Friday, 28 April 2017

Democracy: Now

The first person I see in the sparsely populated room tells me she recognises me, suggesting quickly that maybe I have one of those recognisable faces.  She is eating salad from a tiffin container.  I recognise her as well, but don’t let on.  I don’t even make my classic “all white people look the same to me” joke.
Then the woman sat next to her mentions to The Convener of the meeting that we could use the local church for subsequent meetings, that it would be “good for the church”.
The first woman snorts and asks pointedly: “Do you go to the happy-clapper church then?”
I wince slightly, as the second woman pauses before answering in the affirmative, without regard to the “happy-clapper” epithet, other than a sideways look, and the hesitation.  I’m not sure if the question was borne of provocative derision, or dismissive ignorance.  It could have been both, I think to myself.  Although, judging by the innocence of the ensuing conversation, I suppose ignorance rather than deliberate disrespect.  (I regard either as good reason to pretend I don’t know her.)

There are not many people at this meeting, but the convener suggests that more will come.  Still, there are far more seats than bums, so we all draw in nearer, in a small circle. 

As we begin, The Convener is proved right, and more people arrive, precipitating the usual shuffling of seats and whispering necessary to accommodate the new arrivals.  By 6.30 there are twenty-six people in the room.  I am no ethnographer, or anthropologist, or sociologist, or fashionista, or cultural expert, but…..all twenty-six are white, and most look middle class.  There is an even split between men and women (once again, judging solely by appearances.) 
Ten of the twenty-six people in the room will make no audible contribution to the meeting.

The Convener introduces the agenda: it is to be discarded immediately!  Dismissed, out-of-hand!  As is the way with this most postpostmodern of times, events have overtaken us.  There are rumours; everybody knows the details of these, but no one is saying.  But everyone knows.  You know?  You know.  You know.

A softly-spoken gentleman with a grey beard talks about communal ownership, with a quiet passion.  He knows that some people do not care for his passion, or his ideas, but he is sticking to his principles.  He tells the meeting that, without wishing to be dramatic (this would not fit his idiom at all, and he is too honest even to try it rhetorically), he sees this as a watershed moment for us; if we allow corporate interests yet more control, yet more space, over the most precious remaining parts of our communal wealth, it will not be wrested back.  Not in this generation…

Someone argues with the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard, calling for pragmatism and realism.  I thought that the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard was being pragmatic and very realistic.  For the record.  But everyone has a different view of realism, don’t they? 
I like Magical Realism, myself, although Social Realism can be politically effective (and entertaining, if well-executed.  (Which it usually isn’t.))

The objector/interlocutor/comrade to/of the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard says we mustn’t let go of our toe-hold.  This seems eminently sensible.  Of course, we got a toe-hold to do something useful with (ie, climb a bit higher), so we also need to keep that in mind.  A toe-hold is merely a means to an end, after all.  The woman in question also points out that We have been recognised as Stakeholders, which in itself constitutes Progress.

When Powerful People pay Us lip service, we can still hold them to account on it.  They know this, and that’s why they are careful about their pandering….it’s easier than ever to hold people to account for the things they say in public.  So, perhaps it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what people say in public, as counter-intuitive as it seems amid the rushing torrent of bullshit We face daily.

The meeting generally agrees that we will be nice to everyone until someone gives us a good reason not to be.  This is nice.  “Working with us will be easier than working against us – hurrah!  In this room, “compromise” is a far cleaner word than in other meeting rooms….(it doesn’t mean We actually should/will compromise, mind you.)

The counterpoint to this is that we quietly, while Being Nice, assume that anyone in a position of Power will be at best wary of Us – and at worst, contemptuous.  We will most likely prove them right, one way or another.  This seems eminently sensible to me.

The Attendees are jovial, after a fashion.  It’s a classic sort of middleclasswhite occasion.
The Local Residents give the meeting a seriousness, an urgency (especially given their impending court date) it might otherwise lack.  Support is offered, and gratefully received by the Representative of The Local Residents, who gets legal advice and offers the perspective no one else present could have.  The Local Residents are not required/expected to be jovial about the situation, but their Representative strikes a very good balance between joining in with some light-hearted comments and elucidating the sobering seriousness of Their situation and Their struggle.

The same people speak several times, but the room lends legitimacy to the discussion – it’s a public forum.  If the same people were having the same discussion in a pub, without audience/mute witnesses, the pressure would be off, the stakes lower, no actions would result.  This is Democracy.
Towards the end of the meeting, there is a vote, and it is unanimous.  This allows the ten people who have not spoken to have their say.  Turns out there is a value to voting, after all. 

The softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard is likeable, and has made some good points.  But he is part of the group.  Even when representing this group outside this room, he is not quite in charge of it.  This is Democracy.  When he speaks for this group, outside this room, he will be expected to represent it honestly, without merely repeating his own views and pretending this is the same thing.  That’s what This is.
Nobody at this meeting could, with any honesty, say that the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard is the only hope for this group, or for anyone else.  Equally, no one here would argue he is perfect, or that he is perfectly useless.  He is part of the group.  There are others.  Without the group, he would not be here.  Without him, the group would still be here.  He, like most in this group, has little or nothing to gain from shouting at leaders/members of other groups.

Elections will have their unpredictable impact on this group, as on all others.  The only certainty is that, whatever the results, whatever their impact, this fight, this discussion, these meetings, this real, grassroots work…….the Democracy…will continue.

It has to.

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