SOAPBOX

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REBOOT DEMOCRACY

By Mike Hembury

Sometimes words fail me.

Sometimes there’s such a gulf between the world-at-large and the world as it could so easily be that you kinda think: what’s the point.

Sometimes I find it difficult to believe that it’s the second decade of the twenty-first century, and we’re still having to argue in favour of saving the planet for future generations.

And more than that—not just arguing, but having to fight for it.

Where politicians are more likely to believe that the fucking rapture is round the corner than in the necessity of immediate and drastic action to save the biosphere.

Where our political system is so totally owned by big business that it’s hard to even imagine an alternative.

You might think that sounds pessimistic, but I’ll tell you something. I believe in the transformational power of hope. I believe that even a spark of hope can be enough for a quantum leap in terms of people’s activity, and their imagination.

We live in a dark time, getting darker. The forces of darkness are everywhere on the rise. Fascism, neoliberalism, ecological catastrophe, racism, misogyny, war.

You don’t need me to tell you this. Every thinking person on the planet can feel it. Feel the fear, gnawing at your bones. Like, maybe it will all just go away. Wouldn’t it be good if all those bad folks would just crawl away and die? If the ice caps could stop melting. And: Gee, I hope things get back to normal sometime soon.

Well guess what?

There are times when you have to leave hope behind. Times when hope can lead you up the wrong path.

Because normal is not coming back any time soon.

Take the US of A as a case in point.

You might think of the Obama era as the high-water mark of American normalcy, and in many ways you might be right. It certainly was business as usual in terms of war-making, money-making, state surveillance and screwing the poor.  But it was a period in which the Republican party was regrouping. In which the Tea Party movement was driving the Republican base steadily towards the fantasy world of white supremacism, Christian fundamentalism and the out-and-out racism of the “birther” allegations against Obama.

It was the normality of culture wars and extreme partisanship between the liberal face of American capitalism and the outrageously flaky profit-above-all-else wing of American capitalism.

The normality of a loss of faith in the US parliamentary system so profound, that over 40% of the population either couldn’t be bothered to vote, or were not entitled to.

And now, at a time when all the planetary indicators for human survival are inexorably moving into the red, at a time when the fossil fuel industry and the Wall Street lobby have seized the heights of power and are ruthlessly pushing through an agenda of naked self-enrichment, and the government is openly encouraging the forces of fascism and reaction, who can seriously hope that things are going to return to “normal” in the near future?

Normal is what got us here in the first place.

Of course, it’s not just the US. This shit is being repeated in more or less extreme forms around the globe.

Capitalism is entering a period of acute systemic crisis.

At its simplest level, the system is running up against the physical and ecological limitations on the world’s ability to maintain current levels of profit.

So what is the choice for the foreseeable future?

You can have profit-as-usual, or you can have a life-friendly environment – i.e. clean air, water, seas, forests, animal life, a living wage and health care for all – but you can’t have both.

The ruling class knows this. They’ve known this for a long time. The fact that they are prepared to resort to authoritarianism, repression and reaction shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with even a vague knowledge of world history.

As soon as big capital feels threatened enough to start backing extreme reaction, things always start to get bad.

Cue some Weimar Republic mood music here and that John Heartfield collage of Hitler receiving wads of cash from German industry.

Politicians like Trump have made a huge amount of mileage out of claims about “draining the swamp” of a corrupt political system. They have channelled people’s outrage and powerlessness and shaped it into scapegoating and hatred.

But there is a kernel of truth in Trump’s political adventure, and it is this: The system is broken. The crisis won’t go away until we start to address the root causes. Until we address the fact that the entire wealth of the planet, the astounding abundance of all life on earth, is being expended in the service of the 1%.

You don’t solve this by asking the political representatives of the ruling class to get back to more civilized forms of debate.

You get it by restructuring the nexus of power.

By relocating it to the workplace, the neighbourhood, the community, the street, the city.

As long as democracy is something that only happens in parliament, we’ll be at the mercy of the ruling class.

We need to re-imagine democracy. We need to reboot democracy. We need to relocate democracy to where we are now.

To where you are now.

Your workplace. Your neighbourhood. Your city. Your home.

After all, it’s your future.

But don’t get me wrong.

I’m not telling you which political organization to join.

But I am telling you which movement to join.

Join the movement that’s closest to your oppression, and link up with people like yourself.

And then, while you’re at it, join that other movement. That movement of movements.

The kind of movement being envisaged by the likes of The Leap Manifesto in Canada, The Movement for Black Lives in the USA or Potere al Popolo in Italy.

Because more than anything, that’s what we need right now.

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  You can follow Mike on Twitter here: twitter.com/schnappz

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