what would you do?

i’ve recently travelled quite a lot of miles for The Day Job and as a result i’ve been listening to LBC. now, some of the presenters are quite annoying and right wing and many of the callers are clearly nutters. however, a call in session last week particularly caught my attention.

last week the police cleared the Democracy Village from Parliament Square after the Police Reform and Social Responsiblity Bill was specifically amended to cover this protest. specifically amended. [note – this action was targeted towards the Brian Haw encampment but there is another group which has an injunction against them being moved so there are a few people still there]. now this legislation was amended specifically to allow the police powers to remove the protesters from Democracy Village. it also includes bans on protest in other parts of London included Whitehall, Bridge Street, the QEII Conference Centre and Westminster Abbey. so here is a piece of legislation which received Royal Assent in September 2011 that specifically limits the opportunity for members of the public to protest against actions taken or to be taken by the government of the day. prompted by this story in the news, the call-in session focused on this question: “In the UK, if you found the actions of the government of the day so gut-wrenchingly awful and abhorent, what can you do to legally register your digust and opposition at said actions?”.

depressingly the host of the show and the majority of the callers struggled to come up with an answer. i suspect this was the point of the question – the straightforward answer is: “very little or next to nothing”. let’s brainstorm:

  • start a twitter campaign
  • join a facebook group
  • write to your MP
  • write to your local authority
  • go on strike (not an option for everyone i admit)
  • write to the PM
  • wait for an election
  • start an online petition
  • start a local campaign using social and traditional media
  • start an online petition on the No.10 website (hoping to get it above the threshold of 100k signatures)
  • join a political party, run for election, get elected, serve as an MP and vote against the government (ok, so that one is a bit of a long term option …)
  • protest – but how?

now for me that is quite a depressing list. most if not all of those actions are easily ignored or dismissed by those who they are supposed to target. twitter and facebook, despite the one off instances such as the Trafigura incident, are very easily dismissed as online and untangible and let’s face it, although we on twitter like to think we are important and doing something we aren’t really. at all. so what else do we have… write to your MP or the PM – again likely ignored or responded to with a form letter. write to your local authority – forget it. go on strike – apparently the only group of people for whom this works is London tube drivers who manage to threaten strike and then get huge pay rises, but often this doesnt even work – how successful have PCS and Unite been at reversing the UK government’s austerity drive? start a grassroots campaign in your local village, write to councillors, the town council, get a twitter and facebook going … again somewhat effective against local issues – planning decisions can often be swayed by such campaigns, but the impact on national governmental decisions is likely neglible.

so what is there left on the list – protest. now we come to it.

  • 1 million people marched against the war in iraq – still happened
  • 1 million (?) students marched recently against the rise in student fees – still went ahead
  • the Occupy London group have recently been moved and also – ignored

with the passage of the PRSR Bill one could argue that the last opportunity to register your opposition to the actions of the government is to wait for an election or break the law. one of the first callers to LBC last week suggested chaining yourself to the gates of Downing Street … an action that would get you arrested within about 20 seconds and would result in you likely going to jail, your cause and protest being forgotten and overshadowed by stories of security failures. so what is left? how can we effectively protest or register our opposition? ok, so registering opposition is relatively easy, but how to protest as the state shuts down avenues for protest?

i would go as far to say that the passage of the PRSR Bill marks an enfringement on our democratic freedoms. if that is the case, what is left?

one of the few things that protest may change?

a somewhat depressing thought to finish on i agree, but if anyone has any great ideas that i’ve missed feel free to jump in!

an attempt to identify a political brandjack

a former professor of mine – quentin langley – edits a really interesting news website at brandjacknews.com which looks at news from around the world (not just communications or PR stories, but marketing, adverts and global affairs as well) and examines how known “brands” (including anything from names, picture etc) get “jacked” in order to promote something else entirely. this quote puts it much better than i –

“brandjacking is when an organisation loses control of the social media conversation around its brand to someone else”

this idea and concept is really interesting – there are a lot of examples around on the net when you start thinking about them and it got me thinking about political brandjacking and if an idea could get brandjacked and if so, what would that mean. it is a coincidence at this stage that it was whilst at uni working on quentin’s work that i really started to develop my interest in US politics – a subject i ended up studying with him. so all of this has conflated into a blog post about an article i read here which talks about how an idea / belief / assertion, “being american” has, according to the writers at politicususa.com, has been jacked by elements of right wing republicanism in the US. just before i get to what is hopefully going to be the interesting bit, it should be noted that in the best traditions of US politics, the website that i’ve looked at here is quite partisan, but i’m going to try and divorce myself from that aspect of it and instead look at the story itself.

just by way of a quick summary, essentially a group called “Generation Opportunity” (and here i am actually with the writers of the piece, the name of this group sounds too constructed not to be directly connected with the Republican party) has put up a Facebook page called “Being American”

now interestingly if you put “being american Facebook” into Google (other search engines are available) then you get quite a lot of pages which have been up in opposition to this one.

the original article goes on to outline how polling information has been skewed by people clicking the “like” button this page – as they put it, who wouldn’t “like” being american? i was really intrigued by this because Generation Opportunity (the non profit organisation behind the page) have essentially take a phrase – an idea, the idea of being american, and used that idea to drive a party political agenda. apparently by clicking “like” on this page you are subscribing to the ideology and policies of the right. and via the “endorsements” that the “like” button gets for their page, they are able to describe themselves in certain ways and note that they have a number of followers and giving credence and credibility to, yes let’s be honest here, GOP talking points (in some instances i would go as far as saying Tea Party talking points as well).

the polling outlined by the Pew Research Centre here appears to indicate that young people are actually opposed to many of the talking points which “Being American” and Generation Opportunity are distributing.

so what we have here is kind of interesting, even if it isn’t a real brandjack in the truest sense of the word – someone will undoubtedly correct me if that is not the case – we have  a Facebook page set up by a political but non profit organisation, but an organisation with discernible party allegiances (albeit non-disclosed allegiances) which taps directly into young people’s “hopes and dreams” (for want of a better phrase). i would imagine that every American citizen likes being American to some degree, and certainly it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that young people in America would likely identify themselves as American before anything else (perhaps), so by extension is it fair to say then that Generation Opportunity have scammed all those people? or are they clicking on the “like” button in the full knowledge of who and what is behind it and what their agenda is?

of course there are young people who are right wing, but i definitely think that using the idea of being American (and there are wider issues here potentially about whether a national identity is political / a-political / party political or not) to push or promote a party political agenda is a really interesting one – and one, dare i say it that we might not see in national politics in the UK (interestingly apart from the BNP perhaps). this website / Facebook page seems to be saying, if you don’t like “being American” (or like being right wing / Republican) then you are un-American.

would we get that in the UK or in devolved politics? can one being English and be any political colour? can one be Welsh but not a nationalist? interesting times certainly.