Hello! … you still there?
The very word makes us see red, or click off.
Yet it’s central to our lives: “The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power”, says friend Google.
Politics is about how we run the world, the continent, the country, right down to matters like preserving or cutting down beautiful mature trees in our town because their roots are starting to lift paths slightly, and people might trip up. And sue the local authority.
In Ireland, we recently voted, on the same day, for our European Parliament representatives and for the councillors who will represent the community on our local authorities.
Those same councillors will have their work cut out, especially when they often have to face down those same local authorities.
Just this week in Skerries, a lovely seaside town just down from us, many local people were incensed when our local authority set about cutting down a number of mature Norwegian maple and London plane trees lining the town’s main streets.
A hundred years for these trees to reach their full leafy glory, and what, half an hour to tear them down?
Were they diseased or interfering with traffic?
No, the seven-day notice from Fingal Council justified cutting down one of the trees “because it’s heaving a pavement”.
One local business guy, an artist and sculptor, attempted to secure a tree preservation order from Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, but it had simply referred him back to the local authority.
So our artist activist ended up chaining his van to one of the trees, and others involved are canvassing support and putting up stickers reading “please don’t cut me” around other trees designated for removal, and the drama is unfolding as I write.
Democracy, eh? The will of the people?
Is it any wonder we feel so removed from the levers of power?
Take that disaffection to its most extreme and you get Brexit
Hello! … you still there?
I know. I won’t say it again.
Bre … only joking.
So it’s easy to be cynical, or feel powerless.
And that’s only us adults.
What’s maybe more worrying though is just how removed our children are from thinking about politics, or democracy.
And it’s not just because they are stuck on their iPhones.
It’s natural, I suppose, for kids and teenagers to be a tad self-obsessed, to the detriment of taking an interest in things around them.
I’m always amazed at how teens can be up in arms about global warming and slaughtering animals for meat, but try and get them to put their cereal bowl in the dishwasher …
Okay, okay, a bit of gratuitiously snide retaliation …
But I do wonder.
Like, both our kids are in the junior cycle in their secondary school, and they do a thing called Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), supposedly aimed at “helping them to engage in the community, the country and the wider world”.
Bu let me give you a reasonably accurate report of my discussion with our almost 14-year-old son about a recent visit with his school to our national parliament, Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament).
Me: “How was it in the Dáil today, was it good?”
Him: “Dad it was literally the most boring thing ever …
Me: “What did you do on the tour? Where did you go?”
Him: “Well we were there watching them doing their politics … so boring …
Me: “And then?“
Him: “We saw these paintings ..
Me: “What paintings?”
Him: “All the Taoiseachs (Prime Ministers)” …
Me: “And what else did you do?”
Him: “Well we were in the Seanad (upper house of the Oireachtas (Legislature)) for literally two minutes … so boring”
Me: “That was it?”
Him: “We went to McDonalds …”
Me: “Anything else on the tour before that? …”
Him: “We were talking to a TD (Teachta Dála, or Member of Parliament), asking questions, well he was telling us things” …
Me: “Who was the TD?”
Him: “Alan Kelly …”
Me: “Oh, wow, he was a minister in the last government … did you know his brother is a hugely successfully business man (Declan Kelly, international business figure, PR guru, advisor to Hilary Clinton and all sorts, worth millions)
Him: “So that’s why he was wearing a Gucci watch … his brother wouldn’t give him money of course!” (makes exaggerated face, O’s version of sarcasm) …
He’s only 13!
What hope have we if the next generation are so cynical about politics!!
Yes, it’s easy to be cynical.
But it’s also not easy when you are not cynical.
A guy I know quite well ran in the local elections.
Glenn is mid-forties, personable, been around, always interested in politics (with a small p), does all sorts, teaches music to kids with intellectual disabilities, a really sound fella.
He ran as an independent, ie no political party affiliations, researched assiduously, identifying local issues and concerns, went knocking on as many doors as he could, put up as many election posters as he could afford.
Without the big party machinery there were only so many people he could talk to, and he did well, but got nowhere near the numbers needed to be elected.
Talking to him afterwards, he was hugely disappointed, initially, but had come to realise this was just the beginning.
He has to keep at it, keep going for election, keep pressing on.
And he will.
But an interesting thing he pointed out, when he was looking into the whole thing, analysing where he got most support, and identifying those places where he had to build up support for next time, one statistic jumped out at him.
It was the low voter turnout in the most disadvantaged areas.
In other words, those in most need of proper political representation, to work for the services and opportunities so lacking there, were not going out to vote.
As Glenn said, you could be cynical, and ignore these areas when canvassing, go to the places where more people vote.
“Like the big political parties do,” I interjected.
He laughed, but didn’t disagree.
Worse, nasty forces can build up a power base among the disaffected, harness their anger and resentment for nefarious purposes
But these are the places Glenn wants to support, and so he will persevere, and push to get more people there voting next time.
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