Back in the 1960s I was an activist on three causes I felt very strongly about – abolishing the Death Penalty, eliminating Apartheid and ending the Vietnam War. They were hard, tangible, definable issues. And they were all binary – there was no middle ground. It really was true on each that if you were not with us you were against us. The Brexit debate is similar, David Cameron made it so. He insisted that we reduce the complex issues of Britain’s participation in a uniting Europe to a binary In/Out choice. In fact it never was and isn’t now. This was political Reductio ad absurdum of a fatal kind. The fatuity of Brexit led to protests of all types amongst which that of campaigner Steve Bray is particularly notable. He may campaign alone but he has the support of millions – including me!
Moving away from the binary protesting against discrimination is much more difficult. We are all (or most of us) against it. But protesting against (says) Racism is difficult because there is no common, agreed definition of what is racist. It’s pretty subjective. Nobody went to jail because some of the “Vote Leave” advocates during the EU referendum campaign dog-whistled about Turkey’s possible accession to the EU. I found their position very Islamaphobic and still believe it was. But (a) the perpetrators got away with it and (b) it worked.
Another tricky area for activists is the “trans issue”. I avoid it because it has got out of hand. Even my mentioning it as an “issue” here might open me to attack as people may assume that I take a different position from them and oppose me based on that assumption. That’s how dangerously daft we’ve got.
There’s an old test about discrimination which is worth remembering. A car splashes you with water from a puddle as it drives by. If you say “Bloody driver should have been more careful” that’s fair comment as a statement of fact. If you say “Bloody black driver should have been more careful” then that is racist. (You can replace “black” with other irrelevant descriptors like “Woman” of course). In this case the subjective opinion becomes objective fact.
The right to protest is a necessary condition for a civilised, democratic society. At its best it’s seen in Steve Bray and his singleminded and eccentric protest is wholly admirable, if you believe in his cause. Even if you don’t surely you can’t avoid having a sneaking admiration for his persistence !
In the coming days and possibly weeks it is likely that the current protests against our dysfunctional and incompetent Prime Minister will intensify as more and more revelations emerge about his grotesque behaviour and political judgment failures. If he attempts once again to lie his way out of the fetid corner in which he squats will we take to the streets to demand his removal from office? We should.