Sunday, March 12, 2006

Slacktivism

I noticed yesterday whilst at Sainsburys that we are currently half way through Fairtrade Fortnight, a fact that would almost certainly have escaped me were it not for the prevalence of buy one get one free offers and the usual marketing spiel that accompanies any such promotion. Maybe it's just me, but that was the first I'd heard of such an event, and I'd guess for many others the situation would be much the same. Not to say that I don't support Fairtrade, which I think is a very good idea, but so distanced am I from Fairtrade that an event promoting it only comes to my attention through garish adverts in a supermarket. In other words, a well thought out, well intentioned event which I would otherwise support has nearly passed me by, my attention only caught by something miles removed from the actual intention of Fair Trade itself - corporate promotion.

Which got me wondering about politics, and more specifically democracy. Y'see, we are undoubtedly living in something of a Golden Age for democracy, not only is it spread world wide, but it is spread through all levels of the populace and all levels of media. In Britain, not only do we have universal suffrage for all over the acceptable age of 18, but discussion of politics is free and open and can now take place in more ways that ever before. Stop me if you already know where I'm going with this.

People and politics are a million miles apart, perhaps more so because of the fact that politics is now such an integral part of everyday life. Everybody's at it - newspapers, TV, magazines blogs, moblogs and so on ad infinitum. People are, if they chose to be, more involved in politics now than they ever have been in the past, and the ease of which they can do something is equally great. Now ok, writing a blog or talking in some online forum might not change the world, but at some level it must be increasing people's political awareness. Some online institutions like They Work For You and Write to Them are brilliant examples of interactive politics and as such as used regularly by many people. However, how much has really changed?

We have government which was elected on a turnout of 61.36%, which in reality obtained its victory on the vote of 21.59% of the electorate. Hardly a defining moment for the democratic process. With all this activity, all this access to the inner working of politics, why do we end up with such a pathetic turnout and a government which can only claim the full support of just over a fifth of the population? Are that many people really just plain bored about politics?

But then the issue of Fairtrade rears it's head again. I like Fairtrade, I'm a supporter, yet for all the promotion and media interest that there certainly has been in Fairtrade Fortnight, I knew nothing about it. the same can be said about politics. For all the interest, for all the ways of giving information and putting the message across, people only really care if there's something in it for them. Rousseau said
The people of England regards itself as free; but is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament.

and he was almost right, the people are free all the time, but only seem to choose to act on this during the election of members of parliament. Politics elsewhere seems to be of little interest to many people, and, as the election results show, this interest doesn't increase too much when there in an election on either.

I don't know the answer to this problem - indeed the issue of voter apathy has been around for a long while and isn't gong away any time soon; smarter people than me have tried and failed to figure that one out. The issue, I suppose, it getting people interested in and educated about politics, and not in some cheesy politix for kidz crap either. Perhaps the internet is a good way to do this, maybe blogs and so on really do give access to 'the common man' in a way that previous media hasn't. I guess we have a few more years to the next election to find out. Here's hoping.

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