“Why so sad?” she said, as I walked towards her in a cloud of gloom.
Millicent (not real name) is a young woman who works somewhere I go a lot. I don’t know what kind of contract she is on. It’s probably not zero hours (yet). She probably has shit terms and conditions that leave her vulnerable to all sorts of subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressures. She’s probably on minimum wage or not much more.
“The election results” I ventured.
“Really, that makes you sad? Why?”
“Because of what is coming.”
She gave me an apologetic smile “I don’t know much about it. I know I should pay more attention…”
I hesitated. I don’t know her very well, just to say hello to maybe half a dozen times a month. If I came over all apocalyptic she could bin me as a weirdo. I was about to explain about zero hour contracts, the NHS, and maybe climate change (the reverse of my actual concerns) when she was saved the rant by her bus arriving.
And as I crossed the road, her bus overtaking me, I thought about how “we” (see footnote) – the parties, the unions, the social movement organisations – have been failing the Millicents – the decent, ‘hard-working’™ people just getting through the weeks, for decades and decades.
Because, what if Millicent DID come to a meeting?
She’d be asked to sit in a row, and she’d listen to someone give a litany of how bad things are (which she kind of knows). Then she’d hear a bunch of “speech-questions” from angry people spouting various kinds of jargon (mostly Marxist). She’d be told that the next demonstration was a) really important and b) likely to make a big difference.
Nobody would ask her why she came, what she already knows, what she feels she needs to know, what she feels she might have to offer. If she missed the next meeting, she wouldn’t know how to find out where things were up to.
And Millicent, who absolutely should – for her own benefit, let alone the “movement’s” be involved, almost certainly won’t come back for seconds. Why should she?
And that, to me, is the central dilemma. Thousands of Millicents – intelligent, (com)passionate, talented – pass by the movement organisations, and are not able to be involved without becoming full-time hacks.
And what do I do, in an incredibly safe (Labour) seat? I have certain talents and abilities. I would like to offer them to an effective organisation that is working credibly and steadily for the sorts of social and environmental change we need. I am all ears.
I will find a food bank to volunteer at. When I am in the city I will make sure I always have fruit for the growing (and set to grow more) numbers of rough sleepers. To salve my conscience. Am open to other suggestions.
I (believe that I) am fully aware of the race, class and gender dynamics here. I do not want to be a white (male) saviour. Which is a good thing, since nobody else wants that either. What I DO want is a way for people to be able to get involved in controlling their own destinies, in fighting back against those who are exploiting them, and will – unless stopped – exploit them even more on this dying planet.