience has to have more of a specific aim/target/cause else be backed by a lot more people, else it is washed away by the media, brushed aside by the public and has no longer-lasting tie-in.