The Brand voting debate: why we need to engage differently

I was lucky enough to sit in as a guest on Redshift Radio’s Midweek Uplift show this week to speak about the Russell Brand/Robert Webb voting debate, and offer some ideas for how people might be able to bring about change.

The main point that the whole thing has thrown up for me is that we need to engage more, not less, and – crucially – we need to engage differently.

Yes, our political system is in many ways broken – but choosing to vote or abstain is far from the only way we can take a stand. Even in the case of those who vote, I think there is sometimes a disconnect, in that we might want our politicians to make a change but remain unwilling to take the lead and fight for that change in our own lives. We don’t just vote at the ballot box – how we live our lives every day is a vote for the type of world we want to live in. We pretend the choices we make every day don’t matter, but they do. Very much.

If we support corporations that have questionable ethical practices, for example, we’re essentially saying we’re fine with it. So politicians have little real incentive to clamp down on those companies, because from where they’re standing it looks like most of us don’t care that much, even if a minority has organised a protest on the street. And the companies themselves have little incentive to change, because their bottom lines remain unaffected.

If everyone moved their money away from banks whose practices they disagreed with to institutions whose values they support, the banks losing customers would be forced to respond. That’s a type of revolution right there. And it can happen – it has happened before. When the Dutch people threatened to move their money en masse in 2011, the bank responded, and then so did the politicians.

Brand talks about a revolutions of consciousness. Well I think this is how we should approach it. This is it.

And while we work towards that revolution, I think we should continue to vote. Refusing to vote just hands the power to others. As the Left Foot Forward blog points out, the British National Party narrowly missed out on a seat in the London Assembly in 2004, losing by just a handful of votes. In 2008, the party also came close to winning council seats in Amber Valley, losing by just a single vote. Votes do make a difference.

A revolution of some type is needed, but real change takes time, and in the meantime we should try to make a difference within the current framework. Emmett Rensin says it really well when she write: “We are not such simple people that our choices are vote or revolution, complicity or seeking change. We can do both. Yes, we must seek fundamental change, but in the meantime, we must use present means to do what good we can.”

Here’s the link to the show: