All the problems, by Calum Kennedy

I find it wonderful to talk to people about something that they are passionate about. When they get that glint in their eye and the speed at which they talk starts to get faster and faster and their hands start to gesticulate wildly as though they are fighting the invisible manifestations of whatever it is that is preventing them from reaching their desired goal.

More often than not I find that the topics that people are most passionate about are ones where they want to see more action being taken by others, or by governments. They want less people to eat meat or more regulations to be placed on the meat industry. They want better government support of affordable housing. They want to save the snow leopard, or the rhino, or the elephant. They want businesses to pay better, or for governments to change the minimum wage requirements. They want more people to buy local, and for better aid to be given to countries in trouble. They want the legal system to be tougher on bankers and easier on drug users. They want better education and cheaper education. They want people to treat each other fairly, no matter the colour of their skin. They want better distribution of taxation and better use of the money collected. They want to be safe from terrorism, and to stop atrocities happening abroad.

I, too, want the majority of these things, and I will actively engage with people who are trying to enact change. But at the moment I feel entirely overwhelmed. I just don’t have the energy to care about all these things at once, and that seems to be what is being asked of me at the moment. It’s not that I feel that any of these topics are not deserving of consideration and concern, it is simply a matter of there not being enough time in the day, or brain cells in my head, for me to interact with every one of these subjects on a daily basis.

It seems that everywhere you look at the moment, that everyone has a cause that they are fighting for. There are so many passionate voices, all speaking up against some wrong that they see in the world. And this is a wonderful thing. Yet at the same time there is something incredibly discordant about the multitudes of voices all shouting different things at once. I sometimes feel hopelessly lost, to the point where I stop paying attention to the cries of even the groups that I most strongly agree with. Or, and in many ways worse, to the point where I simply sign a petition and accept some small victory and allow the bigger issue to slip away again because I don’t feel like I can do anything about everything.

This was all depicted rather starkly for me a few week ago as I was watching around 100,000 people march through London. This was ostensibly meant to be a march to protest austerity and indeed allot of the signs and chants were referencing austerity and the damage it causes. But just as obviously the general mood of the march was not specifically anti-austerity; it was a disgruntled mood, and it was anti-tory.

I have no problem with protests, though I feel they often have little impact. What I am concerned with is the dissonance that existed in even this march. So I decided to make a list of the different themes that were written on signs or things being chanted, they include, but are not limited to:

  • Anti austerity
  • Pro housing
  • Anti trident
  • Anti racism
  • Anti rape
  • Anti tory
  • Pro socialism
  • Pro communism
  • Pro environment
  • Pro books
  • Pro cats
  • Anti war
  • Anti fascism
  • Anti islamophobia
  • Pro bees
  • Pro asylum seekers
  • Pro jobs
  • Pro NHS
  • Anti cuts
  • Pro Green energy
  • Pro benefits

And my personal favourite

  • “fuck the fucking fuckers”

Again, the majority of these sentiments are things that I would agree with. But a movement has the most power when they speak with one voice carrying one clear message. The occupy movement floundered for the same reason, it could not decide what its message should be (because they don’t want an organisational structure). The anti-austerity march was well organised, but it still lacked a unified message that was not just angry. It’s OK to be angry, it may even be correct to be angry, but it isn’t productive as a message at the moment. Anger by itself can only insight change if it is in a revolution, and the British people are not on the point of a violent overthrow of our government. Not yet.

I don’t want to singularly attack this particular march, but to raise the question I think it exemplifies. Are we, as a concerned society, trying to do too much at once?

Of course, part of the reason we may feel we have to do so much is that there is so much wrong, but that does not change the apparent difficulty of trying to do it all at the same time. The protest showed allot of different groups coming together, from the greens to the super furry animals. But even though they had come together purportedly to unite on one issue, they could not put their own agendas aside, they still represented fragmented political groups advertising their organisations.

If we want real change we need to be doing what this protest had the potential to do. To truly concentrate on one issue at a time. Not because the others are not worth it, but because that is how we, the people, are heard.

In the meantime, I’ll be at home signing petitions on in an attempt to satisfy my depressed conscience.


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