By Tim Hardy
As recent events have shown time and time again, representative democracy as it stands in the UK is anything but representative.
At the level of local government people have been locked out of public meetings in which decisions are being made about their futures. There is little to distinguish between the three main parties – one refuses to apologise for the harm it is doing; one lies that the harm is actually good for people; the third cries crocodile tears then harms anyway. The only party in Westminster showing any kind of principle and political courage is the Greens. This is not what democracy looks like.
In the UK, a significant proportion of the population experience poor mental health. Perhaps the sense of hopelessness that characterises depression is not always endogenous, a matter of chemical imbalance to be cured by the latest magic pill from a multi-billion-pound pharmaceutical industry, but instead a perfectly rational response to a disempowering political and cultural system in which we find ourselves helplessly trapped like the participants in the Kafkaesque nightmare of dealing with a call centre.
The call center experience distils the political phenomenology of late capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object, since-as is very quickly clear to the caller-there is no-one who knows, and no-one who could do anything even if they could. Anger can only be a matter of venting; it is aggression in a vacuum, directed at someone who is a fellow victim of the system but with whom there is no possibility of communality. Just as the anger has no proper object, it will have no effect. In this experience of a system that is unresponsive, impersonal, centerless, abstract and fragmentary, you are as close as you can be to confronting the artificial stupidity of Capital in itself.
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
Laurie Penny, a journalist and activist who has shown herself to be a true friend to disability activists with her supportive posts at New Statesman, believes that political participation can be curative. “Many people with depression say they find participating in political activism helps alleviate their feeling of powerlessness,” she told me in conversation with fellow activist Martin Young, better known as Mediocre Dave.
Martin has previously written convincingly on why we must see “any attack on people with disabilities as an attack on us all”. He pointed out that it is is not for nothing that we use the same word – depression – to describe both a particular type of economic downturn and a clinical state of helplessness.
We are social beings. To be ignored is a cruel punishment. For our voices to go unheard, to be made to feel that we are shouting in a vacuum, that what we feel and think does not matter is devastating in itself.
It is even worse when the deliberate exclusion of our voices is used as tacit assent by others, elected on lies and false promises and comfortably sheltered from the impact of their decisions, who go ahead and pass budgets and laws that will further devastate our communities.
It is up to make our voices heard and shake off that sense of helplessness that is politically and personally disabling.
Through this weekend 6 billion ways will be giving you the chance to stand up and do so.
As Lucy E, an artist facilitating the 1 minute manifesto project running tomorrow as part of the event explains:
This project came about because of a growing sense that people are increasingly made to feel unable to participate in political debate – because of their ‘in-expert’ness. Because of the false notion that politics (and political expression) is about perfect expression, that previous qualifications are necessary, slick presentation a must; some sort of kingdom for the confident. That’s a lie. Political expression is not perfect. It oughtn’t be. Politics is messy and perplexing and here and now. It is on the streets and in your school. Don’t wait. We are ‘it’. Have a little confidence and add your voice to the growing call for change.
Don’t wait for the politicians to remember that they are there to represent us not the rich few who fund their parties’ coffers.
Technology can remove the barriers between online and offline. Stand up in person for what you believe in or text or call 07851 390310. If you cannot be present, you can email your one minute manifesto to firstname.lastname@example.org and have someone read it for you.
This is your chance to share your thoughts, feelings and demands for our future. There is no need to feel helpless any more or to let those feelings stop you from participating. Take a minute and be the change you want to see in yourself and in the world.