T here’s been a lot of nostalgia for the 90s recently, as Blur, Take That and the Spice Girls reform (however fleetingly), and various media outlets (this one included) celebrate 15 years since the invention of a handy marketing tool called Britpop.
The 90s were brash and bold, the bands big and colourful; the idea of Britishness that they promoted (complete with slightly-ironic tuba fanfare) was secure, confident and wealthy. We bought into Cool Britannia, we bought things on credit, Tony Blair was very smooth in power and the chattering classes despaired of a younger generation in thrall to political apathy. Youth culture of the 80s could be characterised in broad strokes by the rise of the avaricious Thatcherite yuppie and the reaction to this by certain sections of the left. Think of it as the difference between Duran Duran and The Smiths; being a fan of either was, in some way, a politicised stance. What, by contrast, were the defining features of the 90s? The utterly manufactured Blur versus Oasis sales war? A few embarrassed New Labour ministers in ill-fitting suits bopping about to ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ by D:Ream? Despite New Labour’s landslide victory (dare we suggest, perhaps because of it?), politics generally seemed something far- off and impenetrable, something that didn’t touch ordinary life. Perhaps we’re nostalgic for the 90s because things are very different now. To hurl accusations of apathy at the post-Iraq, post- G20 generation seems rather more than churlish. The current recession has made politics an immediate part of everyone’s daily life, while the freedom of new media technology means that incidents like Ian Tomlinson’s death at the G20 protests are impossible to cover up. Organisations like Plane Stupid (whose members are almost all under 30) are bright, often more media savvy than the lumbering corporations they’re opposing, and adept at capturing the public imagination. Local communities, inspired by their actions, are beginning to fight back against school closures and airport expansions.
Whether because of the threat of the economy, or because they’ve simply had enough, it’s beginning to feel like the people of this country are waking up again. Over the next few pages, we take a look at politicised activism in Scotland and in the UK today. We’ve spoken to various people – from independent MPs to high profile campaigners, youth workers to community organisers – all of whom are involved to some extent in taking direct action to effect political change. We’ve looked at ways you yourself can get involved, from supporting charities to changing how you shop.
‘Most of the political people I know don’t vote,’ said Alice, one of the activists we’ve interviewed over the next few pages. ‘They’re disillusioned with the mainstream party process, but not with politics. They’ve just found other ways of making a difference.’ ■ While the views represented in the first person interviews with activists are not necessarily those of The List, we’re very happy to allow them the space to share their views. We’ll be equally happy to offer any of the organisations they mention the right to reply in next fortnight’s issue, too.
THE NEW ACTIVISM WORK ETHIC
The List takes to the streets and meets the extraordinary people taking a stand and making a difference
THE STUNTMAN Dan Glass is 25. He’s been involved with Plane Stupid, the direct action organisation, who raise awareness about the dangers of airport expansion and carbon
emission through high-profile stunts, for two years. Recently, he was given an award for his work with communities affected by Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports by Gordon Brown, and used the opportunity to superglue himself to the Prime Minister’s sleeve. ‘I’m not really from an environmentalist, or even a liberal, background. I’d been reading about climate change for a while, and to me, this just seems like it’s the biggest issue of our time – the defining issue of our generation. It just seemed logical to try and do something about it: why wouldn’t you? ‘We’re a very unique generation and we’ve got a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. We’re the first generation who have been faced with the problem of climate change who also know how to deal with it. And we’ve got this window of opportunity, essentially, to salvage something of the world for humanity, for the future.
‘I take a lot of inspiration from my family, who
were Holocaust survivors. It’s always been instilled in me that if you can tackle injustice, if there’s the opportunity, grab it with both hands; that it’s important to stand up to adversity, and that it’s important to challenge prevalent laws, as well. Right now big business is getting away with destroying the planet, legally, and the people who challenge that are seen to be acting illegally; in pre-Second World War Germany, Naziism was enshrined in the law, and it was important to challenge that if you could. So that’s where I get my motivation from; that sometimes, the law can be wrong, and if you
think it is, you shouldn’t just accept it. ‘I found it outrageous that I was going to be
getting an award for work with communities affected by the aviation industry from a man who’s wedded to the aviation industry. If Glasgow Airport’s expansion goes ahead, the residents of Clydebank, who have not been consulted, are going to be exposed to seriously dangerous levels of noise and air pollution; these are his voters. His electorate. ‘As regards the Gordon Brown incident, the opportunity was just too good, so I took some Superglue in pouches attached to my boxers and cut a hole in my trouser pocket and stuck myself to him when I shook his hand. I said ‘This is a peaceful protest in line with Plane Stupid’s commitment to direct, non-violent action. You cannot shake off climate change, just like you can’t shake me off your arm’. There was lots of support in the audience by that point: I think that was perhaps why I didn’t get arrested! Really, though, the situation of climate change is so dire you could really just sit about crying all day, so making your point in a humorous and inclusive way, without rendering the issue superficial, is really important.’ (Interview by Kirstin Innes) ■ www.planestupid.com
THE COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
Alice is a health care worker and community activist who was most recently involved in the high profile Save Our Schools campaign to stop the closure of 22 primary schools across Glasgow. She’s also a member of the Glasgow chapter of the Anarchist Federation. ‘There’s this sense of freedom and possibility that you get when you’re involved in doing something to make the world a better place. >>
23 Jul–6 Aug 2009 THE LIST 19