I went to a rally yesterday. It was good – started on time, didn’t outstay its welcome, had an admirably diverse range of speakers (the [old] white male quotient was low, much lower than it would have been even ten years ago). Well-organised, nothing about to say a reflection etc etc. So why was I disappointed if not surprised?
Partly because I am a … curmudgeon.
And partly because the Left lost because it believed that right made might. It was so busy demanding that the State change its ways, that corporations and Capitalism (‘man’) change its ways that it never took the time to think that maybe it, too, should change the ways it met, shared information, tried to bring people into the fold, find out what skills they had, what skills they wanted..
So, in an age of the Internet, it was still clear that one of the reasons for the rally was to impart information. Seriously, that’s a very bad use of time. People remember very little of what they are told, especially after 30 minutes of speeches, no matter how good each speech might be. The internet is a far more useful tool for opening up the tops of people’s heads and pouring from the jug marked knowledge.
Rallies are also, of course, to demonstrate to individuals and small groups that they are not alone, that other people think and feel the same way. And, if you’re lucky, get some (positive) coverage in the mass media. The rally succeeded in that much, sure, but the ambition level is so low…
Rallies and meetings [and this is me being cynical] also offer organisers a chance to dish out patronage to their friends and allies – yes, you can have a five minute slot, you can have a ten minute slot…
Why do I bother to mention this last point? Because I believe that anything that cut into the ‘all eyes to the front’ aspect would be resisted by the organisers, who [whether they can articulate it very well or not] believe that the attention of hundreds or thousands of people to the front, to the speakers, is the sine qua non of their continuing power.
So, there are some things that could be done – here’s two things I wrote back in 2011, when I still devoted mental energy to the formats of social movement gatherings.
As a couple of the speakers said, this is a battle about convincing friends, family, work colleagues etc, as well as Writing To Your MP (something that should only be done in groups, since it is such a dispiriting and dis-empowering thing). So, why not put out a call to actors, directors, vloggers, asking them to ‘show how it’s done’. Why not ask people to, even if only briefly, turn to the people they don’t know around them and introduce themselves. Even if just for a minute. Et cetera et cetera.
But frankly, I’m disvisioned [see below]. I don’t believe the ‘left’ will change (see ‘smugosphere’ and ‘emotathons’) because I think it’s simply too comfortable and believes that it will win because it should. And I don’t believe that I can undertake normative entrepreneurship (or even shake up the repertoires) – because I simply do not have the skills, the patience, the credibility/social capital. So it goes.
Disvisioned versus disillusioned
… we were discussing the increasing feeling of despair that we are all suffering from: over and over again we were all using the word ‘disillusioned.’ Then someone pointed out that if what one had held in the past was an ‘illusion’ then it was very healthy, even important, to be ‘disillusioned,’ relieved of illusion- or delusion. If on the other hand what one had held before was ‘vision’- ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’- then what the present political climate was doing was ‘disvisioning’: and it was important that we realise that there was no word- at least within this culture and language- for ‘disvisioning’. No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you. That word, that event, is one that necessarily must be denied by bourgeois culture. I was brought up with a wicked myth- that you cannot put the Truth down, that it will win in the end; I think we have to fight that very carefully; alas, indeed it is highly possible to put the truth down, to destroy even the dream of it, and in fact the truth has been put down. Can it be that all visions, or prophesies, or whatever, that are not in the process of being realised are thereby proven as illusions/delusions? We have to face the real possibility that through social circumstance we may now be in the process not of being disillusioned, but of being disvisioned: an act of violence, not therapy.
Sara Maitland Futures in Feminist Fiction in From My Guy to Sci-FI: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World ed. Helen Carr (1989) London: Pandora.