Monday, 23 January 2017

2016 was quite a bleak year for many of us. Let’s make 2017 the year we fight back.

Trump, Brexit, the hate-crimes that have increased since Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis and Europe’s utter failure to help the millions displaced. It’s easy to see why so many people found so much to be pessimistic about last year.

Before I join in the chorus of people that say 2016 was “the worst year ever” though, good things did happen. In the UK, Zac Goldsmith got punished at the mayoral ballot box for his racist campaign. He also lost his seat as an MP. Furthermore the Trade Union, Unite, helped strike a big blow against Sports Direct and forced them to change their awful work practices. Worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that global malaria deaths have gone down by 60% since 2000. In addition, the Paris Climate Agreement was signed meaning a lot of countries are doing more than ever (although still not enough) to combat the effects of human-made climate change. However we must be vigilant as Trump seeks to pull the US out of this agreement. So whilst bleak things of a huge consequence did happen and are continuing, there was some good news to mitigate this.

So what does 2017 hold for us? Well in the UK we have the prospect of Article 50 being triggered and a push by the government to get us out of everything to do with the EU, including the single market. Further train strikes are likely to happen because of safety concerns of Southern Staff.  TFL Station staff are also likely to go on strike again because of ticket office closures and staff cuts. The crisis of homelessness in this country and the NHS under constant strain is likely to continue.  In the wider world, we have had the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the US, as well as an ongoing refugee crisis because of conflicts in places like Yemen and Syria.

It is so easy to ignore it all and pretend it’s not happening because to even think about any of those things can be quite upsetting and infuriating. However, the sad but hard truth is nothing will change unless you get involved. If you're not already, become an activist of some sort. It doesn’t matter how big or small your activism is. Pick one topic in particular that you’re passionate about and go with it. If you don’t think you’re passionate about anything, then just think what you’d like to see change about a particular issue. Are you worried about the government’s Brexit strategy? Are you angry at big corporations getting way with not paying tax? Are you worried about the effect Donald’s Trump’s policies will have on the rest of the world? It could even be a local issue such as a green space that is being built on or the selling off of a housing estate that are leading to mass evictions.

There are a number of things you do practically to start of with. Find a group to get involved in, so you’re not doing it on your own. If you google a particular issue, you’re bound to find a campaign group on it. Or start a group with one of your friends and try and build it up. The actions you can do are things like writing to local and/or national papers to spread the message about the issue. You can also write to your MP to challenge the government. Believe or not, some MPs do bring up their constituents concerns with the government. You can deliver leaflets or knock on your neighbours’ doors to get signatures for a petition or to let people in your community know about a particular issue. You can volunteer for a refugee charity and make sure refugees get the help they need. You can even get involved in direct action such as a stunt outside a business or government building or a big protest march. A few years ago when UK Uncut organised protests outside Vodafone shops, tax avoidance become a national issue in the media.

Being an activist can give you so much adrenaline. However, it can be frustrating at times when you think you’re not changing things straight away but if you persevere you may end up making a difference. For example, I mentioned Unite’s Sports Direct campaign before. Now given how long they’ve been treating employees appallingly, and how much in denial Mike Ashley was, it didn’t seem that things would change. But when Unite organised mass protests outside their shops across the country and recruited union members from Sport’s Direct staff, suddenly things changed. The rest of the Sports Direct board got angry with Ashley, a Parliamentary Committee demanded he change the practices in the workplace and ultimately the Sports Direct workers are now organised in their workplace and are treated a bit better.

So many people are apathetic. A lot of people choose to not think or act about what they see as injustice because they think nothing will change anyway. The system is too corrupt and messed up for that. However, if enough people that felt like that actually attempted to change things, we’d have made more progress.

Still not convinced that you care enough to become a political activist? Then here are a few things to think about. Have you ever been angry at train fare rises equalled with poor service? Have you felt that you and you're fellow employees are underpaid or undervalued at work? Have you ever been angry at the fact that you and your friends/family can barely afford to rent let alone buy a house? These are things that you can help change. Even if you are physically and/or mentally not able to really do too much, you can do a simple thing like sign a petition and share it. Any petition that reaches over 100,000 signatures is likely to be debated by MPs in Parliament so it is worth doing and no amount of activism is not enough. 

So what are you waiting for? Be the change you want to see. I know I sound very idealistic but I can’t afford not to be. There is too much at stake to even consider that I won’t make any difference in what I’m doing. The moment you think you can’t change anything, you won’t. Being an activist can be hard and draining at times but as long as all of us have a strong support network around us then we can together make the world just that bit better over time .Looking at the millions that marched against Trump last weekend, including people who hadn’t done it before, it gives me hope that maybe a big fightback is underway this year. Don’t just “watch this space”, be part of it and make a new year’s resolution to be proud of.