It’s so easy to slip into apathy- to close your eyes to the endless iterations of madness our world is suffering from. Climate deniers, anti vaccine bobble heads and corrupt politician after corrupt politician. But sinking into denial is less sinking into a warm bath than sitting in a slowly heating pan of water: by the time you realise you’re cooked, it’s too late.
I don’t know where to find the strength some days. It can be anything that sets me to the edge- another story about working class money thrown directly into the maw of another dodgy millionaire like Michelle Mone, Baroness of Bras. It can be being made aware that, as many homes across the UK daren’t turn on their heating for fear their bills will spiral into financial ruin, MPs can now claim Christmas parties (as well as utility bills) on their expenses. Or it could be another right wing demagogue, screaming about being silenced from between the pages of another national newspaper. It weighs on you.
The biggest frustration with this never ending slew of salacious stories is the fact that you always know there’s more we don’t know. I, for one, am regularly told stories by insiders who work in and near the government that I can’t verify but absolutely believe, stories about terrifyingly senior politicians running out of brothels high on PCP, MPs running a racket of continual suing of their detractors so they can make hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst posting on social media about defending free speech, or about extremely high up political figures throwing their partner down the stairs and using a gagging order to silence her. To know that even the ugly underbelly of our society that is being waved before our eyes is still concealing the rot beneath- that this “exposition” still somehow is condoned by politicians, controlled by them. It can be utterly overwhelming to know we’re in the mire- but never know just how in the mire we are.
Recently I found myself needing to stop, to close my ears and eyes to it, just for five minutes- and why?
I did charity work for Dignity in Dying, whose ethos is to push for assisted dying laws for terminally ill people. And that experience opened my eyes to just how broken our society is.
Firstly- the homophobia: with the rise of hate crimes in the UK I expected that a camp man wearing a pink hoodie may, perhaps, face some indignities. I wasn’t wrong. I was called a “comforter of Lot” by a cantankerous old man, along with being called a murderer- for wanting to help those already dying die without the agonising days long deaths I myself have witnessed from family members.
I told the man if he didn’t agree with the mission of DiD to go away and he came back three times to heap more abuse on us, some of it homophobic, some of it at me. I hope that man never finds himself in the position I have witnessed several family members, and that if he does it gives him the grace to understand the mission: but I also do not brook homophobia. There is no excuse. To have people publicly assail you for your sexuality which you aren’t even referencing is rage inducing.
But I wish that was the worst incident of that day.
As I stood there with my associate we’d occasionally ask people if they wished to join the campaign in asking for a debate in parliament. Some would say yes, most would ignore, and some would be outright rude. That’s charity work!
One man in particular stumbled up to me and asked me what I was doing. I explained and he responded with “do you know what the worst thing that ever happened was”. I already had a pang of worry for where this would go. I took a breath through my nose and said “go on…” in a guarded tone.
“Hitler losing World War Two” he said.
I stared. He weaved to the side a bit.
“…Are you actually fucking delusional,” I responded but he was ready to cut me off.
“No, no, think about it… what he done to the jews was bad and that, but imagine how much better things would be if he’d won though” he said.
“I’m going to need you to fuck off before I leather you with a sign” I replied.
“Mate, think about it!” he said, shocked at my reaction and insistent on labouring his, and I use this word loosely, point. He waved his finger in my face, frustrated that I hadn’t blithely accepted his loving critique of his, apparently, führer.
“I have thought about it. It’s why I think you’re fucking daft you nazi dick head now fucking walk away”.
“You got to listen to people mate” he chuntered, already turning to walk off. Ah yes, the appeal to the illusion of free speech. Should have seen that one coming.
He stumbled off, muttering the whole way. I turned to a couple next to me and said “did… I just get confronted by a Nazi in the street”.
They just nodded, looking half amused and half scared.
My heart pounded- a nazi sympathiser just appeared from nowhere to have a chat…?
Not my first dealing with fascists, not even my first time this year- I attended a counterprotest in summer because The Patriotic Alternative (a fascist organisation) protested drag queen story time at Leeds Library. Nothing like spending 5 hours in the sun being called a pervert by the sort of men who look like they desperately want to hold Andrew Tate’s genitals whilst he urinates. Those child protectors, by the way, set off the fire alarms in the building which traumatised many of the children present.
But this was different. This wasn’t facing a crowd of baying morons behind police barriers.
It was that moment that made me start to question just how ridiculous everything has gotten in the UK in a way that nothing else has: from a government hammering us economically with a vanity project called “sovereignty” to Johnson threatening to do nothing about a viral outbreak that’s now claimed over 200,000 of our countryfolk, and from snooty politicians laughing openly at our compliance with lifesaving rules as they brought suitcases of wine into the very heart of British democracy to damaging legislation like the Police Crime courts and Sentencing bill and its steaming offcuts served back to parliament- the Public Order bill, the Voter ID bill that disenfranchises millions… all of these things were terrible, galvanised me against a political machine that was armed with weapons that I could slip between.
But to look around me at my fellow working class and see people espouse Nazi talking points as naturally as referencing football or the weather? How had we fallen so far that the Luftwaffe wandered the streets with us, casually referencing eugenics and making Adolf Hitler out to be a bastion of democracy at best and a cheeky little chap at worst?
I grew up reading endless books about world wars, forced to at first by a grandfather who wanted me to understand the crimes humans commit when we forget our duty to each other. Men who espouse nazism do not get a pass- they learn and atone or they are cast out. Or so I believed. And yet, our society is so fractured and the lie of “free speech above all” so endlessly refrained, that people will repeat pro Nazi rhetoric and have the temerity to be shocked when you threaten to batter them with a sign.
The UK is so much more broken than we knew. Our homes freeze (I am shivering as I write this, afraid to turn on the heating for the cost will ruin me) and our government give themselves “Christmas party expenses” along with writing off an estimated two million pounds of collective energy bills- and all the while those of us who should be organising in the streets, calling for elections OR ELSE… are wrestling with how to reconcile standing up for a proletariat with whom nazism is becoming normalised. Even prominent artists are comfortable warmly enthusing about their love of the SS.
Before Sunak mystically slipped into office, placed there by the failure of other inept politicians, he threatened to refer those who spoke poorly of Britain to the PREVENT deradicalisation programme. Sign me up Mr Sunak, because I am disgusted with modern Britain.
Nurses hold picket lines outside hospitals, not because they selfishly want more money but because your predecessor hiked up their mortgages by an average of 40%. University staff, constantly demonised as “forcing a progressive agenda” (otherwise known as tolerance and education) on students ask for more, scant years after the Tories blew the lid off university price caps. People call radio stations to leave their living will and testament, terrified that they will quite literally freeze to death in their own homes. The UK taxpayer is asked to foot the bill for Boris Johnson’s defence in the case of whether he misled the house- AKA us. Imagine someone murdering your wife then asking you if you can bung them a few grand so the courts don’t wipe out that million they earned touring the US reciting speeches they didn’t even write?
The UK- the world itself, is broken. Right wing demagogues clutch power with both hands, insisting as they siphon money into their back pocket, that it’s the others, the lefties, the snowflakes that are the problem. Nobody ever points out the fact that things have demonstrably gotten worse over the 12 years the tories have been in charge and yet they blame migrants and trans people, women, people of colour, nurses, doctors, our work ethic… as the people with the reins, you can only rely on your libertarian sense of every person for themselves for so long before you should cast your eagle eye on yourselves, the people holding the reins as they zip through your fingers.
It, I admit, broke me to realise that so many fools walk amongst us- not just people stupid enough to espouse genocide rhetoric, but people stupid enough to think “we’ve always done it this way” and “things keep getting worse” are not mutually exclusive… if we’ve always done it this way and things keep getting worse, maybe we should stop doing it this way??!
But it was an important moment for me. I realised that thronging those idiots who back tories or rhetoric more extreme are people just unaware, and among those, people who are aware and want the change too.
So I refuse to let the continual beatings keep me down.
I finally admitted to myself that this might not be a winning game. Maybe the world is doomed to repeat the same fascistic cruelties it allowed before. Maybe the gun toting anti gender thickheads will win. I can’t control them and you can’t educate someone too radicalised to recognise sense. But it doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting.
Some of us are fighting for voter reform and for access and education in politics. Others of us are preparing for the longer haul, for the pushback against authoritarian demagogues which we see rearing up, faster and faster every day like Jörmungandr on the horizon, ready to spew the poison of rhetoric amongst a beleaguered public.
All I know, and what keeps me going, is that even if I fail, at least I tried. Even if the world keeps getting worse the collective push to improve it cannot stop. If we surrender, if we give an inch, they will take a mile. The world may well continue to sink into the depths of corruption: but as long as we push for better there is a chance for it.
There is no surrender when fighting for a better world. One nazi, ten, hundreds, thousands… a cabinet full of fascists; it doesn’t matter. We must stake our claim. And I’d rather lose to fascists fighting them than let them stand tall in the crowd, peppering every disgusting sentence with their right to “free speech” on my streets.
Make no mistake, reader. The UK’s government is increasingly fascist- pushing extremist rhetoric for so long now that it is completely normal to read actual extremism in comment sections of otherwise droll social media posts. They may not be reading from the same speeches in Triumph of the Will, they aren’t espousing the exact same rhetoric that came before. But they are pushing the type of language, using the type of dogwhistles that forments danger for us all. Johnson, less than two years ago called us a “country united in blood and soil”, a direct far right dog whistle. And it was heard.
Ask yourself deeply, how much lower we must sink before you and yours will act. How debased will you allow this government to make us before you cry out “no” and stand against them.
It is not a case of “if” but a choice of “when”. Join those of us already standing and fight back and lets beat the darkness back to where it belongs where we can- and expose the rest of it to the light of truth and remove it from our path.