Engage in politics not just voting!

Here’s Jude Collins’ piece from last week’s Daily Ireland. It features an old friend of Slugger’s, Trevor Ringland, and Chair of the One Small Step campaign. He’s broadly sympathetic, but argues that the campaign has so far failed to take on the challenge of encouraging citizens to challenge political parties and professional politicians. Well worth five minutes of anyone’s time!

He acknowledges that Trevor is “…just the kind of person needed to mastermind One Small Step campaign, an organisation dedicated to fostering harmony in the North of Ireland”.

The idea, as the name suggests, is that we all make a gesture of understanding to the other side, preferably on a weekly basis. Buy their newspaper, engage them in cordial conversation, explore an aspect of their culture. Through the lighting of many matches such as these we will banish the darkness in which we presently stand.


The trouble with this vision is that it sees politics as a sideshow and is essentially the line the churches here have been preaching for decades: if we had inner conversion and learned to love one another, all our troubles would be over.

He argues that politics is where things actually happen:

The truth is, governments and governments alone have the financial and political muscle that can deliver real change. Which makes it very alarming that 95 per cent of us are shut out of politics 99 per cent of the time.

But he warns political parties that they do not own the whole process:

Take the recent Westminster election. Much fuss was made over the many people who stayed at home. “Exercise your democratic right!” the editorials and the politicians urged us, as if putting an X or some numbers on a piece of paper was the essence of democracy. It isn’t. Democratic action is a year-round thing. The trouble is, once elected, most political parties act as though politics were best left to the professionals, with the public butting out.

It’s a bit like education – the message to parents from most schools is, “Give us your kid, then clear off”. Similarly in politics, constituents are shepherded into the polling booths, then shown the door. But just as increasing numbers of parents are now rejecting that model and demanding an active part in their children’s education, so too more voters want to know what’s going in their name and, even more important, what part they can play.

Vague calls by politicians to ‘Support the party’ or ‘Get behind our efforts to…’ won’t do any more. What’s needed are clear, concrete suggestions as to ways in which people can get involved, contribute to the growth and development of the party of their choice, and generally work with maximum impact for the kind of society they want


In the end:

So yes, join nice Trevor’s One Small Step campaign, if it makes you feel better. But remember, understanding without political action is a neutered thing. As Karl Marx pointed out two centuries back, the challenge is not to understand the world but change it. Exhortation to put your X on a ballot paper is a good start. But if your party isn’t encouraging you to get off your bum and work for change between elections, perhaps you shouldn’t be voting for it.