Activists: What the hell we do in 2017

I don’t know  a single person who isn’t glad to see the back of 2016. This is mainly because I deliberately avoid knowing a) racists b) fascists or c) people who don’t recognise the inherent brilliance of David Bowie and Caroline Aherne.

Brexit. Trump. Jo Cox being murdered by a Nazi. Syria. The inexplicable existence of Philip Davies MP. Each of those things alone is enough to make me want to cry blood. All together – urgh. We’re glad to see it go, let’s leave it at that. Don’t let the door smack you in the head on your way out, 2016.

We’re all glad because we’re all so sure 2017 will be better. Could be better. Might be better.

What the hell do we do about it?

This list might help.

1. Hope
By god we need this. It’s in short supply at the moment, but nothing has ever changed without it. If you campaign without the hope of change, you’re going to end up very depressed, or you’re a Liberal Democrat (ha ha ha – sorrynotsorry).

For me, hope comes from two things: one – we are part of a movement which has already changed the world in ways which even its founders would have considered astounding. Early labour campaigners won victories and built a movement whilst unions and strikes were punishable by transportation. If they can do that, we can do this.

Two – bear with me, but being a socialist and being a gardener have a lot in common. Sometimes something I do will spring quickly up, burst into flower. Other times, stems I thought would weather a storm snap and rot, and only feed others. Some of the seeds I plant will be for trees I won’t live to see blossom. Like a gardener, everything a socialist does with good intentions, every small act of activism and kindness, makes a difference. Even your failures will bear fruit. You won’t ever see it totally perfect, but that’s okay.

Also, FYI, you can’t hope if you’re not healthy. Self-care, self-care, self care.

2. Concentrate on what’s in front of you
A  lot of the conversation about “The Left” this year has been on a national or international level. Our problems are huge, and so it can seem pointless to run small campaigns, or actions which don’t break the internet. If some strikers picket and a Guardian writer doesn’t do a pithy 500 words on it for Comment is Free, did it make a sound? Is there a point to your hashtag if it doesn’t trend? Is your meeting a success if it was only for a dozen activists?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Thinking “small” is the only way we will solve the “big”. For crying out loud, it’s how our entire movement was built in the first place – don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. 

When I became a rep three years ago there were a few dozen union members. Now, over half the junior workforce is unionised. That’s one workplace, but that’s hundreds of workers who now have a positive experience of working collectively. That’s hundreds of knock-on effects to their partners, kids and friends, it’s hundreds who watch news of a strike and don’t believe the crap, it’s hundreds  pushing up the average T&Cs and pay in their sector. It’s dozens of those hundreds who are now fantastic activists in their own right and have the skills to replicate what we did. Organising like this doesn’t make headlines. But it makes an incalcuable difference.

3. Talk to people who you usually don’t
Fellow activists, don’t take this personally, but I saw enough of you all this year. In 2017, I’d love us to get some completely new people involved. I don’t mean more people the same as us either.

We have to organise differently. Change who we speak to, and how:

I want to see trade union branches, CLPs, any progressive party, stop just asking why women, disabled people and people of colour don’t come to meetings or hold positions, and start finding out.

I want to stop the old-fashioned mantra of “nothing beats face to face” being applied to meetings where carers, working parents or shift workers could take part virtually.

I want to see unions prioritising low-density sectors, and throwing a massive fucking party every time those workers win something.

I want to see housing campaigns run by council tenants and the homeless.

I want to see union members, not officers, giving interviews and speaking at rallies. Give the general secretaries a break for 2017. Lets get some reps up on stage.

And I want to have more difficult conversations. I want to speak to people who don’t like me.

It’s going to be a pain in the arse, but we need to have discussions with people who voted Leave, people who are sympathetic to Trump, people who vote Tory. We don’t pander to them, because a) that’s not how you get change and b) we’re not patronising dickheads, but we put our point across.

Explain to me how else we win them over, how else we challenge last year’s disgusting atmosphere of hatred painted as necessary, of not being able to afford to be kind, of austerity which has spread so far it has even cut our humanity.

2017 has to be better, because we don’t have a choice.

Good luck, everyone.

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