Thinking outside the ballot box

So the UK election is over, although we don’t yet know who’ll be forming a government. How does it feel? Are you convinced that we’re going to be living in a fairer, more just society within the next few years? Me neither. Personally the old adage – “whichever way you vote the government always gets in” still rings true for me.

I can’t help it, but I just don’t believe this is real democracy.

Have you ever had Neapolitan ice cream? You know the one – 3 flavours in one tub. I’ll let you decide who’s strawberry, who’s vanilla and who’s chocolate. The issue for me is it’s not the flavour of ice cream that’s meaningful. It’s the tub they’re in. If the fundamental structure isn’t conducive to democracy you won’t get a democratic result. In this case the tub is capitalism. The people calling the shots here are the big corporations. Many of them have more cash than many small countries. They certainly have more power. Through their lobbyists they have the ear of government every day of the year at the highest levels. You and I get their ear for a day every 4 or 5 years. Not quite the level playing field we’re so fond of in this country.

Voting alone is not enough for us, the people, to be truly empowered and for there to be real change in society. The best we can hope for from the current system is a change of flavour. But what if we don’t want ice cream? I don’t want to downplay the value of the actions taken to secure the vote for all of us – whether the fight for women’s suffrage or the formation of the labour party to get the working man and woman’ voice heard. But the world has moved on and labour is now new labour, and the corporations are running the show.

Let me give you an example. If I ever doubted who was calling the shots, the attempted introduction of genetically manipulated (GM) crops crystallised things for me. In 1996 US corporation Monsanto tried to import GM soya into the UK. Fortunately Greenpeace were there to stop them by occupying loading cranes and obstructing the boats. They had hoped to get the GM soya into the food chain unnoticed so that by the time we became aware of it, it was too late. How do we know this? Because that’s exactly what they did in the USA. Simultaneously Monsanto and Agr-Evo (now Bayer CropScience) were quietly growing trials of GM potato and oilseed rape across the UK. Each and every trial contaminated the ecosystem with invisible, self-replicating, unstoppable genetic pollution.

The point is that they did all of this with the blessing of the government of the time. In fact as public opinion raged against GM the government’s response was to talk of educating us at the supermarket checkout through pro-GM adverts. The government never ceased in its unswerving loyalty to the corporations. What stopped the corporations in their tracks was not our government representing our views, protecting our environment, our health, our economy. No it was people taking action. People like Greenpeace. People like the dozens of autonomous activists who went into supermarkets and fields.

Yes, much of that action was through the parliamentary process – lobbying MPs and the like. But what caught the headlines, what forced GM into the daylight, what threw the biggest spanner into the works was nonviolent direct action. It’s no surprise that many activists refer to direct action as direct democracy. People together making the change they want to see. Now that’s real democracy!

For me making real change involves thinking outside the ballot box. It involves people working together in all the days between elections to change their communities. It’s for us to inject humanity back into society on a daily basis. And humanity can’t be squeezed into an ice cream tub.