I've been thinking about a post I wrote a little while ago on the books I read when first becoming a political activist which went slightly meme-like. At the time I said that whilst books can help clarify thoughts, bring out ways of articulating ideas and deepen your political understanding those who become politically active on the basis of books are mercifully few and far between.
For me, whatever the utility of books, events have been the primary catalyst that shaped my development into a politically engaged human being. So, I thought I'd try and put pen to paper/screen on the five most politically influential moments in my life.
- The Falklands War.
The first genuinely political thoughts I had were at the time of the Falklands War. Strangely enough it was watching Michael Foot on the TV attacking Thatcher, essentially for not being patriotic enough, that gave me a gut feeling that things weren't right.
I remember thinking how bizarre it was that this guy who was in CND and the Labour Party seemed to be all for a war over a patch of stony ground thousands of miles away. For whatever reason I didn't see any contradiction between being horrified by Foot and turning towards the Labour Party and a down the line anti-war stance.
- Hearing Billy Bragg the first time.
Like many disaffected teenagers there were a good deal of things I was against, but I struggled with exactly how to be against them. When my brother came back from university a devoted punk his new Billy Bragg albums were an immediate source of joy and, to be honest, slight obsession.
I knew I supported the miners but hadn't realised that I wasn't just some freak, that in fact there were others out there who called themselves 'socialists' and thought trade unions were a good thing especially when they went on strike, rather than despite strike action.
Billy switched a light on in my brain that said you can be against the way capitalism is run but in a constructive way - wanting to see a new society built not just the old one torn down.
- The defeat of the Poll Tax.
The eighties were hard for socialists. Every struggle seemed like a bitter defeat, and the harder you fought the more hurt you got. I know people who were active at this time could probably cite a whole list of victories but for me it seemed like one defeat after another. And then we broke the poll tax.
You just couldn't take it in. What did this mean, what did you call it when you didn't lose a fight? Then Thatcher resigned and it was bloody marvelous. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life, but it was all so sudden.
One moment she was there the next "poof" you had grey underpants man, and he seemed mostly harmless, hardly a Tory at all. When the Poll Tax was defeated it was a great lesson to me that I wasn't doomed to be on the wrong side of every single fight.
- Going to university.
I came to university late. I left school at sixteen and went to work in a series of dead end pointless jobs. It was only ten years later that Major's government kindly sent me to university, which was an extraordinary life changing event as well as a completely unexpected one.
It helped me learn how to think and it was the first time that I began to get consistently politically active. I'd been to demos and things before but now I was part of organising them - and it felt great.
- The Balkans War.
I think the Balkans War was the first moment I genuinely realised that Labour was not just disappointing but actually it wasn't the party for me. I sort of knew it before, but now I began to really know it. The anti-war movement might have been small compared to what was to come but it had a strength to it and was my first experience of effectively campaigning, if not successfully.
The Stop the War movement taught me a lot at that time, about how you work with people from different political backgrounds, what it feels like to organise a group who were actually persuading people of their case. That movement taught me that campaigning was about more than simply telling people what you thought, which was really little more than posturing. It was indeed possible to win arguments with large sections of the population, but you had to think as well as feel.
If any other bloggers out there are interested in giving this a go I'd be interested to see how much differences/similarities there are - and I'm more than happy to link to those posts as I did last time (as long as I know about them).