Tag Archives: protest

Things to do

A recurring conversation I have been finding myself having lately, both online and face to face, is what on earth we can possibly do in the face of a world that has turned itself upside down.

Trump, Brexit, the demise of the NHS, the rise of the right across Europe, the devastating refugee crisis, an increasingly vulnerable natural environment, and increasingly terrifying global instability. There is so much that is wrong with the world at the moment it can be hard to know where to start.

There are those who have dedicated themselves to a very clear path of activism, honing in on one cause and throwing their time and energy behind it, and others who are convinced that there is very little point in doing anything – that the cogs will keep turning in the same direction however big the groundswell of people that want things to change.

I am still trying to work out what my one clear path is – the aspect of all this mess that I feel most passionate about and where I have the knowledge and skills to be able to make a real difference. But in the meantime I know I cannot sit pessimistically back and just do nothing.

There have been lots of articles doing the rounds to kickstart people into action, some of which I have found more useful than others. In no particular order, here is my current list of things to do to begin to affect positive change. Hopefully there will be something here to keep you moving forward!

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Seek solidarity

Sign petitions. Join rallies. Go on protests. Take part in twitterstorms. On their own, these things might not always achieve an awful lot – but the very process of coming together with other people who feel as strongly as you do that things need to change can help you to keep going and find the strength to take things to the next level. If you seek out local action you might meet people close to you who can help you generate ideas and turn your frustrations into campaigns – and at the very least we are collectively sending out a message that our political leaders do not speak for us. It might not feel like they’re paying much attention, but there are plenty of people who are.

Engage in the political process

Like it or not, our imperfect political system is an essential piece of the puzzle in getting our voices heard by those who have the power to do things differently. If you’re not already a member, join a political party. Get involved in local campaigning on the issues you care about. Write to your MP. Arrange to meet with them. Email the Prime Minister about those issues that you get so irate about on Facebook. It’s easy to dismiss the impact an email might make, but if every single person feeling disenfranchised and disillusioned took ten minutes out of their day to explain why to the people running the country then the millions of emails that would ensue would be hard for them to ignore.  Of course the ultimate engagement in politics would be to stand for office: somebody has to represent our communities, and if you don’t believe that those who do are doing a very good job then do something about it! And obviously, don’t forget to vote – whatever chance you get. The political climate might be very different right now if everyone had protested with a cross in a box rather than by crossing their arms and staying silent.

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Choose your news carefully 

With the abundance of fake news stories doing the rounds online it can be all too easy to get suckered in to something that supports your point of view without checking that it’s actually true, and that’s not going to help anyone. It’s worth using a range of different stories to get closer to the truth of what’s going on, and it’s really important to support serious journalism – financially, if you can. So much of our media is controlled by those with the money to manipulate consumers’ views in whatever ways suit them. If we want more independent news outlets to survive we need to fill the gaps left by the dearth of big business backers.

Support the arts

In a world where the mainstream narrative is becoming increasingly divisive and exclusionary the arts have a vital part to play in fuelling an alternative way of looking at the world. There has been some really positive action coming out of the arts community recently: from publishing houses vowing to help authors from marginalised countries to get their voices heard to New York’s MoMA showcasing contemporary artists barred from the US and actors using their position on the West End stage to publicly challenge Trump’s policies. We all have a part to play in this: we can all read the books, visit the exhibitions, watch the plays; we can talk about them, and we can help fuel an alternative narrative.

Engage in debate

Don’t let hate go unchallenged. Don’t help liars keep up their masquerade of truth. Whether it is stepping in when you witness acts of prejudice in the street or commenting on a questionable Facebook post that pops up in your timeline, don’t be a silent bystander to all the stuff that makes your blood boil. Maybe try not to get too obviously furious about it – we are in the business of building bridges here, not burning them – but if you can become that voice of doubt in the mind of those who are accepting the status quo without stopping to think about it then you are on to a good thing. And if it’s the mainstream media that is spouting the lies then challenge that too – the Independent Press Standards Organisation investigates complaints about newspapers and magazines, and Ofcom does the same for television and radio.

Donate to groups on the ground

Money again. Just as with the media and with the arts the most surefire way of supporting the activists making change happen is to put your hand in your pocket. There are so many different groups that could use your cash – Planned Parenthood, In Facts, the White Helmets, the NHS Support Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the ACLU to name just a few. None of us could donate to them all- but we could all choose one to make our priority. The flip side of this is of course not financially supporting organisations who are part of the problem… The recent high profile boycott of Uber showed just how powerful the consumer purse can be – and the #grabyourwallet campaign lists many other businesses you might want to think twice about supporting.

Find your niche

This is not a fight for the short term: if we are going to be able to harness our considerable collective power to really make a difference to the future we are going to need to buckle in for a long and bumpy ride. If you can, find a way to use your skills and your interests to really focus in on an area where you can bring about change. The potential scope for this is huge, and will be different for each of us. Whether it’s academic study, artistic endeavour, advocacy, direct campaigning or something else, think about how you can make your efforts count.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you hold your nerve. With the Trump regime indulging in its campaign of global gaslighting and our Tory government becoming increasingly removed from any sense of truth it can be all too easy to put your head in the sand and pretend that none of it is happening. But it is, and it is up to all of us to try and turn the tide.

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If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make a stand you might want to check out this stunning print by my friend Caitlin – a vision of acceptance and international community, with 50% of the proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

And if you have any other ideas about positive actions we can take, then please do share them in the comments.

The power of connection

Recently, my trips to London have been more about connection than ever before. I mean, they always are in a way – catching up with family or friends, seeing the people I miss since we made the move down to Devon.

But the last couple of visits – as with many of my recent encounters with friends – have meant more than that.

The conversations I have shared have been on a different level. Driven at first by growing incredulity about 2016 as its carnage unfolded, and now by hope that 2017 might just be a time for change, we have discussed our fears about the world and revealed our plans to combat them in whatever small way we can.

Sometimes this has meant continuing conversations started online, or dusting off shared values that have lain dormant for years. And sometimes tentative comments about the state of things have led to entirely new connections being revealed, the realisation that people with whom I became friends mainly through circumstance in fact have way more in common with me than I ever dreamed.

Yesterday began with the donning of pussyhats with one of my bestest buddies. We made our way to Grosvenor Square to join the women (and men, and children) marching in protest at Trump’s inauguration, marching to say that we do not agree with the values that he represents and in fact find them reprehensible, marching to say that we will not stay silent in a world where those values are being normalised through his rise to power, and the rise of right wing divisiveness all over the world.

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Ours was a quiet and familiar connection in the midst of the crowd, a togetherness that we used to enjoy on a daily basis and now happens way too infrequently, a standing side by side with the values we know we share without even having to talk about them. The words we did exchange spoke of trying desperately to overcome the sense of helplessness that simmered beneath our convictions – thoughts of what on earth we and all of the people we stood shoulder to shoulder with were supposed to actually do to make a difference once the march was over.

I’m still mulling that, but what came next strengthened my resolution afresh to make sure it was something, and something good.

Even before the march was scheduled I had planned to be in London yesterday. We had to duck out of it early, not having anticipated quite how well supported it was going to be, in order to arrive almost on time for a memorial service.

The person we were remembering would not have minded that we were a little late. In fact were she still around she would undoubtedly have been marching by our side.

We were celebrating the life of a mentor, colleague and friend we lost far too early at the end of last summer: the indomitable Morlette Lindsay, a force of nature unsurpassed by anyone I have met before or since, the woman who not only taught me how to follow my heart and be the teacher I wanted to be but taught me to stand up for what I believed in and knew was right even if (especially if) it felt like the whole world was telling me I was wrong. Sitting in St Bride’s church yesterday afternoon, and afterwards at the pub, it was clear that she had touched the souls of every single person there in similar ways.

I hope she had some inkling of how important she was to me. I’m not sure I ever came out and told her, and I regret that – but I can make sure that her spirit lives on in my refusal to stand by and watch whilst our humanity gets twisted out of shape, and in the playing out of my determination to find a way to make things better.

I could have happily stayed in that pub, remembering Morlette and reconnecting with friends and colleagues who I have lost touch with over the years, for the rest of the evening, but my day was not done yet.

From there it was on to the West End, to meet old drama school buddies. These were friends who I got very drunk with the week before the EU referendum last June and realised that we were all fighting the slide towards a society driven by fear and hate in our own ways.

Yesterday we were headed to see one of our number perform in The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was exciting to see him on such a significant stage, wonderful to see this story I had loved in book and film form brought to life through theatre – and humbling to be reminded how the narrative we are in the middle of right now has played out in so many different places and times before, and never with positive consequences.

Again the conversation turned to what we are supposed to do to stop this permutation of that narrative in its tracks, and the realisation hit that the things we can do will be different for all of us – and in fact all of us are working out our path to a better future even as we worry that it doesn’t exist.

From the actor bringing Khaled Hosseini’s powerful story to new audiences, to the translator embodying internationalism and connectedness with every new commission, to the sports journalist planning a move to current affairs in order to influence the way people engage with what’s going on in the world.

And the writer, trying to find a way to make my words mean something beyond the spilling onto the page of the thoughts inside my brain.

There is more we can all do – more we will do – but it is heartening to remember that in many ways the revolution has already begun.

Together we are stronger

Whilst momentum gathers for the kids’ strike on 3rd May, there are still a lot of parents who are undecided. Unsure if they are the sort of people who do this sort of thing, unsure if they or their kids will be punished for taking a stand, unsure if the issues at stake actually effect them very much at all.

One of the things I am hearing time and time again is that people love their schools. They don’t want to insult their kids’ teachers, they don’t want them to feel like they’re doing something wrong. But seriously – the time has come for us to act together. I remember – when I was teaching – having conversations with colleagues despairing over the negative impact of the Key Stage 3 SATs. We longed for parents to recognise how counterproductive this whole process was for their children, to petition us to stop the tests, to refuse to send their children into school. But they never did.

Fast forward ten years, and I am thrilled to see parents making their voices heard to say enough is enough. I am a parent now, too: and whilst my son is still a few years away from the Key Stage 1 SATs that initially inspired this campaign, I am already concerned about their impact on his future education. So much so that, at the moment, I can’t see any other option but to homeschool.

It’s not just the SATs though. There is so much that has changed in education in the three years since I took a step away from teaching, so much that the Tories are getting wrong.

So if you’re doubting whether or not to take a stand, wondering whether or not it applies to you and your kids, then I ask that you take a few minutes to consider this.

1) I would fail the new Key Stage 2 SATs

I am 38 years old. I have an A* in GCSE English, and an A in A-Level. I taught English to secondary school students for over ten years, and was head of faculty for the last two of those. I am currently in the process of writing my third novel.

And yet, last weekend, I sat a sample SATs test, and I only managed to get 50%. It’s taken me this long to admit it, because on one level I am mortified. But actually – I had trouble even reading to the end of the questions without glazing over, and my considerable knowledge of the English language has taught me that many of the answers would most definitely be open to debate in the real world.

Which brings me to my next point…

2) The knowledge and skills our kids are being told to prioritise is almost entirely irrelevant

I am (thankfully for me) far from the only well-educated person to have taken these tests and be utterly humiliated. Teachers, academics, writers, and many more people who in theory should know better have fallen foul of the particular demands of these exams.

It’s not that the technicalities of grammar aren’t important – it’s just that there are so many different ways to learn about them than by being able to recall the ins and outs by rote.

It’s ok for us – we have already found our path in life, have already succeeded. But what of the ten year old who takes these tests and declares themselves a failure because they are not able to jump through this government’s spectacularly misplaced hoops? If this action were to spare just one child from that fate, then it would have been worth it.

And the fact is, our children are suffering.

So much so that…

3) The relentless assessment regime our kids are subjected to is starting to seriously effect their mental health

One in ten children in the UK is diagnosed with a mental health problem. That is an alarming statistic, by anyone’s standards.

It is a leap to say that this is entirely down to the assessment regime, but there is a general consensus that it is a major factor. It would be very hard not to jump to this conclusion when reading the many testaments from parents that have come out of the Let Our Kids be Kids campaign. There are so many heartbreaking stories, but just this one from a parent of a year 6 boy should be enough to make us want to act.

In fact things are getting so bad that questions are being raised about whether the way in which our children are being treated in the education system is in breach of their human rights. I would very much argue that it is, and cannot imagine subjecting my son to the situations being described by parents in just three years time.

He’s ok right now, but it is the world that he is entering into that scares me.

Which is why…

4) Even if your child is not yet old enough for SATs, now is the time to act

Very few protests have the potential to directly impact on the people who are taking a stand: it is future generations who will benefit most.

I’ve been discussing this this week with my soon-to-be-a-junior-doctor husband. The doctors on the picket lines, the ones resigning their posts and speaking out so eloquently, are not protecting their own interests. The people who will immediately be affected by the new contracts are final year medical students, like my husband, and all of the future doctors currently slogging their way through the training system. It is likely that all junior doctors will ultimately be affected, but the action they are taking at the moment has very little to do with them and everything to do with the bigger picture.

It’s not a direct parallel to the kids’ strike, but it’s not a million miles away either. The parents who initiated this whole campaign have children in year two. Those children will still, most probably, have to sit the tests this year (unless of course a miracle happens and Nicky Morgan actually listens). The children who will most benefit, though, are the children who are facing the SATs in the years to come.

The NUT are considering a boycott of the SATs for next year: they will be even more likely to act with the strength of the nations parents behind them.

And anyway…

5) It’s not just about the SATs

The pressures on the curriculum at all levels is completely squeezing out arts subjects. The proposal to force all schools to become academies is essentially a back door to privatisation where we lose all ownership and democratic control of our schools. The knock on effect of the raising of the bar at Key Stage 1 is that Early Years education as we know it is under threat. Teachers are feeling such despair at all of this that they are leaving the profession in droves.

And yet…

6) The government does not expect you to act

If you are sitting thinking that it’s not really about you, that there is nothing you can do to make a difference and that your kids seem ok right now so it might be better not to rock the boat, then you are doing exactly what the government wants you to do.

And if you are not that bothered by the points that I’ve made above, then fair enough. But if you think our kids – your kids – deserve better, then maybe now is the time to make a stand.

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There are 16,743 people behind the Let Our Kids be Kids campaign on Facebook, and that is growing by the second. News outlets across the country are starting to take notice of the movement that is emerging. In my small town alone I know that there are two major television news stations planning to cover the events of the day.

And the question I would ask you is, what would you like to show them? Would you like them to see just a few parents out there making their voices heard, and silently applaud their intentions whilst not being quite brave enough to make the move yourself? Or would you like to see parents out there in droves, saying that our children are better than this? We are all better than this.

My son is only three, so we cannot strike as such. We will be doing what we do every day which is to seek out learning in the world around us. I am only hoping, on the 3rd of May, that we might come across you, and many, many other parents too, doing exactly that: and making the government fully aware of just how much their plans for our children are unwelcome.

 

In the absence of any real striking power my son and I, along with many other parents across the country, are participating in the #THISislearning campaign. Click here to find out more!