Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wearing badges is not enough

All Jeremy Corbyn references entirely subconscious

I'm not a campaigner. I'm too anxious, too cautious, too self-conscious, too easily daunted. But I know a lot of campaigners. They are some of my favourite people. They fight the good fight, and they fight it for a long time, because change, if it comes, is usually incrementally, glacially slow. They have thick skins, boundless energy and creativity, and eternal optimism. They get knocked down and, usually, they get up again. They do it, I think, because they have to, and I have massive respect for them, not least because they throw some of the best parties you'll ever go to.

Campaigners fight for and give a voice to the world's, the country's, the neighbourhood's most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. And over the years, they've made some serious progress. Many of the rights now enshrined in law, at least in the global north, would pop the eyes out of the average Victorian. So much progress on so many fronts, so many opportunities for more progress. Things can only get


I'm descended from travellers, pipe makers and smugglers. Not so many generations back the birth certificates are signed with an X because nobody involved in making the baby could write their own name. Two world wars stirred shit up a bit (short version), and I'm a half immigrant social mobility success story. I am a home owner. I am part of the 'knowledge economy'. I've travelled to five continents. I am vaccinated against all the things*. I have controlled my own fertility since I became sexually active. I have all my own teeth. I've read Infinite Jest (though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it).

I also have a degree in social and political science from one of the best universities in the world, gained in the dying years of Thatcherism. I loved studying the politics of the welfare state: I got a first in that paper. One of the quotes (I've always loved a good quote) I wrote over and over again was RH Tawney's "The most important thing about a man is what he takes for granted."

Isn't it though. I think one of the things I took for granted till just a few years ago was that social progress was irreversible. That we would gradually get more multicultural (whatever that means, but I thought I knew, once), less unequal, with our life chances less defined by our gender or our caste or the colour of our skin. That we would combine our resources and our knowledge and our talents and our energy to tackle the huge challenges facing humanity and the planet, and together we would adapt and survive. The campaigners were out on the front line of that fight, and people like me were in the background, keeping the faith, doing our bit, applying the metadata, caring for the evidence base.

But I increasingly feel that this faith was a product of two things: my own life, spent bouncing between a series of interlinked and mutually reinforcing liberal bubbles, and the era I came of age in. For most of the New Labour years, many of the indicators were moving in that direction, and unless you're a better historian than I am I think you have to live long enough to see things turn back on themselves to realise that actually, this shit isn't linear.

Wearing badges is not enough**, but right now I have no idea what is. I have fantasised about taking all of the post-truthers out in one go with a strategically placed measles germ, but I suspect that would only deal with the stupid ones (and the collateral damage would be unpalatable: I have a heart). It's the clever ones, who foment backlash against 'experts' with the zeal of the architects of the Cultural Revolution while maintaining cutting edge healthcare and offshore banking services for themselves, that we really have to worry about, and they are in the ascendant.

And of course it hasn't just been a terrible year for politics: I've shed tears for the loss of Bowie, Prince, Leonard and George, who all shone a light into the dark places and made them a bit more livable. And then there was Jo Cox (the only person I knew with a name shorter than mine), who was so skilled, so committed, and so clearly on the side of progress, tolerance and love. She was the ultimate campaigner, and she paid the ultimate price.

I'm obviously not alone (just check the MSM!) in proclaiming this a uniquely shit year, and I do believe it has something of the night about it. But I remember a message I got from a friend who lost his mum about five years before I lost mine. I had written something about how much I'd learnt from my mum and how sad I was to have lost that, and he said he had learnt more from his mum since she'd gone than ever before. And you know what, he was right.

So maybe 2017 is the year all us PC SJWs have to reach for our inner campaigners. We got the education. We got the love. We've got to use them.


* Well, not rabies. But pretty much everything else.
** Kind of terrifying how this song has come back around.

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Blogger Miles said...

Of all the blows, Bowie and Trump included, the assassination of Jo Cox is the very worst blow that 2016 dealt us. And, trivial though it might be in comparison, the guy who outed Elena Ferrente sits right alongside the *no words do justice* who killed Jo Cox in my mental repository of men who make me want to renounce my manhood, a repository I find now stuffed to overflowing. Seriously considering changing my pronoun in 2017.

9:46 pm  
Blogger Jo said...


9:51 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great thoughtful piece, Jo. Sally O

7:01 am  

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