UK Politics

An “effortless” revolution?

Celebrity Russell Brand told thousands of people at a “People’s Assembly” Saturday at Parliament Square in London that members of the House of Commons “generally do not represent us” and called on the demonstrators to join in a “peaceful, effortless, joyful revolution” to seize back power.

You may recall Brand’s notorious interview with Jeremy Paxman last year (more than 10 million YouTube views), in which he endorsed non-voting and talked vaguely of “revolution.”

Brand makes some reasonable points about inequality, big business and bankers. (Even the tea party Republican who beat Eric Cantor said, “All the investment banks in New York and D.C.—those guys should have gone to jail.”) But Brand’s political thinking clearly has not matured.

When Occupy Wall Street was getting started, I quoted Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio, who made the boring point that in democratic countries, old-fashioned electoral politics are the most effective way to produce meaningful change:

[H]ere’s the rub: Occupations and rallies are fun. Electoral politics is hard. The rules are complex, and so are the voters. A gathering in the street has a lot in common with a party. Running for office and working for a candidate is like a 9 to 5 job.

And getting involved in the political process forces you out of your comfort zone. Instead of hanging out with a few hundred — or a few thousand — people who basically agree with you, you have to confront and perhaps persuade those who don’t agree with you. In the process, however, you will learn more about democracy than you will at any teach-in.

And of course the Occupy movement– lacking a focus on ongoing activity or specific objectives– faded away while electoral politics remain. Effortless? Hardly. Joyful? Not always, and sometimes heartbreaking. But in democratic countries, nobody has come up with a better way to effect change.