Last night, I got an email from a friend asking me to support a campaign to change politics in Britain. My heart sank, to be honest. I’ve always been engaged in the ideas of social change and grass roots work for cultural democracy. But I mistrust politics and most of the people it attracts. I’d cross the street to avoid them and the idea of being involved now makes me want to do the same. But in A Restless Art, I wrote about the young artists and activists I’ve met in Europe, those who reached adulthood about the time of the 2008 financial crisis and live with its consequences. I’m inspired by their courage and resilience, their determination to make things better in the face of the incapacity or unwillingness of their discredited political leaders, their self-reliance. They often have a generosity of vision that connects community action with the the future of our societies, our species and the planet itself. That young generation deserves better from mine.
Democracy has been a defining value for me, partly for philosophical reasons and partly because, in its messy, difficult processes it protects the weakest members of society better than any other political system. It’s hard to retain that confidence when you see how badly democracies across the world have responded to the fallout of the financial crisis, or the way that social media has enabled the fragmentation and manipulation of public discourse. Even so, democracy is still the best – the only – tool we have for managing our conflicting desires and fears. The silver lining of Britain’s political and constitutional crisis is people’s engagement in the democratic struggle. We need to learn new ways of doing democracy for a world facing multiple threats.
And so, despite my bourgeois misgivings about politics, I have signed up to the campaign for a citizens’ assembly to rebuild our democracy. I accept that it’s up to me. If you agree with what I said here, I encourage you to add your name too. It’s up to you. It is up to us.