Left Unity Leamington members ran a stall today, handing out leaflets and literature, chatting to passersby. So bloody what, you might say. Lefties run a stall. What will you report next? That the Pope has tendencies towards the Catholic?
Well, OK, but this time was different. It was the most successful and enjoyable stall we’ve held in a long time, perhaps ever. We ran out of leaflets. Magazines went. Badges eagerly pinned on. It was actually fun.
Which naturally got us wondering… what had changed? Anyone who has done stalls on even an irregular basis (you poor buggers) will know that, with the best will in the world, they can be pretty boring and dispiriting affairs. You stand there with your paste table covered with dingy old leaflets and boring newspapers, trying to stop it being whisked off down the road with the breeze. People cross the road to avoid you. They take a leaflet and stand in front of you staring at is as if you’d just handed them one of those little bags with a dog turd in it. They turn and ask you whether you haven’t ever considered, you know, human nature, or the real world at all? If you’re really unlucky, you might even end up in some kind of pathetic turf war – someone from the Labour party, perhaps, who is worried that you might be reminding the proles what Labour is actually like in power, or is perhaps staging a power play to wrest control of a campaign with five members away from the other four.
It would be enough to make a sensible person pack it all in. But then, there are times, like today, when things are different. The sun is shining. We have a table worthy of the name, covered in a smart and bright banner, covered in professional-looking and interesting material. People come up to the stall, curious, and begin chatting. Others bound up with a smile, delighted to hear the Good News that the left is not yet completely dead. They leave again reluctantly, muttering about having to get back to work. People cross the road … to you! To take a leaflet! Conversations, jokes, banter, debate, pass back and forth across the table, both with passersby, and with your comrades. All the depressing stuff inherent in life on the left fades into the background of your mind and you remember why you ever bothered with all this stuff in the first place. Because it matters.
What is it that accounts for the difference? It might just be the sunshine and the luck of the draw – the sample size here is too small to be sure. But I couldn’t help wondering whether there wasn’t more to it. The disastrous, boring stalls – haven’t they always been on busy shopping streets on a Saturday? Who wants to be pestered with a leaflet when you’re out enjoying yourself, or just filling the larder joylessly in the consumer-zombie parade, and wanting to get off it again as quickly as possible? And the stall today – wasn’t it done away from the consumer main drag, catching people in their lunch break, when they are more amenable to things more interesting than the daily grind, with the time to stop and chat? And wasn’t it too done in the more working-class part of town – where even if people are initially hostile to your arguments, have at least some intuitive sense of what the fuck you’re talking about, so preferable to the harder-to-forgive, comfortable complacency of the middle and upper classes?
Perhaps I’m talking nonsense, or perhaps I’m just unknowingly repeating the accumulated wisdom of lefty stall holders everywhere – wisdom I’ve just not come across or accumulated myself. Whatever the case may be, it’s nice to be reminded that political activity needn’t be boring – that, indeed, if it is, you’re doing something very wrong. More stalls soon – and other non-boring activities planned and in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
(Thanks to Ally and Mary-Ann for doing the legwork.)
We will be at the junction of High St and Bath St by the railway bridges from 12 noon till 2pm today (11 July) with stall, badges and banners etc – hope to see you there!
From Coventry Socialists:
We are delighted to bring to Coventry guest speaker Ginger Jentzen from the $15now campaign in Seattle. Ginger is one of the leading organisers for $15 Now, the campaign which mobilised the grassroots effort to win a $15 / hour minimum wage in Seattle. She organised the national $15 Now conference and was an elected coordinator of one of the $15 Now action groups. The meeting is organised by the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) in Coventry and comes on the eve of a public sector strike that could involve over 1 million workers, fighting for higher wages.
Do not miss this incredible opportunity to hear how workers in the USA won a fantastic victory, how the movement is growing there and how we can develop the fight in Coventry and the UK. NOT TO BE MISSED!
(Don’t panic!! Meeting is starting earlier to avoid a clash with World Cup semi final at 9pm!)
Coventry Central Hall, Warwick Lane, CV1 2HA. 9 July at 6.30pm. Facebook page.
A letter to the Leamington Observer from Left Unity Leamington members…
Last night, Left Unity Leamington members went along to support Warwick Anti-Racists and PPU‘s protest against the rise of a particularly nasty political movement on their campus. Apart from the heartening number of people who turned up, it was, in most respects, a typical small protest – ably reported by Coventry Socialists here. In other respects, though, it was really something rather special.
Because after the banner waving and the photo opportunity for the press, and before the chanting began (and anyone who has looked on at marching and chanting and cynically looked down their noses at it has no idea how it acts to build energy and solidarity in a group of people), we had the speeches. These also, to an untrained eye, might have seemed like the usual affair – a Trotskyist paper-seller gives a speech about the need for a programme, an old-hand from a trade union gives a rabble-rousing speech, putting this demo of a couple of hundred students in the provinces into the context of the grand historical march to freedom, and so on.
These are needed. We need to hear these voices. But something more impressive was also happening. A young student who declared himself an anarchist gave a quiet but moving and poetical speech about the importance of mutual aid and solidarity. Teachers at Warwick University put the struggle against fascism into its historical context and convincingly explained why the far-right was rising again now – and why it must be fought all over again. Students and others, who declared that they’d had no intention of speaking before that moment, told of their personal experiences – of the ordinary everyday hardships experienced by people if you are the wrong colour, the wrong gender, the wrong sexuality, from the wrong country, the wrong class, and of the difficulties of speaking out against these prejudices and oppressions in a culture hostile to political engagement. How all these hardships are exacerbated by ‘austerity’ politics.
And yet we also heard of the joys and pleasures and opportunities living in a multicultural context brings, how it teaches us about diversity and mutual respect and makes our worlds bigger and more interesting places. As one young woman pointed out brilliantly, what is most important is doing exactly what we were doing – public displays of our own kind of politics to force our opinions into the light of day, to prove that our politics – of mutual aid and solidarity – is far more valuable and fun than anything the fascists have to offer. Differences of opinion, too, were intelligently and forcefully expressed, without anger or impatience.
And, to round things off, a young man pointed out that, however wonderful and encouraging the whole occasion had been, we had to remember that we were at that moment living in a tiny, unusual and highly privileged bubble – that the real work was not talking amongst ourselves and congratulating ourselves on a job well done, but to do the work that it’s all too easy to shy away from: to challenge people when they say they’re worried about immigration, to challenge the overheard conversation on the bus that wishes Warwick wasn’t “quite so diverse” as it is.
A friend of mine recently shared on social media an obituary of an old-school socialist and lamented that “they don’t make ’em like that any more”. I hope he is as heartened and inspired to hear, as I was to witness, that this is not the case. The production line never stopped. And if there’s hope, it’s that this kind of politics spreads throughout the country, and fast.
In Left Unity, the new political party of the left that we helped found last year, we often hear it expressed that what we need is a “different kind of politics”. The good news is that we don’t need to scratch our heads to figure out what this might look like. We just need to follow this lead.