Globally things seem bleak, but at the grassroots, there’s hope
On Saturday, 15,000 students and lecturers, including myself, marched through central London. We were taking part in a demo against tuition fees and the Governments higher education strategy more generally.
For many of us on the march, these are harrowing times. Brexit, Trump, being denied the right to equal pay for doing the same job, the conservative majority, I could go on all day; no really, I could. Despite all that is going on, despite the fact that many of us see the damage that the HE Bill could do to higher education in this country, the one message that emanated from the protest was that there is hope.
Harvey Milk once said, ‘without hope, the us’s give up’. It is perhaps not acknowledged often enough that young people are one of the us’s. I say this not to compare being a young person to being in a minority, but simply because young people, in our society, are not valued. This goes deeper than simply saying that politics does not cater to us, due mostly to the fact that young people are (falsely) perceived as disengaged and therefore viewed as votes which aren’t worth canvassing; in reality, young people are under the influence of a power structure. Society systematically devalues younger people in favour of the older, it is inscribed in maxims such as ‘respect your elders’. How many times have you heard a young person told ‘you’ll understand when you’re older’? In effect, what rhetoric like this does is to present the perspective of ‘real adults’ as universal and erase the rights of younger people to speak.
Arguments relating to ‘when you pay taxes’, ‘when you have your own home’, etc, function in much the same way. They all attempt to disenfranchise younger people. It is for this reason that the message of hope is so crucial. Because it is easy to see why young people wouldn’t turn out to vote (the idea that we don’t is a false narrative in itself), it’s easy to see why young people feel the system doesn’t work for them. But hope can bring change, it may be gradual, and it may take time, but just knowing that there are other people out there who believe in the values you do, who will stand alongside you in solidarity, is a start.
The thing with hope is, it is self-perpetuating. What I mean by that is that, in terms of political movements, it is all a case of momentum. It would be easy for us to simply resign ourselves to defeat, to lie down and let the right do their worst. In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, I felt like giving up, watching every value you have ever held be torn up in one night is taxing: many tears were shed. It would have been easy for me to walk away then and think that the battle was lost; and we should be under no illusions, Trump’s victory is a boost to the far right globally, the ramifications will reach us. But giving up, allowing hopelessness to take hold, is game over and this is not a game we can afford to lose.
In truth, hope is just a question of changing the frame. The key is taking up a different perspective. The focus can be shifted from the impending implementation of the HE bill, and the higher fees it brings, to the fact that 15,000 activists turned out to fight it. And that matters. Because it says, to everyone who is watching that the values they believe in will not be torn down, that people care, that people are standing up and that some form of resistance exists. And that can give them hope. That hope can help to build momentum and from that momentum, we can start to make a change. We need to celebrate the small victories and use them to remind people that anyone can make a difference. Regardless of what Blairites might say, change does not start in parliament, it comes from the people; women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, BAME liberation, yes they all still need work, but they started in the streets because someone was angry enough and had hope that one day things might change.
Things do seem dark right now, especially for young people and those from oppressed groups, but we must always keep hope in mind. Because it matters that 15,000 people from diverse backgrounds can come together for a cause with the hope that someone might listen. And even if those who you want to listen don’t, someone else will and it will make a difference. So, if you have a platform, use it to spread a message of hope. Resigning yourself to defeat makes defeat inevitable, but if you have hope then you still have something to fight for. In the end, we will win, because the alternative simply doesn’t bear contemplation.