I spent a long time being vehemently non-political. I did. I didn’t take Government and Politics when I chose my subjects at 14, nor again at 16. I didn’t even take History because the course was focused on 20th-century political history rather than the periods that actually properly interest me.
I supposed that it was because politics seemed to be about people, and as far as I could work out, I didn’t like people very much. It took me a very long time to realise that being introverted and unsociable didn’t mean I didn’t care about other people, far longer than it should have done. It turns out I care, like, a lot.
My complete lack of interest in anything I perceived as ‘politics’ was even more surprising when put into context. From the age of nine or ten I campaigned and raised money for charities like Stop The Traffik (an anti-trafficking organisation). I cared about the disadvantaged. I sent Christmas cards through Amnesty International to those unjustly imprisoned. When I was baptised, I was given a “Poverty and Justice Bible”, which I like to refer to as my Enjolras Bible.
But this wasn’t ‘politics’, I reasoned. Because politics was about elections and parties and debates, and this was just about helping people.
And then, in late 2010, the student riots about tuition fees happened.
For those who were too young / foreign / uninformed / disinterested to know about them, or those that have forgotten, they resulted after the announcement that fees for UK universities were going to triple. Although there is still a LOT more financial support for British students than for those in the US, and the fees themselves are lower, this came after the Liberal Democrats had promised that should they get in power, they wouldn’t raise tuition fees.
Now, they didn’t exactly get in power, but they became one half of the coalition government (the ConDemNation). And they did absolutely nothing about the decision to raise the cost of tuition, angering everyone who still clung on to the faint hope that politicians might occasionally keep their promises.
So there were riots. Thousands of students – both those who were still at school and would therefore be affected by the new rules and those who were already at university but were angry on behalf of younger friends and siblings – took to the streets. There were Occupy movements, speeches, rallies. Most of it was organised on social media, and those taking part posted videos (just click it please) and content for those elsewhere.
Suddenly, I was interested in politics. Because this affected me. And look, it was basically a revolution. Wasn’t it awful the way they were kettled by the police? Wasn’t the escalating violence problematic? Wasn’t it appalling that we couldn’t trust the promises of politicians in the slightest? Something clicked, and I realised that the things I cared about were actually … le gasp … politics.
I watched the demonstrations on the news, and I read about them. And then I went online, and I ‘liked’ all the Facebook groups for the Occupy movements and watched them coordinate protests and sit-ins and I wanted to go.
But mother person said, “No.” She said, “You’re too young.” She said, “You’ve seen it on TV and you know it’s dangerous.” She said, “You’re supposed to be in school.” They were compelling and infuriating arguments because of course I couldn’t argue with the idea that I should have been in school when I was trying to fight for, you know, education.
One of my friends was up there. I think, like many protestors, he was kind of just there for the sake of it, because he wanted to protest. But I might be wrong. Unlike me, he had strong opinions on the government and, because he was from a poorer background, deeper-seated hatred of the Conservative Party.
So I sat at home and wrote a blog post about it. (And if that isn’t a blast from the past, I don’t know what is. I found it by going to the end of my blog and working backwards, so…)
I’d like to say that at that point, I read up on political theory and how it worked, joined a bunch of activism groups, and got working on it. But I didn’t. I spent a further two years claiming to be mostly disinterested in politics.
And, you know, I can’t pinpoint the moment that I really got involved. I think one day I just looked out of the window and woke the hell up. I began to see how deeply rooted misogyny and heteronormativity were in our society. I began to see how spending cuts were affecting the poor. I began to see how the education system was being manipulated by the government for their own means, how the Arts were being pushed out in favour of subjects like economics and the sciences, how nobody cared about the happiness of students but only about league tables. I began to see how under-25s were being targeted by politicians, and how difficult it was even to live for those on a low income.
And then I got angry. Like, really angry.
The worst kind of fury is when you are so angry about something but there is nothing you can do. I cannot singlehandedly dismantle the patriarchy, much as I would like to. Nobody will listen to my suggestions about curriculum, and I can’t change the economic structure of my country. I find myself arguing with the brother of a friend because he tried to tell me that bankers deserved the money they earned, or that people on benefits were just lazy. I go into Enjolras-mode and just get really obnoxiously furious about capitalism.
I’m an unapologetic leftie and that’s that. And I believe that my generation has the power to mobilise and start the kind of activism that could change this world before those younger than us have to suffer through all the changes we’re seeing, almost all of which are arguable for the worse.
But I’m also well aware that I can’t do that alone. What I can do, though, is spread the petitions and news articles so that everybody gets angry. Because when an entire country gets pissed off, that’s when revolutions happen.
Those student protests that I talked about in 2010 might have been brief and violent, but the occupations lasted longer. And one of those pages I liked on Facebook became a fully fledged organisation, Cambridge Defend Education. It’s still running. It’s where I find links to most of the news I read about current student activism, like the fact that five people were suspended from Sussex University for protesting about the privatisation of education, or the Cops Off Campus movement trying to protect students from police brutality during occupations and demonstrations.
(You have no idea how much I wish I didn’t have school tomorrow, when that demo is happening, so that I could go and join in. No idea.)
I can’t wait until I go to university and can join those students on the picket lines, at the occupations, at the rallies. I want to be involved, because if there’s one thing I believe, it’s that education shouldn’t be elitist and exclusive. The more expensive it becomes and the more debt that arises from going to university, the fewer people are going to be able to have that opportunity. I believe in free speech, and I believe that trying to stop people protesting will only make them angrier.
If you don’t let them lawfully protest, then why should they bother to be lawful? Violently putting down protests only exacerbates the problem, because if being peaceful isn’t allowed, then there’s no reason to hold back, since the response will be the same either way.
I’ve spent three years feeling like I’m watching the revolution from the sidelines and I want to join in. Everybody seems so jaded – they all want change, but no one’s going out there and making it. I grew up in a household where nobody liked what was going on but they never did anything. If I complain about school, even if it’s just about the dress code, my parents will say, “Well, not long now.” Because everything’s a “this too shall pass” scenario.
I’m fed up of waiting for things to pass. I’m fed up of waiting to get out and leaving those younger than me to deal with it. I’m fed up of only caring when it affects me.
There’s a song by Frank Turner that says:
I’m young enough to be all pissed off, but I’m old enough to be jaded
I’m of the age where I want things to change but with age my hopes have faded
I don’t want that to be me. I refuse to give up on making this country, this world, a better place, and I refuse to give up on revolution and become a cynic.
‘Non-political’? That’s not me. And it hasn’t been for quite a long time. But ‘disillusioned with political parties and seriously angry’? Now that’s a label I’m happy to wear.