Posts Tagged ‘Bus Boycott’

Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

November 4, 2018

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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Dr. Who Meets Rosa Parks and the Beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement

October 21, 2018

In this evening’s edition of Dr. Who, ‘Rosa’ The Timelady and her friends travel back to 1950’s America and meet Rosa Parks. Parks was the woman of colour, whose refusal to move from her seat for a White person on America’s segregated buses started the famous bus boycott and mobilized Black America. It was the spark that launched the mass Civil Rights movement.

The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Doctor and her friends travel to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. There they meet someone trying to rewrite the history of the black civil rights movements. (p. 64).

There’s another piece about it on page 62, which adds some more details about the episode.

The Doctor and her friends land in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 hours before seamstress Rosa Parks lights a fire under the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person.

It is, of course, one of the great turning points in history, where the actions of just one person triggered a convulsive change for good. But someone wants to stop it, someone wants to alter time to keep things, bad things, just as they are. So the gang must paly their part to ensure events remain exactly as they should be to allow Rosa (Vinette Robinson) her defining moment.

It’s an odd episode, co-written by Majorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, that’s preachy and teachy, giving itself the had task of explaining segregation, racism and the Montgomery bus boycott to a young audience. So it loses its way as a bit of teatime fun and becomes more of a lecture.

The reactionary Right has been out in force and in full cry against this series of Dr. Who from before it was even aired. The decision to have the Doctor regenerate as a woman resulted in Rebel Media, a far-right Canadian broadcaster, posting a video on the internight declaring that ‘Feminism Has Ruined Dr. Who’. This was by Jack Buckby, a self-declared activist for traditional British values, who used to be a member of the BNP. Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization have published articles about him, including a pic of Buckby grinning with his Fuehrer, Nick Griffin. There’s absolutely no reason for any decent person to take anything he says remotely seriously.

Despite the denunciations of the racists, there isn’t anything particularly radical going on here. Star Trek explicitly tackled racism from the very beginning. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura in the episode ‘Plato’s Stephchildren’, was the first interracial smooch on American TV. It was so radical, that I think that part of the episode may even have been removed when it was broadcast in the Deep South in case it caused a massive outrage. In one episode of Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, Sisko and his family found themselves in a holographic recreation of Las Vegas. This caused him problems with his conscience, as in the period recreated – the 1960s – Blacks weren’t allowed in the casinos except as entertainers. The conflict is resolved by his wife pointing out to him that this isn’t really Vegas, but Vegas as it should have been. Back to the Classic series, there was also an episode where the crew of the Enterprise discovered a planet, where a rogue federation anthropologist had remodeled its culture on Nazi Germany. The planet was a fully-fledged Nazi dictatorship, with a bitter, racial hatred of a neighbouring world and its people. Kirk, Spock and the others then try to defeat the planet and its leader before they launch a devastating missile at the peaceful, unaggressive other world. The episode was an explicitly anti-Nazi statement, but naturally some viewers were still shocked by Kirk donning Nazi uniform as he disguises himself as one of them in his efforts to bring it down.

Dr. Who also started out partly as a programme to teach children about history, and so the Doctor travelled back in time with his companions to particular periods to meet some of the great figures of the past, in stories like ‘The Crusades’ and ‘The Aztecs’. In the Peter Davison story in the 1980s, ‘The King’s Demons’, the Doctor and his companions travelled back to the 13th century to meet King John on the eve of Magna Carta. He finds that the Master is trying to interfere in history so that the Great Charter is never passed. He describes it as minor mischief-making by the renegade Time Lord, who is trying to destabilize the galaxy’s major civilisations.

It also reminds me somewhat of Ward Moore’s SF classic, Bring the Jubilee, in which a group of modern Confederate nationalists travel back to the 19th century to try and help the South win the American Civil War.

I think, however, this will be the first time that Dr. Who has devoted an entire episode to the issue of anti-Black racism. In some ways, this is really just the series going back to do something like ‘The King’s Demons’ and the earlier historical episodes, but this time taking an episode from Black history as a natural result of Britain’s population having become far more diverse since the early 60s when the series was launched. Majorie Blackman is Black, and a prize-winning children’s author, so I’m not surprised that she was asked to write for the series. I’ve also no doubt that this episode was created because October is Black History month.

It’ll be interesting to see how this episode turns out. It sounds terribly worthy and not as much fun as the other shows. Which was one of the points one of the right-wing detractors of the new series raised in one of his videos attacking it. He quoted Blackman herself as saying that the programme would be ‘educative’ as well as fun. My experience of some of the anti-racist children’s literature recommended for schools during the 1980s is that they were unrelievedly grim, and were also racist in their own way. They seemed to see Whites as being essentially racist, and teach that Blacks could only expect racism and maltreatment from them. I’m sure this episode of Dr. Who will be far different in that respect, as society has become more tolerant.