UK politics has taken a dystopian turn – so we must take to the streets

Catrin Wager speaking at a democracy rally in Bangor on 31 August 2019. Picture by Mel Gadd

Catrin Wager

In September 2001, I went to Bangor University to study English and Contemporary History.  I chose those subjects due to a fascination born of a childhood holiday to Germany at the age of 11. On that holiday I was taken to Dachau concentration camp, a day trip that was to have a profound impact on my life.

I couldn’t fathom the horrors that had happened in that place.  I couldn’t understand how one faction of society could turn against another and commit acts of such barbarity. Humanity lost in atrocity.

From that trip, an interest was born –  as so many questions left unanswered. Choosing to study History felt like an opportunity to find some of those answers. But it was the other part of my course that eventually became of greatest interest to me, when, in my first year as a literature student, I was introduced to dystopian fiction.

I became fascinated by the novels of Atwood, Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley, offering, as they did, a glimpse of a world that seemed so close, yet so far away.

They painted a picture of a society we could recognise, one that seemed like our own, yet, one where the societal norms we take for granted had collapsed. They showed how close to dystopia we were, and in that, they were fascinating, but they always felt like works of literature – intellectual explorations of what could, but never should happen.

But I haven’t been able to read a dystopian novel in years.  These books, which once seemed so fascinating, now seem all too real.

Geeks of both dystopian fiction and contemporary history will recognise that there are commonalities; patterns that become apparent in societies before things get truly dark. They include a disenfranchised people, and an effective propaganda machine which lays the blame for this disenfranchisement at the feet of another group of people.

Narratives of blame are peddled until they become narratives of hate, then bit by bit, those deemed ‘guilty’ are criticised, ostracised, and criminalised. Increasingly unjust actions against them become normalised and justified. Then, democracy gets shut down – and that’s when things get really dangerous.

And that is why so many of us have taken to the streets.  Because while in many ways this is about Brexit, it is, in fact about so much more. This is about a dangerous precedent being set of democracy being abandoned, and one man doing what the hell he likes.

Unelected

Now I understand the arguments about democracy and that crucial vote in 2016.  I understand why some might say Johnson’s actions are an act of democracy, that he is carrying out the will of the 52% that voted to leave the EU that day.  But to them I say this:

When we are being taken into a no-deal Brexit, which expert opinion agrees will be disastrous for our country, and which never appeared on the ballot paper – is that democracy?

When arguments are based on lies, not fact – is that democracy?

When 700,000 Britons living abroad are ineligible to vote and have no say in their future – is that democracy?

When EU nationals, who have built their lives here in the UK are shut out of the democratic process – is that democracy?

When the younger generation, whose futures will be most affected by this, were not allowed to cast a vote – is that democracy?

And when an unelected leader seeks the permission of another unelected leader to shut down an institution of democratically elected representatives in order to push through such a disastrous option – effectively gagging their right to debate it – is that democracy?

I don’t think it is.  I don’t think people voted for food shortages.  I don’t think people voted to see vital medical supplies under threat.  I don’t think people vote to see a staffing crisis in our National Health Service. I don’t think people voted to see transport systems grinding to a halt. I don’t think people voted for potential mass disruption and martial law.

And I don’t think people voted to be even worse off than we are now – even after enduring 10 years of crippling Tory austerity.

Grassroots

Right now, it is easy to feel that we are living in times of frightening historical parallels.  It’s easy to see ourselves living through one of those dystopian novels I used to so enjoy.

While the amazon burns and our climate collapses; while women lose the right to choose what happens to their own bodies in supposedly one of the most advanced countries in the world; when the LGBTQ community in Chechnya and Brazil are persecuted simply for who they chose to love; and when migrants are vilified, incarcerated indefinitely and extradited from the UK, or left to drown on the shores of Europe, it certainly feels like Dystopia.

But I offer you one glimmer of hope.  When I visited Dachau at the age of 11, I didn’t leave simply asking how did this happen, but I also asked why did no one do anything to stop it?  How could people stand by and let it happen?

And a common feature in many dystopian novels is the fact that people didn’t rise up and take action when they had the chance.  A chilling meme from The Handmaids Tale has been doing the rounds on social media of late, and it states ‘That was when they suspended the constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even rioting in the streets. People stayed at home at night, watching television, looking for some direction.’

Therefore, my friends, let me point out that the glimmer of hope lies within each and every one of you.  People did not stay home watching television – they came out to protest on the street. They were conscious of what was happening and took action.

And I am going to ask you to keep taking on taking action.  Keep on taking to the streets and making your voices heard. When you witness an injustice, take to the streets. Take to the streets to protest the decimation of the welfare system.

Take to the streets to protest the indefinite detention of migrants and refugees.  Take to the streets to protect the rights of the vulnerable.  And take to the streets to protest the destruction of our democratic systems.

Society

But we must do more than that.  We need to start living by the morals that have brought us here today.  We need to start taking positive collective action to tackle all the things that seem to be going wrong in our society.  We need to get active at grassroots and community level and bring about change from the community up.

Let’s get together and plant trees and pick up litter to tackle, bit by bit some of the disastrous climatic effects of our modern lives.

Let’s get those community food shares or lift-sharing projects started.

Let’s shop local, support local businesses and keep our economy going at the most fundamental level.

Let’s reach out to create networks of support within our communities, coming together to support each other when the state fails to do so.

Let’s reach out to those who have built their lives here, who chose the UK as the place to live, work and love, but who may be afraid of what the future holds for them after the 31st October.

If we witness racism, sexism or any form of prejudice, we must challenge it.  And most importantly, we must be kind.  Because right now, it’s up to us to turn things around.

Up to us to ensure that this world doesn’t turn into the dark dystopia we probably all fear.

It’s up to us to build the society that we want to see, because if there’s one thing I can promise you today, this government most certainly won’t.

This article was originally delivered as a speech at a democracy rally in Bangor on August 31st, 2019.

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Sue jones davies
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Sue jones davies

Cytuno

Hywel Moseley
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Hywel Moseley

A fi hefyd.

Ann Owen
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Ann Owen

A fi hefyd!

vicky moller
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vicky moller

wow. Agree the analysis, think the call to action is great but needs more content. Take over from the streets up, take the reins. The Low Carbon Cymru gathering this month in the senedd, with 13 councils of Wales represented is a step, the YesCymru march is another, there are multiple steps happening locally, hidden and public – we need acceleration, a people on the move, to reach lift off.

Duncan Brown
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Duncan Brown

Ysbrydoledig.

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

“When arguments are based on lies, not fact – is that democracy?” she asks. No, that is not democracy. Democracy is allowing people to weigh up the arguments of opposing views and decide which side has the most merit and cast ones vote accordingly. The side with the majority of votes then takes precedent. The fact that we are still in the EU more than 3 years are voting to leave (with or without a ‘deal’) clearly reveals that we live in a sham democracy with sham representatives.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Just because Parliament did not just drop everything and meet the demands of the referendum straight away shows it is a democratic institution. The key word here is – ‘representing’. Parliamentarians are elected to represent their constituents and act in their best interest – not follow their every whim, they are not delegates. So far from being a sham Parliament has been doing it’s job correctly. The other thing worth mentioning here is that Parliament is sovereign not the executive (Government).

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

In a democracy the people are sovereign. But I would agree with you that the Westminster parliament is acting AS IF it were sovereign, which means we live in a sham democracy.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

If that is the case why have a Parliament? As I said we elect MPs to act in our best interest. People elect but they can’t rule, imagine over 40m voters agreeing on something, it’s bad enough we have 17.4m versions of Brexit ! You’ll have mob rule and probably lynch mobs !

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Democracy is not static, it is the reason we have regular elections. Whether those who support Brexit like it or not, the full facts regarding Brexit are now much much clearer than they were 3 years ago and many of the claims by those who supported leaving have now been found to be false. So we need another referendum, this time with proper parameters ( say 65% plus for any proposal). If that is not achieved – we go again until a clear majority is achieved. Other countries have done this so it is not unprecedented.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

Hysterical nonsense!

David Wilson
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David Wilson

Do you consider the European Union in its present form a democratic institution? We should not remain a part of it, and not rejoin until it becomes such.