Have you ever noticed that the most vocal proponents of ‘freedom of speech’ are also often the most obnoxious humans to walk this earth? That Capital C Conservatives and Capital B Bigots like to use ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘everyone’s entitled to their opinion’ to veil their vileness; to mask their bigotry as the epitome of Western democracy and human rights?
Like, hey, you can’t criticise my racism or ableism or sexism or homophobia because it’s freedom of speech, man. People DIED for my right to spew filth.
And yet these people–these so called defenders of free speech–are usually the first to clamp down on Capital L Lefties and Liberals when they speak out against injustice.
“Democracy isn’t just a once-every-five-years affair.”
After the 2015 election, many people across the UK took the streets to protest against austerity. Then they marched again in 2016 in the wake of Brexit; and then once more in solidarity with their comrades across the Atlantic who had somehow ended up with Donald Trump as their president.
They marched–they exercised their right to free speech–but they were met with anger from the Right; from the very people who claim to love free speech above all else.
“You can’t protest the result of an election!” they screamed. “It’s anti-democratic!”
But democracy isn’t just a once-every-five-years affair. Democracy isn’t about ticking a box, and then going back to quietly agreeing with the government. It’s about being listened to by representatives all year long. It’s about holding the government–the government that’s supposed to serve you–to account.
“Maybe your MP won’t listen to your first email. But eventually, they’ll have to listen.”
Whenever you email your MP, you’re being democratic. Whenever you protest a legislative U-turn, you’re being democratic. Whenever you raise concerns about the stability and legitimacy and competency of the government, you’re being democratic–whether you’re on the Left or the Right or somewhere in between.
So the next time Theresa May tries to push through another round of benefit cuts, email her. The next time your MP is summoned to vote on an issue you care about, phone them. The next time your government bribes another political party with £1bn just to stay in power, protest (or maybe don’t wait until next time–we could probably do with a protest right about now). Because it is your democratic right to do so.
Active citizenship might seem pointless-after all, how many times have politicians promised one thing and then done the exact opposite (lookin’ at you Nick Clegg…)–but it’s the only thing we’ve got. Maybe your MP won’t listen to your first email. Maybe Theresa Will ignore the first protest–and the second one, and even the third. But eventually, they’ll have to listen.
“Make yourself impossible to ignore.”
They’ll have to listen because you’ll be so loud that they can’t help but listen to you. Their inbox will be so full of your emails–their answerphones so clogged with your messages; their streets so jammed with your placards–that they’ll have no choice but to listen to you.
Because guess what? Politicians are there to work for you. Even if you didn’t vote for them–even if they’re ideologically opposed to everything you believe in–their sole job is to listen to you.
So make yourself impossible ignore. It is, after all, your democratic right.