I don’t know about you but I am getting heartily sick of politicians claiming that they are pushing Brexit through because it is ‘the will of the people’, as though those of us who voted remain no longer exist. So I’m going to start this blog by quoting a few statistics. I will try not to make them too boring. Promise.
The total electorate in 2016 was 46.5 million, according to official statistics. 17 million voted Leave, 16 million voted Remain and 13.5 million didn’t vote. Or to put this another way, 17 million voted Leave and 29.5 million did not. That’s democracy. But in the three years since the vote, those of us in the 29.5 million have been forced into invisibility and silence. The Brexiteers, on the other hand have grown steadily louder and more dominant – bawling and bullying out on the streets; all over the media, which, with two honourable exceptions in the Guardian and Channel 4, support them and give them frequent opportunities to spout their ugly propaganda; and even – God help us! – in the House of Commons, And, as they are never checked, their behaviour has got worse and worse and their language uglier and more inflammatory. Boris Johnson claimed in the House that the best way to avenge Jo Cox’s death was to get Brexit over and done and dismissed what a Labour MP said about it as ‘Humbug‘. The odious Farage, sweating and shouting, told his followers that ‘once Brexit’s done we will take a knife to them‘ the ‘them’ being civil servants. Absolutely appalling but he was cheered for it by his excited followers. On a lower but equally disturbing level, the language on the social media from the furious right wing has grown steadily more ugly, more obscene and more threatening. And as George Monbiot puts it, ‘violent language licenses violence’. So what can those of us who care about democracy do about it?
Well, for a start, there are now a series of protest marches being organised all over the country, under the slogan ‘People’s Vote. Let us be heard.’ culminating in a final march in London on Saturday 19th (details below). But before we march, I think we have to plan what we will do in several eventualities and particularly if we come under verbal or physical attack from the Fascists. And yes, these bully boys ARE Fascists. They’re exactly the same as Moseley’s black shirts in the British Union of Fascists. It might help if I can pass on some information about the amygdala hijack, Gandhi’s satyagraha and the battle of Cable Street.
I’ll start with the amygdala hijack as that is the youngest idea and no, I didn’t know what it was either until I read Thursday’s Guardian, but I think it could be helpful for determined protesters – or anybody who gets bullied and shouted at – to know about it. Apparently, according to two neuroscientists called Stephen Porges and Gregory Lewis, when we feel threatened we cannot hear calm conversational voices. ‘When we feel safe, the muscles in the middle ear contract, with an effect like the tightening of the skin of a drum. This shuts out deep background sounds and allows us to tune into the frequencies used in ordinary speech. But when we feel threatened it is the deep background sounds we need to hear, so the muscles in the middle ear relax cutting out conversational frequencies.’ And we shout back in order to be heard. Add to that the fact that when we feel very threatened and or frightened and angry, the flight-or-fight response is triggered by the amygdala, which is part of our brain, and then we can’t make rational decisions and tend to lash out and shout back or run away. Psychologists call that the amygdala hijack. So what is the best thing to do in that situation?
Mahatma Gandhi told his followers to sit in the road, in silence, not to shout back or offer any violence and to endure whatever their opponents did to them. He called it non violent resistance or satygraha, and it was used successfully, although with terrible casualties, at the end of the great salt march, when the protesters sat in the road and were beaten unconscious, line after line, by the state troops. It went on until the troops were too exhausted to continue and the whole thing was reported in the world press. In our time, used in Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Gandhi’, which many of you may well remember. It can and does work. I used it with about a thousand others – could have been more – on a Committee of 100 sit down in Whitehall.
And what about Cable Street? That is being remembered now because it took place on Sunday 4th October 1936 so there should be quite a bit about in the papers. Oswald Moseley’s Fascists, who were backed and admired by Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, (nothing changes!) were out on the streets of the East End, determined to beat up the Jews who lived in the area. But despite police protection they didn’t get away with it because the locals came out in force to protect their neighbours. They built a barricade across the entrance to the street, fought with any weapon they could lay their hands on, threw mattresses out of the bedroom window and emptied pisspots on the heads of the police and the marchers, and eventually, after a brutal battle, beat them off.
So what can we learn from all this.
Firstly that all our demonstrations and protests should be massively attended. Numbers are important. A handful of people can be pushed aside and ignored. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, a million are a different matter.
Secondly that we should make our minds up that we will not shout back, or fight our attackers. no matter how loud and aggressive they are and despite the success of the fighters of Cable Street, If you do talk, do it reasonably and quietly. Or sing. It’s comforting to sing among like minded people. ‘We shall overcome’ can work wonders. And it stops you from being and looking as bad as your attackers.
Thirdly don’t shout slogans. Let your placards speak for you and make sure you keep them reasonable, memorable and witty.
And success to us all.
You will find details of the march at ‘People’s Vote. Let us be heard.’
The London march is on Saturday 19th October, starting at twelve noon at Park Lane and marching to Parliament Square.