I have been thinking a lot about politics over the past few weeks – I’m studying politics as a unit this semester, and of course, the US elections have shown us a really interesting example of politics in action. My own interest in politics began at the ripe old age of 6, when I became so distressed about the baby seals being killed for their white fur, that I sat down and wrote a letter to the Environment Minister protesting the slaughter. Even then, I had a deep desire to participate in conversations about issues that mattered to me, to be informed and make an action, and that desire has remained strong within me, manifesting in different ways at different times.
Some people have a very limited view of politics as something separate from them that happens in their nation or state or local county’s decision making space – and something that they participate in once every three or four years if they feel like it. This view is limited and powerless because it’s hard to feel as though you can make an impact or have your voice heard – and if you limit your political activity to voting, there is a very good chance that you will be disappointed at the results half the time! I don’t think we have come up with a better system than everyone having a say (democracy), but one of the downsides is that nearly half of the population is potentially going to be upset at the results.
I have felt myself become very disillusioned about machine or party politics over the past few years. Although I have never been a member of a political party, I always had an interest in what was going on politically, and kept up to date and informed with what was going on in our various parliaments and with our decision makers. However, over the past few election cycles, there have been actions and decisions made by our representatives that have disgusted, bewildered and offended me, and my response to anything that generates that kind of response inside me is what it always has been – to withdraw my energy. In my heart I feel that these people and their flawed system do not represent me. I feel that as a woman, watching our women representatives having to battle to make their voices heard in a system designed for men, and I feel that as a human, watching short-sighted, corrupt and politically expedient decisions being made whilst our Earth suffers.
So, I thought I had become apolitical or even anti-political, until my first week of Politics, when my lecturer gave us a list of political activities and asked how often we engaged in any of them. Things like signing petitions, attending public meetings, making a donation to a cause, participating in demonstrations and letter writing, many of which I do weekly. And that’s when I realised that I had not become apolitical, but instead, I had shifted my focus from what is called the first face of power, from the people who have the power to make decisions, to the second face of power, which are the people and groups who have the power to set the agenda. I had also become more and more aware of the third face of power, which are the socialising beliefs, cultural forces and political ideologies which shape our thinking, consciously and unconsciously.
Because I have an intrinsic desire to be part of the conversation, and to have a say about things that matter to me, I will always be political, especially if we define politics as an argument or a discussion about how society could best be organised. However, my allergy to group-think, dogma and playing the game means that I cannot participate in politics at the institutional level. So how do I participate then? Well, I am a member of GetUp and Avaaz, two powerful independent campaigning communities, one Australian and one international. They are supported entirely by donations from their communities – GetUp has over a million members (remember, Australia only has a population of 23 million) and Avaaz has a huge 43+ million membership. You can get a lot done with those kind of numbers. When issues come up, I donate according to my ability, I write letters, share on social media and sign petitions. In that way, I choose what to direct my energy towards, and participate in setting the agenda, otherwise known as letting decision makers know what’s important.
The other thing that has been an important part of my political evolution has been becoming very much more discerning when it comes to what media I listen to, watch and read. I used to, not that long ago, read a weekend broadsheet every week. Most of our papers in Australia are owned by News Limited, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. I try to avoid any media that is owned by that company for ethical reasons. When a filthy rich mining magnate tried (unsuccessfully) to buy her way onto the Fairfax board a few years ago, I stopped reading papers altogether. I couldn’t stand the spin, the blurring of opinion and reportage, the bias, the short sighted, opportunistic, unethical journalistic practices that characterise so much of the mainstream media these days. So now, I choose my news sources carefully: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Guardian, Crikey and The Conversation are all media sources that I trust. For the rest, I ask questions like:
- Who owns this media?
- Are they reliable and respected?
- What is their angle/interest/bias in this story?
- Where do they get their information from?
- Is the title clickbait?
- Who pays them?
- What is the other side of the story (hint: there’s always another side)?
Now, I appreciate that as a Media (and now Politics and Sociology) student, my care factor may be set at a higher level than the average person. However, I believe we all care, very much, about what is happening to our world. People are disengaged from politics not because of apathy- they care very much – but because they have come to negative conclusions about politics, politicians and the political process. Don’t let politics stop you from being politically active. Let the failures of our system galvanise you into action! We have no choice but to forge ahead and make a better world, because that’s what we have come here to do, each in our own small way.
Other ways to participate politically:
- Through your purchasing power (ethical shopping)
- Through what you eat (ethical eating)
- Community groups
- Live off the grid, home school, un-school, grow your own food