In a time where to keep up with current political happenings can often feel a bit like watching a car-crash in slow motion, powerless to intervene, it would be easy to become disillusioned. It can seem tempting to turn away when we as individuals feel unable to help. But now is not the time to feel we are worthless, that we are too wee, too poor or too stupid to make a difference. Now is not the time for our politics to be based on fears, which are so often unsubstantiated, or a desire for self-preservation at the expense of others. Now is a time for our politics to be about hope, to be about seeing a vision for positive change and getting engaged in new ways in making that change happen. More than ever, creativity in the way in which we engage with politics must be embraced.
Many of us who are politically involved were born decades after 1964 but Bob Dylan’s words from back then ring true to us right here, right now. The times they are a-changin’ and this is happening both in Scotland and beyond. Even on the social media sites that so many of us use daily, politics cannot be avoided. For many of us politics has become a draw to use social media in new ways to connect with current events and with those who share common values. Our vernacular is increasing, with words and terms like ‘austerity cuts’, ‘electoral reform’, ‘new alternative media’ and even ‘maiden speech’ coming into daily use.
On the 14th of July 2015 the video of the maiden speech by Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, went viral – with a dramatically escalating number of views in the first 24 hours of being posted. It has now been viewed over 10 million times by people worldwide. For myself and many others this was the first maiden speech we had ever watched and indeed, after watching it, we would be inclined to watch more maiden speeches, were they all so articulate, inspiring and passionate, and such a clear illustration of the current political climate in Scotland. However, this was not the only video of a woman speaking about politics to go viral that day.
On the same day, a video of ‘Worthless’, a poem written in response to the Conservative-led government’s budget by Agnes Török, a spoken word performer who is part of the Edinburgh and Glasgow-based Loud Poets collective, surpassed 100, 000 views within 24 hours of being posted. In this powerful piece she challenges the system where so many young people can graduate with no career prospects beyond unpaid internships and volunteering and may be more likely to end up living on the streets than in paid employment they are qualified to do, where people’s basic needs such as food and accommodation for them and their families are disregarded, where people are belittled and treated like less than human, just a cog in a machine whose sole purpose is to increase the GDP and when they fail to do so due to circumstances beyond their control they are told it is their own fault. ‘Go on, tell us we are worthless’ is her response to a government which is openly treating so many as such.
We live in a time when the establishment must be challenged. When the rich are getting richer, enabled by the neoliberal agenda which is the root cause of measures such as the current austerity cuts in the UK, when food-bank use and child poverty are sky-rocketing in one of the richest countries in the world, when every day seems to bring a new Tory-led assault on marginalised groups in society, we have a responsibility to stand up and speak out.
Of course not all of us are in elected roles such as Mhairi Black, neither do all of us have Agnes Török’s poetic talent, but we need to use the skills and opportunities we do have to find our voice and speak out for the things we believe in. Our politics in Scotland today is an evolving and vibrant thing. Our politics should be creative – seeking to question and challenge what we are told by those we know, those in government and the media, and through this forming our own vision for a fairer, more equal Scotland and beyond. Our creativity can also empower our politics – enabling us to reach out and connect with others in new ways. There was much evidence of this in the lead-up to the referendum last year, through the work of both individuals and groups such as National Collective, and there continues to be a growing politically motivated arts movement in Scotland.
The poetry and spoken word scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh is flourishing; I myself have started writing and performing poetry in recent months. Politics is the inspiration for much of what I and many others write. Poetry and politics may not seem like the most likely companions but right now it could be argued that poetry is the new protest song. This art form enables us to craft our feelings, our passions, even our anger into a form that reaches out to others to provoke and inspire, even to call to action, because words alone can lose their power without actions to back them up.
The power of the arts goes beyond the superficial – beyond elegantly crafted prose or pictures that are beautiful on purely an aesthetic level. Our creativity provides us with new opportunities to engage with politics in significant and meaningful ways. It empowers us in situations where we may otherwise be made to feel that we are worthless. It enables us to see that change is possible and that all of us can be part of making that change happen.
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