We volunteered. This concept has been tainted by the Big Society rhetoric. When local services were cut to the bone or non existent those who cared stepped in. Soup kitchens. Benefits advice. Domestic violence shelters. Being there for those dying of AIDS. Either as individuals, or in groups, we looked to where the most vulnerable were in difficulty and did what we could to help.
We spread information, increasing awareness. Standing in a town centre with a make shift table, a megaphone and a pile of leaflets you photocopied at the library has a buzz all of its own. We set up tables at universities, at community events, at fairs and carnivals, anywhere people gathered. We learned it’s not just about handing out the literature, it’s about talking about your cause, whatever that may be, answering questions, getting people educated and agitated.
We created literature – no photo shop, no access to desk top publishing. Yet leaflets and zines and stickers abounded. We learned about good design through trial and error. We learned (as some today still haven’t) that vast blocks of text in small font size go unread.
We made street art, this has never gone away.
We organised events with activist speakers where you saw the same faces and heard the same sections of the left argue ideology. Not so fond of these, then or now. Get out of the circle and into the world. Increase publicity, gain support. Let people know how they will be affected, get them involved, don’t put them off. If you (as I was last night) are talking to a bin man who left school at 16 barely able to read, then adjust your language, simplify your ideas. And explain and encourage that it is never too late to access adult education – though be quick because that is also disappearing with the cuts. Any thing that brings us together and helps us think and question is vital.
We challenged complacency. We comforted those who felt defeated. And if you could go back in time to after Stop The War and comfort me, that would be appreciated. We kept commitments to our comrades. Keep yours.
We built opposition and resistance in whatever form. Don’t criticise those who sign a petition, show them, gently, where to go from there. When people are waking up they need a cup of coffee and a cigarette before they leap out of bed and onto the barricades.
We linked people together. I have problems with organised religion, but some of the most important support for the vulnerable, then as now, comes from some churches. Any action against the system that oppresses us (and make no mistake, it does) is important. The trick is to make sure we do not oppress others in our turn.
Back then we took our message into schools, through strong links with the teaching unions. If you can, take *your* message into schools. Show children another world outside of the mass produced, mass consumed version they have pumped at them.
We wrote letters and signed petitions. I have lost track of the number of letters I have written, the number of petitions I have signed. I have fond memories of my then 1 year old son covering our local MP in chocolate when we went to her office to present a petition gathered at street stalls.
In this day of email is there is a place for a well crafted hand written letter? I think so. Each individual whisper can build to a shout. Each tiny light to a flame. So, send letters and sign petitions.
Send them to your council, send them to your MP, send them to the heads of organisations which are the target of your activism. Ask for a response to your questions. Ask them to justify what they are doing. Even if you have no hope of anything changing, think of it as an obstruction – someone has to take time to respond. Tie up their resources and time.
We used direct lobbying. Much as a young mum went to her local MP then, you can now. Again, how much faith you have in a result is down to you, but you can request a meeting with your elected representative and ask awkward questions. Tell them your concerns. Ask them to support *your* position.
We allegedly have a representative democracy. They are meant to work for us…
We used the law and tried to subvert it. This still goes on, but is harder and less visible. Back then my union (NALGO at the time) brought a number of cases challenging government policies on points of law. Companies have been held to account. Spain requested the extradition of Pinochet. There is still a place for this. Iceland have just this week found their former PM guilty of negligence related to the collapse of his nation’s banking system. No punishment, but still, a powerful symbol of disagreement. Use the law.
We subverted advertising. Remade billboards, so they gave a more accurate message, an education rather than brainwashing. I love that this is becoming more and more visible. Keep complaining about offensive adverts, we did then. The News of the World had to go when it became toxic for advertisers. Thousands of complaints, steam rolling through twitter and face book, changed things.
We used mass phone ins. Tying up a company’s phone lines with complaints. Now people bombard with twitter messages as well as organising phone calls to, for example, police stations where they know their friends are held. It is another way of obstructing the system, another form of resistance.
We used consumer boycotts. Otherwise known as don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Particularly from a company that is unethical. I still don’t buy Nestle products. Boycotting South African goods was one means of bringing pressure on the apartheid regime. I know there is a debate around this (as with much of what I list here) but in terms of having a tiny bit of personal power choosing not to consume is a powerful stand for someone to make. If you still have a Vodafone account for your mobile and you’re not tied into a contract – change it – tell them why you are changing.
We (when we had money) tried to keep it in places that weren’t funding and investing in arms sales. It’s hard to operate without a bank account. Look at the cooperative bank, credit unions etc. The current move your money campaign is another area of debate but another idea.
We demonstrated. Oh how we demonstrated. Perhaps the core of activism, visible protest. Marches, strikes, occupations, sleep-ins, teach-ins, street theatre (such as the recent cyclists die-in outside Addison Lee) all vibrant, all noisy, all spreading a message. And still here and changing form – I think of the DDOS attacks that Anonymous work on now as a virtual sit-in.
We carried out acts of civil disobedience – direct action. Being on the spot. We need more of this. We’ve seen disability rights protesters locking down across roads. We’ve seen banner drops from universities. And who can forget the pie in the face of Murdoch. Direct action highlights who has the power and asks the question – When does this change. Power lies with us, if we take it.
Now, more than ever, we need to.
I may have flickered a bit over the years but, I am now and intend to keep on being, a tiny light, keeping on shining, holding back the dark. Come put your flame with mine.
Edited crosspost from Commit random acts of activism again.