We need to share the vision of a better world with the people who will populate it. We in this case means anyone involved, or who puts themselves forward in the struggle against oppression
A young girl I had given a leaflet to in Buchanan Street, doubled back after reading it, and told me in no uncertain terms, that the war in Iraq, rid that country of a despot, murderer, religious, fundamentalist. and so on. I am not sure of the exact words she used, but her closing point was.”I think it was worth the cost.”
The leaflet in question, was a rough summery of what the war in Iraq was costing, in both human lose and financial cost. After her statement the girl was off up the road, before I could say.” How do you know it was worth the cost, we haven’t stopped paying yet”.
Another guy going past that I offered a leaflet to, gestured with an ark of his arm towards the surrounding retail outlets, saying. “We wouldn’t have all of this, without all of that.” He was also off his mark, before I could ask. “What, the Buchanan shopping Center, HMV. Worth all of what!”
My fellow leafleted looked at the 500 or so leaflets to be distributed, muttering I could do without this today, as she turned to face the lunch time throng, heading up Buchanan Street. We were dishing out our leaflets, a few yards away from a girl trying to encourage people to set up a direct debit to Oxfam. She gets £7 an hour plus a £1 bonus if any of her team make a hit. Mobile phone offers, two for one deals and vendors of various commercial pamphleteering, create an obstacle courses for shoppers and workers to navigate.
This is one way of disseminating information. There are others such as the internet, meetings, posters and such like. The questions we constantly need to asking though are. Is anybody listening. What is it we are trying to get across and are there better ways of doing things.
The young girl that spoke to me. Was she aware of American Secretary of state, Madeleine Albright’s, statement, when she commented on US national television in 1996. When asked for her reaction to the killing of half a million Iraqi children in five years, she answered, that “we think the price was worth it.” How many Iraqi children and young people, like the one who spoke to me, have died in Iraq since then.
I don’t think she could have been aware, or hope she wasn’t. I think she is just part of the un critical mass of people, confused, perhaps angry, that a solution to their piece of mind can not be found in a “yes” “no” answer. Maybe she looks around and sees an older generation who are no more informed, directionless and as confused as herself. Maybe, but you would hope if she had been better informed, her judgment might not have been so simplistic.
Did she see me as the enemy, part of the “no” answer. I don’t know. What did she think I was doing. How did she form her conclusion. These are questions that I need answered and questions that anyone involved in political activism need to ask before embarking on actions, performed in the name of the people. To act for and with the people, we need to know what they think.
Know your audience.
There was a bunch of radical films made in the 70s by people like Jane Fonda, and lesser known actors and directors. What made these films interesting and still timely, was that they were not aimed at anti war protesters. The film makers target, was ordinary working people, and attention was paid to making the issues understandable and relative to a mass audience.
There is always the temptation when creating propaganda to be different for the sake of being different, Although when working with a low budget there is a need to be inventive and creative. But if the message is lost, or obscured in the medium or interpretation, we are not producing propaganda but (in the following case) art for a select audience. I had an interesting discussion with some Agitprop type propagandists around 1990, who were producing posters to put up around Hackney in London.
The style then, was for red, black, and white jaggy, images, reminiscent of the Russian Revolutionary school. I asked one the artist of the group if the design of the poster was right for the message. There was a lot of noise at the time that pensioners were not getting their proper winter heating allowance. A big poster of the above description was produced by this coop, to encourage pensioners to claim what was due to them.
When I suggested to the artist, that the poster design might defeat the object and have old ladies running away (from its, get of your knees and fight feel) rather than being attracted by the point of the message. After some “what do you know discussion”, I was asked. OK, what would you put on the poster to draw attention. When I suggested some flowers, or something of that nature, People were falling of their chairs, slapping their thighs in laughter.
Now I am not knocking the effort that these people were putting into their work, but they seemed to be entrenched in a certain style and a particular way of doing things. One thing I learned after years of working in a print studio is, know the audience you are designing for.
A posters job is to inform its audience, if it does not it is a decoration. The other thing is, and it happens a lot. These people didn’t really think that I should have an opinion on such matters. I was known to them as a carpenter. What do I know. At face value what I had to say seemed irrelevant. Big mistake, when there is no budget for “market research”.
It is a problem of activism in general. We don’t listen enough to what people are saying because we have more important things to do or say. Simple ideas don’t just happen, they need to be put through the mangle of discussion until all the juice of spontaneity is squeezed out. We can’t think of George, down the street, who we could possibly help, we are to busy thinking of George Bush, who is beyond help. In fact the bigger we think, the more abstract our message becomes to working people.
Between the miss information spewed out by the mainline media, coupled with left wing, urgent, incitement to act, propaganda, makes the words on the average anti war pamphlet- relating to anything factual what is going on around the world (to the person in the street ) the work of a braver. And, could just as easy push the uninitiated towards cynicism, rather than understanding and sympathy with the issue in question.
People, do not generally sit around reading up on world affairs, they are to busy working. They are tired or tired trying to find work. We need to concentrate our efforts to this situation, if we are to expand the movement for change. We need to address people in a language and in situations, that they can relate to. We are constantly disappointed at the turn out of people (the public) at events, meetings, and usually never see it as a failure of our own communication.
It is like the Larson, cartoon “What we say to dogs” and “What they hear”. Where the guy is telling the dog. “OKay Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage, or else”.
The next picture describes what the dog hears.” Blah blah Ginger Blah blah blah blah Ginger Blah blah blah blah blah”.
In a world saturated with information, disinformation and endless distraction, the most important questions for those handicapped with the smallest microphone, [us], who believe, have an important message to deliver, must be. Are we being heard and are we using the appropriate tools devices and language to reach our audience.
For the purpose for the activist in any action, event, polemical discussion, must be. Do people know what we are on about. For if they do not. What are we doing.
We seem to know well how to engage in discussing the enemy’s faults. However the real work, engaging and getting it across to the public (which is harder) we can fail miserably. This is because we spend most of our time talking to each other and expect others to be somehow versed on our script
We can sit and discuss tactics until they are coming out of our ears, which they usually are after a long weekend of debate at a workshop. Sure we can learn a lot, meet other activists, socialise, swap ideas, skill share etc. These are important things. But no matter what the topic of the event is. Unless 99% of it is to decide how to motivate the 80% of the population who have the power to change things, we might as well go to the pub
And talking about the pub. This is probably where we should be, organizing. I do not mean going to the pub to get pissed and talk politics. Going to the pub and engaging with a large part of the public, who are disheartened, confused, and in need of encouragement.
Who knows maybe we should be organising football tournaments and communicating with people, within their own interests, instead of shunning the very interests of those we should be communicating with. For you will never get people interested in sitting in a community centre, for two hours, never mind two days, discussing how to set up a sub-culture of endless meetings, for this is how groups of this nature are seen by the public and it is a true enough picture.
Look at our audiance.The time is right for building a movement of working people.
The working class have had it to the back teeth. They are up for it. The young team are being walloped by distractions from everywhere, even folk in full employment know their security could be short lived, there are less and less places for people to turn. We do not need to tell them what is wrong, they know, they are not stupid. Pissed off people need some ideas that are practical and useful in their every day life, as well as helping them to understand the big picture. This is difficult for many activists, because it relies a lot on listening to people, rather than telling them things.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the 60s 70s know what is possible, know what can be achieved, when we are organized. But we should also remember the mistakes and lessons of that time. And one of them was that we shouldn’t have run around like hippies and pissed of anybody that had a different way of approaching things from us.
For we are still running around looking and acting like some throw back to the past. It is not the 1970s, it is two thousand and five.
Although people of my generation are to blame for most of it. We took our eye off the ball. But we also have a knowledge of the event, so there is room for redemption and it is armed with this knowledge that we should proceed to inform, encourage and warn of the pitfalls. We cannot repeat the experiment of the 70s but there is much to be learned about the tactics used and there were many alternative examples which were fought for and won, which we take for granted today.
If we want to change things we need to adapt, as Malcolm X would say “By any means necessary” and if getting a suite helps, get a suite. Or if you want, or need, to join the police force to do it..
Now, as then, it means getting into the community and meeting people and raising their confidence to a point where they can start to imagine a brighter future. For many people getting through the day can be a major achievement. And for many activists, to adapt themselves to the practical needs of people in folks own terms, is another.
If anything is going to change it, it will be through the motivation and organisation of the working classes. What other means is possible. But the difference is in the 60s 70s people were angry when, they discovered what the bastards in power were up to. This is what motivated the civil rights movement, and the growth of unions
Rumsfeld et a, learned how to adapt. For it is practically the same administration that served in that era (60s70s) that is in charge now. It is much the same people, who smashed the civil rights movement, who are smashing Iraq and attempting to obliterate civil society at present.
Today we have a different problem. Most people know what the administrators are up to, but have resigned themselves to a place within the status quo as their best option. What people seem to fail to notice is this country (Britain) is turning into an American annex, and we are experiencing the same systematic breakdown of community, by the same tactics that where used for the same purposes in the America, of thirty or so years ago.
The problem now is the same as then, resignation to the status quo, “what can you do”, a failure to recognise past achievements and strengths of an organised working class. Without an organised working class, it will not happen.
Rumsfeld and his cohorts understands this very well and learned the lessons of the 70s, of how to deal with out bursts of democracy – as do the British administration, who through the generations have taught the US all that they know about empire, suppression and propaganda. To control the masses you must destroy civil society (remember Thatcher) When you destroy civil society communities, who are the the under pinning of civil society, wither on the vine,
That, out of the way, an information technology and media, that does its best to suppress the knowledge of progressive social achievements and everything is in its place. One evenings viewing of television gives credence to this argument. The breakdown in community integration and the supplanting of TV, has been achieved in this country, at a speed the America administration, could only have dream of, for their own efforts.
Our young are now feeding on predigested, nihilist, propaganda as life style. Not because they are capable of nothing else, but because we [my generation in particular] failed to learn, unlike Rumsfeld, (who is an even older generation than mine), that, gains that are win, need constant attention and kept in historical context and in conscience, if they are to be of benefit to the generation who comes next.
If we offer no direction or alternative.
Yes sure we can organise for the G8, supply CNN/BBC with footage of longhairs being arrested, increase the budget on the purchase of helicopters, body armour, and armed police, then get a bit depressed because we didn’t stop it. It is not my intention here to denigrate the work and effort of my comrades who concern themselves in big demos, rather the opposite is true. I commend them. but if that is all we are doing we might as well all go to the pub. (to get pissed)
For if we do not organize in our communities. If we do not set out our goals. if we have no plan or vision of what will be, if we win. If we do not share and discuss this vision and engender hope in our communities. What are we doing.
The fact that so many citizens, think that they have the choice of opting out of politics, should be ringing alarm bells for action at a local level. Unless the politically disenfranchised are included, we again, might as well go to the pub (and discuss philosophy.)
We should test our theories, ideas, visions, and tactica for a better world, not only with our comrades, but with the people who will populate our changed world. If you think facing the police line at the demo is scary. Try visiting one of the many schemes in Glasgow and speak to people about their politics and their problems. Their problems are not about world finance, (yes I know that they are indirectly) Their problems are in the street that they live in with their kids and their families and the conditions that they live in.
We will never disband capitalism only by confronting police. The police and the army won’t let us. We will more effectively disband the disparity of the market system much more effectively, I believe, by engaging, educating and organising and encouraging working people within their own communities, of what is, or could be possible.
It is there we can start on the task of attacking the enemy of the people, where it hurts. In their institutions -their education system -there marketplaces – their profit structures – and in particular, at present, their colonisation, development, onslaught, on our communities.
The time is ripe to organise the challenge, if we encourage in ourselves and in others the imagination and tenacity needed to adapt our tactics, in order to meet it. And if we listen carefully to the needs of those who will help to shape our better world, as well as we listen to those who are doing there best to destroy it.