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A Better Way to Revolution

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I suggested a few days ago that urging people not to vote might not be the most effective way to bring about fundamental political change.

You may remember that I took issue with what a certain celebrated actor and comedian had to say on the subject. I have no desire to cross swords with him again, for the simple reason that he has far too many admirers, and many of them have already been in touch to let me know what they think of my temerity in daring to contradict him.

So here are my thoughts on some other ways of acting politically without necessarily having to faff about putting a mark on a ballot paper next to the name of someone for whom you may have nothing but contempt. My slogan for today (yes, I know it's not original) is: Think Big, Act Small.

For example:

1. If fat-cat, bonus-grabbing bankers make your blood boil, move your account to a building society or credit union. It's not difficult, and think what a difference it would make if millions did the same.

2. If you see red every time you hear of a multi-national corporation sliding out of paying UK taxes by all manner of clever-accountant-jiggery-pokery, buy your coffee, or do your online shopping or searches, using someone else's product. It's not difficult, and think what a difference, etc.

3. If you lie awake at night worrying about the way we're destroying the planet, do more walking, or cycling, or buy a low-emission car. It's not difficult, etc.

4. If you hate the way agri-business has poisoned the countryside with pesticides and nearly killed off all the bees, plant some flowers. If you don't have a garden, get a window box. It's not, etc.

5. If you loathe homogenised, plastic-packed, tasteless supermarket food, flown in from the other side of the world, shop at a farmer's market or local grocery store instead.

I could go on. The point is simply this: if you don't think voting in elections makes any difference (I disagree, but let's not reopen that argument), do something else. And when you've done it, encourage others to do the same - and then get them to encourage others as well. Successful revolutions are born from a combination of anger, passion, and courage, plus two more essential ingredients: a lot of organisation and hard work.

What struck me most about the huge, and unprecedented, response to what I wrote last week was how many people feel totally powerless in a world where power seems to belong only to a very rich elite who have a stranglehold on the world in which we live.

Nothing will change, I was told again and again and again, until everything changes, until the entire political system is brought crashing to its knees and replaced with something - anything - that offers more hope and more power to more people.

I think that is a profoundly mistaken view. To take just one example: campaigners in Lewisham, in south London, mounted a hugely successful action to prevent cut-backs in services at their local hospital. This week, they won a major victory in the court of appeal: they made a difference, they forced a rethink, they demonstrated that a local community, acting together, can have real power.

Now multiply one local hospital campaign by one coffee retailer boycott by one switch-your-bank-account movement and - see what's happening? Lots of little changes begin to look like a much bigger change. You could even call it a revolution, people taking back the power that is rightfully theirs.

Perhaps collecting signatures and organising online petitions isn't as exciting as rioting in the streets, smashing shop windows, or lobbing half bricks at police officers. But nor do people get killed, or livelihoods destroyed, or homes burnt to the ground. To glorify, as he-who-shall-not-be-named did last week, "the London rioters [and] the certainty and willingness to die of religious fundamentalists" - even "the twinkling mischief of the trickster" - sorry, that's not being brave, or funny, it's plain wicked.

I have never believed that voting on its own is enough to bring about significant political change. But that's not a reason for not voting - it's a reason for going to the ballot box as part of a much broader political engagement. This debate, in its way, is part of that engagement.

One final thought for you: I came in for a lot of stick last week as a representative of the mainstream media, which are apparently responsible for wholescale lying, covering-up and generally toadying to the powers-that-be.

All I ask is that you consider who, for example, disclosed the scandal of MPs' expenses fiddles (Daily Telegraph); who uncovered the appalling scale of media phone-hacking (The Guardian); and who campaigned relentlessly to get to the bottom of what happened at Hillsborough (Daily Mirror). In fact, I suspect that most of the things that make you most angry about the world we live in are things you learnt about from the mainstream media.

So in the week that saw the adoption of a controversial Royal Charter to oversee the way the press are regulated, it's worth remembering why a free press has been regarded for so long as an essential ingredient in a free society.

In the words of the American founding father Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the US declaration of independence: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

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