Don't shut up just because some want us to

Politics and campaigning don't stop just because there's been an election

After the election and leading up to Christmas and New Year there were posts on Twitter and Facebook exhorting folk to “lay off the politics for a bit” and “accept the result and shut up about it now”.

Others argued “if you believe in democracy you’ll accept the will of the people and work with us”, “now is the time for reconciliation” and “charities need to own the healing”. Plus, now it’s 2020, “let’s all just get along”. All this culminated in the Prime Minister saying, in essence: “I know I’ve pissed some of you off, but let’s be friends now.”

These kinds of statement make me grind my teeth. The idea that because you lost a vote you’re supposed to shut up for the next five years indicates a profound lack of understanding about our democracy. Our right to vote in elections is just one part of our democratic system.

Democracy is also about rights to free speech, to protest, to campaign, to due process under the law, which can’t be abused or ignored by a majority just because a particular side won a vote. Elections don’t supersede rights. In fact, the potential tyranny of the majority is a big reason why those rights exist in the first place.

With democratic rights come democratic responsibilities, such as campaigning for those things we believe in, marching for change, lobbying for better, fairer laws, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves and challenging those in power.

This responsibility doesn’t start and end on polling day. So the notions that there are ever any times when we shouldn’t talk politics or that everything resets because it’s a new year strike me as ridiculous. Poor people don’t stop being poor; the terminally ill don’t stop dying; the homeless aren’t suddenly homed; the abused are still abused.

Politics is about the state of our society, and that doesn’t stop just because some of us get a few days off, or a clock struck midnight, or an election happened.

Further, it seems to me that general appeals to charities to heal wounds (unspecified) and bring people together (unidentified) are not necessarily useful nor really our job.

There are stubborn divisions and problems to be addressed that don’t go away just because someone exhorts us to be “bezzie mates”. Don’t stop “banging on” about stuff because people are tired or bored of it.

In our sector we don’t ever accept the unacceptable, give up the fight or lose hope. We don’t say to someone struggling with an addiction or depression or loneliness or fear: “Yep, you’re right love, no point trying. Accept it and give up.” We say: “You can change it and we will help you.”

So thanks for the suggestion, but the answer is no. I’m not about to shut up and be quiet. We must continue to fight for those who need us, because if we don’t, who will?

As the Scottish ballad of Sir Andrew Barton says: “I am hurt, but I am not slaine: I’ll lay mee downe and bleed a-while; And then I’le rise and ffight againe.” The battles are not over. Rise, colleagues, rise!