There’s a lot to be said about Russell Brand‘s piece on political revolution, Robert Webb‘s response about voting Labour, and all the surrounding conversation, argument, and mudslinging which has abounded since.
I don’t have the articulacy or brainpower for most of it, but I’ll try bringing some of the highlights.
Political engagement is massively important. To live in the world as it currently stands, and to care a damn about national healthcare arrangements, or unemployment rates, or benefits fraud, or tax brackets, or education, or energy prices, or homelessness, or whether the council collect your bins often enough – to be paying attention to the goings-on of your fellow humans at all, basically – but to say that you’re “not interested in politics”, is, I think, simply to misunderstand what people are talking about when they talk about “politics”.
Politics has arisen, in part, from humanity’s collective efforts to work together, so that none of us is ever relying solely on what he can achieve alone with a pointy stick against the world. Questions of politics are questions of how we should treat each other in a way that best allows everyone to thrive. It defies human nature not to care about that, in some way.
You should absolutely be engaged with politics, proactively and determinedly and compassionately and with whatever energy you can muster. You should read books, read blogs, write blogs, argue on Twitter, share ideas with others and absorb their own, think about what makes sense, try to figure out what will work. You should attend meetings, go to marches, sign petitions, champion ideas, support collaborative efforts to achieve greatness, make a difference, change the world.
But don’t keep voting for fucking politicians.
Actually, that’s not quite right. You can do that if you want. But what you shouldn’t do is cast your vote, and then dust your hands off, decide that you’ve met your civic duty by being politically engaged when called upon, and kick back for another few years until you’re summoned once more to be relevant for as long as it takes to draw an X in a box.
What you shouldn’t do is act as if “voting in elections” and “being politically engaged” are the same damn thing. If someone whose every spare moment is spent organising rallies around worthwhile causes, but doesn’t want to actively support even the least worst option from the political parties available, is “less engaged” than someone who gets all their news about current affairs from ad breaks on Dave, but dutifully shuffles along to the voting booth whenever they get a card through the door telling them it’s that time of the decade again, and blearily puts a cross by whichever name looks most familiar… then your metric for political engagement is fucked.
What you shouldn’t do is talk about voting as if it were, not just a powerful way for the majority to hold the few to account, but the only possible way for any sort of progress to be made, and the sole definitive factor by which you determine whether a person is engaging with the system and trying to make things better, or apathetically and uselessly slouching around, avoiding all effort, and complaining without even trying to help.
I don’t think you need me to tell you all this, though, because really, you understand it already.
People who vote, and consider voting important, have been loudly in evidence this past week or so – but, in defending the practice, many of them seem to be massively overplaying the role that casting a ballot actually plays in their lives.
If you vote, I’m guessing you actually don’t just sit passively for the years in between elections, as suggested in my rather unfair caricature above. You probably do remain interested in stuff the rest of the time. You likely don’t consider ticking the occasional box to be the full extent of your involvement in democracy. Your political activism may, like mine, mostly consist of some angry retweeting of links to news reports, or complaining online about how terrible other people are – but even these are things you’re doing with your lives, which involve interacting with other people, and which wander well into the realm of “politics”.
Most of you don’t totally switch off and disengage from the political process, throughout the overwhelming majority of the time when you’re not voting for a slightly different set of supreme bastards.
So maybe voting isn’t the be-all and fucking end-all. Maybe there are a lot of ways to potentially make a difference, and there’s really no reason to limit your thinking to within the commonly accepted boundaries of how you’re expected to get involved. And maybe non-voters – those people who can’t bring themselves to even tacitly endorse the least unpalatable option from a limited buffet of shit sandwiches – deserve some benefit of the doubt that they might have other political things going on in their lives too.