Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

Matthew Bolton, How To Resist: Turn Protest to Power (London: Bloomsbury 2017)

About this time last week, hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets marching to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest demonstration since 2 million or so people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. And as Mike commented in his blog post about it, as likely to do as much good. Blair and his corrupt gang ignored the manifest will of the people, and went ahead anyway, determined to prosecute a war whose real reasons were western imperialism and multinational corporate greed. The march failed to stop the war and the chaos it caused is still ongoing. Just as last week’s march will also fail to prevent the Tories doing whatever they want.

It’s a disgusting situation, and this book is addressed to everyone who’s fed up with it. The author, Matthew Bolton, is an organizer with the campaigning group Citizens UK and their Living Wage campaign. And the book is addressed to people, who have been on the march, and are sick and tired of being ignored. Right at the very beginning of the book, he writes

This book is for people who are angry with the way things are and want to do something about it; for people who are frustrated with the system, or worried about the direction the country is going in. For people who are upset about a particular issue, or want a greater say in the changes happening in their neighbourhood. They’ve posted their opinions on social media and they’ve shouted at something they’ve seen on the news. They’ve been on the big march and they’ve been to the ballot box, but what more can be done? This is for people who want to make a change, but they’re not sure how. (p.1)

A few pages later he describes the dangers to democracy and the increasing sense of powerlessness people now feel when decisions are taken out of their hands by politicians.

What’s at stake here is more important than simply helping people who care about particular issues to run effective campaigns. It’s about democracy. In the past, people who wanted to make a difference, and believed in change fought for democracy with sweat, blood and courage. The Chartists, the Suffragettes and other endured prison and faced death in their struggle for the chance to have a say in the governance of the country. They organized and campaigned to force the ruling elites to open up our political system to influence by the majority of the people. It is a great misunderstanding to think that they were fighting for the chance to put a cross in a box once every few years. They were fighting – week in, week out – for power. Fighting for more people to have more influence.

Over time, we have become confused. Now we have the vote, we have mistaken politics for Parliament and have come to see democracy as something to watch on television or follow on Twitter, like spectators at a football game – or worse, to switch off from it completely, losing trust in politicians, losing trust in the media, losing trust in the system. Democracy doesn’t just mean ‘to vote’, it means people power. It means embedding political action into our day-to-day lives, in our communities and workplaces. It is a vision of a society where power is distributed amongst the people, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s not an end state, but a constant struggle for people to fight for a seat around the decision-making table.

But it doesn’t feel like we are at the table. It feels like we are on the menu. Power is being concentrated in the hands of an increasingly small circle of people. We have a revolving door of Cabinet ministers becoming bankers, becoming newspaper editors, becoming chief executives. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our democratic system would create a better future for us all. But it doesn’t look that way. By lunchtime on the first Wednesday in January, after just two-and-a-half days’ work, FTSE 100 bosses will have earned more than the average person will earn that entire year. The generation now in their twenties will be the first in modern times to be worse off than their parents. What we want for ourselves and our children – a decent job, a home, a health service, a community – is under threat. (pp. 4-5).

He then discusses how the political terrain has shifted immensely recently, with people demanding change, giving as examples the vote to Leave in the Brexit referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But he also makes the point that you need a strategy and that winning campaigns are very well planned and organized. And he gives two examples: Rosa Parks and Abdul Durrant. While the action that sparked off the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights movement in earnest was presented as spontaneous in Dr. Who, in reality it was very carefully planned. The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been planning a boycott for a year before she refused to give up her seat. They had already tried this with three other Black passengers, but had failed to light the fuse of public indignation. This time, they found the right person with Rosa. Durrant was a leader in the East London Communities Organisation, part of Citizens UK, who worked nights as a cleaner in HSBC in Canary Wharf. He led a campaign to get better pay for workers like him, and then organized a media and mass protest to get it.

As for Bolton himself, he comes from a working/ middle class family. His father’s family were working class, his mother’s solidly middle class. He attended Cambridge university, but went to the state primary in his part of London. The local area was very rough, and his mother wanted him privately educated, and he was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Dulwich. He says that it was at this time that the stark difference between conditions in south London and the bubble of privilege in Dulwich began to grate on him. He was mugged twice in his neighbourhood, once at the point of a knife, punched several times in the face, and violently carjacked. After private secondary school, he went to sixth form at a state school that also had its fair share of problems. He describes how some of his friends from private school went on to work with a family friend in the City, which he describes as a conveyor belt to a decent university and a great career. Others had to avoid gang trouble on their way home, looked after their young siblings in the evening because their mother was working nights, scrimped and saved to pay the gas meter, and then tried to do their homework. He continues

It wasn’t just the unfairness that made me angry: it was the fact that as a society we say success is determined by how clever you are and how hard you work. If you fail, it’s your fault. That convenient lie made me angry then and it makes me angry now. (p. 21).

The book describes the strategy he has devised over years of campaigning to affect change. It starts off by identifying the issue you are particularly angry about – it could be anything – and identifying the people in authority who may be able to do something about it. He rejects the idea that powerlessness is somehow noble, and recommends instead that protestors concentrate on developing their power, as well as appealing to those that already have it to help them through their self-interest. The book also talks about the correct strategy to adopt in meetings and talks with those in authority and so on. It is all about mobilizing popular protest for peaceful change. After the introduction, pieces of which I’ve quoted above, it has the following chapters:

1. If You Want Change, You Need Power

2. Appreciating Self-Interest

3. Practical Tools to Build Power

4. Turning Problems Into Issues

5. The Action is in the Reaction

6. Practical Tools to Build a Campaign

7. Unusual Allies and Creative Tactics

8. Finding the Time.

9. The Iron Rule.

I’m afraid I didn’t finish reading the book, and have no experience of campaigning myself, so I can’t really judge how useful and applicable it is. But just reading it, it seems to be a very useful guide with sensible, badly needed advice for people wanting to mount effective campaigns on the issues that matter to them. And Bolton is absolutely right about the rising, obscene inequalities in our society and the crisis of democracy that has developed through the emergence of a corrupt, self-interest and interlinked media-political-banking complex.

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2 Responses to “Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change”

  1. diddibuggmail Says:

    Cheers David, a lot of us need reminded of the fact that politics IS NOT a spectator sport, and unless we all engage, what we will see is all around us at present

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