Tag Archives: activism

Britain: when will you rage?

On Saturday, I organised the activist sign up desk at the London Convention on Modern Liberty. It was a great day which by all accounts has inspired a great many people, but I found myself in a somewhat dissonant role of trying to convert as much of that inspiration into real action. While there are clearly lots of people who will now go out and make something of it, I found the task extremely challenging. Some people were actually offended at being asked to do something – anything – to keep the momentum that the Convention created going. “I’m only hear to listen to the debates,” one person told me.

Now, I’m open to the charge that we could have done things better in terms of guiding people towards “what’s next.” I only found myself in charge of that desk a few days before the event itself and along with all my other duties struggled to put a personal stamp on it all. With the benefit of hindsight, there are a great many things I would have done different. But none of that got away from the realisation that a great many people, still, consider themselves as mere passive consumers of information and not active citizens with a moral duty to do something themselves at all. Even some of the people who did show willing to do something seemed incapable of imagining what they themselves could do.

Were people always like this? From looking at trends, it seems that people are more likely to join marches and sign petitions than ever before, yet are less likely to join political parties. I have lost count of the number of young people I’ve spoken to in recent years who have told me that the reason they haven’t joined a political party was that they didn’t agree 100% with any one party and that joining, they felt, would mean having to sign up to their whole policy agenda. Those of us on the inside of course know that is utter nonsense. But we do seem to have created a society whereby people are so precious about their identities that they would rather hold back and continue to be pushed around than join in, enjoying strength of numbers but risking some dillution of self. It is why libertarians, in the main, are such paper tigers.

The bottom line is, if you value your freedom, you will have to fight for it. And if you want to be effective, you will have to work with other people – even people who you profoundly disagree with on some issues. I took the Left to task about this on Liberal Conspiracy a couple of weeks ago but it applies to us all. As Anthony Barnett says:

When asked “What next?” I feel like saying don’t look to the smoke alarm to put out the fire. Look to yourself and what you can do in concert with others. Remember that we are powerful together – and if you don’t feel this to be so, perhaps it is because this is how they want you to feel. Many organisations are already combating the four-fold undermining of liberty as we can see. Please join and support them.

And Henry Porter (same link):

It’s no exaggeration to say that unless we involve ourselves in the political process ours will be the first generation in centuries of British history to hand on a less free society than the one we inherited. That is a shocking thought, but we still have time to act.

I began this year with an off-the-top-of-my-head list of things people should do to raise the issue of civil liberties up the political agenda:

1. Bookmark the Convention for Modern Liberty website and sign up to their news alerts.
2. Attend a Convention event, either the one in London, one of the regional and national events happening on the same day or a local event. If there is no event happening in your area, start organising one!
3. Join a pro-democracy and human rights organisation. Whichever tickles your fancy (although, obviously, joining Unlock Democracy helps pay my wages!) and get involved.
4. Join or set up a local group. It doesn’t have to be affiliated to anything, and it needn’t be anything more than you and a couple of your mates to start off with.
5. Write to your MP and ask them their starter for ten: “what do you think about the dillution of civil liberties over the past couple of decades and what do you intend to do about it in 2009.” And keep writing to them.
6. Go to the Taking Liberties exhibition at the British Library if you can, before it closes at the beginning of March.
7. Tell everyone you know to do the same.

Now, 1, 2 and 6 are now effectively redundant (the Taking Liberties exhibition’s last day was today), but the rest still hold. And I will add a couple of others:

8. Join the Convention social network (it needs a better name IMHO – any suggestions?) and “friend” anyone who lives within a ten mile radius from you. Meet up for a drink and plot.
9. A good thing to start plotting about is setting up a public meeting on the subject of civil liberties and the database state, inviting your MP and the candidates they will be running against in the next general election. The power of a well attended public meeting cannot be under-estimated and you have about 14 months before the most likely date (given the state of the opinion polls) to get organised.

The most important thing to remember is: you are not alone unless you choose to be. I saw people crying yesterday out of a sense of disempowerment. This in itself is an example of how unforgiveable the present government’s behaviour has been but this is a far from intractable problem. As a society, we simply need to wake up and demand control. When that finally happens it will seem remarkably simple.

You aren’t a consumer; you are an activist. How you choose to take action will decide the quality of our rights and freedoms for decades to come.

Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty (crosspost)

Another day, another crosspost. I will just add a link to this story about the Government attempting to stop the Welsh Assembly from publishing its own expenses – even if I had time to blog about this I couldn’t as words fail me.

Much as I support the Convention on Modern Liberty, I am very conscious of the fact that there are two dangers inherent to an initiative such as this. The first is that all it leads to is talk and a thousand people sitting in a hall munching on sandwiches. Linked to that is the danger that all it leads to is despair; that the problem seems so big and so intractable that people simply end up withdrawing altogether.

It is crucial that the Convention leads to positive action by as many people as possible (I made some suggestions a couple of weeks ago – I’m sure you can think of others).

Our mission must be nothing less than a paradigm shift in how the general public perceives civil liberties.

That is an achieveable objective and has happened in politics over the years on numerous occasions, but the level of consciousness raising we need can’t be done by a single journalist or even pressure group.

What’s more, the need for action has never been more crucial. I write this having given up a substantial portion of my weekend doing stuff to block the Government’s plans to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

If liberty is to have any meaning, we have to be able to keep an eye on those we elect to serve. Otherwise we are no different from the animals at the end of Animal Farm, enviously peering into the House and unable to tell the difference between pig and human. Harriet Harman, champion of equality, has just added the rider “but some are more equal than others.”

We need to take urgent action on issues such as this, but it also highlights why it is high time we started being proactive.

It is with this in mind that Liberal Conspiracy – in association with Our Kingdom and Unlock Democracy – are launching the Carnival on Modern Liberty.

As an online companion to the Convention, it is intended to help promote debate on civil liberties on the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Fundamentally however, it is also intended to spur both bloggers and their readers into action.

I will be producing the first edition this Friday on Liberal Conspiracy. Over the next couple of weeks it will move to OurKingdom and Unlock Democracy and then we’ll be looking for volunteers to host future editions – what about you? (email offers to modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net).

If you have an article you would like to be included in the first edition you can submit it either by following this link or emailing modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net. The deadline is 4pm on Thursday 22 January (if you miss this it is no problem as it will simply carry over to the next week’s edition). We are particularly looking for articles on the following sub-topics:

  • ACTION: our favourite category! ideas and initiatives for raising awareness of civil liberty-related issues.
  • EVENTS: civil-liberty related events that you are either organising or would like to promote (you don’t need to wait until 28 February before holding a meetup, tweetup or even just a social to the pub or cinema – if it’s civil liberty related, publicise it here).
  • JEERS: reports of the latest assaults on liberties.
  • CHEERS: good news (we do get it occasionally!) and praise for the champions of liberty.
  • WHAT LIBERTY MEANS TO ME: think pieces about what liberty in a modern context actually means (once you’ve been all philosophical, do an action post to balance things out :)).

Finally, if I have one goal for the next six weeks, it is to get this debate out in the wider blogosphere instead of the usual political bloggers arguing amongst themselves. The UK blogosphere is gratifyingly diverse, yet too often the politicos seem to exist in a bubble.

So your first mission, if you choose to accept it, is to think of five bloggers who are not the “usual suspects” who you would like to encourage to take part in the Carnival – and then encourage them!

My five will be:

To help get the Carnival off the ground, please blog these five (so they get pinged!) and submit your post to the Carnival – thanks!