Be active or lose democracy – in defence of activism

We are living in strange times, and to be honest I’m more than a little concerned.

Agreements are being made between technocrats and apparatchiks (whom haven’t been elected to any position but are there more often than not by virtue of connections and/or money) against the will of the people at large who are callously marginalised. Greece and Italy are the most obvious, and ironic, examples (ironic considering that Greece is the birth place of democracy). But it’s happening under our very noses here in Wales and the UK.

It is a toxic combination which, if we are not careful, could end in an uncontrollable violent eruption.

We need only glance at important episodes in history to see that when masses of people are routinely ignored and feel dispossessed one of two things tend to happen: (1) they find succour in extreme political organisations giving simplistic reasons for their problems (2) the Ruling Authority uses the popular uprising as an excuse to suspend the rule of law, or parts of it, and impose its will in a violent manner; or in fact a third scenario develops, which is a combination of both of the above.

It boils down to the fact that the west’s model of democracy is fundamentally corrupt and putrid.

I must admit that there are times when I have more than a little sympathy for genuine anarchists, which believe in collective responsibility and mutual respect (read Boff Whalley excellent article ‘In Defence Of Anarchy’ on the subject published in the Independent back in August).

I say this because while the theory of our Democracy aspires to a form of representative Government, we in fact live in a system resembling an aristocratic/plutocratic hybrid, with democratic symbolism thrown in for theatrical purposes.

But whose fault is this? Why is our attitude so benign towards a governing system that is so obviously unequal and bent on favouring the few?

There are many reasons, too long to list in fact! But one of the more important ones is that we let it happen. By our inaction and disinterest a vacuum has been created and we let our democratic politics – decision making on our behalf – go into the hands of vested interests, so that by now it is they that call the shots with direct links to decision makers or in some cases becoming decision makers themselves.

Someone once said that Politics is too important to be left in the hands of politicians. So too is democracy. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become passive observers. Democracy at its best and most effective is participatory all year round, not just a once every four year event. A belief in democracy is not enough, that belief must be accompanied by action or it will disappear, because, as I mentioned above, democracy cannot exist in a vacuum. It is not a stand-alone entity that can exist separate from the community which it is meant to serve. We all have a responsibility to maintain it, after all our ancestors fought hard to establish it in the first place. If it is not maintained; if we start to lose interest and let others shoulder the immense responsibility of securing the democratic rights of us all; then it will eventually rot, and disappear.

Each time I go around canvassing I get complaints that people only see politicians every time there’s an election on. This is supposed to be a criticism of the politician, but it is an equally damning criticism of the electorate and the hands off approach to politics that we have allowed to develop. This light touch approach to politics and our democratic processes has allowed a cancer to grow and eat into our political and democratic systems.

The capitalist system, if left unchecked, will endeavour to eat away at these social structures which we have created in an attempt to develop a more equal society. Left to its own devices capitalism will bring out the worst in human nature – greed, selfishness, and gluttony. Democracy is one of our most effective tools against these excesses.

What we are seeing today is the result of years of hands-off, disinterest in our political and democratic processes.

That’s why we must have a more active approach to politics and be willing to participate in our democratic processes as often as possible. This doesn’t mean that we should be expected to debate tedious constitutional arrangements, or other such things considered boring that’s associated with politics. Politics is about much more than this. People camping outside St Pauls Cathedral in London; striking for their pensions at the end of this month; working voluntarily for NGOs and new campaigning organisations such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz are doing much more to rescue our political and democratic processes than any politician has done in a hundred years. By drawing our attention to social injustices and demanding that things change these activists are bringing these vitally important issues to our attention, and ensuring that politicians are answerable for their actions.

Activism is the lifeblood of democracy – it is the living, breathing expression of participatory democracy.

By denying people the right to protest and campaign, we are turning our backs on democracy.

The cry oft heard against activists is ‘haven’t they got anything better to do?’ They might well have, but the real question is ‘have they got anything more important to do?’, and the answer to that is no.

Brian Haw set the example for us to follow.