Trump Resistance

Building resources in the fight against the extreme policies and lurch to the right that the USA is undergoing under the new President

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by Pete Lawrence
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Created on 31 Jan 2017

We are attempting to build resources in the fight against the extreme policies and lurch to the right that the USA is undergoing under the new President. The world has quickly been turned upside down and the sweep of far-right politics has spread beyond America. We need to be aware, to be informed and to work out ways we can make a difference. 

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Tue, 01/31/2017
Guilds

SMUG V SCARED

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Some politicians in the Labour Party believe we needs to go some way towards accepting fear of strangers, and talk about the 'London elite' not understanding the impact of immigration on already beleaguered working class communities.

In all the talk about the working class who voted for Brexit – who even voted against the EU when there’s a net inflow of European money into their communities – I think things may have got very muddled about what we’re talking about.

There’s a hoary old left phrase, ‘false consciousness’, to describe someone who works and votes against their own interest.  It was particularly detested in my youth by feminists, because obviously we had to get our attitudes straight towards anti-feminist women. We had to base what we did on the belief that other women are not generally idiots, and that people make the best choices they can see.

When it comes to Brexit, I observed at least three groups of voters. Some – like educated colleagues of mine – didn’t really feel particularly strongly either way, but a bit of anti-bureaucracy and a pinch of fear about refugees did for them. 

Some, like UKIP members I have had the dubious pleasure to know, are clearly comfortably middle class, and are best described as: the smugs. They feel they are perfectly fine in this England of ours and see no reason for change, no compromise or questioning of the assumptions they grew up with.  In some real way, they were voting for their interests. 

And for some – well, clearly the fact of EU funding counted very little against the devastation of their communities, the loss of meaningful jobs, the feeling, surely accurate, that no-one in power cares about them. Do they believe it will be better for them out of the EU?  I am not sure that’s the question they were asking. They are the scareds.

When I was a teenager, my best friend’s family were undoubtedly smugs, and also working class.  The dad worked as a machine toolist in the Coventry car factories, an elite and very skilled job. He earned a good wage, and they lived in a big new house on a nice estate. My mate's parents were, as it happens, racist bigots, and I expect they would have been in UKIP if they were still alive. Like or not like them, they just were there, an integral part of my life.  I could see that not everyone who works with their hands will identify their interests with struggle – and, I guess, why should they? 

I confess, I was always uneasy about too much change myself – attracted to many things about anarchism, at another level I didn’t want anything to get scary.  In my time I have been both smug and scared.

So it’s simplistic to make sweeping class generalisations about the Brexit vote.  Who voted smug, and who voted scared? That makes a huge difference to how we reach out to them.

I have one big question about the effective response to scared.  Some in the Labour Party believe it needs to go some way towards accepting fear of strangers, and talk about the London elite not understanding the impact of immigration on already beleaguered working class communities. What starts slightly off about that argument is that London itself is clearly the most multicultural community in England, with the highest proportion of people not born in Britain.  (‘London elite’ is a very muddled term.) But I understand the beleaguered part.

The real problem for me is what those politicians think they are talking about.  Do people fear people they don’t know?  Do they resist change?  I don’t doubt it for a minute, because both are true for me.  But who, exactly are we talking about when we say immigrants?  The leave campaign was very happy to be confusing about whether they were talking Middle Eastern refugees, existing long-standing communities of ex-Empire citizens, Muslim British, or EU migrants.  Perhaps some community somewhere really has conflicts with Poles, but I haven’t seen the evidence.

No, I have this horribly feeling that when even Labour politicians talk about immigration, they know they are connecting to prejudice against non-whites.  It doesn’t matter if those non-whites have been here three generations, were born English, and completely out of scope for any legality about the free movement of people in the EU.

And I am not convinced the right response is to go on about English pride, either.  I observe that plenty of people here are satisfied with themselves for being English, and the last couple of centuries shows that tipping over again and again into an aggressive belief that the English are better and more important than anyone else. I am happy to say I am English; I love the English land, and choose to live here.  Do I need more pride? Don’t think so. And anyway, pride attaches to many things more urgent than nationality – to town, county, football team, and above all to things we are actually responsible for (instead of inheriting).

No: the dialogue with the scared has to be about the material conditions of their lives – about the loss of jobs, poor schools, overcrowded hospitals, about the smashing up of communities when the skilled jobs were stolen from them.  The skilled jobs weren’t stolen by EU migrants, by any kind of immigrant; and the funds cut from public services certainly aren't going to anyone in our ordinary communities.

The jobs are probably not coming back, and so we all have to talk about how we rebuild community and meaning if they don’t. That is going to be hard, for everyone, but we can’t shirk the discussion.  We have to talk about the gross inequality made worse with every Tory policy – and that the Tories just don’t care, and UKIP would be even worse.

No: the dialogue going forward must not be implicitly framed by kowtowing to racism or stupid nationalism, because all that does is focus real anger on despair onto groups of people who don’t deserve it.  It’s kicking the cat – while changing nothing except the sum total of pain and fear around.  It just makes everyone more scared.

So, let’s talk about fear and despair; and how we work to mend the very real issues that lead people to identifying as scareds. Which, of course, includes me.

REW x

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Andie Brazewell

Very thought provoking Rew, thanks for posting. You put some well thought out points based on your experience and I am intrigued to understand more. Some of which I may not agree with based on my experience some I didn't know, so informative too.
I will reflect and think on this and post my thoughts soon, but you've got me thinking...Thanks, Andie x