What will we do in 2017 to build a better future? What will that look like in Wales, and how can we build the foundations of an independent Nation that starts with better building blocks than the ones we have now? What should we include, and what should we leave behind? What can we learn from recent history so that we do not make the same mistakes?
All told, 2016 hasn’t been great. If you strung together end-to-end all the words written, blogged, vlogged and tweeted this week about the reasons why 2016 stank, that chain of words would probably stretch around the entire world. A giant cwts (hug) of angst-ridden prose.
I’m not here to add to the lists of 2016’s indictments, to add another post mortem of the year’s events, or to mourn everything that we lost in 2016. Although I salute those who have eloquently got that covered.
I’m here to take my share of the rap.
It’s taken me a few false starts to get here. This blog originally began by bemoaning all that 2016 ‘brought us’.
But then I stopped. Writing those words made me realise that 2016 did not ‘bring’ us anything. We brought 2016 upon ourselves.
The sooner we admit to that, the sooner we can start on making a better stab of 2017.
Now, I’m not trying to say that if we wind back the clock to January 1st 2016 we could make any better job of it than we did the first time. We’d still lose all those icons whose time had simply come, for a start. But if we re-ran 2016 again, with everyone fully briefed on each and every way we stuffed it up the first time, we’d still probably get the same awful results. Or different awful ones.
Because the things that went wrong in 2016 had a long gestation period. Naming no names, but for instance the reversal of a generation or more of social progress, and the regression to a political landscape where repealing the Convention on Human Rights feels like a genuine vote winner. These things didn’t suddenly happen out of nowhere. None of this is genuinely a shock. All those of us who are feigning surprise at many of the events of 2016 need to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror.
Because we could have seen all of this coming.
We might not have been able to predict what, or when, or whose revolting, smug face would end up as the poster boy for it all. We might not have been able to predict just how quickly things would degenerate once the doors were properly kicked in on the dodgy gin-joint we’ve all been hiding out in, but let’s be fair, we knew that the locks weren’t that safe.
And we may not be ready to admit that the party is over. But I think we need to.
Because there’s barely any element of the hellish shit storm of a year that 2016 has been, that we aren’t implicated in.
We’ve been turning a blind eye, and we still are. We are implicated on account of our acquiescence.
And every time someone tweets or blogs an ‘OK 2016, just end already!’ sentiment, we collectively hide behind the idea that this year has been an isolated aberration. A series of random acts of revulsion. We submit to passivity.
Now, in the same way that I don’t need to list all the body blows we claim that the past year has unfairly dealt us, I don’t think I really need to go into why it is that we are all complicit in all of this. There are enough commentators spelling out just why it’s inevitable that we would eventually end up here, or somewhere equally revolting.
You know the score – they talk a lot about globalisation, the almost entirely unchallenged dogma of neoliberal capitalism. The liquidisation of our natural environmental assets in pursuit of the chimera of never-ending growth. The increasing concentration of wealth into the hands of the global elites. The infiltration of multi-national corporations into more and more spheres of public life, and the increase in corporate rights at the expense of those of individuals. The sinister intrusion of state surveillance into our private lives and the accompanying loss of personal freedom. George Monbiot has a knack of summing it up with frequent clarity and Naomi Klein is another, but the list is long and illustrious.
In truth we have long been warned of the approaching perfect storm that all of this would inevitably cause. But we haven’t really listened because we were still at the gin-soaked party.
And if we are totally honest with ourselves, it wasn’t even really that great a party.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve been sat in a corner crying the whole time, I’ve been having a pretty good time, you know, there’s been dancing. The DJ has mostly been great. But there’s been this niggling feeling the whole time. This niggling feeling that not everyone you wanted to see is at this party. That if you are honest you have a head ache coming on, and curling up at home with a good book instead is starting to look like it might have been a better option.
The other thing I’ve noticed about this party is that for all its claims to be a liberal inclusive kind of a bash where everyone, including women, are respected, it feels kind of not that. There’s a leery guy in the corner that seems to think it’s OK to grab women as they go past, so you’re steering clear. Oddly his behaviour is being tolerated. You wouldn’t say that on the whole it feels like a place I would want your daughter to hang out.
And this gin isn’t that good, actually, it’s starting to make you feel a little sick. But maybe one more shot will turn this party around.
We’ve all seen the cracks appearing. We’ve all noticed the erosion of our social fabric, the insidious creep of consumer culture into every last orifice of our credit-saturated souls. But it was easier to fill the growing void with something else shiny from Amazon than it was to dare to say ‘I’m not convinced that all of this is making me happy’.
When we realised that we were losing our sense of ourselves as citizens, we could have dug our heels in and protested. But it was easier to trade in our citizenship for reality TV. When we felt outraged about the latest escapade of military interventionism in the middle-east by the UK and its allies, it was sufficient to tweet about it. When we are appalled by terrorist atrocities and inclined to reflect on the motivations and origins of these actions, it was easier to simply #prayfor…
I’m not saying any of the way we have reacted to the changing world around us is wrong. It’s perfectly rational. We’ve simply done what any normal person would do maintain their sanity and be able to function without unravelling on a daily basis into a puddle of anxiety about rising sea levels, or the latest headlines.
So I’m quite calm when I write all of this, I’m not angry. I’m admitting my share of responsibility for the mess we are in, but it’s not done in a spirit of blame. I’m not wracked with guilt and looking for absolution.
I just think it would help if we could all (with the exception of the enlightened souls who have been warning us all along) put our hands up and say, ‘yeah, 2016, my bad…’.
It would help us put a stop to this stupid, damaging, playground style ‘he said, she said’, ‘yes but he pulled my hair’, narrative around the referendum result for a start. It doesn’t matter AT ALL which way any of us voted.
It’s so emphatically not about the 48% versus the 52%.
But that’s exactly the argument that the 1% want us to keep having for ever, so they can continue shoveling the spoils of their victory onto a flatbed truck whilst our backs are turned. Whichever way the vote went, they were the winners, because the other 99% of us would have torn ourselves apart debating it either way.
Have you noticed that most of the shoveling of wealth in the UK is being done by middle aged white men in England?
In addition to busting the ‘globalisation helps everybody’ myth, our outdated image of the UK ‘punching above it’s weight’ on the world stage has also finally been shown for what it is, a mirage. A closely guarded conceit. The 1% will fight to keep it because it benefits them (if we aren’t a super power, maybe we can’t really justify those Trident receipts, and that won’t keep Daddy’s shareholders happy). These may look like different battles but really they are the same one. Be in no doubt – every single one of the people in the 1% are Unionists. And how many of them do you think live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland? (Well, they probably own a lot of the land in Scotland, and they are going to fight dirty to keep their ill gotten gains…).
We all know these things. So why are we pretending not to?
Maybe it’s because we are afraid. That’s reasonable. It takes a lot to stand up and be the person that calls time on all of this charade. There’s a reason that the little kid in the fable about the emperor’s new clothes is a hero. It takes courage to point out the obvious when everyone around you is so desperate to avoid seeing it. It’s easier to keep focussing on the lack of a coherent plan for Brexit, hard, soft or medium boiled, than to reflect on how we got here in the first place.
Maybe it’s because we feel dis-empowered. That’s understandable. Our confidence in our ability to achieve anything collectively has been seriously eroded.Our institutions have been weakened, and our ability to mobilise effectively as a workforce feels like a distant memory. The very notion of ‘workforce’ as we’ve always known it is fragmenting, leaving us feeling atomised – isolated pieces of an exploitative whole that may cast us aside at any moment. It’s no wonder we are inclined just to keep our heads down.
Or maybe we just don’t think it’s our problem, because we are so bought into the competitive ‘everyone out for themselves’ ideology of western capitalism that it just hasn’t occurred to us to rage about any of the injustice or get together with some neighbours to organise.
See what they did there?
Maybe we’re just so flat out working long but irregular hours for pay that won’t cover the rent, and looking after a relative let down by the care system, that we haven’t got the energy.
See what they did there?
Maybe those of us who have most to gain from change, are so used to hearing that the glass ceiling has been broken, that we feel we are liberated already and should just make the most of things. We have swallowed this line, and accepted an offer to ‘have it all’, but it is a parody of real change. We have unwittingly accepted an offer to clear the table, not have a seat at it. That glass ceiling is still there. We’ve been convinced that if our stilettos are sharp enough we can break through, but it’s thicker than ever, and it’s there not only if you are a woman, but if you are of Asian descent, or living with a disability. Pick any non-middle-aged-white-male demographic – you won’t see that demographic widely represented around the board rooms of the FTSE 100 or in the Cabinet. There are after all, more men named John than there are women leading FTSE companies.
And money buys influence and access to power. Literally.
It could be any one or all of those reasons holding us back from speaking out.
Or maybe we’re just too comfortable. Well, that’s about to change.
I realise that I said I wan’t angry, and that actually I sound pretty angry. Probably it’s because I am. But not with myself, nor you. Not with people who voted leave, on the whole. Some of them are undoubtedly racist, but a small proportion, and they always were. If we obsess about blaming them, it just gives more cover for Nigel and his elite friends to keep shoveling. They’ll sneakily legalise fox-hunting while we’re not looking too, but mostly only as a smoke screen so that we don’t notice that they’ve flogged the rest of the NHS in England to their best mate, and that they’re going to abolish our human rights with a campaign they funded via their shares in the manufacturing of cluster bombs.
Don’t tell me you don’t see it.
So although I’m angry, I’m also feeling focussed. Because the cat is out of the bag now. All holy hell has broken loose, and it only takes a few of us to stand up and point out that the whole twisted, unequal, unsustainable charade of a global economy is bust. Actually it takes a lot of us to stand up, but there is power in numbers, and movements start small. Effective movements grow quickly.
We should have done it in 2008, but we didn’t, we let the vested interests decide. Now the stakes are higher. But a lot has happened since then.
Regimes have fallen. Revolutions have happened. Grass roots action has defeated fossil fuel giants. Divestment is happening. Standing Rock is happening.
The rules of the game have undoubtedly changed, but that could be to our advantage. There are some nascent movements for change in the UK – #stopfundinghate for example feels potent and with some willingness for radical action could achieve a lot (let’s launch a full boycott of one of the brands that have refused to withdraw their funding, and see how fast the financing of hate falls apart?)
There are the growing movements for independence among the UK countries, based on the vision of building a better future, free to re-write the rules of engagement and to make our own mistakes.
There is a new generation of feminists, male and female, who see gender and sexuality in a completely different, more fluid way.
There is social media. And there has always been comedy, art and the power of the spoken word.
What if we liberated the power of these tools against the real enemy? What if those of us who are women, or gay, or of colour, or just not called John, agreed to unite in non-violent action against a common foe? (If you are named John by the way, you are very welcome to join us, but you will need to remember that you won’t automatically be in charge, and your views aren’t more important or needing to be aired more regularly or for longer than everybody else’s).
I think an alternative built in this way would be a lot more fun, a lot more colourful and imaginative than the likes of Farage and Trump are coming up with. And they are coming up with an alternative to the status quo. We know that they are, and their alternative is a much worse version of the same thing we already have. It’s sexist neo-liberal capitalism with all the safety catches off. They have pulled off a breath taking slight of hand. Daylight robbery in plain sight. They’ve convinced a lot of people that what they offer is the best or only alternative. But we know they aren’t the solution, they are the problem, dressed up in a hammy disguise.
And now they are shouting ‘surprise!’, but we still aren’t listening.
So I’m not kidding around.
My daughter is 13 months old. My sons are 4 and 7. I don’t need to begin to explain on how many levels I am not kidding, and you don’t need me to spell it out.
So let’s get on with it. Stop tweeting your discontent about 2016 and get angry in the real world. Let’s start by acknowledging that we got ourselves into this mess by passive consent, and then we can start cleaning it up.
Now it’s time for Dancing Guy. This video gets wheeled out a lot at this kind of juncture. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching, especially if you are starting a movement. It’s about the important of the first followers –how important the first few people are in getting a movement started. It invites us to reflect that it is not so much about a leader, so much as the willingness of those early activists (or in this case dancers) to turn what starts off as a lone crazy act, to become something that suddenly everyone wants to get behind. It is what needs to happen next. It is what is happening in Wales. We are standing up and joining in, and we can make 2017 different.
We can build a movement.
For some reason, I tear up every time I watch that video. I think it’s because it demonstrates something moving about human connection. Also, watching it again just now it makes me think of how much fun we are having at Yes Caerdydd – that’s us, those guys, dancing, and we are starting something big.
So there aren’t any silver bullets in all of this, but there are some big dreams. I dream of a Wales in which we don’t bother with the glass ceiling and the stilhetto, we just board up the ceiling and leave all those suits up there enjoying the sound of their own voices for a while. In the meantime we build a fairer economy, that works for everybody, probably based on smaller scale, human sized businesses, working with and for the communities in which they are based. We’ll let John and his friends out later, once they’ve had a good think about the mess they’ve been making of the world…
I don’t know exactly how we will do all of this, and my vision isn’t the only one that matters. But at least I have some ideas. You have some too. I don’t have all of the skills we’ll need either, but I have some, and you have different ones. I haven’t got all the answers, but between us we can build a pretty fantastic set of alternatives (we are after all, starting from a position of ‘anything is better than this’).
Just don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything about this.
We shouldn’t blame 2016, and we definitely don’t want to be back here a year from now expressing shock that 2017 turned out to be even more malignant in character.
I’ve got some stuff planned (if you are reading this and you think it might involve you, then it probably does). Small scale stuff, locally. Bigger stuff, in time. I’ve been doing some Christmas reading about how to plan a non-violent revolution using Lego men and rice pudding…
What are you going to do in 2017?
If you would like to join Yes Cymru you can do so here. You would be very welcome to come along to the next open meeting of Yes Caerdydd, which is at 7.30 pm on the 5th of January @indycubetradest. We always have good coffee and a laugh (whilst changing the world, obviously).
Postscript: As I’ve said, I think that our non-violent revolution needs to be built around a positive vision of the future. But one of the first lessons in planning a revolution is to unite against a common foe. It gives clarity of message. I’d like to throw Rupert Murdoch‘s name into the hat… (He’s a good international foe too, because although I think that indywales is the way to go, if England was my home I’d still be mad about a lot of the same things. But the solutions would look different. So I think that reducing that particular business tycoon’s strangle hold on the levers of power is a project we could do some cross-border collaboration on…)
Back by popular demand:
Geirfa defnyddiol (some useful welsh words)
Cwts: hug / cuddle
Ond mae’r ymerawdwr yn noeth lymin!: but the emperor is completely naked!
Pendramynwgl: politer version of ‘arse over tit’
Deffrwch: wake up!
Yr un y cant: the one per cent
Chwerthin ar ein pennau ni: laughing at our expense
Sodlau uchel: high heels
Pwdin reis: rice pudding