We like a good protest. Y’know, as long as it doesn’t get too rowdy. In the last five years I myself have been on two national protests, March for the Alternative and A Future That Works. We stood with thousands of people, waved our signs, shouted some stuff, went to Hyde Park where people said stuff on a stage, we all cheered, we all got on our buses and trains and went home.
The general public like an organised protest. They like it when people march and say “we’re cross!”. They’re not so fond of it when it gets “out of hand”. Case in point: the student protest from a few years ago. The London riots. Maybe it’s because we’re British. We don’t like to make a fuss. We’re good at asking nicely, we don’t like conflict and we tut at people who are too emotive in expressing their anger. We’re less “¡Viva la Revolución!” and more “Down with this sort of thing”.
I find it very difficult to know where to draw the line. The one thing I can categorically say is that while these marches have demonstrated the force of feeling behind the country’s situation, no-one with any clout is taking a blind bit of notice. We are given our allotted space and allotted time to shout and then it’s done. This method is not working.We can gather in London and hear people speak until we’re all collectively blue in the face. Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s getting worse. Which means people are getting angrier, and organised marches are not going to cut it any more.
The news media love a good protest, and they love it when it all kicks off as they have the chance to play the same 5 second loop of someone with a scarf over their face throwing something at a police officer, while talking to experts about how it’s always a few bad ones that ruin it for everyone else and isn’t it a shame. How everyone was having a lovely time until these angry people spoiled it.
Thing is, protests aren’t meant to be a nice day out. A lot of the time they *are*, but they’re meant to convey a nation’s feelings about something they feel is an injustice. They are meant to put pressure on people with power until things change. This isn’t happening. And the worrying thing is, when people feel they aren’t being listened to, they get angrier, and more frustrated. And then when the news media tell them their anger is bad, that they were wrong, then they get even angrier.
I wonder where the boiling point will be. I wonder what happens when you have an angry populace who now figure they’ve got nothing left to lose. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.
The dust is beginning to settle, and everyone’s looking around slightly shell-shocked and wondering where to go and what to do next.
First, take a breath. Also I recommend a cup of coffee. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We have five years to try and get things changed, we can’t all exhaust ourselves in the first two months.
Second, take a look at the #wecantmarch hashtag on Twitter. Sick and disabled people (as well as anyone who, for whatever reason, is unable to physically march) are creating an online space of protest to match the physical movement of people. Feet on the streets is brilliant and a very effective way of showing the strength of anger but not everyone can do it. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.
- Read. Educate yourself. Learn about poverty, inequality, austerity and injustice. Learn why this is bad, so you can give educated and informed answers to people, as well as yourself. There are so many books out now around these subjects – you may not agree with all of them, but knowing why you disagree with something is just as important. Visit your local library, if you live in Bristol I heartily recommend Books for Amnesty on Gloucester Road as they have an extensive amount of books on these issues for a few quid each. If reading is a problem, have a look through Audible and see what audiobooks you can find. You can also get audiobooks from your library, either in physical form or electronic. Read.
- Find your interest. We cannot all be experts on everything. The state of the country is complex and brings into play a lot of different issues. While you can be reasonably informed about most of them, you cannot know everything about all of them. Find the issues that you feel most strongly about, or maybe one that you already know about as you’ve worked in the field or studied it before. For me, it’s youth work. I’ve worked as a youth worker for ten years and I’m doing my MA in it – I like to think I know what I’m talking about. Know what your speciality is, and don’t be afraid to link people to other websites of people who have specialities different from your own.
- Pick your battles. The internet is a busy place. People argue everywhere. You do not have to argue with all of them. We have a limited amount of energy. There will be people who will not listen to your point of view, and to spend time trying to convince them is a waste of your energy. It’s ok to say “I am not getting into this right now, bye.” Also, as a rule, Facebook and Twitter are terrible places for arguments on the internet (with exceptions, of course).
- Write. This one usually happens on its own after you’ve been doing the above for a while. Writing is a good thing. Sharing information you know, giving a space to put forward a clear argument (rather than trying to do it in 140 characters) and a place to write down the frustrations you feel. It also means you have a space you can point people to when you get into aforementioned Twitter arguments.
- Do something else. This is important. Campaigning and protesting is essential, especially now, but you have a life and health to think of and they should always come first. Take some time out. Spend an evening watching a film, go for a coffee with a friend, binge-watch some Netflix. Give your brain and soul a break every now and again. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Keep informed, keep active, but most importantly keep safe. Be angry, but look after each other. Be motivated but don’t exhaust yourself. Keep fighting.
If you are for opposite-sex marriage and against same-sex marriage, that makes you homophobic. I don’t care how lovely and nice you are, what a wonderful Christian or happy Conservative you are, I don’t care if you’re a 15 year old boy or a 75 year old granny. If you do not want people to be able to marry the person they love just because they are both the same gender, that means you are homophobic.
It’s really, genuinely that simple. You can throw excuses of Biblical references at it if you want (but you’d better be putting your wife in a tent until she’s off her period if that’s your excuse). You can say it’s undermining the sanctity of marriage but I bet you can all name someone who’s cheated on their husband, or is on their third wife.
You can claim that people get married in order to reproduce but I pity you if that was the reason you decided to marry your spouse (“she’s got good child-baring hips!” “he looks nice and fertile!”) and then of course what about all the couples who can’t or don’t want to have children? I’m hoping the human race has moved on a bit from simply partnering in order to mate. We are not a pack of lions.
Or you can be honest and say that you find the whole gay thing a bit icky, and that two men holding hands is a bit weird, and that you’re not really sure how it all works and HEY, GUESS WHAT, OVER HERE, WHY ARE YOU ONLY THINKING ABOUT SEX? Same-sex partners have arguments and cook meals and buy houses and go shopping and go on holiday and have jobs and furniture and LIVES just like anyone else. I read somewhere that it seems that those who are anti-gay seem to think a lot more about gay sex than gay people do. I’m inclined to agree.
Marriage is a social construct. It does not occur in nature. It is something humans created for legal and sometimes spiritual purposes. And at the end of the day, if you don’t agree with same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone who is the same sex as you. That’s really the only way it will affect you. The country won’t fall, morality won’t collapse, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse won’t appear, you won’t walk down the street seeing men in tiny shorts snogging each other on every street corner (although that really does depend on where you live).
Just because, for some unknown reason, you find something offensive it does not mean that it shouldn’t be allowed. I find rich Tories offensive but I don’t want them to be made illegal (although now I think about it…) Same-sex marriage will not harm anyone any more than opposite-sex marriage does.
*I do not like the term “gay marriage” as that implies you have to be gay to marry someone of the same sex as you. This is not the case – you could identify as any number of things, or as none as all. I am in an opposite-sex marriage but I would not class it as a heterosexual marriage.
On Saturday, I travelled over to London to join 149,999 other people to march through central London. All the usual groups were there – unions, public sector organisations, politicians, campaigners, activists, anarchists – and together we walked through the streets of London to Hyde Park, where speakers at the rally talked about the actions of the government and how everyone was being screwed. For me, it was definitely exciting to see so many people who are so angry enough with the way things are to travel across the country by the coach-load to shout and wave banners.
But what now. There’s been calls for a general strike, sure, but for me personally it definitely made me think about my profession and what’s going to happen with it. Balloons and placards called to save the NHS, protect teaching and nursing and all of those essential public services that means we can function in society. But what about youth work? Well, youth work’s already gone. Who has a youth service any more? They came in and wiped youth work away before people were able to react and shout about it. Granted, some places did create a lot of fuss and did a lot of work to save their youth service but a lot of the time? It was taken away before anyone had really noticed.
And that’s terrible. That’s really terrible. A support network for young people all over the country just gone, with no big fanfare and barely any consultation (or tokenistic consultation at the very best). To me that just shows the way young people are thought of. We can just take away their services. No big deal.
We’re living in a very different culture now, as youth workers. And it’s up to us to jump and shout now and draw attention to what’s happened, and draw attention to how things need to progress from here. Youth work is already in danger of becoming diluted with other services, so if we don’t work hard to keep youth work as a vitally important profession as itself, we risk losing it completely. That’s why I’m hoping people will take part in Blogging for Youth Work Week in November, that’s why youth workers need to be championing the fantastic work they do and encouraging other youth workers to do the same.
Going on the march was a great experience but lots of people have said it’s pointless. That marching will achieve nothing. Well, maybe not directly. Cameron will not look out his window in Parliament, see thousands of people marching through the streets and say “Oh my goodness! I’ve made a terrible mistake!” But I figure that taking no action means you don’t disagree. Marching at least shows that people care. I’m more than willing to march again if I have to.
This Saturday, I’m going to somehow manage to take myself off to London to take part in A Future That Works. I went to the previous one, which was HUGE, and so it only seems fit that I went to this one. The previous march was titled March For The Alternative, meaning of course that there was an alternative to the austerity measures the government is imposing on the country (I’m looking at you Vodafone) and the aim of this march is to give the message that the government needs to look at proper job creation (and I mean proper jobs, rather than people working for nothing) and to build an economy rather than taking things away from people who cannot afford to have things taken away, either financially or socially.
So. What will I be shouting about on Saturday? I will be shouting about the terrifying way the government is targeting young people, and in doing so completely screwing up any chance we can fix this crisis in the future. Two local authority youth services that I have worked with have gone in the last year and a half, either to move to referral-only work or have their work commissioned out to the private sector. The government have got rid of Education Maintenance Allowance, meaning that young people who are at college have lost a lot of financial support. It costs a fortune to go to university, jobs are scarce (when companies will actually pay you, see above) and the government is now slowly eroding away the amount of support you get to actually start by extending the restrictions on Housing Benefit until you’re 35 years old. If you come from a background where your family will find it difficult to support you financially (which at the moment will be a lot of young people) you will find it so difficult to become properly trained, get a good career and move out into the world.
It’s not a case of “workshy scroungers” or blaming the parents for their children not achieving. This is not a case of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or getting on your bike and looking for work. This is a case of the government not valuing, or even caring about young people. We are not preparing young people for the big wide world. If young people are reaching their mid-twenties with little to no qualifications, unable to move out of their parent’s home and unable to find a career then how will this ever solve the money issues we’re facing? In ten years time, when the 15-year-old GCSE students become the 25-year-old benefit claimants, how will we have done anything to serve them and give them what they so rightly deserve? People love to wax lyrical about all those nasty benefit claimants – why are we not making sure our young people have a good start now, so that they have the opportunities and support to achieve not just in a work capacity, but to raise their aspirations and build their confidence. This isn’t done by the government pulling away any support they had, this is done by throwing support at young people by the bucketful.
We need job creation for young people that pays a decent wage. The workfare scheme needs to be abolished, and young people need to be paid properly for work. This means they will start being financially active citizens paying back into the economy! Isn’t that what the government want? They need to be involved with agencies that boost their aspirations, good careers advice that give them access to courses and training so they can be a mechanic/barrister/doctor/CEO of their own company. We need professionals to support those young people who come from challenging backgrounds, those who have alcohol and drugs issues. Give them support now through social housing, good housing benefit support and a positive start for them to make it on their own and you will have people who are achieving and paying those good healthy taxes that make HMRC so very happy. And how will we afford to give all this support? Well a cool £6bn from Vodafone would be a good start.
If we don’t do something now, it will come back and bite us. We will not solve the crisis in the economy by pulling money and support away from those who will be the next generation bringing income into the country. All it will do is leave those people even worse off. But of course by then Cameron, Osbourne et. al. will be off in their glorious retirements. Not having to worry about the unemployment figures.
We have to invest in our young people. That is why I’m marching on Saturday.