Why march?

march

Dot writes: yesterday I went on the Dublin version of the Women’s March on Washington. Current estimates are that 5000 men, women and children turned out on a very cold day to protest against the newly installed President of the USA and all that he stands for. We were marching in spirit with people in many cities in the US but also around the world -London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Nairobi, Sydney and even Antarctica.

Why protest against a president I wasn’t able to vote for, in a country I don’t live in? Here are some arguments not to:

  • I don’t have a personal grievance against Trump and am not going to be directly affected by his policies.
  • I’m a comfortably-off straight white woman. What business do I have protesting at all, against anything? Aren’t I just getting an emotional kick out of other people’s troubles and manufacturing a fake sense of grievance?
  • I should focus on problems close to home. I have no business going on this march when there are homeless people on the streets of Dublin.
  • With respect to the issues central to the Women’s March – equality for women, black people, Muslims, and LGBTQ – this is all just identity politics, and identity politics is tribalism and a scourge.
  • Protest marches achieve nothing. However big they are, they are always a minority of the people. Governments routinely ignore them.
  • Protest marches might even detract from more effective forms of political action, since they make people feel they’ve made a stand when all they’ve done is vent some spleen. The energy goes into the march, and then we all return to doing nothing.
  • The USA captures a disproportionate amount of attention in the world. Participating in events like this reinforces the sense that US politics are central and US problems are the most important, ignoring the billions of people who live in other, often grossly under-reported countries, and may be experiencing far more extreme crises (e.g. Burundi – 327,000 of the population of 11 million have fled the country in the last two years).

I have more time for some of these arguments than for others. The problem of the dominance of the US in our news media is a real one. We need to seek out news from other places and learn to care for other people, including being aware of the power of American cultural products (movies, books, films etc – many of them wonderful, humane and insightful) to set American people and American issues at the heart of the stories we use to interpret our world. We need to make sure that we feed the energy we get from marching into other forms of political action. But here are some rejoinders to the arguments above:

  • It is worth being part of international political and social movements. We are all connected, like it or not. If abuse of minorities, narrow nationalism and rejection of science come to power in one country, especially if that country is extremely economically, politically and culturally  influential, they are empowered elsewhere. We have to fight back. We have to fight while we can. It’s not true that what Trump does in the US can have no effect on me.
  • Those of us who are comfortable, who are in a position of privilege, must use that privilege to speak out for others.
  • I love the concept of marching in solidarity. We lend strength to each other. It’s like the Irish practice with funerals – you go to the funeral even if you didn’t know the dead person, because you want to support the family.
  • The ‘why are you talking about x when you should be focusing on y’ argument is very dangerous, especially in the ‘close to home’ variety. It’s a classic way of getting people to stop caring. Yes, as individuals we can’t fling ourselves into all the possible good causes – there are far too many. But if there is something we can do, we should do it, and not worry if it’s the ‘wrong’ issue. That way paralysis lies.
  • Identity politics is not something invented by the disgruntled to get one over on everyone else. It’s how politics actually works, unfortunately. It is simply the case that power and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few white men, and pretending to rise above that merely assents to the status quo. But finding your tribe doesn’t have to be about hatred. All of the arguments I’m advancing here are about how we need each other and how we’re connected. Arguing for equality is just that – white men still get to be equal.
  • Protest marches are rituals. They have symbolic weight. They are not directly effective actions, but they are ways in which we can tell ourselves who we are and what we believe and feel ourselves to be part of something much bigger. They explore a potential reality – they make the space, for a little time, in which we (a ‘we’ that can be imagined in the march) are powerful, are together, can change something. The task then is to go out and live that possible world into existence.

Three marches

[Braille Face flash fiction no. 11. I think this story really wants to be longer: this is the skeleton of it. It’s based on Moiety and especially the track ‘Political Monsters’.]

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He first met Jenny at the protest against the Criminal Justice Bill in June 1994. He was eighteen years old, about to go to university (Warwick, History), and he and some mates went up to London because they’d heard The Manic Street Preachers would be playing and also, secretly, because they were hoping to witness a riot. They didn’t witness a riot. They almost missed the protest altogether because they didn’t know London and weren’t sure where to go. It was Jenny who set them right as they walked in the wrong direction with their droopy cardboard KILL THE BILL sign. She wore purple doc martins and a tie-dye dress. He got talking to her as she guided them to Trafalgar Square, or, rather, she got talking to him. She must have liked him because he went home with her address on a slip of paper in his pocket.

They exchanged letters and, when they got to university, emails. She educated him. The world weighed on her: Tibet, the rainforests, Bosnia, underprivileged youth. She was reading Law and Anthropology at LSE. He had always been a kings and battles kind of person, but he grew interested in social history. He joined Young Labour. He and Jenny became a couple: he visited her in London and made love to her nervously in her student room, wanting to please her and unsure how to do so. After a while they split up.

 

In 2003 he was writing a PhD on social mobility in fifteenth-century Warwickshire and he got an email from Jenny: she was organizing a big group to join the march against war in Iraq. He’d been uncertain of his views on the issue, but he wanted to see her again. On a chilly February day he walked beside her in the largest crowd he had ever known. She wore a black coat and red lipstick. She had a training contract with a big legal firm, but planned to go into charity law. He felt provincial and addled with libraries. She was alight with anger at the arrogance of Bush and Blair. He rode the wonderful wave of her conviction all the way to Hyde Park. Afterwards he went back to Warwick and his manor court rolls, and wanted to email her, and didn’t think she would be interested.

In the years that followed he thought of her often. Teaching, he imagined her as an observer in the corner, and tried to show her why history was important, or at least how it was humane. He reminded himself sometimes that he was charged with the shaping of young minds, though they didn’t always seem that malleable. He was teaching about contingency, about the complexity of causes, about the mattering of minor lives; he was trying to get his students to pay proper attention. He did admin. He made submissions to the Research Assessment Exercise. He had girlfriends but did not marry.

 

In 2015 he went on a march entirely by himself. It was the anti-austerity march of 20th June. He had made a cardboard sign, which he carried self-consciously: CUTS KILL. He was thin-skinned to the crowd, a little emotional. It was unlike him to do this, but he finally felt that he had to; everything he’d once taken for granted had eroded so far.

And by chance he saw Jenny. Somehow in the mass of people they encountered each other. She looked tired and plump now, but so, he knew, did he. They fell into step and exchanged the summaries of their lives. Hers was not as he expected: a daughter, a divorce, an illness, and now she was running a community centre, struggling for funding.

“It’s wonderful to see you again,” she said. “Remember the Criminal Justice Bill march? They passed that bill, of course. Sometimes I think we only march so we’ll feel better when the government goes ahead and ignores us.”

“Ah, but think of the chartists,” he said. “They didn’t get what they wanted in the short term, but it came good in the end. Think of the suffragettes.” He couldn’t help also thinking of the Luddites, the Britons petitioning Rome for protection against the Picts and Scots, and the Pilgrimage of Grace. Sometimes terms were very long.

“You must come and see me,” she said, “for old times’ sake. And maybe some new times too.” And he went home that day with her number in his phone.

The Basics: The Age of Entitlement

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Short version: shock revelation: keen fan of band loves their new album.

Long version: I think the point at which I fell for The Basics was watching a 2007 clip of them performing Hey There live in the Herald Sun studio. It was such a catchy, exuberant tune, such a strong-flavoured pastiche – pastiches being something I enjoy very much – and Wally in particular looked as though singing this song in a studio with the acoustic of a broom cupboard was about the most fun a human being could have. That combination of melodic songwriting, strong stylistic flavours (lots of different ones; they’re never boring) and a sense of fun remain, but with the years they’ve acquired a serious side. This new album has a political edge, as well as a broad stripe of melancholy lovelornness. It’s also assertively Australian. It’s very much the sound of them being defiantly who they are, in several different directions.

Continue reading “The Basics: The Age of Entitlement”

Two tribes

Dot writes: the recent UK election made me think about how the media deceive us. By this I mean not that newspapers lie but that social media coupled to the way we get information create an illusion of what public opinion is. Who were all these people who voted conservative? I didn’t seem to know any. All the comments I read, by people known to me and unknown, talking directly or linked through the Guardian, the LRB, Avaaz, the blogosphere (which still exists – there are still plenty of people who can read something longer than a tweet) seemed quite convinced of the following:
Continue reading “Two tribes”

More important news

Dot writes: I hear there’s some sort of kerfuffle going on across the pond (not the big pond with Bermuda in it, the small pond with ferries in it). Asked to choose between three almost identical parties, the British electorate haven’t, and now the least popular of the three parties – the one I usually vote for, as it happens – has to choose which of the other two wins. I had a clever idea for a post about this in which I would argue that the Queen should ask Frank to form a government, because he would obviously unite the country in a way no other candidate could (everybody likes babies), and he would be unlikely to ruin the NHS. I thought I could go on to list all the policies he might be expected to support, such as longer maternity leave, investment in brassiere manufacture, and incentives to avoid car journeys. But then it occurred to me it was a silly idea. He is much too busy.

He’s not quite crawling, but he is exercising furiously pushing up onto all fours, doing baby press-ups, and occasionally managing to hop forward slightly on both knees. As of Thursday he can get from his tummy into a sitting position. Between sitting back, pushing forward, twisting and rolling he can cover a lot of ground, but never in quite the direction he wants. He makes cross “mmmm! mmmm!” noises as he struggles, but he keeps on going.

He does occasionally take a break, however, to mouth the many exciting objects in his infant world, and enjoy (or not) the company of his big brother. Here they both are in the garden this afternoon. By the way, Hugh reached two-and-a-half years old today.

Midwifery, homebirth and the Oireachtas

Dot writes: by a rather complex process I came upon this transcript of a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children which included a presentation from the Midwifery Birth Alliance. It’s quite a long transcript but extremely interesting as an example of how a great tangle of factors contribute to the state of maternity services in Ireland – notably among them the lack of statistical data on various aspects of birth outcomes both inside and outside hospitals, as well as the jealously monitored issue of legal responsibility. It also illustrates how hard it is to separate issues surrounding homebirth from issues of professional power and control.

The meeting took place in February 2003. I wonder whether there has in fact been any significant change in policy or legislation since then? I know that there are a few independent midwives currently practising in Ireland and some midwife-led and community-midwife services, but I’m unaware that there is any commitment in public policy to shift towards midwife-led maternity care as the norm. However, I note that the NMH Community Midwives’ brochure says some of their midwives are ‘midwife prescribers’, which suggests that something was in fact done about the problem, highlighted by Philomena Canning at this meeting, of midwives being dependent on GPs and consultants to get medicines for their clients. Must find out more…