Moving beyond ‘No’

Yes, I’ve been reading. But we’ll come back to that.

When I got talking to people in Granby in Liverpool, about seven years ago now, they asked me to help them get over a very specific problem:

“We all know what we don’t want. We don’t want our houses to be knocked down. So we’ve got very good, over many years, at opposing any and all plans to do this. The trouble is though, we can’t agree between us on exactly what it is we do want. So could you help?”

I said “Yes, maybe” and we began to work on something together, loads of us, that has largely worked. Not perfectly and it’s not finished. But we moved beyond that skilfully confident “no” to a curious and more friendly “yes,” and in so doing changed a piece of the Earth very much for the better.

What I hadn’t realised until this week was that in learning that lesson in Granby, that yes is stronger than no, we were beginning to learn something that may yet help to create a better future for the whole of the Earth, if we could be fairly quick about it.

The Left is an argumentative place isn’t it? I suppose the Right is too, but I wouldn’t know. And as for the Centre? Isn’t that where we all spent decades living after Tony Blair and Bill Clinton learned that conjuring trick of telling us what the best of both worlds looked like, then delivering the mess we’re in now?

Don’t answer because it’ll only lead to another load of arguing and we’re running out of time.

The fact is, it seems to me, we could do with working out our broad “Yes” now. Or at least very soon. Because our usual collection of “Nos” and even “Yes, buts” isn’t going to help us who have spent our lives being, sort of, left of the middle for much longer. The world that Thatcher, Reagan, Blair, Clinton and their little acolytes like Cameron and Osborne created has delivered us a maniac in charge of the White House and no one at all in charge in Britain. So we need to talk.

And talk in a new way. Which is where Naomi Klein and her book comes in. Its central premise being that the world the last 40 years of politics and economics has produced is so toxic for the  majority of the Earth’s people that something extraordinary is now needed. That we talk, agree a broad “Yes” of what we want, then raise our eyes, spirits and organisational skills to the getting of that. Rather than dissipate our energies into the thousands of skilful “Nos” like we usually do.

Yes it’s about Bernie Sanders and many since then, like Jeremy Corbyn here. Leaders not going along with what’s become the established order. But it’s about much more than following leaders, any leaders. It’s about all of us who’d say we broadly stand for a fair, properly equal and really sustainable Earth agreeing on the “Yes” we need. Agreeing on the story we tell ourselves and each other. The “Yes” that will create the Earth our children can grow up in and we can grow old on. Yes, that “Yes.”

And I haven’t finished the book yet. So, as seems to be the way with my ‘weekend thoughts’ kind of blog post these days, like last week’s, I’ll have more to say on this.

Meanwhile I’ll go and finish the book and I encourage you to go and read it too. Or at least think about what I’ve sketched out, this broad “Yes” thing. Then we’ll talk.

Later on Saturday

Finished reading now, and in getting to the “Yes” there’s a lot of open hearted debate to be had, principles to be established and even stuff to be ditched, like nostalgia. Recognising that we’re not going back here to some perfect world we lost along the way. That we haven’t yet had a human society run on the real equality of us all. That we’re making up something new here.

There’s much to be thought about then, and I’m thinking now. But let’s end Saturday on a practical link and a Utopian quote. Utopia first, here’s Oscar Wilde from 1891:

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”

“Part of that voyage is not just talking and writing about the future we want” Naomi Klein says “but building it as we go.”

Then the practical link is this. To the Leap Manifesto, what the “Yes” got written down as in 2015, by Naomi Klein telling the possible future story of Canada as put together then by her and a great many other Canadians. It lives on and develops through its own website and, maybe, through whatever you and I do with it next?

Early Sunday morning now and I think I’ve said pretty much what I want to say here. Except, to get used to to thinking about this big “Yes” why don’t we start thinking more about Yes generally? By which I don’t mean let’s get all wishy-washy and try and ‘think positively’ through all the racism, sexism and outright dangerous crap that’s currently being aimed by the demagogues in power at so many of us. Getting to “Yes” involves saying No firmly, resolutely and intelligently to all of that.

I’m more thinking of the things we organise ourselves. At a gathering of a good few of us this week, talking art, happiness and what we’d do in our ideal socialist world, as ever, I heard a good friend say:

“Yes, so let’s use our intelligence and our skills to make as many as we can of these things happen anyway. Because the fact is we’re not living in a socialist world, not yet. So let’s get on with what we can do and maybe we’ll find that amounts to more than we might think.”

‘Programatic’ rather than the slightly defeatist pragmatic might be the word for that. Like in this quote from the back of Naomi  Klein’s book”

“Naomi Klein’s new book incites us brilliantly to interweave our No with a programatic Yes. A manual for emancipation.”
Yanis Varoufakis

That’ll do me. Let’s talk?

Naomi Klein ‘No is not enough: Defeating the new shock politics’

7 thoughts on “Moving beyond ‘No’

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, nostalgia can be lovely and older people with strong memories and experience are incredibly important guides, even leaders in some cases. But nostalgia on it’s own won’t build the future.

      I remember when I went to see Ken Loach’s incredibly moving ‘Spirit of 45’ a couple of years ago, I looked around and realised I was probably, in my late 50s then, one of the youngest people in the room. And felt a bit like I was at a Jethro Tull convention of nostalgic rock music fans. There were no young people there, very few women and very few black people. And we need everyone now.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I think we have to know what the broad yes is to give people in general something uplifting to long for and vote for, which will include getting over the tendency I’ve seen all my life for the broad left to split into points scoring factions, one of which is the nostalgic ‘it was all perfect in 1945’ crowd. I’ve watched and even been part of the left arguing all my life and we don’t have the luxury of doing that, of being a righteous opposition, any more. Given the global and even entryist takeovers from neoliberals and whatever fascists are called this week we need to agree what we collectively stand for to be the effective opposition it’s now time for us to be.

      Reply
      1. Helen Devries

        We certainly do not have the liberty to split hairs and score points, but after years of experience in the Labour Party before the nineties it seems to me that one has to steamroller those who want to tinker with the broad approach of making life better for the bulk of the people.

  1. Nicholas McGinn

    I saw your segment on the telly with Michael Buerk, examining population shifts in UK cities.
    Your perspective was an interesting one, given your committed relocation from Maghull into Liverpool in adulthood, thereby reversing in your own way the seemingly irreversible trend of Liverpool folk to leave the city. You have certainly shown commitment to your cause. As Daniel Berrigan, the famous ultra-modernist priest, so bluntly put it, “Faith is where your ass is!”.

    Reply

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