Wednesday, 05 May 2010

Local activism and a general election Diane Dyson has an excellent recent post about third places, including this observation: Early British suffragettes did some of their best community organizing in the town laundries, away from the strong pitching arms of visiting farm boys who lobbed rotten produce at them when the women stood on the back of wagons at village markets calling for the vote. An exchange of messages with Diane helped me to this recent post about Hannah Mitchell - about whom, to my shame, I knew nothing. It's at moments like this that I feel most keenly the half-hearted incompleteness of my education; but really, for me in late-20thC england, dealing with that lack was trivial compared to the systematised exclusion which people like Hannah Mitchell confronted and overcame. I invite you to take a few minutes to listen to this reading from her autobiography (scroll down) describing her intervention at a meeting before the general election of 1906. And if your mind happens to be on the fluid nuances of the forthcoming UK general election, this is something to reflect on - not just for the ferocity of the local action against vested interests that was necessary to bring democracy out of the cradle and belatedly learning to walk; but also for the stark political differences and the enviable(?) focus that was possible on causes of social justice. Well, it would be an insult to those campaigners to envy the context of their struggles, but perhaps politics now does suffer from a lack of distinct causes. And there's another point to be made, which I am not qualified to explore, about the comparative contribution of women to local anti-slavery activism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the suffragette movement. Maybe someone will tell me this has been done? It's the localness of their action, its morally-forged courage against far broader political forces, and its need to accumulate patiently in order to have effect, that interests me, and from which I feel we should be learning.

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