If you’ve been following the news at all lately, it’s quite likely the last thing you want to read right now is why we should be interested in politics. The country is up in arms, seemingly more divided than ever. All anyone in the UK seems to talk about is the dreaded B-word, and yet no-one seems to have a solution.
Abroad, an orange-haired President leaves a trail of anger and/or worry, and the Far Right is gaining ground with every passing month around the world. Climate change tightens its steely grip on the planet, families and children in our own neighbourhoods can’t afford enough to eat at the end of the month, and people turn to violence and anger to combat their helplessness. And all the while, politicians stand around arguing about who should make sacrifices to sort it all out, despite the fact that within a few decades every single one of us will be feeling the consequences of doing too little too late.
Faced with this near-constant onslaught of Bad News, it’s tempting to simply switch off. To turn away from politics, either from a feeling of being overwhelmed, or confusion, or lack of knowledge. Sometimes it’s simply a sense of misplaced optimism that those in charge will choose the best option, or a futile pessimism that nothing the public does will have any impact. It’s not that simple. Politics needs you – us – and we can make difference. Firstly, it’s important to note that if politics do not interest you, it is likely because you have the privilege of being able to not be interested. When issues do not directly impact our daily life, we have the luxury of being able to push them to the back of our mind for a while. Even when they make us sad for those who do suffer, they do not change the material realities of our daily life, and so it is all too easy to turn away and say that politics is not for us. It does not interest us. We do not have to interact with it.
This is not the case for anyone directly impacted by political, social or environmental crises. If Universal Credit means you struggle to make it to the end of the month, if you’re forced to use food banks, if your identity is discriminated against legally and/or socially, if you must flee from your home due to war or violence or climate change – you have no choice but to care about politics.
There is nothing wrong with benefiting from a privilege we didn’t ask for. But it is important to be aware of it. It is equally important to realise how our privilege might allow us to help those who are less fortunate. Where we have influence, we can use it. Where we are included, we can include others. Where we have a voice, we can amplify the voices of those who are silenced by society.
You don’t have to take up arms and become an activist, either. You don’t need to know everything or come up with the answers. Simply being informed about the world can go a long way. Knowledge defeats ignorance. Love trumps hate. Empathy smothers apathy. Simply striking up a political conversation with people who think differently to you can help to widen your horizons as well as those of the people around you, and teach us to be more empathetic, to find compromises, to seek common ground.
If you’re looking for an easy way to start understanding what’s going on in the news, I fully recommend Simple Politics on Instagram and Facebook.
Politics also affects our daily lives in ways you might not realise. Every time you pay bills, or take public transport, or show your ID to get into a club or buy alcohol – all of those little things link back to your country’s political and economic choices, often in ways that are harder to realise until you’ve lived elsewhere.
Caring about politics allows you to shape your country’s future. You become a more informed voter, you become aware of new issues, you learn more about yourself and your country’s population. You learn to seek out ways you can make change as an individual: volunteering for a charity, donating your spare cash to a cause you care about, signing a petition to persuade our government representatives to discuss something which is going unheard. You become part of a new kind of community with people who feel the same way (or similarly) and want to fight for the same causes.
You can make an impact on a local level, too – from county-wide policy to small village committees, caring about politics can help to make real changes for the people around you as well as to your own life.
It’s easy to feel like trying to change things would do nothing, change nothing, fall on deaf ears. Maybe it wouldn’t work the first time, or the second. But maybe it would.
All you can do is try.
A few weeks ago, a 15-year-old Swedish student led a strike in her local school calling for more action against climate change which made international news. Rosa Parks kick-started a city-wide bus boycott and changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement simply by refusing to adhere to the unfair segregation rules on one single occasion. In 1968, after winning medals in the Men’s 200m Finals, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a political gesture for human rights by raising their fists during the national anthem. The image has remained one of the most iconic in Olympic history.
Small differences can have big consequences. And it all starts by caring, listening, and communicating.
There is no more time or space for apathy or complacency. We must learn from the lessons of the past while we shape the future, instead of allowing it to form passively around us.
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