Friday, January 03, 2014

We Are More Possible Than You Can Powerfully Imagine

The problem with working for social change is that you never know if you're wasting your time. Only hindsight, and almost always a considerable quantity of it, can give you clues.

Every successful campaign - indeed, most historical events - gets tainted by our perspective that includes the time between then and now. It makes it look as if what happened was fated and inevitable. Conversely, things that failed appear as if they were always doomed and those involved were daft to have even tried.

When you read what the contemporaneous mainstream voices invested in the status quo said about, say, the Suffragettes or the civil rights movement, you get a very different view. Likewise,when we get to peer into the minds and deeds of the winners we find that they didn't see themselves with certainty either.

Cabinet papers from the 1984 Miners' Strike released today show the government was readying itself to declare a State of Emergency and, against stated government policy, use troops to move coal. Even with that on the table they weren't entirely confident.

Minutes of the secret cabinet committee, Misc 101, reveal Thatcher and her closest ministers were unsure of what to do: "It was not clear how far a declaration of a state of emergency would be interpreted as a sign of determination by the government or a sign of weakness, nor to what extent to which it would increase docker support for the miners' strike."

In 1952 the government built itself a bolthole in case of nuclear attack. These days it's a weird tourist attraction, which has given rise to hilarious roadsigns.

A guide book to bizarre days out, Bollocks To Alton Towers, explains.

The Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch easily qualifies as The World's Most Terrifying Bungalow. It's a place made all the more extraordinary for its very ordinary setting, on a country lane between Chipping Ongar, once the furthest outpost of the Central Line, and Brentwood, infamously crowned The Most Boring Town In Britain.

At first sight an unremarkable 1950s farm cottage, this bungalow is in fact the tip of a government iceberg - a huge three-storey bunker with 10ft thick concrete walls reaching 100ft underground. The local villagers knew nothing of its purpose, being the sort of people who could, back in 1952, remain unfazed by 40,000 tons of cement trundling up the road to Parrish Farm. Even the contractors weren't told what they were building.

When it was sold in 1992 the new owners

found the floors polished to within an inch of their lives and grass clipped to nail-scissor perfection. The four bored guards who had been stationed there had made the place nice and tidy and nicer and tidier...

In four decades of active service, at a cost of £3m a year, Kelvedon Bunker was never at red alert status. It was, only once, cranked up to amber. Not, as you might think, during the Cuban Missile Crisis (which apparently happened too quickly), or the occupation of the Palestinian territories, or the invasion of Afghanistan. Kelvedon was readied for action during the 1984-85 miners' strike, when the government was concerned that the country might be on the brink of civil war.

They really though they might have misjudged it, that the unionised workforce might band together to stem the tide of neoliberal regression that now laps around our necks in 2013. It was in no way a done deal.

So this is why we keep fighting for the change we know is needed. Not because we think we are fated to win, but because there are things worth fighting for. Because even if we fail, we may have laid the foundations of inspiration and experience that others will build upon and succeed. But, most of all, because we cannot foretell the future nor know all that is going on today. As a banner at the Newbury bypass campaign said, we are more possible than you can powerfully imagine.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Thanks Merrick. It's easy to get stuck in a mindset of cynicism and disillusionment, and stuff like this helps people like me to regain a sense of possibility.