Last night I was having dinner with my flatmate and we were talking about a documentary she had watched the night before, a documentary called Breadline Kids. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJDhnvuNgEg) It is about children below the bread line, living day to day on benefits or food banks but who remain painfully positive in the face of such adversity. As a documentary, it has its merits; it highlights the massive wealth disparity that is still so prevalent in this country and offers a human face to some damning statistics about poverty in Britain where, in spite of priding ourselves on being such a progressive first world nation, there are still 9 children in every classroom of 30 who live in poverty (http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures). We discussed the merits of donating to food banks and the sad state of the benefits system that leaves so many isolated and ostracised, embarrassed to collect their food tokens to the point where many starve that day just to avoid the abuse hurled at them on their way to the centre. How many times have you heard the phrase “benefit scrounger” or “drain on society”, if not from people’s mouths then splashed across the front page of the tabloids? However, what scared me more than anything was her response to the documentary. She said “it’s so sad, because I can’t really do anything about it”. I was saddened but unsurprised by the total lack of faith in the state and the political system as a means of doing anything good, of changing the current socio-economic order for good, to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. This kind of apathy is rampent amongst our students today, a social group renowned through history as being the start of the most radical movements has become disillusioned and untrusting of politicians and the capability or even the desire of them to look out for anyone other than themselves.
I have been lucky enough to be brought up by overtly political parents. Both are seriously left wing, work in the public sector with PhDs that show they have the brains to match their passion. Furthermore, I have an incredible group of politically engaged friends who love to debate the merits of socialism just as much as they enjoy a cider in a beer garden (in fact we have done both many times over the years!). I have no doubt all this added up to me choosing to study politics at Edinburgh University where I now have been given the opportunity to understand my own views and everyone else’s through the lenses of histories most renowned scholars but I also know that not everyone has been offered these chances in life. Even the brightest amongst us, whom my flatmate is one of, have been shielded from the issues of today either by a limited curriculum or by parents who are just not that interested in Westminster and what’s going on there. Consequently, they are unaware that this mindset, this “I am only one person, I have no power” thought process is a result of a neoliberal political agenda of the right wing and centrist parties to keep the people divided and separate, to shield them from the truth that together, we have the power to change everything.
Even David Attenborough played a part in this, telling us all to recycle more in the final episode of Blue Planet II, making us think that it is each individual’s fault that the environment is dying when if we all looked at the bigger picture we would see that one person’s recycling habits cannot combat the huge amounts of oil being dumped in to oceans by global corporations or the preposterous amounts of wasted plastic being used by supermarkets and god forbid we reflected on the environmental impact of fast food chains and their intensive farming.
The big businesses and corporations are terrified of people as they know that, if everyone stops buying their product they will collapse. They know that if everyone holds them accountable for their tax dodging, environmentally damaging schemes they will no longer be able to capitalise on the people’s naivety to make ridiculous profits that they keep in tax havens to fund second, third and fourth homes. So to my flatmate and everyone else I say never underestimate the power you hold. You are lucky enough to live in a democracy so always use your vote. Your MPs have to respond to your emails so don’t hesitate to badger them with questions. Information is free in this country so if you find out you disapprove of a company’s conduct, don’t buy their products! Talk to people, encourage discussion debate and educate yourselves on the issues so when someone comes to you with the same apathy, you can show them the power they hold to.
Never stop trying to make the world a better place and never be afraid to show your opinion because together, I promise, we can make a difference. And it all starts with one person knowing they can.