I've come back from a long week and a half of Glastonbury festival and the fabulous People and Planet network's Summer Gathering just outside Oxford. I'm very glad I did both, since they ended up complimenting each other perfectly in a way I've only just realised.
So working with the Workers Beer Company (an excellent organisation that treated us all well) I was walking around at Glasto even more than a normal punter, so I struggled to see everyone I wanted to since my feet could only take so much for a week.
I managed to see The Magic Numbers, Hot Chip, The Cribs, First Aid Kit, Imogen Heap, Coheed and Cambria, MGMT, The Drums, Dirty Projectors and a few more. But what I really took away from the experience was Billy Bragg's performance. I thought it'd be interesting since it was right in the aftermath of the Emergency Budget, and naturally he might have something to say about it.
I have to say I'm not too familiar with his backcatalogue although there's some that really touch me like "Never cross a picket line" and "world turned upside down", but it was more what he said than what he sung that has stayed with me.
Of course he mentioned the budget in passing, saying that we will all need to be ready to defend the nurses and teachers and other public sector workers whose livelihoods are under threat. These times will be like the 1980s, he said, but rising to the challenge to defend our public services and jobs will be harder than before since the answer is less clear cut, we don't have Marxism anymore to look to.
I didn't quite go along with that, since I don't think we need an all embracing-framework to argue against the cuts that are being forced through. The British left could never unite at the moment on those specifics. But we all agree that we want to defend jobs and resist the cuts that will send us into depression. We all know that cuts are not necessary, and we need the exact opposite right now.
What he did say though was that to him, socialism was not about books or doctrines, it was the basic idea of 'organised compassion', that ensures everyone has access to good education, healthcare and affordable housing. I've been looking for such a basic way to explain how I feel, and he hit it right on the head there.
But what was most important was when said that we have one enemy more dangerous than unfettered capitalism, our own cynicism that we can't change things and fight for the justice I've just mentioned. Being from Barking, he went on and on about how happy he was to have smashed the BNP at the last election and how this was an example of believing that people on the grassroots can bring about change. What he loved more than anything was the new, young generation of anti-fascists getting out in Barking to carry the torch.
So we need to do the same thing to defend our public services, and what some call our 'cynical generation' of young people need to believe, once we've got that, we can achieve anything.
And now how this perfectly came onto Summer Gathering, straight from the train from Glasto. These student activists from around the country are truly inspirational and have campaigned and won huge victories on their campuses and further afield. Whether it's ethical investment, kicking RBS off campus or smashing sweatshops, they get it done.
The most striking example at the event was when we heard that a whole campaign, targetting RBS for its investments in tar sands and fossil fuel extraction, was no longer going to be supported by a paid intern. The guys there didn't grieve, they discussed how the network of activists was going to run it voluntarily, and even more, they got excited about this change! I came away feeling that this campaign had only just begun and gave me so many ideas for my role as Ethical and Environmental Officer at my Student Union next term.
These are young activists who believe, campaign, and win. We've shone a light on fossil fuel funding, achieved big change in how universities tackle their environmental impact and more. They are going to head top NGOs, become MPs and be running the country in not too many years.
Billy said have hope. These guys do, and are getting stuff done.
While risking sounding like Obama, hope, action and dedication are all we need to succeed. So let's get out there to fight the cuts and win the fight against climate change.
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