Engaging with society – where’s your voice?

All of us are facing cuts to our income or increases in our expenditure soon – no one can escape. We’ll all be worse off whether we like it or not come the VAT increase to 20% in January. Even if you only buy supposedly VAT exempt or 0% VAT products like baby items or food, the satellite charges around them such as transport and service charges will increase. There really is no escape.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and lots of people are unhappy about lots of things, but how do we express this unhappiness?

In an article in the Independent, the recent student protests are examined. Becoming an engaged citizen is more difficult than ever, and the cynical amongst us would argue that a wider range of social media and television channels is keeping us plugged firmly into the media matrix and off the streets.

So far students, and their direct family who care about increased fees, have been affected and expressed their views. As with any protest, there is a common core element intent on violence (I’ve blogged about the psychology of this before) who, as an extremist minority, will smash windows and bait the police. Historically, this has always been the case and there is no excuse for this unreasonable social behaviour. Historically, there has always been outrage at the oppression of people’s right to peacefully protest. Until now. The mediation of ‘protester’ has taken a turn for the Machiavellian with the press struggling with a stereotype of violent thug crossed with brainless hippy. I can assure you that as a peaceful protester I am neither. I just want to engage with society and have my voice heard.

Later this year, when the effects of the cuts set in and more people are unemployed and forced to do voluntary work for benefits, as well as paying more for goods, there will inevitably be more discontent. How will this discontent be voiced?

A few years ago I attended a protest against the war in Iraq in Manchester. As we walked peacefully through the city centre, the police were filming the protest. CCTV cameras throughout the city centre were also capturing the March. I suppose this is fair, because if the protest would have been invaded by violent thugs I would hope the police could identify them and charge them with public disorder. However, because of these surveillance tactics the mood for protesting is fading. People are afraid to walk their own city streets in peaceful solidarity with others for fear of being branded a trouble-causer. But what is the alternative? Should we stay indoors, cowering behind our empty banl accounts and tax bills resignedly sighing that we blame an ever elusive ‘them’?

If the right to protest disappears, so does the voice of the people. On a macro level, the political voice of the people has been lost in the coalition, with all three parties beguiling us with election promises they have failed to carry out, and there’s not a thing we can do about it, is there? Local Councils are having funding slashed, causing massive loss of confidence locally; those people prone to the blame game are now turning the eye of Mordor on their local town hall, blaming them for everything from potholes to VAT increases – inevitable with no information flow in or out of a fractured hierarchy.

On a micro level, where is your voice? If you disagree with something, who would you tell? Who would you go to? How can you make your views heard and do something, even if it’s only to publicly express your sense of community. Protest and you risk being marked as and anti-social trouble causer, caught on police camera for future use; you’ve committed no crime but the police have a record of you. Write to your MP or local councillor and receive a lip-service psuedo-soothing stroke that ‘cuts are necessary and everything will be all right’. Maybe they are neccessary, but I would like a say in where the monetary axe falls in the society I live in.

Here’s the bottom line: it won’t be all right. We’ll all be worse off, starting January. Maybe you’re willing to take one for the bankers, or allow other people to decide what’s best for you without asking what you think, but if you’re not, please don’t expect anyone to listen to you – plug yourself back into the soaps and the social networking where it’s still all bright and shiny. Don’t engage. Why bother? No one’s listening.