Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Where Do You Stand?

As a Twitter user I am able to sit and watch my timeline scroll away as all those I have followed (a few hundred) tweet and retweet things into it. Quite often these things are political things as people share their own interests or, sometimes, positions that they find dangerous, wrong or even laughable. These are not always things I agree with but they are things I can put up with. I guess like most users of social media I am very self-selective in the choice of those I choose to follow. I could not follow someone tweeting race hate into my timeline on a constant basis, for example. But then neither could I follow someone constantly tweeting either feminist dogma or other single agenda issues either such as climate change. Last year in Scotland there was a referendum of the Scottish people to determine if that country should leave the UK and become independent. The eventual vote was 55/45 in favour of no. It was a very active debate online and I found that I couldn't follow people from either side because it was a constant barrage of one-sided views. I was looking for information though not opinion.

When it comes to politics, then, I have my beliefs and sometimes they are moderate and sometimes they are quite extreme. But, by and large, I keep them to myself. I avoid overtly political accounts (or getting into political discussions) no matter in what direction their politics tends. This is because politics very quickly descends into a shouting match and a pit of contention. Nothing is to be achieved by shouting across the Twitter void at people. Some feminists laud the ability to shout at all of course and they feel that a regular dose of "shouting at the devil" is good for the soul. I disagree because, in my pragmatic way, I want to ask what it achieves. I think it achieves nothing beyond maybe making the shouter feel better. But feminist goals are about more than making individual women feel better and so I look for progress on social goals rather than women who feel better.

All of us live in political situations and are affected by a whole host of political decisions, processes and jurisdictions. So a quietism like mine cannot be the end of the story. If you can live with most things that are going on in the world then it might start to be suggested that you don't actually care what happens to it. Some political decision somewhere must be affecting you and, as one who wants to know what goes on, that gives me more ability to find out what those things are. Of course, it is often the easy way out to then say that you can't do anything about it. You are small and the forces of political power are big and strong. But this is defeatism. Politics has always been a numbers game. But the relevant numbers here are not economic ones. They are the numbers of people prepared to stand up and say "No!" to something or "Yes!" to something. No political policy of any government anywhere would pass if 10 million people were stood in the streets. Activism counts and activism works. Ask the Suffragettes, for example. So often, it seems to me, politicians are happy to sneak things by a population that is snoozing or misdirected so that their attention is elsewhere. Politics is the practice of stealth as much as anything else.

But there are occasions when I feel that I must tweet about political things. This is not because I am a political animal or any kind of activist. As with most things, this is a more instinctive thing with me. Its also probably because the things I tweet about in this way I feel I have some connection to. Politics is partly a reaction to the world around us and we can only act or react in relation to things we see or become aware of. (This is one reason why politicians often try to hide things. You can't have a view on something you aren't aware of.) Now I lived in Germany for a number of years in the recent past and my eyes became open to a number of things, living in a different kind of society and culture to the one I was used to. Travel broadens the mind they say and its very true. Whilst there I worked with people from pretty much every country of Europe and was exposed to completely new views and outlooks on the world. 

And so yesterday many of my tweets could have been regarded as of a political nature. Why was this? Its because yesterday was November 9th. A number of things happened in Germany on November 9th in years gone by. Two of the biggest things that happened were the fall of The Berlin Wall in 1989 and Kristallnacht, the pogrom (coordinated violent attacks) of 1938 carried out by the Sturmabteilung (who were literally "Stormtroopers"), which left over 1,000 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged or destroyed by fire. In addition 30,000 Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Around 2,000 of these people never left them, the rest being released on condition that they left Germany and Austria. (These two countries were at that time joined together in what was called "Anschluss".) And so you can see that these are pretty big events, events which I think bear out being remembered. So yesterday morning I tweeted a number of factual things about the fall of the Berlin Wall and last night I tweeted about Kristallnacht. I wanted it to be remembered and, for those of thoughtful mind, to be thought about. One of the uses of history, after all, is to remind us not to repeat ourselves. This is especially relevant when world powers even today profile people by race and presidential candidates talk about building walls between people.

I thought about this and my own political quietism and my reasons for it. I see political strength as being found in unity. This is not a new belief or an uncommon one. Many workers' rights movements or unions have similar mottos and beliefs. The workers' rights movement from Poland led by Lech Walesa and started in 1980 as the first trade union not run by The Communist Party was known as "Solidarity", for example. 

The belief common to all these groups of people is that strength is in their togetherness and that against the will of the mass of people private or individual or even corporate or state interests cannot stand. I think that, in the end, this is surely right. But it then becomes a question of where you stand and who you support. You can, of course, be quiet and stand idly by. But then you merely abdicate responsibility and play no part in the result. You get whatever the outcome is whether you want it or not. I do think that at the end of the day even quietists like me have to plant their flag somewhere. For to be a quietist is to let things happen. No one should be so naive as to think that things happen all by themselves though. Things happen because people do them and because other people let them. There is no truer saying in the political sphere than that which says "All it takes for bad men to flourish is that good men do nothing". That applies to good and bad women too.

So political quietism is all well and good and I very much understand it. But it cannot be enough in a world with so many bad things happening, where people need a food bank to feed them and worry about being able to pay for health care if they get sick. (The list is endless. I noted just two basic things.) It is a struggle and people will, in general, do what they are allowed to get away with. In a world in which many are motivated primarily by the private acquisition of wealth, people are not top of the agenda and some become blinded to the facts of their lives. We should remember that it is only by action that things can change. They will never change all by themselves. You won't wake up tomorrow to find a political utopia. But you can try to build one. In truth, only action will ever move us nearer to one, whatever you think that looks like. So the question is Where Do You Stand? and What Are You Prepared To Do About It? You can be sure that those with different values, aims and goals will be doing things about it even if you aren't.

So where do I stand? I've thought about it and tried to pin it down. I think back to those standing at the Berlin Wall in 1989 shouting "Tor auf!" (open the gate!) at the East German border guards. I think back to the night of horror in 1938 when Jews going about their business were suddenly attacked, killed and incarcerated. And then I know where I stand: 

I stand with the underdog. I stand with the innocent victim.

This blog is one of a series in my new project #IndustrialSoundsForTheWorkingClass which you can also follow under that hashtag on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment