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By Jason Michael
Democracy is more than a profession of political belief. It is something that we do, and something that we must do until we get exactly what we want.
Like them or not – and there’s a few who like to remind us they don’t, marches and rallies are perhaps most useful to the movement because they – quite literally – keep people moving. Unlike a degree in Politics, the reality of politics is not a purely theoretical pursuit. This is not a spectator sport. Elected representatives and wannabe politicians have to be at least seen to be doing what their constituents want, activists have to be always active – if only to live up to the name, and movements must maintain their momentum if they are not to succumb to inertia and atrophy. We all know what happens to the proverbial shark that stops for a nap.
No one is suggesting tens of thousands taking to the street with flags and banners affect change. In some instances they do and we have witnessed it; thinking here of Tiananmen Square in 1989 and, more recently, Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square in 2014. But – and thank God – this isn’t where we’re at in Scotland. Still, we must remember that the pro-democracy icons of Chinese and Ukrainian politics never began as the events we now think of them to be. They began, as our pro-independence marches presently are, as popular demonstrations of the will of a movement for change.
However much the modern world, through advances in technology and communications, has managed to atomise us into increasingly isolated individuals, the politics of democracy still requires some old school skills – community, solidarity, and participation; to name a few. When we hear naysayers complaining about independence rallies, what we are hearing – in actual fact – is an essentially modern and fundamentally useless approach to democracy – the “keyboard worrier” who imagines in vain that their opinion on Facebook will change the world. It won’t.
The internet is a wonderful technological development in communications, for sure, but it is not categorically different from the role newspapers played in the American, French, and Russian revolutions. It is different in degree in that it greatly increases the speed of communication, facilitates greater social involvement, and is better able to respond quickly and efficiently to rapidly changing realities on the ground – but it can’t do the work of revolution for us. At some point someone has to get up, go out, and do something.
Marches, rallies, and demonstrations are a good start, but – and to accommodate the whingers a little – they are not enough. ‘Activism’ does not describe the business of people who are merely active, that would be closer to the definition of a busybody. The activist is a political agent who acts so as to further the objectives of a political cause. Action, in this case, derived from the Latin agere (‘to do,’ ‘to drive,’ or ‘to draw out’), is the doing of politics. Democracy cannot be done from the comfort of our homes. Democracy is something we must do; it is a political impulse we must act upon.
Walking around Glasgow last year I was amused to see fly-posted warnings on a number of unused buildings in the city. RISE – the kiddie table of revolutionary socialism in Scotland – had taken the initiative and let the public and the owners of these buildings know that if they were not soon put to the task of alleviating the homeless crisis they would be commandeered by tartan Bolsheviks and put to the service of housing rough sleepers. Certainly the sentiment was admirable, but it was pathetic. It lacked action – and people don’t follow the promise of future action.
At about the same time in Dublin a number of activists, representing a number of social and political groups in the city, mounted a full scale takeover of the abandoned NAMA-controlled Apollo House to provide a safe place to sleep for the homeless. There was no warning given, no cute A4 statements of intent fly-posted in the weeks and months before the action, and no messing about. A well-planned takeover involving activists, volunteers, trade unionist, artists, singers, and just about anyone else in the loop was rolled out in mid-December; beds and furniture brought in, food prepared, electricity installed, rotas for day and night duty typed up, and the homeless invited in.
One cold Friday morning before Christmas Dubliners awoke to the news something of a revolution had taken place. No one was being called “comrade,” no uniforms were on display. Something just got done. This was activism – the doing of democratic politics.
The object lesson here is that we are not powerless in our democracy. We do not need permission to act to safeguard the rights of others and the rights of our nation. In a democracy we elect – as free people – to delegate our power (that’s sovereign power in Scotland) to our chosen representatives. Nowhere does this delegation of sovereign power imply that we have given away our power. We have simply lent it, and we can just as simply take it back. If our government, which is constituted from the body of our elected representatives, no longer executes the democratic will of the people, the people have the duty and the right to act by their own power. “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends,” as the United States’ Declaration of Independence says, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”
So we must ask: Is our government destructive of these ends? – Does it have our consent to govern us? Is it impeding our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? The answer, for the independentista, is “no” on all counts. We are not one British people. No such nation exists. We are the people of Scotland – a nation; we are a sovereign people, and as such we demand our right to life and liberty. Our demand is hollow and meaningless so long as it remains just words. It must be spoken more forcefully, more meaningfully, with our actions. There is no obligation on us now to give the British state any more warnings. Let’s say it, mean it, and do it.
Home Sweet Home: Newstalk goes inside Apollo House
One thought on “Actions Speak Louder than Words”
I loved this article. I saw the Rise posters on Argyle Street and your description of them fits Rise well. The Irish initiative by contrast is heart warming and inspiring. I’m hopeful we can leave the U.K. without any violence but I’ m not confident WM will let us.
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